Pet Travel from the US to South America

Since we began this journey back in January, we’ve certainly had some obstacles to overcome in the way of transporting Sofi from place to place. As a result, we’re now very knowledgeable about the entire process and hopeful to spread the knowledge to anybody looking to travel with their animal internationally. If you plan to cross a border with a pet or are curious about how that works, we’ve gathered a multitude of information from our experiences that is not easy to find on the internet.

To date, Sofi has been on three international flights and crossed one international border by car. She’s a pro! To paint a more complete picture of how the process works, we will start with information on how to get your (large) pet from the United States to South America. Large pets create additional work because they have to be flown via cargo instead of checked baggage.

What you’ll need to exit the US:

1. An official veterinary health certificate stamped by the U.S. Department of Agriculture within ten days of your departure date.

2. Well-documented paperwork detailing your pet’s shot history, including an up-to-date rabies vaccination that is no less than 30 days old and no older than one year.

3. A reservation as far in advance as possible with whatever airline you choose to ship your pet.  For us, it was United Airlines and the PetSafe program.  They shipped from Chicago all the way to Lima, Peru.

4. For large animals (like our Sofi!), an airline-approved crate (details of what works can be found with a simple online search) large enough to allow your pet to stand fully upright and still have six inches of clearance above its head.  We learned this the hard way when we first left the U.S., but fortunately the PetSafe office had an extra-large spare crate in their office and we traded in our large crate for theirs.

What you’ll need once you arrive in South America*:


Entering: Payments to the local cargo office, the customs office, and SENASA (health department).  You will also need to retrieve the airway bill from whatever cargo service was used to transport the animal.  This can be a VERY lengthy process because of the number of parties involved, and the ability to speak Spanish (or have someone who can translate) will help immensely.

Exiting: Bank payment to SENASA.  This is a small payment that comes with a receipt to present at the border.


Entering: A veterinary bill of health, rabies certificate, and paperwork from the Aduana (customs) and SAG (health department) offices.  If crossing the border by land as we did, this can be done at the border of Peru (Tacna) and Chile (Arica).

Exiting: Aduana and SAG paperwork.  As is the case in every airport we traveled through, the cargo offices are separate from the actual airport.  As such, we had to walk quite far to reach these offices with Sofi and all our bags in our possession.  This can also be a very lengthy process so try to fly out at night in order to give yourself enough time to complete the paperwork during the day.


Entering: Official paperwork from Chile and paperwork from Vigiagro, the department overseeing the importation of products and animals into Brazil.  The paperwork from Vigiagro was completed once we arrived at the cargo office in order to get Sofi released.

Exiting: Current veterinary exam (completed in Brazil within five days of leaving the country), exit paperwork from Vigiagro, a reservation from the local cargo office to ship the pet to its next destination, and any requirements from the destination country.  We were returning to the states, so in our case this just meant updated vaccination paperwork and a screwworm test completed during the veterinary exam in Brazil.

*As a side note, ALWAYS be certain to make lots of copies of paperwork.  Do your best try to hang on to the original paperwork as many offices will ask for that.

Are you considering international travel with your furry friend? Have questions about our experience or about your upcoming trip? Shoot us an email using the ‘Contact Us’ tab and we’d be happy to chat!

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