Importing Pets and Wildlife

Although many departments of the U.S. government share in monitoring the importation of pets and wildlife, the 1976 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act stipulates the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for establishing the standards for transporting, handling, and treating imported animals.

The U.S. Public Health Service requires that all imported pets be examined for evidence of any disease that can be transmitted to humans, and the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires that animals and birds—both domestic and wild—be free from any disease that could threaten the U.S. livestock and poultry industries.

Further, the United States restricts or prohibits the importation and exportation of animals and birds protected by the international treaty of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

For further information and required documents related to the admittance of animals into the United States, contact:

U.S. Public Health Service
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Division of Quarantine (EQ3)
1600 Clifton Road N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A.
Phone: (404) 639-8107
Fax: (404) 639-2599

For information about importing live animals or animal products, call the USDA APHIS information hotline at (301) 734-4952.

Before attempting to import a pet, check with authorities from your state, country and municipal governments for any restrictions they might have in place.

Transporting any animal takes considerable planning. For example, you might be able to expedite the clearance procedure by writing to the veterinarian at the port of entry and notifying him or her of your pet's flight number and expected time of arrival. It's also a good idea to schedule your pet's arrival for a weekday when the personnel necessary to clear your pet are on duty.

Pet birds brought into the United States from countries other than Canada are quarantined at the owner's expense for at least 30 days in a USDA-operated import facility.

USDA facilities are located in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. If you are arriving in the States by land from Mexico, you may have your bird quarantined in Mission, Texas.

Prior to accepting a bird for quarantine, the USDA requires payment of a fee for the cost of quarantine services. Since space at USDA quarantine facilities is limited, you should make a reservation for your bird prior to your arrival. To reserve space, contact the USDA or a U.S. consulate or embassy, and ask for VS Form 17-23.

You also will be required to present a health certificate signed within 30 days of your bird's arrival in the United States by a government veterinarian from the bird's country of origin. The certificate must state the bird has been examined, is free from disease, and is being exported in compliance with laws of the origin nation. The certificate must be in English. For certain types of birds, particularly those protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species treaty, you may need a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Birds originating in the U.S that have been abroad for more than 60 days may be quarantined at the owner's home for 30 days if they are:

  • Accompanied by a U.S. veterinarian health certificate and a tattoo or number leg band for identification purposes, both received prior to departure from the States
  • Inspected at a USDA veterinarian inspection station at the first port of entry (any international airport)
  • Have not been in contact with poultry or other birds while outside the States
  • If your bird will arrive at a "limited port of entry," call the port veterinarian at least three days in advance to make arrangements for inspection.


Dogs and cats are examined at the port of entry to determine if they are free from diseases communicable to humans. A vaccination against rabies is not required for cats; however, dogs should be vaccinated for rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the States. A valid rabies vaccination certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian must accompany the dog, identifying it and providing the dates of vaccination and vaccination expiration.

If the dog's rabies vaccination was administered less than one month before its arrival, the pet will be admitted into the country but must be placed in quarantine by the owner until the required 30 days have expired.

A dog that has not been vaccinated may be admitted, provided the owner has it vaccinated within 10 days of arrival at the port of entry and confined for a subsequent 30 days. If importing puppies, check with the U.S. Public Health Service for special guidelines.

There are no public health restrictions on importing live turtles with a shell length of more than four inches. You may import smaller turtles, but customs regulations limit their entry to one lot of fewer than seven live turtles or viable turtle eggs, or any combination of the two.

Monkeys, lemurs, baboons, chimpanzees, and all other non-human primates cannot be imported. The only exceptions are primates imported for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes by an importer registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Game birds and animals—other than endangered or threatened species—may be imported for noncommercial use if accompanied by the necessary documentation, which might be required from the United States and origin country.

You may contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine restrictions placed on importing wildlife or wildlife products, receive clarification of the documentation required, and request the publication "Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws":

Division of Law Enforcement
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 North Fairfax Dr. Room 520
Arlington, VA 22203-3247, U.S.A.
Phone: (703) 358-1949
Fax: (703) 358-2258

The following organization also offers information about importing wildlife and wildlife products:

TRAFFIC (U.S.A.) World Wildlife Fund
1250 24th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 293-4800
Fax: (202) 293-9211

For information about the importation of marine mammal products, contact:

Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Services
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301) 713-2239
Fax: (301) 713-stet

Wildlife and wildlife products must enter or exit the United States at one of the following designated ports (unless permits allow otherwise or unless conditions exist that allow entry or exit at a Canadian or Mexican border port or a special port): Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Live animals deemed harmful to the environment, people, animals, or plants of the United States are prohibited from entry. These include the fruit bat, mongoose, walking catfish, and java sparrow. The restriction does not include domesticated dogs, cats, or rabbits. Many states have strict prohibitions against the introduction of non-native wildlife.

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