International Travel with Gilligan the Fat Boat Cat

When we had Noeta (Nordhavn 5020) shipped to Mexico a few months ago, we left Gilligan the Fat Boat Cat with grandma while we made the transition. (Thank you grandma!) We picked up the boat, moved Noeta across the Sea of Cortez and then needed to have Gilligan join the family. He's only ever lived on the boat, so his 2 months in a house were a novelty where he learned that he liked to claw the corners of sofas (Grandma invested in sprays and scratching posts), sprint circles around the house and to sit at the front window watching cars and squirrels. While he enjoyed his time, we're pretty sure he missed watching fish and birds and sitting in the bathroom sink.
Gilligan's favorite spot in grandma's house.

Lots of cars, walkers and squirrels to look at.

Grandma had to get a scratching post since she didn't have a spare piling with barnacles.

However, bringing a pet into Mexico takes some planning. Every country has their own policies for different animals, so if you are going to travel with a pet (by boat, plane or car) be sure to check the USDA website for regulations. 

To bring a cat into Mexico, within 10 days prior to your flight (or boat trip) your cat needs to be seen by a USDA accredited veterinarian who will sign an international health certificate, assuming the cat is healthy, and stating that they have a current rabies vaccine. 

At the vet - I can see myself!

Can I get out of here? 
Fine, I'll just be over here

The vet will fax it to the USDA for review. THEN (and this part wasn't clear on the USDA website) it needs to be signed by a USDA Medical Officer (only after they've had at least 24 hours to review the fax). This person works at a USDA office (an office not found in all towns). Fortunately, we were in Boise, Idaho at the time, so there was an office. You have to make an appointment to schedule a signature.  Of course, when I called to schedule, they said the faxed form had an error (a date was typed in an incorrect box) and that I would have to revisit the vet to get a corrected form.  I went to the vet, got the corrected form and returned to the USDA office. 

Then there was another error - a box was checked that shouldn't have been. The Medical officer signed it anyway and said I could try my luck at the border (or return to the vet's office again). I was hoping my Spanish skills and the fact that the wording was vague and confusing on the form would make it so that it would be missed at the border.

So we had our international health certificate. Since I was flying, I needed to call Alaska to list the cat to fly in the cabin with me.  When I listed him, she didn't say anything about an International Health Certificate, only that he needed proof of endoparasite and ectoparasite treatment within the past 6 months - Alaska's website said that too. I'm not sure that the airline and USDA were on the same page. Hmmm....he had had a flea treatment, does that count? 

Gilligan did great under the seat - I, however, didn't get much space.

So we make our flight (I didn't get much leg room with this chonkie gato).  He did so well, the guy sitting next to me didn't even realize I had a cat until we landed and I was holding the bag. So we land in PV and get through the first paperwork & passport check with no questions about the cat. As we stood at baggage claim waiting for our bags, an airport security dog and his handler were making the rounds. As he came near us, I told him we had a cat and he directed me to a small agricultural office. So the kids stayed for the luggage and I took the cat to the office. The gentleman asked to see my International Health Certificate and rabies certificate (which I had) then asked to see proof of worm treatment....uh oh....I start pulling out all my old vet records, he glances at them and finally says 'ah - Comfortis, this one'. Whew, our flea med that we had given him a few months prior counted for the 'worm treatment'. But only because we had record of the vet selling it to us. Had we bought one in a store and given it to him, we wouldn't have had record of it. Perhaps the vet could have listed it on the International Health form, I'm not sure. 

Glad I brought all of his previous vet records!

He took copies of all of my documents and gave me a notarized form to hand to the customs agent once we had collected our luggage. I had done this transaction entirely in Spanish, which I think got us to the front of the next customs line (the louder English speaking dog owner next to me who didn't have all of her documents in order, ended up at the end of the line).  At this customs line, after handing over our notarized agricultural form we pushed a button that lights up a stop light. Green means 'Welcome to Mexico, we don't need to search your bags' and Red means 'Welcome to Mexico, we'd like to go through all of your belongings.' Fortunately, Jack (our lucky button pusher) got us a green, so we were in.

Gilligan back on the boat, doing what he does best.

Now that Gilligan is here, I doubt that he will be doing many trips to the US. While it is easy to enter the US with him, I would need to repeat all of the above to bring him back to Mexico. Anyone know any good cat sitters in PV? :) 

To sum up - As of April 2019, to bring a dog or cat into Mexico by car, boat or plane, you need:

  • To visit a USDA accredited vet to obtain an International Health Certificate (Within 10 days of travel)
  • Take the certificate to a USDA office for signature
  • Bring the certificate
  • Bring proof of a rabies vaccine
  • Bring proof of flea and worm medication
  • If you are flying, check with your airline for any other requirements they may have
Of course, check the USDA website for the most recent updates.


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