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The Ultimate Guide to Traveling with Pets in Costa Rica

Dog with sunglasses resting on poolside chair

Reasons to Travel With Pets

We love our pets here at Costa Rican Vacations. Many of us, especially those of us who came here from abroad, got seriously into the business of dog and cat adoption. Many of us brought our pets from our home countries in the first place. It's just kind of an expat thing to do: when you think of packing your home essentials, many will think of their beloved animal companions. 
When people want to travel with pets to Costa Rica, whether on vacation, for a longer stay of a few months, or fully relocating, there are various guidelines, rules, and tips to take into account. If you’re traveling for a one or two-week vacation, consider carefully if the benefits for you and your pet of traveling together. After all, it’s not just about you: your pet wants to have some fun too! This should be easy for them as well.
The truth of the matter is that traveling with pets involves extra paperwork and planning on top of what you're already preparing for yourself and your group. So why do people go through this process? Here are some reasons why people find traveling with pets worthwhile:

Deep Bonds and Companionship

Many pet owners consider their furry friends as beloved family members. Traveling together strengthens the bond between them.

Reduced Separation Anxiety

Some pets suffer from separation anxiety, and being left at home can cause stress and health problems. Bringing them along allows them to stay in a more familiar routine, minimizing anxiety.

No Kennels or Pet-Sitters

Finding trustworthy and loving pet sitters or kennels can be stressful and expensive. Traveling with your pet eliminates this concern.

Sense of Security and Comfort

It's not only pets that have separation anxiety. Some people feel safer and more comfortable with their pet by their side, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

The Ins and Outs of Pet Travel in Costa Rica

Though traveling with your pet can be exciting, there are challenges and extra planning involved. Traveling with pets is more accepted and popular than it ever was, but it's still not the norm, which might make the process too complicated and stressful for your pet as well. For those with  the flexibility and disposition, the rewards are there to reap. The joy of sharing new experiences with your furry companion, the strengthened bond, and the unique memories created make it a worthwhile adventure.
The idea of this article is to provide an overview of vacationing in Costa Rica with your pet and to give you a feasible idea of how the process works. Before we go further, please note that we're only talking about dogs and cats in this article, as they tend to travel better. 

Why Should I Bring My Pet to Costa Rica?

Two dogs running at the beach
Costa Rica is perfect for anyone traveling with their pets because of the weather. Beaches, hiking trails, and the capacity to host a year-round outdoor lifestyle make Costa Rica a true pet-friendly destination. Both you and the animal can enjoy a good time in a climate that will never be too extreme and will let you fill your days with activities. 
Furthermore, hotels and rental homes in Costa Rica are increasingly opening their doors to welcome your pet. Back in the day when we started out, virtually no accommodations in Costa Rica allowed pets. Now, many do, especially since around 2020 or so. Ditto bars and restaurants: many of these establishments are outdoors anyway, making them great options for your pet.
Compared to many countries, Costa Rica is easy once you're here with your pet. If you're coming from North America, you have the added benefit of short flights, too. It's all down to the planning.
Optimal pet travel usually meets the following conditions:
  • The pet fits in a carrier underneath the airplane seat.
  • Travel is short to medium length (up to six of seven hours max).
  • The flight is direct.
This reduces the chance of complications and minimizes logistics for you and your animal. Costa Rica will always be here to welcome you both when it’s the right time, so make sure to plan thoroughly. 

What You Need to Know When Bringing a Dog or Cat into Costa Rica

Many details have to be considered when traveling with animals. Some airlines accept pets, some don't. The size of your pet also matters. There are entry requirements and health certificates to think of. Make sure to check all these things in advance.
Something to keep in mind is that you will need to adhere to two sets of entry requirements when traveling to Costa Rica with your pet. There are the requirements to get your pet into Costa Rica, and then there are those to get your pet back to your home country. These requirements may or may not differ from those to enter Costa Rica, so watch out.
There are many reasons why countries impose these measures. Mostly, they are in place to guarantee you, your animal, and Costa Rica all have a safe experience: 
  • Rabies and Disease Prevention. Rabies is a fatal disease and can be transmitted from animals to humans. Many countries require rabies vaccinations for pets to prevent outbreaks. Other diseases like parvovirus, distemper, and leptospirosis also pose risks to humans. Entry requirements ensure imported pets are healthy and minimize the risk of spreading such diseases.
  • Preventing Animal-to-Animal Diseases. Some countries are free of specific animal diseases—like foot and mouth disease or canine distemper—and want to keep it that way. Strict entry requirements for pets help prevent the introduction of these diseases and protect domestic animals from outside threats.
  • Maintaining Biosecurity. Countries often impose requirements to prevent the introduction of invasive species that could harm the local ecology. Strict regulations on importing certain breeds or species may be in place to protect native wildlife.
  • Preventing Illegal Trade. Microchipping and health certificates help prevent the illegal trade of animals and ensure all pets entering the country are properly documented and accounted for.
  • Promoting Responsible Travel. Regulations encourage responsible pet owners to plan their travel properly and ensure their pets are healthy and fit to travel.
Remember, it's not only Costa Rica you have to think about when considering entry requirements. It's also your home country when you return, though it's likely it has many of the same requirements as Costa Rica.  Some of these steps, like getting a health certificate and then getting it certified,  can take some time, so keep it in mind for your timeline.

