LAHOWIND » Just you, me, + the dog.

Cruising the Caribbean with a DOG! And navigating the pet import process.

One of the main deal breakers to our crazy dream of setting sail and cruising through the Caribbean was whether or not we could bring our poodle, Oliver, with us.

…If he can’t go, then neither can we!  

So, aside from figuring out how the hell to make this dream happen not only for ourselves, we also had to figure out what all it takes to cruise with a dog on board.

Okay, so you might be thinking… “what’s the big deal? they’ll have to potty train him to go on the boat.”  Well, yes, that is true; however, we are slightly more concerned with things like navigating through all the sticky red tape and legalities of importing/exporting a pet into many different countries as we island hop through the caribbean.

When you arrive at an island by sailboat (as opposed to, let’s say, a plane), you are still required to clear customs (customs officials may board your boat or you may have to visit the closest customs office).  This means, Oliver will have to clear customs too, and meet all the super specific rules and regulations of importing a pet in each individual country.  Oh, and all of these rules are pretty much clear as mud.:(

Here’s a little sampling of what all Oliver will need (depending on the country in question)…

  1. Government/International Health Certificate (APHIS Form 7001 only veterinarians who are accredited with the USDA are authorized to sign Health Certificates for international travel — make sure to inquire with your vet if they are in fact accredited with the USDA before beginning this whole process.)
  2. USDA Endorsed Health Certificate (again APHIS Form 7001 – with the bottom left area completed by the USDA)
  3. Rabies Certificate
  4. Titer Certificate (the result of the FAVN – Rabies Blood Serum test for pet travel to rabies-free countries. This can only be performed in 2 places in the world — with only one of those in the U.S. at Kansas State University.  As such, you can imagine that it takes a little time to get the results/certificate.)
  5. Microchip

It would be great if all that meant we had to do was make sure we had the items listed above completed and on board at every stop along our journey.  But of course, it’s never that easy!

Each country ALSO has varying requirements as it pertains to when these health certificates are dated; whether or not your pet needs to be examined by a vet from that specific country; whether you have proper documentation and certificates from the previously visited countries; whether you performed treatment for parasites only days before entering a country, etc. etc. etc.

As you can see, the importing process becomes very convoluted.  We are still very much in the process of figuring it all out (have I mentioned we’ve never actually done this before), and I’m sure we will have major hurdles to jump along the way, but for now we are (at the very least) headed in the right direction.

The Process for Us (so far)…

Early on in this pet-importing process, we decided to switch vets.  We knew we needed a vet that was more understanding and willing to help us navigate this crazy maze. We turned to Dr. Stacey at Animal Oasis here in Naples, Florida.  Let me just tell you, she and her staff are amazing!  At Oliver’s first ever vet appointment, she quickly realized that his original micro-chip (implanted when he was still at the County shelter) could no longer be found (no other vet had even bothered to check).  Dr. Stacey’s team scanned extensively (believe me!) for the old chip, and found nothing!  So we had to start out this process by having to re-microchip Oliver, and therefore administer a new rabies booster shot.

A month later, we drew the required blood to send away to Kansas State University for the FAVN Blood Serum Test + Titer Certificate.  This process typically takes around 4 weeks or so.  They do offer a STAT Service for an additional fee that speeds up the process to about three weeks.  We are currently awaiting the results of Oliver’s FAVN Rabies Blood Serum Test.

Once we have the results of the FAVN test, we will be sending them along with the rabies and health certificates to the Florida USDA office to obtain Oliver’s USDA Endorsed Health Certificate.  But we will do this right before we are ready to leave (and it will require a final vet visit for a freshly dated certificate).

In the meantime, we will be mailing off for our Bahamas permit this week so that we will have it in hand once we are ready to sail south.  All the Bahamas permit requires is this form, a $15 money order, and a copy of the international health certificate and rabies certificate. *I’ll be sure to post an update once we fully complete this process because it sounds easy, so we’ll see.  (12/20/2013 Update: We FedEx’d the required documents and $15 money order to Nassau. The package arrived on a Monday, and we had an eFax with Oliver’s Bahamas permit by Tuesday afternoon. Talk about efficient! Whoa!)

After that, I think we will have just about everything we *should* need in terms of pet health documentation.  So, keep your fingers crossed that Oliver clears customs at all the countries we visit.  We will be sure to post updates as we enter/exit new countries.

Here are a few resources we’ve found SUPER helpful in figuring this whole process out:

And, next up on our “Oliver TO-DO list,” includes getting his medicine cabinet in check (Oliver is known to be issue-prone, so to speak). 😉 Then, we’ll tackle dog-sailing-gear, pet food/treats, other supplies like grooming, etc.

>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing.

Jennifer - Luna SeaDecember 12, 2013 - 1:35 pm

Thanks for sharing, Kim!

We will certainly be in this same animal-travel boat with Molly and Libby one day, and you gathering all of this information in one spot is really helpful.

We’ll be working on potty training more over the next few weeks of travel – our 2 wieners are WAY too housebroken… They will either finally accept that they need to use their “grass” pad (other dogs have no problem using our grass :/ ) or we’ll be cleaning up messes. Fingers crossed for the faux grass.

