Central America with dogs – crossing borders

posted in: Travel with dogs | 9

Crossing borders in Central America with dogs was one of our biggest scares. Not being able to find all relevant information online made us decide to write this post. You will find here information about Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We will also include information about Panama but that’s not tested by ourselves as we opted out of this bureaucratic nightmare and flew directly to Colombia. Also this article is about travelling by land in this order as requirements may vary depending on the preceding country (we crossed to Guatemala from Mexico). We entered Guatemala on 14th Nov 2018 and left Costa Rica on 25th Feb 2019. All the information were valid at least during this period. It’s always worth checking if anything changed.

We want to give you brief insight how difficult was to find the information. One day in Antigua, Guatemala we spent calling vets and agriculture agencies in all the other countries of Central America. The vet in Antigua scared us as he said it will be very expensive and almost impossible. But we made it as I’m writing this post from Colombia.

As a first “go to” resource, we recommend pettravel.com that will give you a general idea. It’s not very specific though so this article will be hopefully helpful in taking you through the process step by step.

Central America with dogs – Guatemala

To cross into Guatemala you will need health certficate (in Spanish) that shouldn’t be older than 10 days and vaccination card . You will need copies of your passport as well as copies of the documents for the dogs. The health certificate doesn’t have to be endorsed by the consulate of Guatemala in Mexico (confirmed with the consulate in Tenosique). A tick/flea and tapeworm treatment wasn’t officially required but it’s a good idea to keep this up-to-date. There’s a lot of ticks and your dogs will probably come into contact with one of many street dogs in Guatemala.

on one of small roads in Guatemala

When we arrived at the border, we dealt with an agent of MAGA/OIRSA who checked everything and filled paperwork for us. We paid roughly 13 USD for each dog at the bank. Then we were free to go. Fun fact: while we were dealing with all the import paperwork, stray dogs and pigs!! were crossing back and forth between Mexico and Guatemala.

See one of the adventures you can do with your dog in Guatemala!

Tom and Phoebe relaxing by Lake Atitlán

If you stay in the country less than 30 days, you don’t need export paperwork (according to the vet in Antigua). If you stay more than that, you need export permit endorsed by MAGA (Ministry of Agriculture). We stayed more than 30 days of course. Because we were falsely informed by the agent at the Mexico-Guatemala border, that we don’t need anything we arrived to the vet in Antigua just for new health certificates few days before Christmas. We knew that with the holidays we would have to wait a lot longer for the paperwork to return from Guatemala City. Therefore we decided to try without. And it worked. On the Guatemalan side nobody cared and the window of Quarantena (office for importing/exporting animals) was closed. So we moved onto El Salvador.

Central America with dogs – El Salvador

In El Salvador we deliberately went to the Quarantena just to be able to give you all of this information. Otherwise nobody would have cared either. The agent was genuinely surprised we’re declaring them if we planned to stay in the country only for 2 weeks. You need to fill import declaration that you find here. He checked the certificates and their passports (where they have all the vaccination records) and gave them their first stamp (and last so far) into their passports. That was it. No photocopies, no overload of bureaucracy, no payment.

When we were leaving El Salvador, we haven’t bothered finding Quarantena again, after positive export experience from Guatemala.

central america with dogs, dog jumping to catch a ball
awesome sunset in El Salvador

Central America with dogs – Honduras

Honduras was another of the countries that wouldn’t have bothered us with anything if we didn’t want to show you the procedure. We actually had to return from the border crossing we took for ourselves (for cars and foot passengers) and go to the crossing for trucks. Quarantena was only there. Again the officer seemed pretty bored but he came out and had a brief look at our dogs. We paid 280 Honduran Lempiras – 11 USD (they charged us for only one dog) and off we went with the import paper.

Exporting them from Honduras was again a piece of cake as we didn’t even see the Quarantena, plus we were in the country for 4 days only.

Central America with dogs – Nicaragua

We were warned by the Guatemalan vet that Nicaragua may be the first country where the things could get difficult. Thankfully it wasn’t true.

We still had the health certificate from Guatemala as 30 days haven’t passed yet. Nicaragua doesn’t require tick/flea treatment and deworming but we think it’s reasonable to keep it regular.

At the border we went to the Quarantena office and very friendly guy came out to check our dogs. He mainly looked at their teeth if the age in the HC is true. We then paid about 10 USD per dog (in cordóbas) and were given paperwork for them.

Laguna Apoyo in Nicaragua

The trouble came when leaving Nicaragua to Costa Rica. The requirements are more challenging (meaning it’s a pain in the ass but I can’t say it out loud, can I?). Apart from health certificate and the usual vaccination card, the certificate needs to be endorsed by IPSA (Ministry of Agriculture). First of all, it gets more expensive. This really depends on the vet, I guess, we got two quotes in Granada, one for 60 USD and one for 103 USD, so choose well. It also slows you down as it gets two business days to get it back.

