We’ve had a lot of information about moving to Panama with dogs but not much about moving to Panama with cats. So I asked Darlys, who moved with four cats to a remote island in Bocas del Toro, to talk about her experiences.
Important to note that you should look a the airline’s “Pet Policy” for current information. The current pet policy may be different than what is in this article. Some airlines have black-out dates when they will not transport pets.
See this article about Bringing Pets to Panama.
Article by Darlys Edwards
My four cats – Mittens, Moxy, Loki, and Gypsy — are seasoned travelers, having made it from California to Panama, then from Panama City to their home in Isla Bastimentos in the Bocas Del Toro province, then around Panama for various vet appointments, even during Covid lockdown. They are living proof that you, too, can bring your pets with you to Panama and also transport them around Panama for their various needs. There are set rules and requirements, but it is definitely possible with some planning! … Here is their story:
When our mom decided to move to Panama, she had already discovered that it would be possible to move all four of us, fur babies, with her. Not all countries will allow that (for example, Ecuador only allows you to move two pets with you), so with the green light for moving us, we all set out on our journey with her! In preparation, we needed a trip to the veterinarian (one accredited by the USDA) for a “Vet Certificate,” which included a complete bill of health exam and a rabies shot that needed to be done for at least 30 days before we left for Panama.
Then we needed to get the Vet Certificate endorsed by the USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), then overnighted to the Office of Authentications in Washington DC for the apostille to authenticate the seals and signatures on our documents. (We moved in June 2019).
Then, the documents needed to be forwarded to the Panamanian Consulate in the US and approved BEFORE WE LEFT THE US. In our case, coming from California, we could utilize the Consulate in Long Beach, CA. Three days before our departure to Panama, all four of us cats needed to file for home quarantine with MINSA (Panama Public Health Dept) at the Tocumen Intl Airport to avoid a 14-day quarantine in a government facility upon arrival. Instead, we breezed through MINSA with the proper signatures on our legal documents.
Along with all the Government requirements, there were also Airline requirements for transporting us. The Airline required the use of a “Pet Transporter” who handled the details (including booking flights, carrier requirements for a specific airline, and flight costs which were about $450 per cat). The airline required us to be in our own separate carrier large enough to stand up in plus 3 more inches tall. The carrier had to be made of hard plastic (soft shell not accepted), and the screws and nuts that hold the carrier together were required to be made of metal, not plastic. There was also the requirement of needing to arrive at the airport four hours before plane departure time to check us all in, AND a 4-hour minimum requirement for any layovers during the trip, for our safe transportation between planes. We were required to fly in ‘Pet Cargo’ underneath the plane.
It was a happy moment to see Mom again when the plane landed in Panama City. After we met with MINSA, we all boarded a taxi and went to a Pet-Friendly hotel where we could settle down after a long flight before the remainder of our trip to our new home in Bastimentos. After a 2 night’s stay in Panama City, we were back in our carriers again for a domestic flight to Bocas del Toro, a boat taxi to Bastimentos, and a hike up the rainforest trail to our new home. Whew, another long day!
Us cats are living proof that it is possible to bring your pets with you during your move to Panama! It will be a bit exhausting and costly (total costs for all Govt fees from both US and Panama, and all flights, including International and Domestic, were $1100 per cat), … but we know that you think we are worth it! Meow!!
After getting us to Bastimentos – a glorious island in the Bocas del Toro province of Panama — life settled in. Then we needed trips to the veterinarian for our various shots and upkeep. This was also possible, even living in the middle of the rain forest on a remote island of Panama, although it required some creativity, patience, and determination.
I’m Mittens, and I weigh 14 pounds. For a cat, that’s big! When I needed a trip to the vet in Bocas, I got stuck in that crate again. Living up in the rainforest remotely, with no cars on our island, here’s how Mom got me to the vet: She had to hike me a mile down the rainforest trail. Halfway down the trail, I got too heavy for her, and Mom was able to hire a “hombre” (guy) to finish carrying me down the trail. Then we boarded the boat taxi for a 10-minute ride to Bocas (which I hated and screamed the whole way although it’s a stunningly beautiful ride), followed by a road taxi to the vet, which I also protested. I really don’t like my carrier, but at least I was safe and got my treatments.
