Thinking of traveling with your pet or know someone who would love to visit the VI but can’t bare to be without theirs? As someone who has done this many times, I wanted to share the ins and outs of travelling with pets to and from the Virgin Islands. You can do it, but it can be tricky and stressful for you and your pet if not prepared. This article focuses on the realities and considerations of bringing your pet on a VI vacation
Traveling with Pets on Airlines
There are more and more animals traveling on planes these days both in the main cabin and in the cargo hold. Humans just can’t bare to be without their pets and I can’t blame them. Very often they have better dispositions, are more affectionate, better behaved and often smell better than a lot of the passengers I’ve met recently. “In cabin” pets are still the most common and confined to small lap dogs and cats that fit under the seat next to laptops in carriers. In recent years it has become more common to encounter larger, hairier “Service Animals” in the cabin. These guys definitely don’t fit under the seat. The ease of air travel with your pet is determined by many factors including the airline, time of year, size of your pet, mood of the flight attendants and “status” of your pet.
Service Animal Status
Travelers in need of their Service Animals including “Emotional Support Animals” (ESA) can enjoy their pets company in the cabin at no extra charge. If you genuinely need Rover for emotional support when flying or traveling, find out if you qualify to register for this status by visiting the NSARCO website.
What if you’re seated next to a flying monkey?
Service Animals are not restricted to dogs. Airlines vary on their perimeters for support animals. My favorite is West Jet’s, a Canadian company who services Puerto Rico (a great connection for the VI) and who I think offer the most “inclusive” (very Canadian) service animal perimeters of all airlines.
“WestJet accepts service and emotional support dogs, cats, miniature horses, pigs and monkeys on flights to most destinations. Other “unusual animals” (with the exception of snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders which pose safety and/or public health concerns) may be accepted as a service or emotional support animal on a case-by-case basis.”
For the most part, I have experienced great support while travelling with my dog. I think it may have something to do with his magical tooth. Just one look at it and even the crankiest flight attendant or seat mate is mesmerized. (Except for that one time) There are of course exceptions and so it pays to be uber prepared when travelling with your pet. Think toddler. Seriously, if the passenger next to you objects, be prepared to be moved to the back of the plane.
If you do intend to travel with your pet and recognize that you are not in need of their presence for emotional support (but because YOU JUST WANT THEM WITH YOU and you don’t need to justify this to anyone, including your mother), it’s best to reserve your pet’s travel as early as possible as airlines limit the amount of “in cabin pets” to 4 – 7 per flight! Also, it’s a great idea to get to the counter plenty early as some airlines (American Airlines) accept pets on a first come first serve basis regardless of whether or not you have called ahead to request a place for your animal.
Cost of Travel
There is a huge price range among airlines offering pet travel. Be prepared to pay anywhere from $50- $125, 1 way, per pet for in cabin/carry-on pets (these guys count as one of your carry ons!) and $175 for checked pets traveling in the cargo hold. FYI American Airlines/US Airways has the most flights to the VI and are the most expensive.
Time of Travel
If you have a pet that cannot travel under your seat as an “in cabin pet” and they are not an “emotional support animal” or Service Dog, they will need to travel in the cargo hold. YIKES!!! If this is your only option, then time of year, in particular the temperature is an important consideration. Pets will not be accepted when actual or forecasted temperatures are above 85F (29.4C) or below 45F(7.2C). But let’s be honest, unless your pet is one of those stoic, mellow, traveling gypsy sorts, they’re NOT going to enjoy traveling in the cargo hold for 5 hours +/-. I have been on more than one flight and heard the pitiful howls of someone’s pooch trapped in the bowels of the plane.
Many Veterinarians don’t recommend sedating animals before air travel due to the risk of vomiting while being zonked out. There are guidelines for giving animals sedatives while travelling so speak with your Vet. Those with heart conditions can only take natural sedatives or anxiety medication like Xanax. (seriously). We use these along with a spiffy contraption called a “Thunder Shirt” that is supposed to relax your pet by sort of swaddling them. It works pretty well, though it could have been the Xanax and the rum and coke. (He’s an island dog)
Before traveling to the VI you MUST have your pet’s health certificate issued within 10 days of travel including proof of vaccinations. Certain airlines require this documentation others do not. The most important thing is a current Rabies vaccination. Going back in the the US, tends to be easier as the VI is a rabies free zone! It’s always best to confirm with your airline. JetBlue is much more relaxed than American (Just sayin)
If you are traveling to the British Virgin Islands the rules are more rigorous!
BVI: You must fax an International Health Certificate to the department of agriculture in the USVI and then wait to hear back. Fax to Dr. Bradford 340-779-3100. The certificate is valid for 30 days. Sometimes wait times can be longer than you may be used to. Patience, manners and determination will all serve you greatly in the VI.
Other Travel Considerations
Certain villas and some hotels will allow pets with extra pet fees. Make sure to ask in advance! Not all companies adhere to the legal rights of “ESA” status customers. Some hotels want to attract pet owners while some have a blanket policy against. The same goes with villa rentals but they tend to have a more personal and often more flexible approach on the subject. I would highly recommend trying the villa option if you decide to bring your pet to the Virgin Islands. The nature of villa accommodations means that you will be spending more time at the villa than you would in a hotel room and why would you go to such a great expense to bring your pet with you if you didn’t want to spend time with him. Please check this website whattodo-vi.com for keywords “Pet friendly” to help you narrow your search. If you want a larger net check out BringFido.com
“…each pet receives a goody basket with treats!”
Here are 4 hotels I know of in the US Virgin Islands that cater to pets. Best Western & Emerald Beach Resort on St.Thomas charge $20 per day for dogs up to 80 pounds. The Westin St.John Resort and Villas welcomes pets ups to 30 pounds with NO extra pet fee and provides complimentary dog beds and bowls. The Palms at Pelican Cove in St.Croix welcomes pets for an additional fee of $30 and each pet receives a goody basket with treats! The following link is a great resource for finding all kinds of pet friendly short term lodging in the VI.
Not as Friendly to Fur Babies
Once you arrive in the VI there are limitations on where you can take your dog. We are not as dog friendly as the continental United States.
Pets can join you on the National Park trails if on a leash.
Restaurants do not allow pets due to health codes.
Many stores and malls do not allow pets, other than service animals.
You will pay extra in taxis; between $20-30 extra for “kennel charges”.
If you think you’re going to have your pooch lying next to you on Trunk Bay, think again. The VI National Park beaches (especially on St.John) prohibits pets on the beaches and the fines can be hefty. But take heart, there are some pet friendly beaches here too.
Did I miss something important? Please let me know. I invite you to share your experiences traveling with your pet to the Virgin Islands or any other exotic place. JK
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