Entry Requirements for Pets in Costa Rica


Costa Rica mandates full vaccinations for cats and dogs, following its animal vaccination schedules. Both species need a rabies vaccine administered 31 to 364 days before traveling to Costa Rica (over one month, less than one year). Dogs need their DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, parainfluenza) vaccine applied within 30 days of travel. Cats also need their FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia) administered within 30 days of travel.

Pet Health Certificate 

Obtaining a pet health certificate is essential. This has to be issued within 14 days of travel. If you're in the United States, you need to consult a USDA-certified vet, as not all vets can provide this certificate. Travelers in other countries need to research and find vets who are certified to do the same. Schedule the vet appointment at least 13 days before travel to allow time for the paperwork. Please note the health certificate must be in Spanish. If it isn't, it needs to be officially translated into Spanish and both versions (original and translated) have to be presented together upon arrival.

USDA APHIS Endorsement

This is basically the step of getting your health certificate legally endorsed. Your vet does this as part of the service of issuing the certificate. If your vet doesn't do this, we recommend finding a vet that does. Be sure to ask. For travelers outside of the United States, the equivalent applies.

Transportation Permits

If you're traveling with your pet on the same plane, depending on their size, they will be in the cabin with you (preferred) or in the hold as excess baggage, meaning that with the three steps mentioned above, you're good to go. You'll arrive in Costa Rica with the necessary paperwork as outlined, and present it to customs and immigration and that would be all.
But if your pet travels as manifest cargo, they might not be on the same flight as you are. That means you need an import permit from SENASA (Costa Rica’s National Animal Welfare Service) which can only be issued by a pet broker or similar professional.
The application for this permit should be made four days before arrival and include the full vaccination record. Again, this should really only apply to people bringing their pets to Costa Rica on a permanent basis or at least (very) long-term.

Flying to Costa Rica with Your Pet(s)

The other part of planning your trip to Costa Rica is the flights. Flying with pets used to be a lot easier. Since the COVID pandemic, many airlines have clamped down on this, especially the practice of putting pets in cargo (the only way for larger dogs to travel). It's also become more expensive. People with emotional support dogs used to have them fly for free in the cabin with them. That's no longer possible. 

Book in Advance

Different airlines have different pet travel rules, so research is key. Most airlines will allow a limited number of pets in the cabin. Booking in advance is essential to secure your spot. Pets must also be small enough to fit in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you. They also count as part of your hand baggage allotment.

Size Matters

Larger pets—meaning pets that cannot fit into a carrier placed under the seat in front of you—must travel as checked baggage in the hold. This way of traveling is always more fraught for both pets and owners. Some airlines are better than other airlines about how they handle this, so research this thoroughly.


We don’t recommend long-haul travel with pets unless it's necessary. It's one thing to travel three to five hours with your pet confined to a container under the seat in front of you, or even down in the hold. But a 12-14 hour flight—or one with long layovers—would be too much stress on your animal. Opt for direct flights whenever possible.

Beware Restrictions

Another thing to note is that if you have a short-nosed dog, like a pug or a boxer, most airlines will not transport them, at least not in cargo. Some may allow them in the cabin (depending on size), but not all. Check online resources to find the best airlines for pet travel in 2024

Find the Right Carrier

Once you've picked your airline and booked in advance to ensure space, you need to choose a suitable carrier. This is essential for your pet's safety and comfort. It has to meet airline size and weight requirements, be well-ventilated, and have enough room for your pet. 
Soft-sided carriers are okay for in-cabin travel (smaller pets that can go under the seat in front of you) while pets traveling in cargo as checked baggage need a hard-sided carrier or crate (always choose an IATA-approved crate). Having an unsuitable carrier means your pet won't be allowed on the flight, so get this right.