I’m Moxy. When I needed my trip to the vet, I followed the same path as Mittens to get there. However, now the Covid Pandemic had taken over, and with worldwide lockdowns in place, the usual methods for transportation that we had been using were now thwarted. There are no Blood Analysis labs in Bocas, so when I needed to have my blood analyzed, which normally could have been drawn at the vet in Bocas, then flown in an ice chest via Air Panama to Panama City for analysis and evaluation. Now with all flights grounded due to Pandemic lockdown in place, Mom had to take my blood to Changuinola (“Changi” – – 2 hrs away on the mainland) who has a lab for blood analysis.
The usual way to go to Changi from Bastimentos is to take a boat taxi from Bocas to Almirante (located on the mainland), then a bus to Changi, then a road taxi to exact destination in Changi. But with the Pandemic, there were NO available boat taxis or busses.
If there’s a will, there’s a way – – Mom chartered a private boat taxi to get to Almirante (with my blood in tow), then a road taxi to take her (& my blood) to the lab for analysis. This cost $140 RT as the services were so limited, vs in pre-Covid days when the boat taxi was $8 Round trip, and the bus was only $2/each way from Almirante to Changi. Mom’s friend was able to post on the Bocas Facebook Group inquiring if others might also need to get to Changi and if they would want to share the ride and expense. Two other gals responded, so off they all went together with Mom, happy to have a ride to take care of their errands in Changi, and share the cost.
On the way back from Changi, the water was choppy and the boat ride was rough. While the boat was crashing with the high waves, one of the gals started getting high anxiety and had trouble breathing. Mom and the gals grabbed each other’s hands for support, and they started deep breathing together, which helped calm the situation. They all got through the choppy boat ride, then they became good friends after bonding from the experience together!
Later it was determined that I needed an Ultrasound test, which isn’t available in Bocas or Changi. By this time, the lockdown for domestic plane flights was starting to lift. So the first day possible to fly from Bocas to Panama City in October 2020, I made the dreaded trip with Mom. All my protests were ignored, and I did arrive safely after all!
This time the domestic flight for me (Moxy) was only $5/each way since Mom has now become a Panamanian resident (vs $25/cat when we first arrived in Panama). I got through the Ultrasound and was able to receive my appropriate treatments.
We have shared with you the steps needed to bring us, 4-legged babies from the US to Panama. The rules for bringing pets to Panama vary depending on which country you are coming from, so it’s best to contact the Panamanian Embassy in your own country first for the most updated requirements.
Once you get into Panama, getting around Panama with pets has its own rules but are definitely possible and does not require any particular advance paperwork. We are one example of how to do it.
The Panamanian busses don’t allow pets, so we can’t be transported that way, but it is always possible to charter a taxi from Point A to Point B and bring us with you!
We hope this article has helped you understand that you will have a successful venture traveling with your pets to and throughout Panama. But it cannot be done at the last minute, and it does require the correct paperwork with appropriate signatures. With proper planning, things will go “purr-fect” for you and your four-legged babies!
Hi, Thank you so much for this information on moving four cats to Panama. My husband and I have four kitties and we are planning to move to Panama with our fur-babies once I have finally retired in 2025. Our plans are to also join one of Jackie’s relocation tours in the next two years so that we can confirm that our decision to move to Panama is the right one for us. Thanks again, Heather
Jackie Lange says
Heather, I’m glad the article was helpful. We look forward to showing you how you can live better for less in Panama when you join us for a Panama Relocation Tour.
Marcela Raphael says
Great article from Darlys. I too moved with a 21 y.o. Cat (and three dogs). The worse part was the car trip from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, with a cat that is not used to a leach for pit stops. But we made it all right, the worse was the acclimating with the opposite weather from Wisconsin.
The challenge which must be planed carefully is to get the vet certificate of health go to the entire process within the 30 days of travel date. We lost our tickets twice because of that and then airlines don’t fly cats if temperature at layover or departure city is 84F (75F for snub-nosed cats).
Depending of where you live, it is almost impossible to hit the 30 day period mark. Even with the prepared forwarding enclosed envelopes. The bureaucracy is unbelievable and we had to travel 5 hrs to bypass the snail mail for the first of the approvals, that’s how we made through in time.
1) certificate of health issues by USDA certified vet
2) certificate endorsed by USDA APHIS
3) certificate authenticated with the seal in Washiton. Note that all mail to D.C. goes to the central office (maybe Chicago) to be screened which can take up to 10 days or more).
4) certificate gets the apostile from the Panamanian Consulate
Luckily the paperwork won’t be sitting in someone’s desk for too long