How to Bring a Dog into the USA From Mexico

Published by Angie. Last Updated on March 4, 2024.

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We never expected to bring home a pet from our 465-day trip around the world. But when we saw Tamale's big brown eyes staring up at us and heard the story of how she was found on the streets of Valladolid, Mexico, cowering under a car, our hearts melted. At first, we thought the logistics of bringing a dog into the US would be too complicated, but after researching the requirements, everything fell into place.

This is the story of two weary world travelers, one adorable dog, and our journey together from near the ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico to Dayton, Ohio.

Love at First Sight

O.M.G.-  the ears!!

We met Tamale (then named Carla) in Valladolid, Mexico. We were renting a room in an apartment on Airbnb, and our hostess, Andrea, was fostering Tamale as part of her volunteer work with an organization that rescues street dogs.

Tamale was so friendly and surprisingly well-trained for having only been off the street a few months. She knew she wasn't allowed in our bedroom and she would sit in the doorway giving us begging eyes until we rubbed her belly. We were smitten.

After several conversations with Andrea about how much we loved Tamale, Andrea just asked us, “Why don't you take her home?” We initially laughed at the idea. It just seemed too far-fetched and impossible. But for kicks and giggles, we decided to start researching how we would go about doing that. We basically had to look up the restrictions imposed by the airline and those imposed by the CDC.

As it turns out, it wasn't that bad at all.

The Logistics

Us with Tamale the day before our flight to the US

We read Delta's website and learned that we could bring Tamale on the plane with us provided she fit in a carrier that fit underneath the seat in front of us, and paid a $200 fee. We had to call Delta for the maximum dimensions allowed for the carrier for the specific planes we'd be on.

When researching the regulations imposed by the CDC, we found out that they were surprisingly simple. Since Tamale was coming from Mexico, we just needed proof that she had been vaccinated against rabies. We had also read in different places online that sometimes customs asks for a certificate of health- basically a document signed by a veterinarian stating that the dog is healthy enough to fly.

We had the rabies certificate and the certificate of health, so all that we needed was a carrier. This turned out to be one of the most difficult aspects of the entire process of bringing a dog from Mexico to the US.

From our research on the fabulous resource Dog Jaunt, we learned that soft carriers are the way to go for carrying on pets since they can deform a little bit to fit under the seat if necessary.

Finding a Carrier: The Missing Link!

Found our carrier

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We went to tons of pet stores and grocery stores in Playa del Carmen (including Walmart and Mega), but the only things we found were hard carriers that were too big and soft carriers that were too small.

Just when we thought that the adoption wasn't going to work out, we found the pet store Cuatro Patas (Four Paws) in Playa del Carmen which actually had several large, soft-sided carriers.

With everything in place, we called Delta to make a reservation on the plane for Tamale since they only allow a limited number of pets in the cabin on each flight. Then we anxiously awaited the day we could bring Tamale home!

The day before our flight, the owner of the rescue agency graciously brought Tamale to us at our hotel so we could play with her a bit and introduce her to the carrier.

The carrier was a little bit smaller than ideal, but we knew it would fit under the seat of the plane no problem. Tamale easily went into the carrier with a little assistance from a treat, and she seemed to like it alright.

Doggie Air Travel Day

There's a dog under that seat!

There were so many things about the day that were less than ideal, but Tamale was a real trooper through it all.

Our flight was at 8am so we had to get to the airport at 6am. The lady at the Delta check-in counter didn't even notice our pet until we said we had to pay the pet fee. She asked to see the carrier, and then asked a co-worker if the carrier was small enough to fit under the seat. The co-worker replied, “Yes, it's a soft-sided carrier, it will be fine.”

We paid the fee, checked our bags in, and walked around outside with Tamale for a while. Going through security, we had to take Tamale out of her carrier and walk through the metal detector with her. Jeremy held her and she shook uncontrollably.

I felt like a horrible person but told myself we were doing the right thing by adopting her.

Hardly anyone noticed that we had a dog inside the carrier, but when they did, they remarked how adorable she was. At the gate we were able to board after those in wheelchairs and along with others who needed extra time to board to ensure we got her under the seat without bothering other passengers.  This was not offered to us, so we had to make sure we asked the gate agents. 

Luckily, we had no issues on both of our flights.

Our carrier on an MD-88

The plane we were on was an MD-88, with three seats on one side of the aisle and two on the other. There was no bar under the seats between the window and middle seats, as well as on the side with only two seats, so we were able to place Tamale's carrier lengthwise underneath the seats in front of us so that it didn't stick out into our legroom.

