Moving to Nicaragua with Dogs

For pet owners considering a move abroad, the question of what to do with your beloved furry friend during your sabbatical eventually enters the picture.  For me, it was a no-brainer – Cooper was coming with us to Nicaragua.  I’ve had him since he was 6-weeks old and I wasn’t about to abandon him in his 10th year so that I could live the tropical life abroad.  Easier said than done?  Yes and no.  I am certain that transporting Cooper, our lab/coon-hound mutt, across the ocean caused me much more anxiety than it ever did him.  Nevertheless, some planning on our end helped ease the process and produce both a frisky pup and a relieved owner at Nicaragua customs.  

Some tips:

-Visit with your vet prior to your move to determine your dog’s health and ability to manage the flight.  Also, request a copy of your dog’s health and vaccination records.  Make sure dog is up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies.  In some cases, you might be required to de-worm your dog, as well.  Also, research vets in the location in which you intend to move.  In San Juan, The Stone and Waves Veterinary Clinic is a good choice.

-Within 2 weeks of your departure, schedule a vet appt. to obtain necessary health certificates for your dog.  We received mixed messages on whether or not this paperwork needed to be notarized, so we had it done to be safe.  In our case, it actually needed to be stamped by the USDA-APHIS office, which was located more than an hour from our home.  We also were told by some that the papers needed to be stamped by the Nicaraguan Consulate.  After much back and forth, we learned that this was, in fact, not necessary.

-Purchase a crate for transport (must be large enough for dog to stand up and turn around in).  If you don’t already own one, I recommend checking Craig’s List.  The day you depart, put a t-shirt that you slept in the previous night in your dog’s crate – he’ll appreciate your scent and it will help to calm him.

-Call the airline you intend to fly with and ask about their travel requirements/restrictions.  Many have temperature and size restrictions.  You may need to be prepared to send your dog before or after you, due to temperature variations or change your own flight if you want to fly at the same time.  Keep temperature/time of year in mind when you are booking your flight.  Some might also require that your dog be de-planed by airplane staff during long layovers, which is an additional cost to you, but well worth it for the health of your dog.

-Airlines WILL NOT ACCEPT pets that have been sedated with tranquilizers, as they are not able to able to adjust to sudden movements in the flight and can get hurt.  However, my vet did recommend an herbal anxiety reducer like PetCalm, which appeared to work well.

-Upon arrival in Managua, we were told that we would need an agent to receive the dog, for a fee of USD$35.  This was not the case; however, we did find (while in Houston, in transit), that the Managua customs agent was leaving at 4 pm (we were due to arrive at 6 pm and told that they would be there until midnight) and they were insisting that because the agent would not be there to clear the dog, Cooper would have to spend the night in the airport.  I simply refused to allow this to happen.  Thanks to our wonderful friends, who arrived at the Managua airport early and pulled some strings, the customs agents stayed long enough to clear Cooper so that he was there to greet us, barking away, when we came through customs!

The USDA has a great site with helpful information on flying with pets internationally.

For people flying to Nicaragua with pets, Continental Airlines (thru Houston) will kennel your dog during layovers – taking them out, walking and peeing them, etc.  We did not love the service we received, but prior to traveling, it definitely gave us peace of mind to know that someone would care for Cooper in transit.

After all the hassle, I must say that it was entirely worth it!  Cooper is living his retirement in a tropical climate that has proven to be great for his health!  He is happier than ever and so am I having the peace of mind knowing that my “family” is in tact!

22 thoughts on “Moving to Nicaragua with Dogs

  1. I saw your blog when I tag surfed for the word “dog.” I love hearing stories like this. I’ve moved several times (though never to another country!) and I’ve always taken my dog (and my guinea pig) with me. I was always surprised when people said, “What are you doing with your dog?” Well, she was coming with me, of course! There are so many stories of dogs, especially older dogs, given up because owners didn’t want to deal with the expense or inconvenience of bringing their pets along. I just want to let you know that your story made my day. 🙂 Your dog is lucky to have such a good owner.

  2. Good information. We retired to Mexico with our two bassets and two beagles. We are looking at your area. Good post with great first hand information.

  3. Hmmm. Im 1/2 Mexican & Nicaraguan and I live in L.A. Im planning on vacationing, visiting and meeting my family in Nicaragua whom Ive never met sometime in mid 2010. I plan on staying for 2 weeks. Im thinking of taking my dog Yoshi w/ me. He is a Lab/Sheppard mix. Ill be in Matagalpa w/ my family for about 3 days then I plan on going to Lake of Nicaragua, San Juan Del Sur and many other spots to do lots of hiking and exploring. It would be nice to have my dog w/ me. Do you think all the hassle of getting my dog to Nicaragua and back to L.A. is too much trouble? Having done this before, would you do what Im thinking of doing?

