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! For this post we will focus on flying as an “example” but the rules are the same.

Note regarding air travel: I admit right now I have no idea how it works for flying 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. That is why you will see so many nations still have quarantine laws. But it’s something that Canada and the USA still both have sadly.  So the rules are rather straight forward and similar; in two words: rabies vaccine.

Troublesome for Puppies

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. You DO need to know that there are rules for puppies that can get a little tricky.

  1. 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.
  2. 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. (Note: a lot of breeders in Canada claim otherwise – and yes driving across the border can be easier than flying – but do understand that there IS a risk that your puppy will be denied entry since that is the LAW. Be prepared for that if you are choosing to “risk it”. You will be entirely at the mercy of the agent.) In a nutshell: Puppies now have to be 4 months old to enter the USA from Canada WITH the 30 day rabies shot given at 3 months. This was implemented in August 2014. 
  3. For the USA, dogs that have NEVER been vaccinated against Rabies must be vaccinated a minimum of 30 days prior to arrival. Adults dogs older than 15 months of age that have had a rabies vaccination before (given no earlier than 3 months)  and that has since expired may cross the border immediately following vaccination, WITHOUT the need to wait for 30 days.

On my first trip to Florida it was easier logistically. I was seven months old, and had my rabies shots for two months already. I only got the one year shot then (versus 3 year), because I was so darn small (2.38 pounds) that the vet worried that a three year dose may be harmful. Now that I am older – and a whole 3.5 pounds – I get the three year shot. My bipeds keeps the paper with their 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.  I mention it now because it’s important to time microchipping BEFORE the rabies shot. An often made error. 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. Any vet knows what this paper looks like. In fact they often give it to you when your pet is vaccinated (see banner pic).
  • 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. Vaccine LOT NUMBER is really important. It’s the sticker off the vaccine vial (you can see an example in the banner pic).
  • 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.

We often fly US Airways when going to the USA (not sure why) and no health Certificate is needed for that airline.

When flying out from Ottawa Canada (Or Toronto) things are super simple we have a US border crossing INSIDE the Ottawa airport – very hand).  The folks working there are lovely! We have had many a good laugh when they discover me – I even get a cuddle now and then.

Flying back into Canada, the story is a little different (by this I mean longer).  We ALWAYS have to stand in line with the “something to declare” people (ahmmm that would be me just coming home folks!).  This is called “secondary”. The Canadian Border Services Agency staff are super nice in our experience and once in a while they will wave the $30 administrative fee. A fee I still have no idea … what it’s for.

It isn’t unpleasant but it does take a lot of time and it can be a little stressful in terms of making say … a 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.

Driving across the borders on our road trips has always been a total breeze in either direction.

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

Note: Original post written in 2010. Updated with new rules (rabies for puppies).

73 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.

          • I am planning on getting a puppy from a breeder in Quebec and I live in SF. Are you saying I have to wait until puppy is 4 months old? Meaning I miss time with puppy ?

  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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  17. Hello! I’ve been reading your website for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the excellent work!

  18. Heading to CAnada soon from USA. One dog current on rabies. Other had last rabies in Sept. 2012 and gets another tomorrow. Never heard about the 30 day thing to renter states. But yes she has had a rabies shot before so does that count. Would they try and keep her?. Trying to have a short stay prior to husband surgery in three weeks. What do you suggest. Please rsvp a sap. Thank you for great info.

  19. relief as we found more info on the CDC site which has explanation of the Rabies vaccine. The key is…Dogs that have NEVER been vaccinated against Rabies must be vaccinated AT LEAST 30 days prior to arrival. Adults dogs older than 15 months of age that have PReVIOUSLY had a rabies vaccination given no earlier than 3 months of age and that has since expired may be imported immediately following Booster vaccination, WITHOUT the need to wait for 30 days. Hope this helps others.

    • Thank you for the clarification! Sorry we did not respond sooner we were unplugged and out of wifi range tree house camping in Quebec! Glad you found your answer and I will actually use this and modify my entry so that it is clearer for the next reader! Thank you!!

