Traveling to Costa Rica with a Dog

Can You Take Your Dog to Costa Rica? A Helpful Guide

Yes you can bring your dog to Costa Rica but it must have a signed and stamped health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. It must show proof that the dog has been given shots for distemper, hepatitis, rabies, parvovirus and Leptospirosis.

I was taking my dog with me to Costa Rica for the first time but I did’t know what I needed to do or bring with me. So, I looked into it and here is a complete guide on how you can take your dog to Costa Rica.

Luckily, lot of the information is the same for domestic and international travel but of course, there are some key differences as well. This ranges from how to get all of the necessary paperwork (such as health certificates and documentation) , how your dog travels on the plane what to do when you arrive in Costa Rica.

Since there is alot of things to take into consideration when taking your dog to Costa Rica. Lets start with the basic vaccinations requirements in order to travel with your dog to Costa Rica by plane

What Are Vaccination Requirements for Dogs in Costa Rica

The required vaccinations for Costa Rica are:

  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Parvovirus
  • Rabies (for dogs over four months).

The rabies vaccine must have been applied at least one month before entering Costa Rica. In Costa Rica the rabies vaccination should be valid one year.

For those taking there dog from the United States, here is a copy of the Veterinary Health Certificate for Costa Rica

4 Ways of Flying To Costa Rica With Your Dog

There are essentially 4 different ways your dog can travel to Costa Rica by plane. I am going to go over each one of them briefly so you have a better understanding of each.

1. Checked Baggage Cabin

This means traveling in the cabin and your dog must fly with you and travel in an airline compliant carrier which must be stowed under the seat.

2. Checked Baggage Cargo

Traveling with you, your dog is not permitted in the cabin and will be transported as checked baggage in the cargo hold unless you have permission from a veterinarian that your dog is needed for emotional support or is a service dog.

3. Manifest Cargo

Your dog goes on his/her own and will travel as manifest cargo in the hold.

4. Service/Comfort Dogs

The dog can travel in the cabin with you. For Large Dogs, which most airlines classify large dogs as those weighing more than 22 pounds, only Emotional Support and Service Dogs are allowed to travel in the cabin of an airplane.

What Are Emotional Support and Service Dogs?

Service dog to Costa Rica

Emotional Support Animal

If you have an emotional disability, you can legally qualify for an ESA, short for emotional support animal. You must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional. An emotional support animal does not need specialized training to handle a task.

Service Dogs

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks of benefit to a disabled individual in order to be legally elevated from pet status to service animal status. A seeing eye dog is one example of a Service Dog

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) come in different breeds and animal types and are not just limited to dogs, while Service Animals are almost always dogs

Ok with all that out of the way here is what I recommend that you do at each step along the way:

How to Get Your Dog Ready For Travel to Costa Rica

How to travel with a dog | Budget Airfare

Once you have all that taken care of, I would recommend that you start getting your dog ready at least a month before you go. You should buy or borrow an airline travel carrier if you are bringing the dog to the plane with you such as the Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier  or with carriers that go in the cargo hold such as the Midwest Skudo Plastic Pet Carriers , so that they are accustomed to it by the time you leave as this will minimize their stress during travel.

You can do things like short car rides with them. Also leave the carrier around the house so the can check it out. That way, they’re already comfortable with it as a safe space before you leave.

Put bedding or “absorbent material” on the bottom of the carrier. Attach food and water dishes (empty of course) to the inside of the carrier. Make sure they can get to them from the outside.

On the day before the flight to Costa Rica put a travel label to the carrier and put your name, address and cell number as well as your final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.

Also take your dog on an excercise day of his life so that he gets as tired as can be, if you have a flight that leaves at night, the day of is fine as well. Lastly try not feed your dog for four to six hours before you leave.

One last note: Don’t forget your coming back so be sure to check regulations on your dog back home as well.. Quarantine rules may apply even if your dog has only been gone a short time.

Preparing Your Dog For A Flight to Costa Rica

Dogs and Costa Rica

Getting your dog ready for the flight to Costa Rica is even more important then the flight itself therefore, when deciding on what airline, whether you are flying with your pet or it is flying without you, I would recommend that you go with direct flights.

You will avoid the potential mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your dog off the plane. After finding your airline, you will need to know their pet policies and make sure you comply with them

I would also search the nearest vet/animal hospital in Costa Rica where you’ll be traveling to ahead of time and make a note of it that way, should you have any issues while your traveling you will not have to look for some place at the last second.

If you have what is called a brachycephalic dog, for example, Pekingese dogs or bulldog and you are putting them in the cargo hold talk to your vet because these breeds have occasional breathing issue and your vet may have some suggestions on the best way for them to travel.

While your talking to your vet about that or even if that is not issue for you, You will still need to contact your veterinarian to ensure your pet is in compliance with Costa Rica health regulations.

