Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tortola, Ho! Part 4b: Pet Import Requirements

Picking up from where I left off last Monday, the BVI requires the following information to appear on the Health Certificate in order to import dogs to the territory (note these are not in the same order as on the permit application):

1. Microchip
2. The following vaccinations: Parvo, Lepto, Lyme, Hepatitis/Adenovirus, Distemper, Parainfluenza, and Parasites
3. Dogs must be examined and found to be in a healthy condition
4. Dogs aren't coming from a location under rabies quarantine
5. Dogs have lived in export country for at least six months
6. Rabies titre and shots.

Items numbered one through five are generally pretty easy to deal with. Most dogs in the US already have a microchip, and have received the vaccinations in the course of their standard annual trips to the vet. In some locations, vaccinations against parasites, and the ones for Lepto and Lyme are not part of the standard course of treatment, though, so you want to double-check with your vet that your dog has received these. If your dog hasn't, it's not big deal, as your vet can administer them at the time of filling out the health certificate.

The difficult item is number 6, because there is lots of timing involved. First, there are the rules for the shots. You must be able to show that the dog has received two rabies shots throughout the course of its life. Doesn't sound too hard so far. However, the first shot you're using for these purposes must have been administered at least three months after the dog's birth, and the second shot must have been administered no more than one year before the date the dog enters the BVI. The two shots must have been administered at least six months apart.

The timing of the rabies shots is of concern to two sets of folks: 1) those with a dog under 9 months (can't have two shots six months apart and after 3 months of age) and 2) those whose dog had their last rabies shot more than one year ago. People who fall into the 2nd category are increasingly common in the US as most vets now administer a 3-year rabies booster shots after the first two shots in a dog's lifetime.

So, you think, I'll just get a new shot now, while I'm having the vet fill out the health certificate. But here's the problem: you also have to have a rabies titre. A titre is a testing of the dog's blood to determine that the rabies antibody is in strong enough concentration. The blood for the titre cannot be drawn until 30 days after the most recent rabies shot. As a result, if your dog's most recent rabies shot is more than a year old, you have to get a new rabies shot, then wait thirty days, and then have your vet draw the blood for the titre.

A further complication: most countries (including the BVI) will only accept titre results from one lab in the entire USA, the veterinary lab at Kansas State University. Being the only lab in the country that titres are submitted to, the KSU lab is often quite busy, and may take a long time to process your titre results, as long as two months in the summer (high travel season).

Combining the information here with the information in the post from last Monday, if you're planning on visiting or moving to the BVI and you want to bring your dogs along, here's what your to-do list looks like. First, determine when your dog's last rabies shot was. If it was more than about 10 months ago, get to the vet at least three months before your desired travel date. On your first visit, have your vet administer a new rabies shot, along with updating or assuring all the vaccinations mentioned above. 30 days later, return to your vet to have him draw the blood for the rabies titre, and Fedex it to KSU labs, with return Fedex prepaid. Wait 3-8 weeks for KSU to return your titre results.

10 days prior to your flight, go back to your vet and have him prepare a Health Certificate on the appropriate USDA form. Fedex it to your local APHIS field office, with return Fedex prepaid, and keep your fingers crossed that it's returned in a timely manner. The minute you get the Health Certificate back from the USDA,  keep the "owner copy" and then Fedex the rest of the Certificate, along with all back-up documents, a permit application, and a check for $10 per dog, to the BVI Veterinary Department. Keep your fingers crossed that it's returned in a timely manner. Assuming you get a permit back from the BVI in this window, board your flight.

In the alternative, you can have your vet prepare one health certificate to send to the BVI with the permit well in advance of your flight, and then another at the 10-day mark. Both your vet and the USDA will charge you twice to prepare two separate certificates, though.

Good luck with your pet importation!


  1. Did you arrive safely? I hope so. Thank you so very much for the information. We will be traveling to Tortola next November for a stay of 5 months while our home is being built. I sincerely appreciate your experience as it has been difficult getting all of the answers. Does BVI Veterinary fax your permit to you in US? Thank you

  2. The BVI Veterinary office will fax the permit to you. Call 284-495-2110 or 284-495-2451 to request it.

  3. Hello, we are arriving by ferry with our dogs on Monday. I thought I had everything in order but after reading your blog, I may be in trouble. My dogs last rabies shot was in 2010 and I have already dealt with the USDA paperwork. If I were to got their rabies shot in the morning and bring proof, do you think that will be acceptable?

  4. I have all of my USDA paperwork done and realized that my dogs last rabies shot was in 2010. Do you think the BVI vet will accept a seperate rabies vaccine? Our flight is tomorrow afternoon, I could get it in the morning...

  5. According to the BVI import permit, the last rabies vaccination must have been within the last twelve months, and the titre must have been taken after that. However, if you already have a signed permit from the BVI vet, you shouldn't have a problem.

    If you're really concerned, call the number on the import permit and see what they advise -- but this might alert their attention to a problem they may have otherwise overlooked


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