Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Kitty want to go to the Bahamas?" (Update 2016 blog links)

Amelia posing with her permit.  "Can I take a nap now?"  Mama was very proud...

(This is a long, boring rant about taking the cat to the vet and government paperwork.  You can probably skip it, unless you want to take a pet to the Bahamas.  I warn you, I don’t have all the answers.  This was just my experience)

Passports, check.  GOES (Global Online Enrollment System), check.  US customs sticker, check.  Small Vessel Reporting System, check.  SailClear, check.  Coast Guard registration, check.  FCC radio license, check.  Ship station license, check.  Boat & dinghy registration, check.  Insurance for our area of cruising, check.  Iridium sat communicator, check.  Pet paperwork, f@#$%!

I’m a rule follower—to a point.  I enjoy paperwork.  I’m good at it.  But there’s a point where you have to decide:  Do the rules make sense?  If I don’t comply, what is the danger/worst case scenario?  Will the Customs agent listen to common sense?

We elected to move our cat with us to the boat.  We knew she was old.  We knew she would need permits, but we aren’t the first ones to do it.  We are not inventing the wheel here.  However, trying to find the international requirements on the internet is sketchy (or out of date).  Phone calls are expensive.  Email questions unanswered.  Info provided is usually geared towards those traveling in by plane (and staying on land at a hotel or private residence).  To make matters worse, they use the generic term “pet” which could be a dog or cat.  Obviously, the requirements for dogs that go ashore to “do their business”--and all the other things they do while trying to decide where to “do their business”--makes the situation different.  What if we don’t comply?  The usual threat (on the airlines) is quarantine—but at least one country said they don’t have quarantine facilities so the animal will be “exterminated”.  This makes Mommy NERVOUS!  I don’t know why.  As a pilot, the worst thing Customs could do was deny entry.  “No problem, we’ll depart with…(that passenger that forgot their passport, that extra liter of liquor, the firearm they didn’t tell me was in their bag)”.  Most of the Caribbean customs agents I’ve encountered are laid back.  I know all the tricks:  A warm greeting with a smile, invite them aboard to have a seat (Manners are everything and they AREN’T in a hurry, something Americans tend to forget), and hand them a pile of paperwork (copies of things they don’t need copies of like passports & registration will impress them).  As long as you try to comply and have some knowledge of the system, they are usually happy.   When all else fails--answer their questions with questions, and apologize A LOT.

I consulted our vet in St. Louis last January (we moved in April):  We’re going to be traveling internationally.  The Bahamas is our first stop.  “It’s too far out to do anything.”   (Looking back, a 3-year rabies, distemper and a copy of our records would have been a nice touch).

On Sept 3, while in Brunswick, GA I applied for our Bahamas pet import permit.  (Application to import domestic animals into the Commonwealth of the Bahamas).  No we are not “importing” her, we are just visiting, but that’s what they call it.  Here’s what I learned:
  • Supposedly, the microchip isn't required, but if you have one, give them the number.
  • In retrospect, I should have applied for the permit earlier—the permit is good for 1 year. 
  • I sent the application with a $15 Bahamian money order--$10 for the permit & $5 for fax service.  What they don’t tell you on the form is to include VAT (my email inquiry about this was unanswered)!  It should have been $10, the 7.5% VAT/0.75 + $5 fax service.  Instead, they apply 0.75 VAT and drop the fax service (no phone call.  No email.  Nothing). 
  • I was lazy and sent it by USPS priority mail which takes 6-10 days international, instead of 3-4 days.  The application recommends FedEx/DHL/UPS.  (Use the Nassau office instead of Marsh Harbour to get fax service).  Shipping was $26. 

Receipt with no VAT (note fax fell short)

The Bahamian Vet called on Sept 14th to clarify the cat’s age (eighteen years instead of months—the oldest cat she has cleared?!)  She said it would fax out in a few days.  I didn’t stress since we had some time, so I waited a week before I called.  After daily calls for a week (5 business days) and polite-panicked-begging on Friday, I received the fax “at the end of the business day” on the 25th .  (We were scheduled to depart the next Monday.)  22 days for “expedited” service.  Other people have had better luck.  This was just my experience.  Welcome to the Bahamas.

The Bahamian requirements:
1)  “A rabies shot, not more than 10 months but not less than one month prior to importation”.  Did you get all that?  Did you read it twice?  I had to read it several times.
2)  Shot for feline leukemia and the following is a 4-in-1 shot:  feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, feline panleucopenia/distemper and feline pneumonitis.  
3)  Free of internal parasites (fecal test) and "free from external parasites."
4)  The health permit signed within 48-hours of arrival (which is not practical for a sailor who has to motor two days, to anchor at Lake Worth inlet to wait for a weather window, for a 24-hour crossing and then not even sure which port of entry we will be using until the morning of departure or later).  It is common knowledge that this one is waived for cruisers, but the Vet doesn’t like it.  She’s trying to follow the rules.  God bless, her.  So am I!
5)  A visit to a Vet within 48-hours of arriving (many out islands don’t have vets.  I’m told the Vet in Marsh Harbour is only there one day a week and it’s very difficult to get an appointment.)  Apparently, a lot of people skip this step.  

I don't think the actual requirements are listed anywhere except on the permit...

