Canada USA Border Crossing with a Small Dog is Painless!

Canada USA border crossing with a small dog is painless.  making road trips or flying between the two a relatively easy task to undertake. Especially small “carry on” dogs like me!

Note regarding air travel: I admit right now I have no idea how it works for larger dogs. I write only about what I know. Sorry.

My 1st ever flight! under three months. No rabies vaccine needed!

The one thing that makes dog travel scary for a host country is the fear of spreading rabies.  And well – it’s something that Canada and the USA already share.  So the rules are rather straight forward and similar; in two words: rabies vaccine.

I was born in North Carolina, USA.  My bipeds are from Canada.  So I crossed that particular border for the first time when I was just shy of 3 months.

There are rules for puppies that can get a little tricky. Puppies younger than three months old don’t need to be vaccinated against rabies. Proof of age will be needed.  A health certificate or vaccine certificate (obviously, not including rabies for under three month puppies) that is dated and includes the pup’s age should be fine.

These regulations can present a logistical problem. Based on rabies-vaccine label directions, puppies can’t have a rabies vaccination until they are three months old, yet they need to have the vaccine a month before they travel and cross the Canada/USA border.  If you happen to be 3.5 months old … you have a problem.  The only solution is to wait the two weeks out.  In my case, I wasn’t three months yet (just a week under) so I managed to get in without a rabies vaccine.

This trip to Florida is easier logistically.  I am now seven months old, and have had my rabies shots for two months already.  I only got the one year shot (versus 3 year), because I am so darn small (2.38 pounds) that the vet worried that a three year dose may be harmful.   My biped keeps the paper with her passport to show at the border.

Montecristo at the vet!

A visit to my vet for travel paperwork (and dental stuff).

Though permanent identification is not essential for travel between the U.S. and Canada, it is a good idea. If your dog gets away from you while you’re far from home, you won’t get him back without ID. A microchip is the best form of permanent ID for Canada/U.S. travel.  You should also attach a tag on the harness/collar, with the dogs name as well as your own name and phone number.  I have the ISO Conformant Full Duplex chip.  This is important for when I travel to Europe or Asia since it is the only one they recognize and is required for entry.  But I digress.

What will you need to cross the Canada/U.S. border?

When travelling across the Canada/U.S. border by land, air or sea/lake make sure you have:

  • Proof that your dog was vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
  • American authorities:  A signed, dated certificate showing the vaccine was given at least 30 days prior to entering the U.S.
  • Canadian authorities:  A rabies vaccination is valid from the day it is given. In other words, you can have your dog vaccinated, then cross the border into Canada a few minutes later.
  • Information on the brand of rabies vaccine, the vaccine lot number, and the expiry date of the vaccine must be written on the certificate.
  • The certificate must list you (yes you, the human) as the owner (careful if someone else is travelling with the dog!) and contain a clear, detailed description of the dog, outlining his/her color, breed, gender, age and specific markings.

When flying, you may or may not need an additional airline approved health certificate, depending on your carrier. The required duration of a health certificate’s validity also varies from airline to airline. It’s best to ask whomever you are flying with for their current requirements for documentation.

traveling little dog Montecristo!

That fat envelope? My paperwork.

In my case we were flying US Airways – no health Certificate needed.  Crossing the border in Ottawa into the US was really easy (yes we have a US border INSIDE the Ottawa airport – very handy).  The man working there was lovely, chatty and a ham! We had a good laugh and he even gave me a little head rub and wished us a pleasant vacation in sunny Florida.

On the way home, the story was a little different (by this I mean longer).  We had to stand in line with the “something to declare” people (ahmmm that would be me just coming home folks!).  The gentleman was super nice, even waved some administrative fee. Mom is kicking herself because she can’t remember what it was for.  It wasn’t unpleasant but it did add a lot of time and it was a little stressful in terms of making that connecting flight out of Toronto back to Ottawa.  So keep that in mind when you book your flights. Still, Canada USA border crossing with a small dog is painless.

What has your experience been crossing the Canada/USA border?  share in the comments below.

37 Comments on “Canada USA Border Crossing with a Small Dog is Painless!

  1. Monte! I love hearing about your adventures! You travel more than I can ever dream of doing!!! You are so well educated with your travels and I’m glad you take the time to inform the rest of us. I love that you share your adventures with us! Makes my world bigger!!!!

    • Thank you Barb for taking the time to comment! I don’t know if I am educated – I am … working on it! I love to travel and I am just really fortunate that I have bipeds that are willing to do the leg work to bring me along. If you could choose just one place to go – your dream place where would it be?

  2. Is a rabies vaccine certificate all you need? They don’t care about parvo or distemper? Just proof of rabies?

    • Just proof of Rabies and any “puppy” shots a dog should have is useful. Especially kennel cough and so on … All they need is a list from your vet of what vaccines your dog has had.