We didn’t stop at Nicaragua IPSA office at the border as it was getting dark and on the bicycles we wanted to find a safe spot in Costa Rica quickly. But Costa Rica requires Nicaragua export paperwork to enter the country.

Central America with dogs – Costa Rica

As we said you need health certificate endorsed by IPSA if coming from Nicaragua. Then apart from rabies vaccination, Costa Rica requires also vaccination against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, and parvovirus. Deworming and flea and tick treatment is required as well. This will be all checked at the border and Costa Rica is unforgiving so be ready.

Riding on the beach in Costa Rica

In terms of export, Costa Rica requires export permit regardless of length of stay in the country. At least 10 days prior to export, internal and external parasites treatment is required. The veterinarian will fill export form for you, including the airport or border crossing and the date of departure. This might have been difficult if we continued by bikes and not plane. It then has to go to SENASA office to be approved. It took 2 business days but this is very variable, leave yourself enough time. The export form is valid for 30 days but for example Colombia where we continued required the HC to be maximum 10 days old. Plan your dates well. The vet can do the SENASA endorsement for you (which we recommend) or you can take it there yourself. However we think the nerves with official institution in Central America are not worth the money. We paid for all the paperwork including endorsement from SENASA 120 USD per dog. Crazy right?

At the airport the paperwork was checked at the check-in and they specifically asked for SENASA so there’s no way around it I’m afraid.

BONUS: Panama

The reason why we skipped Panama while travelling in Central America with dogs is the incredible bureaucracy they put pet owners through. In addition to SENASA endorsement, the health certificate/export form needs to be approved by ministry of external affairs and stamped by their lawyers?! We were told by a vet in Costa Rica this could take up to 10 days and of course additional payments. Then you have to fill a form for so called home quarantine. This means you state an address in Panama where you will be staying with your dog. You will pay together 150 USD per dog to enter the country. Thank you, Panama but we’re not supporting this business.

One last thing to mention is giving your dog regular prophylaxis for heart worm that is common in this part of the world. It is something we really didn’t have to think about in Europe. Also don’t be scared to travel in Central America with dogs because of a known problem with stray dogs. Most of them are either friendly or scared of people so you shouldn’t have problems. Keep your dog close to you but don’t be overprotective. Unless your dog is the one who starts the fights, then it’s better idea to keep them separated.

We really hope this article will be helpful for you as border crossing is the main question we get all the time. You see, crossing borders in Central America with dogs is doable but one has to be prepared and know what awaits. We wish you only good travel experiences with your dogs!

Follow Luba Lapsanska:

Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.

9 Responses

  1. ddeubel

    Luba – wonderful writeup. I’m heading from Antigua through Honduras to Nicaragua with our two dogs for several months (more driving time but one less border hassle). Don’t have time for the MAGA stamps but I think I should be ok. Really thank you for the clear write up and recent experience.

    • Tomas Smejkal

      Hey Abbey and Pebbles, I’m assuming you’re flying from Mexico to Costa Rica, we went overland to Guatemala. But for example from Nicaragua Costa Rica requires export paperwork. I’d enquire at Senasa Costa Rica to find out what exactly they need, that’s the safest bet that you’ll get correct information as most veterinarians don’t know as people don’t normally travel with pets in these countries.

  2. Ty

    Luba, thanks so much for the write up on your experience. We are flying to Nicaragua from the US for 4 months with our 2 dogs. We are very curious about the extent we have to go for our health certificates…? Many places online talk about the health certificates needing to be endorsed by the USDA, which can get very costly for 2 dogs. Some places online said a general health certificate with the rabies vaccine paperwork is sufficient. We have health certificates written by the vet when they had their rabies vaccines, but are wondering if we should just suck it up and pay the extra $200/dog for the USDA authenticated paperwork to not get refused at the airport. Just wondering how sticky they will be at the airport? Probably more strict than the land borders….would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Luba Lapsanska

      Hi Ty! In case of air travel I’d strictly adhere to the information from US embassy in Nicaragua. Call them and they should be able to tell you. I’d assume it will be USDA endorsed health certificate. You see if it was land travel, there’s always room to return to the previous country and add what’s necessary but in case of the flight, you either would have to put the dogs into quarantine facility or cancel the flight. And I agree with you, airport staff will probably be more strict about this than the land borders staff. Good luck and enjoy Nica!

  3. Victoria

    Hi ! What about car fumigation at the borders ? I can’t find any information about it being safe/unsafe to pets ? Thank you

    • Luba Lapsanska

      Hi Victoria, we travel by bicycles so don’t have any experience with car fumigation. Sorry!

  4. Danielle

    OMG amazing information! So helpful, thank you for sharing. What an adventure! We’re hoping to go North Costa Rica to Mexico with our SEVEN dogs soon! Cheers!

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