Thinking of taking your cat on a plane to Mexico? It’s not as hard as you might think. There’s some paperwork and planning to do, and some pitfalls to avoid, but it’s allowed by most major airlines and not that hard. We lived in Mexico for 7 months, and brought both our cats with us to Mexico and back, with no problems. Viva en México con sus gatos!
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Ok, first things first: when you are making your travel plans, you need to be more aware of which airline you are flying on, and not simply look for the lowest price or the best times. Not every airline allows pets in the cabin. If they don’t, the airline will require you to put your cat into the cargo hold.
Cargo is not a great place for pets, and in the summer months could be dangerous to your cat. If the tarmac temperatures get too high, the airline will prohibit you from transporting your cat, which could really throw a wrench into your travel plans. It’s not even that high either; the maximum high is only 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Miami. That’s pretty much 8 months out of the year! And if you have a connecting flight, you have to worry about your pet making the connection and not getting left outside for too long.
So, we recommend an airline that allows in-cabin pets. As of this writing, most U.S. Carriers allow them, but smaller regional airlines may not. Then, before you buy tickets, you should call the airline and confirm that there are in-cabin pet slots available on your specific flight. Most flights allow at least 4 pets per flight, but some limit it to only 2. And these are not available online. You have to pay for a pet slot after you book your ticket, so immediate after buying your ticket, call the airline and pay the pet fee to get that spot reserved (about $100 each way per pet on United). Get an email confirmation and print that out.
Now that you have your tickets, you need to get an airline-approved cat carrier. This is an important step and one you should take seriously. Airlines love to find reasons why you can’t carry something on the plane. Your cat carrier needs to be a soft style carrier, and it needs to fit underneath the seat in front of you, so it must be no larger than certain dimensions.
Our recommendation is the Sherpa Delta Deluxe Pet Carrier. We used two of these carriers to transport our cats to and from Mexico, and on a 3000 mile cross-country drive, and they performed admirably. They are solidly constructed, have little windows you can zip open and closed, a comfy removable/cleanable liner, are a breeze to get in and out of, and most importantly, Delta designed them to meet most domestic airlines’ requirements for in-cabin pets. The stamp of approval of Delta all over it actually helped us at several points with airline staff; they saw the Delta logo and said, “OK, sure, that looks fine.”
Ok, so you have a carrier now. Next, we recommend getting a harness style collar for your cat. The reason is that you are going to be taking them in and out for security checkpoints and customs, and you really do not want your cat to decide to bolt at that moment and have to chase them through the airport. And they will likely be a little unhappy with the process by the time you get to the metal detector. Here’s one that would work well: Petsafe Kitty Harness.
When you arrive in Mexico, you will need forms from your veterinarian certifying that your cat is free from disease and has all their vaccines, most importantly rabies. I recommend you call your veterinarian at least 30 days in advance and start talking to them about needing the “USDA pet health forms”, or the “travel health forms”, and they should know what you need. If not, find another vet. Now, here’s the tricky part: you need a licensed veterinarian to fill out these forms to and sign them not more than 10 days prior to travel. You might be able to squeak by customs if it’s less than 30 days, but I wouldn’t want to find out. So you need to schedule a vet appointment 3-5 days before you leave to get your final exam and sign off.
That’s about all the prep you need to do. Now, when you arrive at the airport on your departure date, head straight to the ticket counter to check in. Trust me, don’t try to save time and skip the lines with express check-in. Go to the ticket counter to check in and make sure they confirm your pet reservation and mark your tickets correctly. They will likely want to see your pet carrier and check your paperwork.
Security checkpoint time! Ok, for this part, you need to wait until you get up to the X-ray scanner, and then take your cat(s) out of his/her carrier (with the harness already on), and hold them while the carrier goes through the scanner. Walk through the metal detector while holding them (and getting smiles from the security guards who rarely see a cat come through), and then go wait for the carrier to come through the other side. Return your cat to their carrier and you are ready to get on that plane!
Flying was the easy part for us. Your cat goes under the seat in front of you, and hopefully they’re like our cats and just slept the whole time. We also sprayed some ‘calming spray’ in their carrier ahead of time, which seemed to have helped. We used Calming Spray Stress Reducing Formula and Pet Naturals Calming Treats. If you have a really long flight, you might want to give them some water, but our cats were not really thirsty while we were flying.
You’ll get your customs form before you land, and you need to mark “Yes” to the question you probably would usually mark “No” on, about whether you are bringing live animals or plants with you.
After leaving the plane, you’ll go through Mexican immigration first, who really doesn’t care about your cat, so that’s pretty easy. From there you will get to Customs, and you should tell the agent right away that you have a cat (tengo un gato if you need the Spanish). They’ll most likely wave you over to another agent, or to an office, and you might have to wait a bit (welcome to Mexico!), but then they’ll check your veterinarian papers and you’ll have to pay a small import fee (it was about $15 in 2015). They’ll give you a stamped and signed paper authorizing you to import your cat, and send you on your way.
OK, the last piece is returning to the United States (I mean, assuming you are planning to come back!). From the perspective of U.S. Immigration and Customs, your cat is a foreign cat, so you need to have all your paperwork in order again. Fortunately, the U.S. is actually *less* restrictive about importing cats, so you don’t need a veterinarian bill of health from a Mexican vet. You do need your vaccination paperwork from when you left the U.S., however. Your cat must have a rabies vaccine within the last year, so you need to have that paperwork, and the Customs officer will give your cat a look over to make sure it’s not obviously sick.
That’s about it. Hopefully this has been a helpful article. If you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section, and subscribe to our blog for more information on traveling the world with your family.