  3. Hi there, loved your post, very informative! I have a question. Me & my chi are travelling to Miami next week from Toronto, and I have been researching everywhere about the health certificate. A lot of websites state the certificate should be dated at least 10 days before you travel. I have a health certificate for my girl, signed and dated Nov. 1 2013 for a rabies shot she received in August 2013. I called my vet and they are going to charge me almost $100 to get an updated health certificate. I called the U.S. border patrol and he said the date doesn’t matter, as long as it’s been within the year of the shot. What do you think? Any advice is appreciated. Thank you. :)

    • You should be alright. Having said that – we have always been cautious and gotten a new certificate from the vet. but our vet doesn’t charge. It is important to note that legally the document may be considered null and void after a 30 day period. So it will depend on how picky the border guard is. As a rule, the ones on land are more lenient than air. BUT in Toronto you are going to go through US customs IN Toronto. I know them well and they are a good bunch. When the vaccine was given will be more important than when the paperwork was filled out. Now, where you may have issues will be on your return to Canada. Your paperwork i believe is too old for re-entry into Canada.

      Long story short – I would get a new certificate.

  4. Hi Sonja. I wanted to clarify something. You say that “A dog does not need a health certificate when travelling across the Canada/U.S. border by car”. Everything I have read says that you do need one though. Could you help clarify?

    • Thank you so very much Jessica for the question! You made me look into it further with CFIA and thus allowed me to keep this now 4 year old post, up-to-date. You reminded me that from time to time I should look at older material and see if new information or changes have occurred and keep things current. So thank you!!

  5. Hi Monte and bipeds,

    According to my last air travel experience outside of the States, which was in August, 2013, one needs a health certificate that is not older than 30 days. And yes the Vets charge a lot of money around here for filling out those travel documents! It’s sad. I wish we had a Vet like you, Monte! :-)


    Michaela, Oliver & Chloe

    • Even for the US and Canada border? that is basic paperwork they should give you when you get your vaccines in the first place!

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  7. I am so concerned. I am bring a puppy to Florida from canada. It seems the puppy has to be at least 4months to cross the border due to rabies shot. By this time I am worry he might be too big to carry on board. I want him on board with me, not underneath the plane. Does your pet needs to be four month to come from canada? He he come at eight weeks or 10 weeks??

    • He can come into Canada. There is no need for rabbies vaccination if under 3 months. But he will need an international health certificate from his vet to prove he is not sick.

      • So he can come into canada, but how about U.S ( Florida)?? I was told he needs to be four months with rabies shots. Is this true???I really would like to bring him at 8-10 weeks so he can fit in the cabin.

        • Dogs who have never been vaccinated against rabies, must be vaccinated at least 30 days before entering the United States. This requirement does not apply, however, to puppies less than three months of age or to dogs originating or located for at least six months in areas designated by the U.S. as rabies free countries.

          EDIT: As of August 2014 puppies entering the US must be 4 months and have a rabies vaccine. Absolutely ridiculous.

  8. My daughter is on a plane right now with a puppy just over 3 months and no rabies shot. What will happen to the dog once they get to Canada? From us

    • I am not certain. Laws have changed and she should have confirmed her paperwork before leaving.
      At worst there may be a quarantine.

  9. Hi! Need clarification… I’m planning to bring my dog to san diego, we will be coming from calgary. Target date of travel is from dec 16 to jan 6, i like to know what are the requirements for traveling dog to US. she has been vaccinated already with rabies and doctor gave me a certificate for that. Just wondering if my dog still need another certification from US when we come back to canada? And is there any other requirements that are needed? Please advise, thank you.

    • Hello Janet,
      •Proof that your dog was vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
      •American authorities: A signed, dated certificate showing the vaccine was given at least 30 days prior to entering the U.S.
      •Canadian authorities: A rabies vaccination is valid from the day it is given. In other words, you can have your dog vaccinated, then cross the border into Canada a few minutes later.
      Information on the brand of rabies vaccine, the vaccine lot number, and the expiry date of the vaccine must be written on the certificate.
      •The certificate must list you (yes you, the human) as the owner (careful if someone else is travelling with the dog!) and contain a clear, detailed description of the dog, outlining his/her color, breed, gender, age and specific markings.

      You may want to my blog post on road-trips with a dog as well.

      • Thank you for the info Montecristo. Is this rule is applicable also for travelling by plane?

        • Indeed yes. In addition you will need to go to the pet page of your airline to see what their policies are. Not all airlines are pet friendly. Many require you to pre-register your dog because they only allow one or two per flight. Do you know who you will be flying with? I may have an airline review for them! Some airlines have their own form you need ON TOP of the international health certificates. That is for the airline check-in NOT for customs. Another blog post you may want to read is How to reduce stress for your pet. Do not sedate your dog if you can avoid it. Also, you may want to read my blog post on how to go “bathroom” for your pet.

          • Im very thankful for all your advice. We will be travelling by air canada, air canada rouge and united airlies. We have 2 stop over going to san diego and 2 stop over coming back to calgary.