Tamale didn't make a peep the whole flight, and I'm pretty sure she slept most of the time. When we got to Atlanta and swiped our passports at the kiosks at Customs, we had to check the box “yes” that asked if we were traveling with any animals. Then we had to go see an agent who told us we had to go to the agriculture inspection area.

This was where we showed the rabies certificate, and someone “inspected” her by simply looking through the carrier at her and telling us she was fine. We then breathed a huge sigh of relief! We made it into the US with no problems!

We then found the pet relief area outside, which was some astroturf, a fake fire hydrant, and a water bowl. Tamale was way too scared to pee on the turf, but we eventually got her to drink some water. We also ran up and down the sidewalk with her to try and get her worn out before the next flight.

Pet relief area at Atlanta airport

One last time through security- Tamale seemed not as scared this time. Our flight from Atlanta to Dayton was also on an MD-88 so we were able to place the carrier lengthwise under the seat again. We made it to Dayton without any problems and rushed outside to let Tamale go to the bathroom which she welcomed immediately.

We had surprisingly no issues with taking Tamale on the plane with us.

We had read a lot of horror stories about people bringing dogs on planes, but I think those mostly happen when people try to bring a carrier that's too large onto the plane or try and break one of the many rules that you have to deal with when flying.

Tamale enjoying her new home in the USA

We are so happy to have our sweet little Tamale here in Ohio with us, and she is adjusting pretty well. She loves belly rubs, long walks, and chasing crickets in the backyard! 

Tamale is now a proud member of the Living the Dream team and will be taking over the role of Chief Instagram Officer where she will be uploading many selfies.

For frequently asked questions about bringing a dog into the USA, check out the following.

Is a quarantine required to bring a dog into the USA?

The rules vary depending on the country you are coming from and is often tied to if rabies or other diseases are found in the origin or not. For us, we did not have to quarantine our dog coming home from Mexico.

Can non-service dogs fly on a plane with you?

Every airline is different, but most of them require that a dog fit underneath the seat in front of you in a carrier. This has an inherent size limitation and you may have to pay for a ticket as seats vary.

What do you do if flying with bigger dogs?

Every airline is different, but most require them to be transported in a travel crate and you will be separated during the flight. Note that many airlines have limitations for these in the summer months due to temperature concerns.

About Angie

Angie from Living the Dream

About the Author: Angie is a contributing author. She has been to nearly 60 countries and seeks out the best restaurants, bars, bakeries, and other unique food items wherever she goes- often with her husband, Jeremy.

33 thoughts on “How to Bring a Dog into the USA From Mexico”

  1. Glad that Tamale made it home with you guys!!
    I have a question, how did you added her to your booking? It’s stressing me out a bit that I have to book my flight first and then call to add my pup. So much uncertainty haha. Do you know if I can add him at the same time I’m booking my flight? We’re traveling to LAX

  2. Hey! I have an amazing rescue dog from Chichén Itzá too! She was brought back in November 2020. I don’t suppose you’ve had Tamale’s DNA tested? Maybe they are related. 😀 Chitza is pure American Village Dog, and she has the exact same rogue ear. 🙂

    • We had to pay the fee to bring the dog on the plane as mentioned in the article, but after that no. The USA did not charge us any fees when we brought our dog home.

  3. Hey I came to Mexico because my Grandpa lives here and he is in his last days of life. The day I got here didn’t notice anything. The following day I went toward the back yard in a corral type area and i was just looking around and i found this sweet dog tied up with no human interaction and living in bad conditions. I took her to the vet and got her her rabies, and other shots. The man gave me a certificate of good health, and proof of rabies and shots. The letter is in spanish and is hand written. What info other then the vet explaining shes in good health should be on there? Like their license number or should I get the letter translated to English? I’ve been reading the CD and border and customs sites and it can get confusing.

    • Hey I’m so glad you found her!
      I have just returned from a nine day stay And my always emotional departure from my favorite place so far in the whole 🌎 Mismaloya, Puerto Vallarta♥️ The sweetest dog 🐕 Decided that I was her owner or she acted like she knew me somehow. Very persistent following the cabs running in front of the cab beside the cab for miles. I couldn’t stand it I had to include her with myself she spent eight of the probably best days of her life with me, I Fell in love with her, I can’t stop thinking about her, I feel I need to go get her. I’m having a hard time figuring out how much it’s gonna cost me in with the quarantine time is. But your story help me a lot. Thank you.

  4. We are also friends with Andrea. We helped her rescue 3 pups from the Yucatán jungle, 1 of which we took home with us. She is an amazing woman!!!

