By Suzanne Maxey — For anyone planning to bring a pet from the USA to Nicaragua, here is my experience from last week. Hope it helps clear up some of the confusion and misinformation I ran into and gives people a better idea of what to expect when traveling with animals to Nicaragua.
Getting the forms and carriers
First, I read everything on the internet I could find about carrying pets to Nicaragua, and each site I went to had information that was just a little different from the other sites. I went to a recommended site, PetTravel.com, and bought, downloaded and printed their information packet and required forms. Stress level mild.
Next, went to United Airlines site, to their page on bringing animals onto the plane. Yow, I said, I have to
have all 3 cats examined by a USDA certified vet 10 days or less before the flight and have the vet fill out
United’s health form? Downloaded 3 of them, one for each cat. Next see the requirements for bringing 2
cats in cargo and one onboard.
The onboard carrier requirement was easy. Just get a carrier that will fit under the seat and acceptable
height, width and length were given. No problem, I think, although the carrier will be a bit snug for
Ladybug, she can handle a 3 hour flight from Houston.
Then I go to United’s Pet Safe page, for shipping a pet cargo. Omg, I think. The carriers have to be ones
that are airline approved. That means the carrier must have ventilation on all 4 sides, have room for the pet to stand up, turn around and be 3 inches taller than the tips of their ears. Ever try to measure the height of a cat?
Stress level rising. Must have a vet fill out a form certifying that the pet has had a rabies vaccination within the past year and more than 30 days ago.
So I get more or less a measurement on Farina, my tallest cat, write down the accepted length, width
and height measurements and off to PetSmart I happily go. The friendly older-than-me guy working
there is happy to help. Wow, he is cute! I sneakily check for a wedding ring. Damn, he is married. Off
to the airline-approved carriers. No problem picking out the on-board carrier, I pick the blue one to flatter Ladybug’s coloring. Yikes! $39 for that little thing? Next to the cargo approved carriers. Hmm, I show him the measurements and, based on Farina’s height plus 3 inches, have to buy 2 carriers the
manufacturer says is appropriate for a dog up to 50 pounds, one for each cat. That is one big carrier.
Price each, $90. Whoops, the attachment screws must be metal, not plastic. Have to buy 2 boxes of
airline required screws, water/food dishes, zip ties and pad for said cats to lay, sit, stand and turn around
on. Cost, $22 each. Beginning to wonder if the cats could find good homes in the states, but no, they
are my kids and besides, 2 of them are old and need steroid shots every 6 weeks. As the cute older guy
carries all this stuff to my car, we talk about how expensive it is to retire in the US, and that is why he has to work. I tell him that’s one reason I’m moving to Nicaragua and he asks where Nicaragua is.
Scratched him off my list of cute, bright people I’d like to know.
To the vet
Just 10 days before I leave! Finally start packing, and off to the USDA certified vet we go, me and 3 angry cats. I begrudgingly listen to the meow chorus all through the 45 minute drive into Austin.
Hello, Dr Boyd! Here are the forms I need filled out, 2 health certificates per cat, one in English, one in
Spanish. And here is the form that PetTravel also sent to be taken to the USDA, and here are their record of all shots, plus their vet records, and yessir, they all had flea treatment just last week. Oh and I almost forgot the United airlines forms! Silly me!
Dr. Boyd scoffs at PetTravel’s USDA form, says it has changed, and uses a triplicate form. The first two cats are taken out of their carriers and examined thoroughly. Tom Tatamouse purrs the
entire time. Ladybug looks very offended when her temperature is taken, but remains docile. Then it is
time to check Farina, my 17 pound cranky tiger of a house cat. Before the vet can even open the carrier door, Farina leaps to the door growling and snarling, teeth bared, reaching through the bars on the door, claws out and planning to kill this guy. I quietly confess that when he went for his rabies shot at my regular vet, his first vet visit in 8 years, he leaped out of the tech’s grasp onto the vet and tore his arm up. The tech grabbed him and put him back on the table, so he twisted around and jumped on her. The wounds should be healed by now.
The vet looks into the cage while Farina continues to scream and growl and leap at the door. “He looks
healthy to me”, Dr. Boyd says, leaves him in the carrier and fills out the necessary forms. Total time, 2 1/2 hours. Cost $350. Stress level getting into danger zone.
Next day, off to the USDA. Give them the forms and proof of rabies vaccinations. Wait 2 hours for their
vet to approve them. Cost only $38, stress level decreases a bit.
Day of departure! After a night in a Houston hotel room with my son and 3 cats, we get up at 4:30 a.m.,
rarin to go. Have to drop off the cargo cats by 5:30 a.m., three hours before the flight. Put the two fellers in their carriers with no problem. Wait, where is Ladybug? I know she is shy and hides so Casey and I comb the room. No Ladybug and it is 5:05. I start to panic, ready to cancel the flight if necessary. The beds have boards from boxsprings to floor, so there is no way she could be under one. 5:15. Casey gives up and lifts one side of the mattress and box springs off the bed. There she is, hiding in the wooden frame underneath! How in the world did she get in there, we ask. I crawl under to get her but she runs back and forth. Casey wants to try so I hold up the mattress and box springs. I didn’t know I was that strong.