          • Air Canada (and Rouge – its the same company) have a good pet page.

            You’ll need to let Air Canada AND Rouge know in advance of travel that you plan on travelling with your dog in the cabin.
            The first thing you’ll need to do is book your own flight.
            Once that’s done, contact Air Canada Reservations to register your pet for travel on the same flight as yours.

            At the time of your call, you’ll be asked to provide:
            • the dimensions of the carrier and
            • the weight and breed of your pet.

            We strongly recommend that you register your pet within 24 hours of completing your own booking. This will ensure that, if your pet cannot be accommodated on the flight(s) and date(s) you selected, your ticket will be refunded without charge. After 24 hours, any changes to your booking will be subject to applicable change and cancellation fees. Your pet will be charged anywhere between $50 to $100 each way.

            Please take note that you’ll need to arrive a full 30 minutes prior to the recommended check-in time for your flight as you must see an agent at check-in. Customers with pets cannot use Web check-in or airport self-service kiosks.

            United has a very comprehensive pet page.

            Advance reservations for in-cabin pet travel is required. Request an in-cabin booking for your pet t by calling the United Customer Contact Center at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331). They will ask the same info as above. Same recommendations apply. I recommend you read our review of United.

  10. I have a puppy justv4 months old and does not have rabies shot yet. We live in United States traveling by motorhome to Toronto. From what I read I can get rabies shot before I leave but coming back into states the rabies shot will not be 30 days old. Does the 30 day time frame only apply no people visiting the USA and not returning citizens?

    • Hello Lori!
      Congrats on your new puppy! And kudos for the with dog travel!

      As for the rules – they apply to everyone, regardless of Nationality. Trust me I feel your pain one of THE most difficult countries to fly into is … Canada. With paperwork, having to go to secondary EVERY time and a processing fee. I have never ever had that anywhere else in the world. And I am “returning home”.

      They just enforce the rules, they don’t make them. As such the border officers have zero discretion on the topic. I hope that doesn’t mess up your travel plans.

  11. We will be taking our Yorkshire terrier from the US into Vancouver. I think I understand the requirements regarding his shots and stuff. I read one post that said the document have to be within 30 days. I only saw that one time. Is that correct? If so I will have to be much more careful about when I get the accredited documentation. Also what food can we bring. Ismeat the only thing you can’t bring? Thanks for your help

    • Sorry for the delay getting back to you. You can cross the border by car with meat – just not all meats. As for pet food – the CFIA regulates pet food imports and related products to prevent animal diseases from being introduced into Canada. You can import a small amount of commercially packaged pet food made in the United States for the use of your pet while you are in Canada. Most brands you can get in the US you can get at a pet store in Canada. For information on importing pet food or pet treats visit the CFIA’s Import Policies – Pet Food page.

      I am assuming a few things here (If my assumptions are wrong please go here). 1) That owner and dog are travelling together. 2) That the dog is not a puppy (less than 8 months). 3) Dog is not being exported (sold) once in Canada.

      The rabies vaccination certificate must:
      be written in English or French;
      be issued and signed by a licensed veterinarian (issued within 30 days is not necessary but I always do – shows the info is recent, it’s a small fee from my vet that gives me peace of mind);
      identify the animal (breed, sex, colour, and weight);
      state that the animal is vaccinated against rabies;
      indicate the date of vaccination;
      indicate the trade name and the serial number of the licensed vaccine; and
      specify the duration of immunity (otherwise, it will be considered valid for one year from the date of vaccination).

      Hope this answers your questions.

  12. This is so helpful, but I just have one quick question! I will be bringing my 8 week old lab puppy across the border by car (going from Seattle to Vancouver) this December. Do you know if you need to pay GST/HST or any fees for a puppy that young? I couldn’t find anything conclusive. Thanks for your help!

    • Not that I know of. As long as you have the papers stating the dog is YOURS (ensure that the vet papers have your name and not the breeders). You would have a fee if flying – but not a tax – it’s an administration fee. Go figure.

  13. Hi,
    I am purchasing a dog in Michigan and then driving to my home in NY. The fastest way to get there is to go through Canada. Am I going to have a problem bringing my puppy back into the US (after maybe 5 hours in Canada) because it is too young for a rabies vaccine (10 wks)? Do I have to go the long way staying in the US and add 4 hours to my trip?

    • If you have a border guard that applies the rules then … yes. I would not risk it. Sure you might get someone willing to look the other way but not sure you want to take that risk.

  14. I have an 18 month old Brussels Griffon .I plan to visit with family in Buffalo NY> I’m leaving Toronto on April 8th
    .All her shots are up to date Vet certified .Last Rabbies shot Oct 2015 .Will I need any thing else before I bring her through customs each way ?

  15. I see all the information except clarification of what is considered a small dog. Mine is an older 25 lb dog. Is she considered small and what difference would the size of the dog change for paperwork for car travel from Canada to US or vice versa

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