Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bringing My Cats to Costa Rica

Blackie and Sierra (my kitties)
I was at the Miami airport ready to fly to Costa Rica to start the next phase of my life with my new boyfriend (a Costa Rican national).  I was bringing my two cats with me on this adventure because, as any pet lover will tell you, there was no way I could leave my babies behind!

Despite covering all my bases to understand what was needed to bring the cats into the country (I called the Costa Rican Consulate in Georgia, the airline, and checked with an employee of the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture), the airline counter representative in Miami denied them boarding due to a "missing" permit.  Trusting this issue could be handled easily and remotely once I was in Costa Rica, I made the decision to leave the cats behind with my sister, while I got on the flight to Costa Rica that same day.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica, I was told by the Costa Rican agency known as SENASA (responsible for animal importation/exportation) that the cats should have never been denied boarding.  An import permit is not necessary if pets are travelling in the airplane cabin or as checked baggage.  I eventually was given a free flight voucher from American Airlines as compensation for the error made by their airline representative in denying my cats travel.  In the meantime, it has now been approximately one month, and I still can't get a straight answer on how to get my cats flown in as cargo. Between all the government offices you must visit, all the paperwork you must submit, all the payments you must make, and all the ridiculous deadlines you must meet, I'm beginning to believe that the process is actually not even really possible.

My cats have been with me for the last 12 years. Leaving them behind forever is just not an option!

UPDATE 6/2/11:  So I finally gave up on trying to get the cats into Costa Rica by any other means than flying them above in the cabin with me.  American Airlines and SENESA in Costa Rica, were giving me conflicting information about whether pets travelling as checked baggage on the same flight needed an import permit or not (American said yes, and SENASA said no).  I had looked into using Angela Passman's Guardian Angel Services, but her price quote to bring both cats to Costa Rica as cargo was $2,700 U.S. dollars.  Mind you, this is door to door service and if you have the money to use her services I say do it.  Dealing with the Costa Rican rules and bureaucracy is a major headache. In the end, however, I decided to just buy my sister a plane ticket and have her accompany me on the flight so she could bring my second cat as her hand baggage (1 pet allowed per passenger in the cabin).  This worked out cheaper than using Angela's services, even though I had to pay for my sister's plane ticket and also a fee of $125 for each pet. Unfortunately, it was a torturous event for one of my cats who cried for an entire 8 hours (from being packed in the crate back in Miami, through the entire plane ride, until being let out of the crate in our apartment here in Costa Rica). 

With one week in Miami before bringing them down to Costa Rica, I easily got them both checked out by a veterinarian who completed the APHIS international vet certificate for them, and then I proceeded to take that form and get it endorsed at the local USDA office (USDA-APHIS-VS, 6300 N.W. 36th Street, Miami, FL 33122, (305) 526-2926 Office).  I had read that the vaccines (other than the rabies shots) for pets travelling to Costa Rica must be given within 30 days of departure.  However, my two cats had their shots 3 months ago when I first attempted to bring them here, and the vet refused to give them the same shots again stating that it could be unsafe to vaccinate them again so soon.  With my fingers crossed, I agreed with his recommendation and prayed that this would not be a problem for the animal officer at the Costa Rica immigration counter. Perhaps due to a little flirtation by my sister, the animal officer barely looked at my vet paperwork, stamped what he had to, and let us pass on through.  Today my kitties are finally soaking up the good life in Costa Rica with me!

Sierra and Blackie in Costa Rica....Finally!
If your pet is too big to travel in the cabin, you will have to figure out a way to get the Costa Rica permit from SENASA.  Here are some links that might be useful.  I was never able to figure out the process, but you might have better luck:

1.  Costa Rica's SENASA requirements (you'll need to translate this website to English in your browser).

2.  You are going to need to work with a Costa Rican customs broker to get the paperwork needed here in Costa Rica completed, while you are handling the other side of the paperwork requirements in the U.S.  This is a listing of Costa Rican brokers (please note that not all of these agencies handle animal imports, so you may have to call around to a few of them).

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