So Your Dog Wants to Become a U.S. Citizen…

If you're moving to the U.S. from abroad, here's how you can best prepare your dog for the adventure.

Melvin Peña  |  Sep 17th 2014


Starting officially in 1952, September 17 is celebrated in the United States as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day honors both the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and those who were born or chose to become American citizens. We love to include our dogs in any of our celebrations, so today, let’s look at the process of pet relocation, or bringing a dog from abroad into the U.S.

Say you’ve been living abroad or overseas for quite some time, whether for work, school, or for personal reasons, but you’re now making plans to repatriate to the United States. One hitch — part of your day-to-day life includes the excellent and faithful dog you adopted in foreign climes. Is there such a thing as a green card for dogs? What steps do you need to take to emigrate with your canine pal?

Meeting CDC and USDA requirements

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) set the broad standards and guidelines for pet relocation when the point of origin is outside of the U.S. The primary concern of the CDC and USDA guidelines is to prevent the unnecessary spread of infectious, zoonotic diseases, with a specific focus on rabies. Zoonotic diseases are those which may be transmitted not only from dog to dog, but from dogs to other species, including humans.

According to the CDC’s guidelines on rabies vaccination, no puppy under four months of age can be imported into the U.S. If your dog is emigrating to the United States from one of several rabies-free countries, the vaccination requirements may be waived. However, your state of destination may require that you have a non-vaccinated dog inoculated within a certain amount of time after relocation.

It is essential that you plan far enough ahead in advance to have your dog vaccinated against rabies before she travels. Even so, specific U.S. states and territories like Hawai’i and Guam have carefully orchestrated quarantine schemes, lasting anywhere from five to 120 days, depending on the condition of the dog, to ensure that those places remain rabies-free. These quarantine procedures are followed even in cases when your dog is not coming necessarily from another country, but from the U.S. mainland.

Individual entities have their own requirements

Depending on the airline that will be transporting your dog, as well as on your state of destination, there may be additional requirements for international dog relocation. Check with the USDA, local officials, and your airline of choice to learn what further guidelines need to be met. For their own part, airlines often require a veterinary certification that your dog is healthy on top of federal and state requirements.

States like Nebraska and North Dakota, whose economies depend heavily on agriculture and livestock, take special notice of dogs entering their borders from abroad. Rabies, along with tapeworm and screwworm, are of major concern, so we can’t stress highly enough how important it is to make sure your dog is vaccinated well in advance of international travel.

How to prepare your dog for international travel

Vaccinations and general good health are important considerations when trying to bring a dog into the United States. Let’s not forget all the other precautions and preparations you and your dog should make before emigrating to the U.S. As many dog owners know, getting your dog in the car to go to the veterinarian can be enough of a challenge.

If you’re not bringing her from a contiguous country, like Canada or Mexico, chances are your dog will be flying, and the skies can be less friendly for dogs than cars. When it’s not managed by their own legs and paws, travel can be a source of extreme stress for dogs. Stress of being separated from you for an extended period of time is one thing, but the stresses that accompany altitude changes and physical confinement have their own ramifications.

Travel stress can lead to stomach upset, diarrhea, and constipation. The best possible scenario is that you have a small dog with a carrier that can be considered a carry-on by your airline. For larger dogs, you’ll want to get a carrier that is USDA-approved, with room sufficient for the dog to stretch their legs and perhaps move about. You may also try, in the time leading up to the day of departure, to acclimate your dog to spending time in her carrier.

Have you ever relocated a dog?

Making sure your dog is generally healthy, current on vaccinations, and as comfortable as possible during the long and strenuous journey are all critically important when you start planning for an international move together. Finally, you may want to seriously consider microchipping and having photos of your dog, both on hand and affixed to the carrier. These preventative measures can be of immense value if the unforeseen happens and your dog gets lost in transit.

International travelers! We seek your input! Have you ever brought a dog into the United States from another country? What was the process like for you and your dog? For those of you who may spend half the year in America and the other half elsewhere — with your dog along for the ride — what experiences can you share? What are the best airlines when it comes to transporting a dog overseas? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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