Enter scenario 2.  What if we continue on to Turks & Caicos?  In addition to the above, they require (UPDATE:  the previous link has changed.  Here is a new link.  It is already a different list than I had, but dated 2013).  (http://agriculturetci.org/pdf/Applications/Animal-Import-Application-for-Dogs-and-Cats.pdf):
1)  Microchipped.  Apparently, the world standard (ISO) is now 10-digits instead of 9, like ours.  My research said AVID, Home Again, Destron or Trovan but didn’t specify you that it has to be 10-digits.  I learned that from the Vet, so we had to be re-chipped!  (Apparently we are 15-digit now.  That is one big needle.) 
2)  UPDATE:  Tested negative or vaccinated against Lyme disease.  Dogs only (there isn’t a vaccination for felines, and neither FL vet has heard of the test).
3)  A rabies blood test (titer).  Results take 3-4 weeks & should be done after the vaccination (Her rabies was still current.  In retrospect, I would done the titer in Brunswick, and finished up in Vero.)
4)  Treated for internal and external parasites within 14 days of arrival (ie. Advantage, which we’ve never done because she’s an INSIDE cat, and is supposed to be done by the VET)
5)  Spayed/neutered
6)  International Health Certificate issued not more than 10 days before my arrival.  My copy from the US would be expired.  This would require ANOTHER vet visit in the Bahamas?  (Do they even issue International Health Certificates in the Bahamas?  They don’t require one for entry—they use their own form.)

In case you missed it, that will require more than one vet visit for a healthy pet whose parents don’t have a car.

A very kind and generous member of Women Who Sail offered to drive us to the Florida Veterinary League in Vero Beach (a highly recommended Vet who supposed to be familiar with the Bahamian requirements).  Their excellent staff spent an hour researching what I needed from the USDA and Bahamas before putting us in with the Vet.  I didn’t mind.  I appreciated her efforts.  I didn’t want the Vet to rush off because she had another appointment.  After reviewing the Bahamian paperwork, they told me one of the shots was not available (pneumonitis).  Huh?  Was there a change in the requirements?  “Don’t know.  We quit stocking it.  I’ll make some calls.”

Two hours later, we departed with a wellness exam ($34), a new 10-digit microchip, see below ($47), the regular wellness blood work ($130), and a blood titer test—for a possible International Health Certificate ($300).  $500 and no shots or Bahamian paperwork (please don’t tell The Captain.  He doesn’t read the blog!).  She’ll call me tomorrow.  I need a drink.  Two days later, the Vet called with Amelia’s blood work (borderline but no concerns), but with no answer about the 4-in-1 shot.  “I guess I could check with my vendor if you want me to.”

A call to another vet (near the Publix & the bus stop) had the 4-1 but we have to do another “wellness” visit.  Moral of the story, call ahead and forward a copy of the permit to the vet well in advance of your visit!  The Divine Animal Hospital (Dr. Shockency 772-299-3665) was excellent, had the shots we needed, patiently answered my questions and gave me all the paperwork I needed without prompting--and more (Rabies certificate of vaccination, health certificate and an ID card).  They also confirmed the primary concern is most countries, including the Caribbean is Rabies.  They are a short walk from the bus stop but I elected to try Uber (there is a $15 discount card on the bulletin board in the lounge or mine is BONNIEC863UE).

Other cruisers have told me everything from, “We don’t tell them we have a cat,” or “Just pay for the permit and don’t worry about the rest.  They just want their money” to “The vet will know what to do” and “We have an EU passport.”  Sigh.  I would definitely be more careful if we had a dog.

I have requested a copy of the titer test be emailed to me for Amelia’s growing notebook.  However, it looks like we’ll be going rogue as soon as we depart the Bahamas.

Are we there yet?  Seriously, Mama is freaking out!
Total cost:  Permit ($15+26).  Vet—based on if you elect to titer & if baby is due for shots (1st vet $514 + 2nd vet $254 )  I guess you can put a price on love!

UPDATE:  We cleared at Spanish Cay.  They didn't board the boat or ask if we had a pet.

Pet passport info:  http://www.pettravelstore.com/pet-passport-bahamas/
Facebook group, Gatos del Mar
A vet's blog about the Bahamas:  http://www.captdrdave.com/bahamas-pet-info/
The USDA approves International Health Certificate in the US.  I didn't find any helpful info here:  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/importexport/sa_animals/sa_pet_travel


  1. We've been to the Bahamas twice with our pit bull and I, too, was baffled by all the rules. We lucked out and got our last permit before the whole VAT thing kicked in. And now, get this; we met a couple this spring in the Bahamas and they had a pit bull too. They wanted to go back over next spring and after applying for their permit they got a call from the Bahamian government. They were told they can't bring their dog unless they can prove he's less than one third pit bull! This is a whole new one to me! We don't know when we'll ever get back over there but if we do I don't look forward to trying to get accurate information.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Turks does have a list of prohibited breeds but I haven't seen that documented for the Bahamas (and yes, it's the people--not the dog).

  2. So can I ask have you made it to the Bahamas and what happened with customs once you got there? We are planning to tke our cat with us in February. I have the license but need to get the Health certifcate end of things taken care. I have all the same issues and concerns you are discussing here. Please let us know how you have made out. THANK YOU!!

  3. We are still waiting to cross, but I'll be sure to update the blog after clearing customs.

  4. Update, we made an emergency visit to the PGA Veterinary at Lake Worth. He seemed very knowledgable about the permits and was telling stories about trying to get paperwork for St Kitts, etc. I wouldn't wait this long, but if you get in a pinch...