Preparing for international travel

Veterinarian and veterinarian technician assisting with cows

Guidance for veterinary professionals and veterinary students

International travel can be exciting. For animal health professionals, it also comes with unique risks of spreading animal (including zoonotic) diseases. Outbreaks of these diseases happen regularly around the world and can spread rapidly, even before they’re recognized. And some animal disease agents can remain infectious for days to weeks on fomites, other animals, and people.

For veterinarians and veterinary medical students, it’s important to prevent spread of infectious agents to and from the animals and environments we encounter. This includes when traveling internationally, whether for professional, educational, or personal reasons.

Fortunately, proper planning and preparation can help minimize the health risks to ourselves and the animals we interact with, as well as any other risks associated with providing medical care to animals while abroad. Here are answers to questions veterinary professionals might have, to help you prepare for your next international adventure.

General information

Q: When should I start preparing for travel?

A: Travel preparations would ideally start at least three months prior to departure to allow you time to obtain required vaccines, apply for visas, meet any other entry requirements, and make travel reservations. Make sure your passport is up to date, will be valid for at least six months after your travel is complete, and contains the minimum number of blank pages required by visa rules in some countries. If you hold a non-U.S. passport, check with your home country’s passport officials for more information.

Q: Where should I look for travel advisories or concerns?

A: Always check the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories prior to planning travel. Once travel plans are finalized, consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that the U.S. Embassy in your destination country knows where you plan to travel and can more easily notify you of any concerns.

Q: How do I gather basic information about the country I will be visiting?

A: Good resources to learn about your destination country include the State Department’s international travel page, CIA World Factbook, and BBC News country profiles. Information on cultural etiquette, weather, climate, and time zones also can be helpful.

Q: How do I find out about health requirements, including vaccinations?

A: Check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travelers’ health page for comprehensive information on how to stay healthy and prevent disease while in your destination country. Also consider making an appointment with a travel health clinic to determine which vaccines and/or preventive medications are advisable or necessary for your trip. Some recommended vaccination protocols may take longer than one month to complete.

Q: How can I protect myself professionally if I’m planning to provide medical care to animals at my destination?

A: It’s wise to be thinking about this. Ensure you meet all available and applicable legal requirements to practice veterinary medicine in the international location, and confirm that your liability insurance will provide coverage for work outside the United States. It’s also beneficial to verify the credentials and standards of any organization that you’ll be working with.

Animal health and disease

Q: How can I find out whether any animal disease outbreaks are occurring where I am traveling?

A: The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) tracks all officially reported animal disease concerns via the World Animal Health Information System. Be sure to check this system before departing for your destination country and again before returning to the United States. Another source of timely information is the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ProMED).

Q: What should I do if I have had contact with live animals or visited a farm or other animal environment while traveling?

A: The following precautions are recommended before returning to the United States:

  • Shower or bathe, wash hair, clean fingernails, and clear nasal passages (i.e., blow your nose in private to avoid others being exposed) as soon as possible after leaving the animal environment/farm.
  • If possible, leave behind or dispose of any equipment and/or clothing and shoes that were used when visiting the animal environment/farm.
  • If that isn’t possible, take these precautions:
    • Launder all clothing worn before packing to return.
    • Clean dirt/debris from shoes, equipment, or other articles, and disinfect them before packing.

In addition, on returning you must answer “yes” to the question on the U.S. Customs Declaration Form that asks if you have been on a farm/pasture, and “yes” to the question that asks if you have been in contact with livestock.

  • If you use Global Entry, or aren’t provided with a declaration form upon arrival, it is still your responsibility to report contact with farms/animals directly to the customs agent on your return to the United States (see page 5 of the Global Entry Information Guide). This can be done using the CBP One app.

Q: If a foreign animal disease is present where I am traveling, what do I need to do when I return to the United States?

A: The Department of Homeland Security requires anyone who has been on a farm/pasture and/or in contact with animals in a foreign country and has returned to the United States to adhere to a 5-day personal recognizance quarantine (PRQ) from susceptible animals that may be at risk of contracting the foreign animal disease. This means avoiding exposure to susceptible animals, including all ruminants, whether wild or domestic (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, and deer), as well as equids and swine. It also means refraining from entering areas to which susceptible animals have access, such as personal residences, animal farms, sale barns, stockyards, laboratories, packing houses, zoos, pet stores, and animal exhibits, including fairs or circuses. The PRQ extends to avian wildlife, pet birds, backyard poultry, fair birds, commercial poultry operations, and/or rabbits when avian or rabbit pathogens or these animals are involved in an outbreak in a foreign country.

Q: What am I allowed to bring back to the United States after traveling internationally?

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides information about what can and cannot be brought back into the United States. If you plan to return with hunting trophies, bushmeat, or other animal products, also see the CDC’s resources on bringing animal products and food into the United States.

Q: How do I ship diagnostic and research specimens back to the United States from a foreign country?

A: Veterinary workers may need to ship animal tissues and other biological samples back to the United States for diagnostic and research purposes. If this is you, it’s important to provide proper packaging and labeling of such materials to facilitate accurate diagnostics, assure continued service by carriers, and minimize any potential public health risks. Take the time to review your methods of preparing diagnostic and research specimens with support staff, and in consultation with your diagnostic laboratory, to ensure compliance with all applicable international guidelines and federal and state laws. For more information, see the U.S. Customs guidance on importing biological materials.

Q: Can I bring an animal back with me as a pet?

A: Anyone considering returning to the United States with an animal acquired during international travel is encouraged to consider the following:

  • The disease risks associated with the animal’s country of origin, including current disease information from the country’s local veterinary medical officials where possible
  • The animal’s medical and vaccination history and current health status
  • The import requirements for the animal as determined by the destination state/territory’s regulatory officials

Acquiring a pet while in a foreign country presents a variety of health risks based on the diseases endemic to the country. Companion animals not only can bring back diseases that affect other animals of the same species, but they and any accompanying equipment also can serve as sources of infectious agents that may affect other species like humans, livestock, or wildlife. Additionally, companion animals may serve as carriers for invasive vector species (e.g., mosquitos, fleas, or ticks) that are not yet found in the United States. For animal importation requirements and state restrictions, see the CDC’s and USDA’s resources on these topics.

1United States Department of Homeland Security Plum Island Disease Center Science and Technology Directorate Office of National Laboratories Visitor Access to PIADC Biocontainment Areas – Buildings 101 or 102 (Pre-Visit Awareness) July 2022