Quick Tips for a Stress-Free Flight

  • Familiarize your pet with the carrier in advance.
  • Tire them out before the flight with a walk or playtime.
  • Pack familiar comfort items like toys or treats.
  • Feed and hydrate strategically, avoiding heavy meals close to take-off.
One other important point to mention here is sedation. While it might be tempting to sedate your pet so they're quiet and sleepy during the flight, most vets are against this practice. Sedatives can depress the nervous system, compromising your pet's breathing, especially at high altitudes.

Pet-Friendly Accommodations in Costa Rica

Couple with small dog in hotel bed
It's easier than it ever was to find a pet-friendly hotel, including in Costa Rica. Nowadays, pets are more often considered cherished family members, and many people want them to be part of their travel experiences. Hotels have adjusted accordingly, tapping into a large and growing market of pet owners who want to bring along their furry companions. 
Offering pet-friendly services is a way for many hotels to differentiate themselves from competitors as well, which include online platforms like AirBnB, where it's often easier for pet owners to find accommodations. Besides, with a growing awareness of animal welfare issues, pet-friendly policies are seen as a sign of social responsibility. 
The growing number of hotels allowing pets reflects societal attitudes and increasing demand from travelers. As more people prioritize traveling with their pets, we can expect more options in the future.

Our Favorite Pet-Friendly Hotels around Costa Rica

Other pet-friendly brands include the various Hilton Garden Inns around Costa Rica. There are also many vacation rental homes that accept pets. For assistance with accommodations in Costa Rica for you and your pet, contact our travel consultants who will be happy to discuss things with you. 

Pet Policies in Costa Rica Hotels 

These are some of the most common pet policies to take into account when booking pet-friendly accommodations in Costa Rica. 

Pet Size and Breed Restrictions

Some hotels have restrictions based on size or breed. Make sure your pet falls within their guidelines.

Pet Fees

Hotels often charge additional pet fees, so factor this into your budget.

Number of Pets Allowed

Check how many pets are allowed per room if you want to travel with more than one.

Designated Pet Areas

Look for a hotel with specific areas where pets can walk, play, and relieve themselves without bothering other guests.

Amenities for Pets

Some hotels offer amenities like dog spas, welcome treats, or even in-room pet beds. This may make them more comfortable for you, so keep an eye out.

Accommodation and Facilities

When choosing a hotel, keep in mind the following considerations: 

Hard Flooring

Opt for rooms with hard flooring like tile or wood for easier clean-up in case of accidents.

Balcony Access

A balcony can be a great space for your pet to get some fresh air or find distraction by watching what’s outside.

Nearby Walking Areas

Check if the hotel is near parks or green spaces suitable for walks. Some plazas, restaurants, or shopping malls might be pet-friendly too.

Noise Levels

Consider how busy the hotel is and whether it might be stressful for your pet.

Responsibilities of the Pet Owner

You also have responsibilities as a pet owner, not only to ensure a pleasant stay for you and those around you, but also to show management that they didn't make a mistake when they went pet-friendly. These include:

Do What Needs to Be Done

This means cleaning up after your pet, keeping them on a leash in designated areas, and respecting other guests and their needs.

Don’t Leave Your Pet Unattended

This is not only for their safety but also to avoid disturbing other guests and potentially incurring additional fees.

Minimize Noise and Disruptions

Try to ensure your pet is respectful of other guests, especially during quiet hours.

Pack the Essentials

Bring enough food, water bowls, bedding, toys, and waste bags for your pet's stay.

Prepare for Accidents

Have cleaning supplies handy in case of any mishaps as well as any necessary medicines or creams.

Inform Staff in Advance 

When staying at a pet-friendly hotel, contact them and let them know you have a pet to clarify any rules or expectations they might have.
By keeping these points in mind and researching thoroughly, you can find a pet-friendly hotel that meets your needs and provides a comfortable and enjoyable stay for everyone, especially your pet. 

Getting Around Costa Rica with Your Pet

Aerial view of a Costa Rican road parallel to the ocean
If you're used to car journeys with your pet back home, then it'll be easier for you. Getting around Costa Rica with your pet in a car is no different from getting around your home country. Renting a car is probably the best way to get around with your canine/feline companions, but you should, just in case, check the rental company's policies on the matter.
Most of the domestic airlines also allow pets, as long as they're small enough. Be aware that domestic flights in Costa Rica are small, propeller-powered "puddle-jumpers," so there's no cargo hold to put larger animals in.
If you're traveling around Costa Rica by public transportation, then that won’t be suitable for pets. Most of them will not allow them on board. That said, most taxis, Ubers, and private transfer services are okay with pets, as long as they're in their carriers.

