I never pictured myself being the kind of person to travel with pets until I became a mom of an 11-year-old son with two rescue dogs. We were planning on moving to Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico, and no one was going to be left behind! So, our dogs became expat pets.
In my younger years, I would fly from California to Hawaii, sometimes just for the weekend, and when I lived on Maui in Hawaii, I would fly home yearly for family reunions in Newport Beach, CA. But things change with kids and dogs at home, and we’d go everywhere together.
Expat Pets: Crossing US/MX Border
California had required rescue dogs (from the pound) to be tagged and vaccinated for everything before they could be taken home, and it was quite expensive. But we ended up with all their paperwork, health certificates, etc. So we were already “invested” in our watch-dogs prior to moving to Baja, Mexico.
In 2009, driving from Southern California to Baja, Mexico, looking for suitable beach houses, we simply drove across the border with our two dogs barking the entire time. No one even asked to see their paperwork. And this was before they required passports for my son and I. But we got passports that year, as new laws had just been passed regarding border crossings.
Between 2009 and 2015 (when we left Baja, for Belize), our monthly trips made across the California and Mexico borders went smoothly. We never had to show the dogs’ papers, coming in, or going out of Mexico.
Mexico loves its pets and livestock, and many households even had their own chickens. Everyone we knew there had at least one guard dog, and some friends had two or more, and yes, their dogs were part of the family.
Fast forward to 2015, my son and I would fly to Belize to start a farm life. We read up on all the requirements for pets flying on our Mexican airlines, as we’d be landing near Belize, in Chetumal, to either walk or drive across that border.
Expat Pets: Flying
The plane trip needed our dogs to be secured in “airline-approved” carriers, which were not as expensive as I’d thought they’d be, but we would only be flying our smaller dog with us. Both our dogs were required to be health-certified by a veterinarian less than a month before landing in Belize, and we had the papers to prove it!
Our larger dog would be driven down through Mexico to protect our driver and our belongings. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it and we were never reunited. However, our small dog not only had a special warm area in which to fly, but the airlines counted pets as precious luggage back then and included ours as part of the “free weight” allowed to their boarding passengers.
Still, no one needed to see our dog’s papers.
Back then, neither food nor water was allowed with pets inside their carriers, so we fed and sufficiently watered our dog before checking into the airport. Yet, after boarding our plane and waiting a long time for takeoff, my son and I were pulled aside privately by the flight crew who explained that our dog had an accident, but he was alright.
He had caught his toenail claw inside the dog carrier, but they assured us that his injury had been treated. Then, our plane took off, and our dog healed fine! Pets are considered so special in Mexico that they would stall our plane’s takeoff for just one of them.
Expat Pets: Landing in Belize
Once at the border crossing between Chetumal, Mexico, and Belize, we were taken into a private office, where an official administrator checked out our dog, while my son held him.
Finally, someone wanted to see his health certificate, and he passed with flying colors!
I know, things have been changing since COVID for all of us, including our expat pets, so call your airlines ahead of time, and research all the “new” requirements expected by the host country, online.
Ask about any fees or restrictions, weight requirements, etc., before traveling with your expat pets.
Expat Pets: Fees & Quarantines
Remembering back to Hawaii, in the 1980s, I had a friend move to Maui from California, along with her two cats. I can’t remember if she needed health certificates for her cats, but I do remember they had to be quarantined for THREE MONTHS! She could visit them and feed them, but still had to pay boarding fees for them to stay at a state-run animal facility. Mind you, this was within the United States, not even a foreign country, and NOT during COVID.
We had other friends from Canada staying in Belize last year when we were all caught off-guard by COVID quarantine restrictions. Our friends could fly home to Canada on special “reparation” flights that were scheduled monthly, but neither their dogs nor anyone else’s expat pets were allowed on these “special” flights. Dogs would have to fly home at a later date.
When air travel opened back up, my son took our friends’ dogs to the vet for health clearances, and then drove them to the airport to fly home alone, at a cost of approximately $2,500 BZD, or $1,250 USD.
We can’t always plan for everything, but you’ll find the airlines will be extremely helpful, and your host country’s website will have all the information you need to travel with your pets. So no one will get left behind!
Please tell us your experiences traveling with your pets. We’d love to know all about it!
by: Cheri Majors, M.S.