As always – love the updates!


LahoWindDecember 12, 2013 - 2:07 pm

Thanks Jennifer! We actually haven’t even attempted the potty training aspect just yet, but I’m hoping it goes smoothly. We’re going to try the same method as you. :) -Kim

JackieDecember 12, 2013 - 4:10 pm

How timely 😉 I’m taking notes. I’m hoping that everything goes smoothly for you guys. Sounds like once you get in the swing of things it’s not so bad. Except for those places with mandatory quarantine of 3-6 months…no thanks!

LahoWindDecember 12, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Tell me about it Jackie! We will be skipping those countries for sure. :) -Kim

Kristina StanleyDecember 13, 2013 - 12:15 pm

Thanks for linking to my blog and for such a nice compliment. I look forward to reading yours too! Have fun sailing with your dog.

Kristina StanleyDecember 13, 2013 - 12:21 pm

I just read the comments, and having spent 4 winters on Mattina with Farley, I want to stress how much easier life is if you can train your dog to go on the boat. There are times when the squalls hit and we can’t get to land or we sail overnight, and I’d worry if he could”t go. Farley has peed on our tramp while we were crossing the Gulf Stream, at night, wearing a harness, tethered to me while I was tethered to the boat. He’s a champ. We brought him on board when he was 9 months old, so easier to train than an adult dog.

LahoWindDecember 13, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Hi Kristina! We don’t foresee too much of an issue training Oliver to go while on the boat. He is very very good about going wherever we say is okay. For example, he has had no problem “going” on the dock when we’ve told him to go potty or when we’ve been in places (like Key West) where there is not even a patch of grass anywhere to be found and he just goes on the street pavement. But we’ll be working on the actual “boat” potty training very soon and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it goes just as smoothly. :) -Kim

Kelley - Sailing ChanceDecember 14, 2013 - 2:18 am

What countries are requiring that Titer certificate? I didn’t come across that for any of the places we’re going?

Here is a link to a post I wrote about making a First Aid kit for the dogs aboard. Our vet back in Brooklyn helped us put it together. A sailor himself he new exactly what we were doing and would need.

LahoWindDecember 14, 2013 - 3:59 am

Hi Kelley! According to my research (which let’s not lie is a little all over the place), several in the eastern caribbean require it…like the BVI’s, St. Kitt’s & Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua & Barbuda, to name a few. Now, who knows if Oliver will *really* need it or not, but we are erring on the side of caution. Thanks for the link…I’ve checked your post out a few times already actually — it helped me create a Rx wishlist for my vet. :) -Kim

wherethecoconutsgrowDecember 14, 2013 - 1:23 pm

Great post!! I just started our research on this yesterday. So much info out there!! I’ll be sending off our Bahamas paperwork soon too :)

[…] you believe it cost us $55 to FedEx Oliver’s Bahamas doggie permit docs from Naples to Nassau? Kinda expensive considering it was 4 single sheets of paper that got […]

LaurieDecember 20, 2013 - 2:25 pm

Hey y’all!

Great blog! We also cruise with our dog and have written extensively about it. In case it’s helpful to ya, here’s a link:

LAHOWINDDecember 20, 2013 - 2:42 pm

Hi Laurie! Yes, I know your blog well! I believe I’ve left a few comments on random posts (and pinned a few posts). Such great info and very helpful! -Kim

[…] have pretty much wrapped up our exhausting list of boat projects, Oliver has his Bahamian doggie permit ready and waiting, we are currently moving everything onto the boat, and just finishing up other […]

[…] So we heeded the advice of fellow cruisers and did just that. Oliver does however have all the >>necessary dog import requirements<< (i.e. Titer Certificate, etc.) to legally check in, but we were just fine with avoiding yet another […]

[…] we were at the vet getting Oliver up to date on all the necessary shots required for entry into various Caribbean islands, we also stocked Oliver’s medicine cabinet with several key prescriptions and got the lowdown […]

RickSeptember 1, 2014 - 5:27 pm

Just have proof of all shots up to date. Then clear customs and don’t ask questions. That has worked for us.

Kristina StanleyFebruary 17, 2015 - 8:09 pm

Hi there, I just wanted to let you know I’m still getting traffic on my blog from this post. Thanks so much for including me in your blog. All the best. Kristina

[…] we’ve posted a few times before (>>here<<) about the process of cruising with a dog (or pet), it seems like several folks really want an […]

Martha RileySeptember 21, 2015 - 5:13 am

I’m about to get a new guide dog (seeing-eye) and am planning a trip to the E. Carribean (St. Thomas, Barbados St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Maartens) in late January. I took my old guide dog on several trips, including a cruise to Alaska and trips to Hawaii and Mexico, but am overwhelmed by what is needed for these various islands. Does anyone out there have any experience in this area. I would be eternally grateful for some direction. Thanks.

JohnOctober 24, 2016 - 9:47 pm

Hello. Great blog. What if your dog cruises with you but never gets off the boat? Are the requirements any different?