Ladybug is finally caught and in the carrier, but Tom Tatamouse has somehow opened his carrier’s door
and also gone under the bed. Another mattress lift, a zip tie put on his door. Casey loads up cats and
suitcases into our rental van and off we go to United cargo. I check for the umpteenth time, yep I have all
the required papers. Time 5:35. Stress level too high to measure.
Young man who looks 12 years old checks the two cats in. Ladybug will be checked in at the terminal. I
give him the United forms all properly filled out and signed by the vet. He puts them aside, never looking
at them. The carriers are never checked for required height, width and length. He tells Casey to put the
zip ties on while I fill out forms. The girls in the building all come to see the cats, and ooh and ah over
their beauty while Farina tries to come through the cage and kill them. Tom Tatamouse is asleep. Both
water/food dishes required to be on the front of the carriers have been knocked off and the pads wadded
up. Farina is so mad at this indignity that he sprays the cage. I didn’t know neutered cats did that. The
cats and carriers are weighed, accepted and we get out of there fast, before the smell of cat spray gets
worse. Total cost, $689. Stress level zone red plus plus.
6:15a.m. Have to check in 2 hours prior to the flight. Casey says we will check in, then return the rental
van. Luggage weighed, 2 are overweight by a total of 15 pounds. The lady at the scale tells us it costs
$200 per bag if overweight, whether by 1 pound or 100 pounds. We go to the scales conveniently by a
big trash can. Casey starts pulling out things to be thrown away. Bam! I have to throw out my favorite
sneakers and forks, spoons and knives. There go 3 books I loved. Out goes my expensive shower
gels and lotions. The Elvis coffee cup younger son gave me. On and on he goes until the bags weigh
50 pounds. I start to cry. Still have Ladybug with me, squashed into the little onboard approved official
carrier. The woman at the check in desk never asks for the United official form, filled out and signed
by the vet, nor does she check if I have paid for her ticket. Cost of ticket for a pet riding inside the plane:
$125. I continue crying quietly.
We check in and return the rental van. Total cost for a 24 hour rental: $278. Plus a tank of gas.
Getting on the flight! The lady checking our tickets and passport says “Oh what a pretty cat” and never
checks to see if I’ve paid for her ticket nor asks for the official United form. Darn it, I could have easily
brought her along and saved the cost of her ticket plus the $75 cost of having the vet fill out the three United forms!
Flight smooth and uneventful. I stop crying and sleep all the way. Ladybug doesn’t make a sound or
move. When I wake up, I check to make sure she is still alive. She is, but with big frightened eyes. I
begin to feel very guilty for putting her into such a small carrier, but United will not carry more than 2
animals in cargo.
Managua airport at last! My new country! All we have to do is clear customs and we are on our way to
Granada! No problem getting the luggage through. Problem with the cats. An official looking man looks
at the USDA triplicate approved form and wants to know why the top page has been removed. “I must
have the original page or I cannot permit these cats to enter the country!”. I explain that the original copy was removed at the USDA and the nice lady behind the counter assured me that it would go through Nicaragua customs. Casey translates. More demanding and blustering by the official. He and Casey go into his office. About 20 minutes pass when suddenly the cats have cleared customs. I wonder if a little money changed hands but I do not ask. The customs gentleman took the proof of rabies vaccination sheets but never asked for the two forms per cat, one in English, the same form in Spanish that PetTravel said I needed. I’m relieved because the 3 forms in English are missing. All customs wants is the triplicate USDA form with the original top copy in addition to their $14/animal fee. Very important to remember if bringing pets in from the states.
Released! We get our rental car as fast as we can, (1 1/2 hours), and come to Granada. Arrive about 3
p.m. to my new home! The cats have been in their carriers without water or using the bathroom since
5 a.m. As soon as I let them out, they head to Casey’s garden in the courtyard and do their business.
Casey begins to cry. My stress level drops to zero.
So I have been here for a week now. Farina, who tried to kill everyone who got near his carrier, hides
under the bed with Ladybug every time a bomba goes off. Tom Tatamouse couldn’t care less and has
decided that he owns the house.
So, here’s the bottom line.
PetTravel. com sold me a bunch of useless forms. Price $15. Just follow your airline’s requirements and
see a USDA certified vet then get the triplicate form approved by your state USDA office. Beg them to not keep the front, original top copy. They probably will. Convince Nicaragua customs that in the USA, the USDA keeps the top copy. If in doubt about the Nicaraguan requirements for pet entry, ask the USDA.
They were the only ones that gave me the correct information.
Was it expensive? Hell yes. Was it worth it? Oh yes, worth every penny to have my babies here.