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!