  20. P.S. This above statement is for your dog returning to the USA from Canada and any country where rabies is present. Good info on the CDC website as well as Montecristotravels.

  21. Want to take my husky on a day trip tomorrow to USA. Driving. Dog is 4 years old and has all updated vaccinations. Last rabies shot would have been August 2015… that ok for border crossing ?

    • Is it a three year vaccine? If so you are good to go. If yearly … you are cutting it close. When will you be returning? I would update the shot before going if you can. The vaccine has to be valid and new vaccines administered well before entering the country. I doubt there would be an issue but … I can’t promise anything.

  22. We are traveling from London Ontario and traveling to Michigan on Saturday sept 3 with our boxer who is 5 years old. He weights 76 lbs. His shots are up to date as of March 28,2016. Last rabies 02-13-15 due 02-12-17 Are we ok to still travel with him.

  23. Hi there we are adamently against vaccines every year for pets and do filtering. Vaccines often can last over 10 yrs of protection in animals and SADLY vaccinations have become big money for big pharma at the expense and health of our pets!! We are curious if you have heard of titered dogs that aren’t vaccinated regularly being able to travel over the border into the US from Canada without issue…or is it a must that your pet have up to date shots? If that’s the case we would look good petsitter in our home :)
    Thank you

    • Titer tests at this time (I called the CBSA) are not accepted on the Canadian side for rabies. They are for all other vaccines. Hope that helps answer your question. The US side has yet to respond to my inquiry on the issue so I can’t speak to it. We do titer for all other vaccines but sadly are stuck doing the rabies shot every 3 years (even if a half dose) because you MUST have a valid vial vaccine lot number on your international pet health form for any border crossings. Note that microchips are also going to become a requirement for Canada US border crossing … so stay tuned for that change.

  24. The above should have said we do TITERS OR TITERING TESTS. Do not like spell check! Lol

  25. How cool you can sit with your dog on your lap. I’ve flown many times between Florida and Canada, and my dog always had to be in her carrier under the seat. I was never allowed to take her out even for a second, because if the airline started receiving complaints, they would stop allowing dogs in the cabin. I must admit arriving in Toronto was always a nightmare – always met nasty border people.

    • that was the one and only time out of the bag. Maybe because soooooo tiny little puppy? Not sure. For the next 6 years it’s been in the bag only! Toronto isn’t as good as Ottawa. Montreal is ok … not great but good.

  26. Great info to share. I don’t travel with my GSD because of the logistics and the added expense. Heck, I just don’t travel that much at all anymore, so I can stay home with the pets. 😛

  27. That does sound pretty painless! A lot of us are daydreaming about moving to Canada, it is nice to know that if we do, it won’t be hard to get the dogs there too.

    It is always a good idea to have the proof of rabies certificate with you when you travel even within the US.

  28. Great article as I have been checking into taking Layla to Cape Town, South Africa and it really easy. I will need the rabies shot of course and an 18 dollar import license which has to be done in South Africa, otherwise no quarantine no nothing phew

    • If you go – please let us know how it was in terms of pet friendly – ness once there! It’s somewhere we’d like to go but we are uncertain as to how much we could do with “dog” once there.

  29. Great post! Unfortunately, we cannot travel by air since I won’t allow Dexter to travel in cargo. However, we drove back and forth for his first 5 years. :) Safe travels.

  30. I haven’t crossed the border for many years (need to get passport renewed), and never with a pet. Thanks for detailing the process, I have been pondering some Canada travel and like to know the steps necessary before leaving.

  31. Thanks for updating – my question was the same as Jessica’s. We live in WA state so frequently travel to Canada and it is a bit concerning from time to time. So great piece.

    • So far we’ve never had a truly bad experience. The worst was at the beginning we did not know you can’t travel with open bags of food. So it got confiscated. But we don’t do dog food now – and prep fresh so it no longer matters. :)

  32. We normally cross the border at Buffalo but recently decided the best route would be through Detroit (from Ontario). I believe it does make a difference as this time was a longer process and the dogs had to be removed from the vehicle.

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