  4. Hi David: Did you take your dogs with you? I’m planning to go to Nicaragua middle of January and I would like to travel with mi little yorkie. Let me know what you needed. I heard about a form to be filled out by the vet and signed by USDA, but I also heard about contacting the Nicaragua Consulate. Let me know

  5. Hey..that was really helpful..I have just a few questions for you..if you can email’s about the whole customs and what to expect when we land in Managua….I’ve lived half the year in Nicaragua for 5 years but never brought a dog in…please email me thanks so much!


    • Hi Dawn,
      Glad it was helpful! Prior to flying, we were told that we needed to pay a “handler” in Managua to receive the dog. We didn’t know what they meant or how to arrange it, so we just ignored this piece of advice. We were told that a customs agent would be at the airport until 9 p.m. and could process the paperwork for us and allow us to take the dog with us. Turns out that the guy went out to lunch and never came back that afternoon and they were going to keep the dog overnight until the guy returned the next day. However, thanks to our friend, who was already waiting for us at the airport, we were able to take Cooper with us almost as soon as we made it thru immigration. She got to the airport early and let the officials know that she was expecting a dog. After some back and forth and arguing on her part, she talked them into letting the dog thru without this special handler. While we waited in the line at customs, Cooper came thru, in his crate, on a cart. We just signed a piece of paper, walked thru customs and were good to go. Long story short, it’s helpful to have someone on this end of things ready to receive your pet. good luck transporting your pup! I can guarantee that it’s harder on the owner than it is on the dog!

  6. Hello, your story was very helpful, but I still have a quick question, maybe you can help me. I am taking my two dogs with me to Nicaragua. I currently live in Arizona, but my flight starts in Houston. So my question is, can I still get the health certificate and the USDA-APHIS stamp in Arizona or should wait and do it in Houston. I just want to be sure because I will have time on either place (Phoenix or Houston). Hopefully I did not confuse you, thanks in advance.

    • Hi Sandra,
      Glad the info was helpful. I don’t know the details on health certificates, so I would recommend that you contact the USDA directly for those answers. I’d hate for you to get to the airport and not be able to take the pups with you!
      Best of luck to you,

    • Glad you are enjoying the blog! There aren’t beaches that prohibit dogs, but bear in mind that this also means that there are stray dogs there, as well. If your dog is well-behaved and listens to your commands, you shouldn’t have any problems. Cheers!

  7. hi there,

    we ran across your blog before our recent trip to sjds … well, we’re moving there in 3 months and are, of course, going to bring our dogs. You’ve covered the in-transit topic superbly … how about traveling to Costa Rica with them to go camping, etc. Is that possible? Have any wisdom on that end of things?

    many thanks in advance

    • Hi Carter,

      Thanks for your email. Unfortunately, I do not have any info on crossing into CR with dogs. However, given that cars aren’t permitted to cross the border without certain documents, I would bet that the same or more applies to dogs. My guess is that you would need all of the same documents to bring your pets into CR as you would need for Nica. Check out this link, which might be useful: Wish I could be of more help to you!

  8. I managed to take my dog to Nicaragua from Australia. But now I face the problem of taking her with me to the USA. Does anyone know how to take a dog back from Nicaragua to the USA?

    • Hi Anna,

      Unfortunately, I do not know how to transport dogs in the other direction. You might consider contacting World Vets, as I know that they have accomplished this in the past. Best of luck to you!

  9. Hello, My wife and I want to visit Managua, Nicaragua (and maybe buy or rent a property). She uses a Seeing Eye guide because she is blind. Is that a problem? Technically, the guide dog does need to be crated because it is a recognized and licensed service animal.
    Do you have any information on what is needed for a service dog once we land in Managua?
    Thanks and best regards,
    Martin and Alice Zehnder

    • Hi Martin,

      Unfortunately, I do not have information on importing seeing eye dogs. Perhaps you can contact a Nicaraguan consulate in the US? I suspect that a seeing eye dog will likely be treated like all other animals entering the country – needing the same paperwork and possibly requiring a “handler” on this end to meet the dog upon arrival. Check with the airlines, as well, as they might have different rules for helping dogs.

      All the best to you and your wife!

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  11. hi the question i have is when your dog got to nica did the handler or anyone else have to take the dog out of the crate the reason i ask is bcuz my hairless dog does not allow anyone but me or my husband to handle her at all so im kind of worried maybe i should go a day ahead and be at the airport for when she arrives what do you think?

    • Hi Jean,
      As far as I know, no one on the Nica side physically handled the dog. However, we did have to take him out of the crate on the US end so that they could inspect the crate and they ultimately drilled more holes in the crate. Our dog flew on the same flight as us, so we were there when he arrived. You will have to do what’s best for you and your dog at the end of the day! Best of luck to you.

  12. I am book marking this for our transition in 2 years Though I am sure the doggie drill will have changed. I could not live with out my lab being with us! Thanks for the practical tips! Moving to Poneloya btw.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, and the rest of your blog. A possible move to SJDS has been brewing in my mind and of course, my Chihuahua would be coming with me. My question is, how difficult is it to find small dog-friendly rentals with safe, fenced back yards (even a small patio/outdoor space on ground level would suffice?)

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