Travels with Mitzi

We have bits of information about traveling with our pup sprinkled throughout the blog, but if you’re considering traveling the PanAm with a dog it isn’t too easy to dig out.  We’ve gathered a few thoughts, border information, stories and photos  to share in one spot. If you have questions about something specific feel free to contact us! We read lots of blogs before we headed out that helped us get prepared and feel confident. We want to return that favor by sharing experiences and add to the knowledge swirling around the web.

The Big Decision: Should I bring my dog on my Overland trip

That is a huge and very personal question. Dogs do add expenses and additional logistics to an overland trip – just like at home! If your dog does well in the car and is friendly with strangers, it will be a great travel buddy. Mitzi has been a magnet for kids and dog lovers, so strangers come up on the street and spark up conversations with us because of her. She often helps diffuse arguments in the car when things get tense – and when you live in close proximity, it’s nice to have a dog to blame all the farts on.

We considered a lot before taking Mitzi with us. Would she deal well with the constant movement (She does). Would she be happy in the car (She LOVES IT). And was there a risk that we would cut the trip short to get back to her? (definitely). Our decision was made easier by Mitzi herself – she is small, loves to sleep and quiet; basically, the perfect overland dog. One reason we picked traveling the PanAm as opposed to other parts of the world was the relative ease with which Mitzi could travel with us.

Did we skip anything because of Mitzi? Yes, but she also inspired us to go on bigger adventures. When we went to the Copper Canyon, we couldn’t ride the popular train El Chepe with a dog. So we went on an adventure off the beaten track that we will never forget.

Useful Travel Blogs

We owe a lot to other overlanders that provided us with priceless information for this trip!
These two in particular have been a huge help to us:

Border Crossings

Border crossings with the dog were a big source of anxiety for me when I started this trip. Though I’ve traveled all over Europe with Mitzi, the joy of European pet passports means I never had to prepare anything special; and honestly, I was never asked to show it. I had only done any proper documentation and preparation before I moved with her from Seattle to Zürich.  

What you need to cross the border:

  1. Vaccine records
  2. Internal and external deparasitation
  3. Health certificate from vet
  4. (Some borders) Export certificate from agricultural office (i.e. USDA, SENASA)

And voila! Ready to go. In more detail….

  1. Vaccine records (and up to date vaccinations)
    If you’re coming from Europe, your pet should already have a pet passport. For use in the Americas, this is basically just an efficient and clear vaccination record. We still have to follow the rest of the steps, but when we go in for a health certificate (step 3), all we have to do is hand the passport over for a few minutes.
    If you’re coming from a country without pet passports, keep an organised folder with the vaccination records.

    Rabies should technically be administered between 30 days and 1 year before crossing a border. They aren’t always strict about this, so we let 1.5 years pass before revaccinating.  I can’t promise that will work for you, especially in more strict countries like Belize and Chile. If you want to be on the safe side stay in those bounds.
    Distemper (DHLPP) was not required at every border, but some needed that so keep up to date and have the record on hand.
  2. Internal and external deparasitation
    Fancy way to say: Dewormer and flea and tick treatment. At home deworming is an annual preventative measure, but we were advised by veterinarians to do a monthly deworming treatment through Latin America.

    We use Bravecto for fleas and ticks and have been very happy with it. We had one nasty tick encounter in Southern Mexico and this saved the day. Ticks are disgusting so I’ll leave out the details. 
  3. Health certificate from a vet
    Most vets in border towns will be familiar with requirements. You can usually find one recommended in iOverlander or from other travelers. We’ve added all the vets we’d recommend in the app.
  4. Export certificate from agricultural office (USDA, SENASA, etc)
    Some countries you need to take the health certificate to a local agricultural office to get an official form or stamps. Generally vets and iOverlander will tell you which ones. For Belize you also need an import certificate before reaching the border. We’ll talk about that below.

This next part is a work in progress: stories from the borders.

USA to Switzerland
My first border crossing with Mitzi was our big move to Switzerland. I did all 4 steps, which involved going to USDA office 3 hours south of Seattle.  It’s been 5 years since the move, so I’m rusty on the details. I’ll be going through it all again end of the year though 🙂

The big takeaway for me was: If your pet was microchipped in the States (or not at all), you will need a new microchip for Europe! Mitzi had the standard AVID 9 digit chip, but Europe (and most of the world) uses the ISO 15 digit chip.

Switzerland to USA
There aren’t super clear guidelines from the USDA about bringing your pet into the states. From what I could figure out you need step 1 and probably 3. My vet wrote a letter in English for me but we couldn’t find anything that felt “official.” There could be differences in state regulations so I only bothered checking from California. I took my up to date pet passport and letter from the vet, but that’s it! Then in LAX all the customs official asked is whether we had dog food. Guess there are bigger issues to deal with than a little wiener dog!

USA to Mexico
We got a health certificate from a vet in San Diego, who did a very thorough health examination on Mitzi. Then at the border, nobody could have cared less.

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