Activities for Pets in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers many things to do for human visitors, and there is also a variety of pet-friendly activities to choose from. We should clarify here that we're mainly talking about dogs. Cats don't really do activities, while dogs adore them, making Costa Rica an excellent destination for travelers with canine companions. 
Hiking is a popular activity in Costa Rica, and many trails welcome dogs. Be aware that many national parks don't allow dogs, and if they do, you'll need to keep him/her leashed. Before hitting the trails, be sure to check the guidelines and regulations for each reserve, including any specific restrictions for dogs.
Beaches are also popular places to take dogs. Dog-friendly beaches are great places for your pet to run around and make friends. And even non-dog-friendly beaches are full of local dogs playing around. Just keep your dog leashed and you should be fine.
Make sure you spend quality time with your pet during the trip! Maybe skip some activities your pet can't do, and focus on the things you can do together outdoors.

Health and Safety Tips

Keeping your pet safe and sound in Costa Rica is not very different from the care you have to have at home. There are only one or two additional concerns to think about. Below, we outline some of the dangers and hazards your pet can face:

Avoid Sunburn

Protect your pet from the sun, especially if they have light-colored fur. Provide shady spots, apply sunscreen for areas like the nose and ears (consult your vet for pet-safe sunscreen!), and limit exposure during peak sun hours. Costa Rica is a tropical country and the sunshine is fierce, even while cloudy. Make sure your dog doesn’t walk on sand or concrete that’s too hot for their paws.

Keep Dehydration at Bay 

Provide fresh, clean water frequently, especially in hot and humid weather. Bring portable water bowls or collapsible water bottles for on-the-go hydration.

Prevent Mosquitoes and Ticks

Take measures to prevent mosquito and tick bites by using appropriate repellents, collars, or medication. Be particularly vigilant in areas with lush vegetation or ponds

Wildlife Encounters

Keep your pet on a leash at all times in public areas and be aware of wild animals like monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, and insects. These encounters can be dangerous for both your pet and the wildlife. Do not let your dog swim in rivers, especially around estuaries.

Interacting with Other Dogs

Costa Rica has many stray and loose dogs roaming around, as well as dogs from locals who keep them unleashed. While most are fine, some might be aggressive. Keep your pet close at all times while out and about.

Beach Considerations

While many beaches in Costa Rica welcome dogs, be mindful of leash regulations and avoid letting your pet swim in areas with strong currents or riptides. Be aware of potential risks like hot sand and sharp rocks. Also, watch out for other dogs on the beach. Don't leave your dog alone while you go swimming or surfing.
Luckily, most of these dangers listed can be easily avoided by simply keeping your pet on a leash and close to you at all times. 
On a more general point, you should ensure your pet still gets regular exercise, even if you're on vacation. Just make sure you avoid the hottest part of the day. Also, research animal clinics or emergency veterinary services in the areas where you'll be. Most tourist communities have multiple vet clinics, many of which speak English. Pack a pet first-aid kit with basic supplies like bandages, disinfectant wipes, and any specific medications your pet needs.

Etiquette and Responsible Pet Ownership

Dog happily resting on the sand at the beach
As recently as 2017, Costa Rica passed a new bill that made animal abuse illegal and punishable by prison. Since then, a number of new laws have come up, both to protect domestic animals and to regulate antisocial behavior from the owners.
Nowadays, allowing your pet to foul the streets in public is illegal unless you clean it up and put it in a bag. It’s also illegal to let your dog out without a leash. Now, while many people in Costa Rica will laugh at these rules and point out the myriad of loose and stray dogs on the streets, the point remains that they are existing rules and that they are in place to protect the animals and their owners. You, as a guest in Costa Rica, have an obligation to follow them.
In truth, responsible pet ownership in Costa Rica probably mirrors responsible pet ownership in your own country. If you're responsible at home, then you'll have no issues being responsible here.

Ready to Start Planning Your Trip to Costa Rica with Your Pet?

Traveling with your pet to Costa Rica can be a rewarding experience, strengthening the bond between you and your best friend. While it involves extra planning, the unique memories and joy of sharing new experiences make it rewarding. The climate, outdoor lifestyle, and growing number of pet-friendly accommodations make Costa Rica an ideal destination for pet owners.
But navigating the entry requirements and airline regulations is crucial. If you can pull it off, vacationing with your pet in Costa Rica offers quality bonding experiences to create a perfect adventure. If you want more input or advice, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’ll gladly help you and your furry companion. 


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