      • Hi Jeremy. I am have purchased a puppy in MX and will be traveling back home to Chicago. I have taken my puppy to the vet and vaccines are good. Does this vaccine certificate and letter from vet saying this puppy is good to travel need to be in english?

        • I would try to get it in English if you can, if only because it isn’t guaranteed that those looking will know Spanish. But if it is not I would probably not worry too much.

  5. Hey, kinda in a similar situation in Cozumel here and am just curious as to how much the rabies shot costs in and around playa del Carmen! I just want to get an idea as to what the whole thing might cost me as I absolutely adore this dog! Thanks for your reply!!

  6. Hey there, this story is so similar to ours. We’re taking a street dog home from Villadolid (she looks a LOT like Tamale, wondering if they’re related) that we found today. We have a vet that’s gonna work with us on the rabies shot and gonna grab the soft carrier tomorrow. Question is, How much was the soft carrier? Ours is about 5lbs smaller than Tamale, so we’d probably get the same size. For everyone wondering if it can be done: IT CAN! Help those doggies.

    • Congrats on adopting one of the dogs. They probably are distant cousins of some sort! I personally don’t recall the price of our carrier, but I recall it was much, much more expensive than it would’ve been buying at home. It was quite difficult to find one in the size we needed. I want to say $50-$70 but I could be wrong.

  7. Im in mexico and i was given a puppy its a shib tzu do you think it will be a problem going from morlia to Chicago o hare ? Im traveling with volaris do you think they will accept this breed ?

  8. We want to bring our almost 15 yr young dog to and from Mexico … he hates the carrier, but I can drug him so he’ll chill in it… my concern is getting him into Mexico and then into the USA… I’m afraid of them quarantining him!!!!!! Would they ?

    • I don’t know what Mexico’s policies are, but we did not have to quarantine our dog when entering the USA from Mexico. They do check to make sure the dog is not sick though which could potentially trigger a quarantine.

  9. Awesome! Angie, thank you for the detailed information as I will be traveling with my new puppy of 5 months old for the first time from Puerto Vallarta to USA. Thanks a million! (-: Cheers to your cute lil addition and rescuing 1 of these sweet creatures! <3

  10. Thank you for your info and sharing your adventure! I’m planning to also bring a dog from Mexico, but I see that I have to have the rabies shot 30 days prior. I won’t be here for that amount of time and am pressed on time. Did you guys vaccinate Tamale 30 days prior?

    • Hi Karen- yes, my understanding is that the vaccine card must show that the dog received it 30 days before. But considering we’ve also flown to countries with vaccine cards with, ahem, wrong dates, well… it happens. Hope that helps!

  11. Thank you for the info. ..question. ..what if the dog is bigger and would take fit under the seat…do you k ow how that would work?

  12. Love this!! Love that you shared each step, letting others know how this can be done and hopefully more dogs can get families!! i love what you guys are about and what you’re doing for animals!! I’m looking to see if I can be put in contact with a rescue in Valladolid or ek balam!! I was at ek balam on tues and I saw a dog that had two injured legs and was very skinny!! If I can do anything to help this dog, I’d like to try!! Do you know a rescue in the area?? Or vet?? Or anyone I can contact to see if there’s anything we can do?? I’m willing to donate all the money this dog needs!! I asked and locals said, she can be found at entrance to ek balam any day! Please let me know if you have any contacts for me!! Thank you
    My email is [email protected]

  13. Hi Angie,

    Way cool! You do hear many horror stories about dogs on planes. Your path/experience was smooth. Buying the right carrier and doing research before hand to get all the logistics in order created a pleasant experience, and Tamale being a sleepy pup during the flight helped too I betcha

    Awesome karma guys. We’re digital nomads, so we travel non-stop, but we take in street pets for the 1 or more months we live in spots. So far, we helped out 2 dogs in Chiang Mai, 2 street dogs and a street cat in Pak Nam Pran, Thailand, a street dog in Koh Lanta, a street cat in Phuket, and 3 street cats here in Fiji, and we’re taking them in for 4 months.

    No better way to live, and if we settled down in the States eventually, we’ll likely adopt a soi dog from Thailand. If not, we’ll keep on helping and loving and feeding these guys along the way. They’re our kids, the way I look at it, and they need loving as much as any living creature.

    Love this story!

    Tweeting soon, and signing off from Savusavu, Fiji.


  14. Oh, this post made me smile so much!! Hope Tamale is adjusting well to her new life in the United States! She might need a coat for an Ohio winter, though

    • This makes me so happy to hear, thank you for saving him. I visited Villadolid last year and was sad to see all the street dogs. I am about to visit Merida and I have my eye on a couple dogs that have been posted in the Merida expat page…


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