How To Get Your Dog Through the Flight

If you have decided to take your dog in the cabin with you, then once you are on the plane try to keep your dog as calm as possible. These may seem like a challenge at first as the airline will not allow you to take your dog out of its carrier ( technically),  but you can you can still do small thing to keep him calm from all the noise and action going on around you.

For example:

  1. Have your dog face the window – let him take a look outside
  2. Give him a small treat or 2 to keep him busy – but don’t overdo it
  3. Make him feel less anxious by giving him a scratch on the head or pet him a little
  4. Put a small piece of your like a shirt in the carrier ( basically something that has your scent on it 5)

If you did some of the pre flight planning that I mentioned earlier, it will make this part of your dogs travel experience much easier and it should not take long for your dog to get comfortable and relaxed.

In regards to those that are having there dogs fly in “cargo”, call or check with your airline, before you arrive about where to drop your pet. If it’s traveling as checked luggage” you will bring it to the passenger terminal,  however if you dog is going as “cargo” you will probably have to bring it to the air cargo terminal, which is usually a different location at the airport. (You might have to pick up your dog at a cargo terminal, too!)

After all this done, there is not much you can do until you arrive in Costa Rica, however, again if you did some the pre flight planning, your dog and the process should go off without a hitch.

What To Do After Arriving in Costa Rica with Your Dog

Arriving at airport

May sure you have not only your travel documents but your dog passport (see below) as well.  Again don’t be surprised if your desperately needs to go to the bathroom so you may need to be appropriately prepared as it may take take some time to get through customs.

Once you arrive and if your dog was not next to you and was put in cargo, then you will pick him up at baggage claim. .After you pick him or her up, then you will have to find a SENASA official in order to clear your dog to leave the airport.(SENASA is the veterinary agency of Costa Rica).

The official will ask for the paperwork that verifies that all the requirements are met and if all is in order he will stamp it and send you on your way.

You will still need to go through regular customs at this point and they will just ask you to show the paperwork from the SENASA official and then your free to leave.

Can I Get My Dog A Pet Passport for Costa Rica?

What is a Pet Passport?

A Pet Passport is a document that officially records information related to your dog as part of that procedure. The effect is to drastically speed up and simplify travel with and transport dogs between member countries, (Costa Rica is one) compared to previous procedures, if the regulations are followed.

Why is a pet passport important?

A pet passport is important because it allows you to group all required and vital information about your pet in one place and make it convenient for officials at the airport in Costa Rica to verify your pet’s health and inoculation records.

Creating your own pet’s passport

Your veterinarian can help to create a passport for your dog to enter almost any country in the world. If you are from the United States and are visiting Costa Rica with your pet, then the pet passport will consist of the following:

  • The Annex IV for the point of entry (first) country you will be visiting (they are all different) completed by your veterinarian and certified by the State USDA veterinarian.
  • Veterinary Health Certificate for Costa Rica endorsed by the USDA
  • Your pet’s inoculation record which must be attached to the certified Annex IV form. (Sometimes the inoculation record is referred to as the Rabies Certificate.)
  • Declaration of Non-Commercial Transport Form attesting that your pet transport does not involve sale or transfer of ownership.

Note: Costa Rica allows USDA Accredited Veterinarians to use USDA’s online Veterinary Export Health Certification System (VEHCS) to complete health certificates

Should I get a Dog Tracker for Costa Rica?

This may be considered a little excessive for some but since there are no degrees in careful.  I would recommend it for those that want the ultimate in dog security. These devices below help keep tabs on your dog so in the case they get lost  in which case you have an easy and quick way to track the down.

Radio Tracker

This utilizes a somewhat dated technology and have been used for decades. These devices don’t require a monthly subscription. is used by hunting dogs, and cover roughly the same distance of a Walkie Talkie’s Range. Check out the Garmin Astro 320 T5 Dog GPS Bundle from Amazon

GPS Tracker

technology that allows you to pinpoint your pets location in real time. You can see a history of locations reported by the device to see every place your pet went while you were away. Check out services such as Paw Tracker, GIBI Pet Locator or LINK AKC – Smart Dog Collar from Amazon


The website and its app uses eight distinctive facial markers on dogs, plus a photo database,  a large alert system with dog rescues and shelters to help every pup make it home. PiP, another Pet Facial Recognition app, works in a similar manner.

Final Thoughts

Taking your dog with you on a plane trip anywhre can be a nerve racking experience, especially the first time. It’s a lot of work, and it’s stressful since your not sure what you need to do and what’s the best way to best prepare your dog for the trip.

So, Lets face it… its not alot of fun, but the good news is, it doesn’t have to be painful and with the right planning you can arrive in Costa Rica with your dog safe and sound