A lot of people want to know how to import pet birds into the U.S.A. (in my case from the UK), and having recently experienced this, I can tell you bringing a parrot or finch into the country is not easy or cheap. But it will be utterly worth it if you decide to go through with it, for everyone involved.
I’ll do my best to explain!
To begin, I firmly believe that the stress and potential risk of importing your bird is worth it. Opinions on this differ, but in my heart, I feel that it’s better a few weeks of quarantine than a lifetime apart. I am so, so fortunate that my family has helped me out in this process. Parrots grieve, after all, and experience very real emotion. They may not be human, but I feel they will benefit from joining me overseas.
Leave several months – if not a full year – for all the paperwork, or you will find yourself held back by one single piece, as I did, multiple times! (I’m fortunate again that my partner was remaining in the UK at that point, and was able to care for the birds and see to the exporting part of the process.)
You can only import two birds per year, per person, so be prepared for that, too.
Let’s start with import:
Begin with the Centres for Disease Control. The first permit they direct you to is the USDA Import Permit. Getting this says that they will have a place at the government quarantine centre for your parrot, so the window for it is very narrow: one month at most. This part was very quick for us to complete – it literally was done by email and completed within a few days. I recommend submitting the import permit last.
Side-note: There was a slight hitch here, where they FORGOT to post our original import permit out to our flat, but I received email permission from a relevant USDA employee, which allowed us to use a printed copy.
The next piece, our U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Permit, however, was not anywhere near fast as that import permit. It took five months, where they advertised four weeks to two months to receive. Start this piece first.
The Fish and Wildlife permit requires the following information:
- Your bird’s ID. You’ll want to microchip and band your pet if possible, and record that information.
- Proof that you have continually resided outside the U.S.A. for at least one year, and have owned your pet legally for at least 90 days.
- Sex of the bird(s).
- Proof that your pet is captive-bred, such as a signed statement from the breeder that includes various information listed on the form, or a personal statement signed by yourself that gives all the information you have on the circumstances you obtained your pet.
- Travel arrangements – how, when, where. Also includes the dimensions of the travel cage and how you’ll care for the animal during transit, if applicable, plus the airline you’ll be travelling with.
- Port of arrival (one of the four listed below).
- Various relevant personal info.
Notice that the Centres for Disease Control indicate that you will need a health certificate issued by your government, and countersigned by a particular official. No? They don’t mention the countersigning? It turns out – much to my surprise – that you will need to travel to a specified office for a countersigning by a government official. Factor that into your plans.
At this point in the process, our animal shipping company was responsible for the health certificate paperwork reaching my usual veterinarian (the paperwork is from DEFRA). If you can afford to hire someone to see to the entire process, do it. But if you need to save that money, like I did, read on.
The birds’ health certificate must indicate amongst other things that the birds have never visited a country or region infected with avian influenza, as listed on APHIS.gov.uk; nor will they be able to ship through one of these places even temporarily.
There are just three ports of entry for bird imports, as advised by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
- New York, NY (718) 553-3570
- Miami, FL (305) 526-2926
- Los Angeles, CA (310) 725-1970
Forty-eight hours before arrival, the owner must call the Fish and Wildlife Service and let them know about the import. I was in contact with a few government officials at JFK, as well, whom I regularly updated with flight information, etc. It was important to make sure that a certified government veterinarian was going to be present at the time of their arrival.
Also very important here was ensuring a good arrival time. The truck responsible for moving the birds to the quarantine centre departs around 12:00pm, and so they needed to arrive before then in good time to be cleared. Lesson: The earlier the flight arrival, the better!
A few days before the actual shipping date, your airline will also contact you asking for ‘the okay to forward.’ You just have to give this so that they know someone is waiting for the birds.
Next, we can’t forget the export side of things:
Also at DEFRA.co.uk, you’ll need the CITES export form. Fill that out, send it off with the appropriate fee, and you’re good.
If your pet falls on the CITES I list, there will be more paperwork still, and I’m afraid I don’t know how to advise on that one. Calling your local government would be the best bet. Luckily, my birds were both CITES II, which is relatively more relaxed in terms of requirements (on both sides). It is said to be much, much more difficult to import CITES I birds.
Finally, fast forward to the big day.
You have all the paperwork with you to send with them (and photocopied for reference), and so you take the birds to the airport. They will need to be shipped in IATA-approved carriers provided by your shipping company, with fresh fruit and plenty of food.
Upon arrival in the U.S., pet birds will need to be collected and cleared through customs. Unfortunately, this can be very difficult for those of us who don’t live near one of those designated ports. After talking to New York, we ended up hiring a customs broker who cleared the birds through customs and put them on the truck that takes them into quarantine. He also ensured that the government knew these were personal pets, and not me running a business.
After being unloaded, any birds will be checked by a U.S. veterinarian (for a fee), and then put into isolets. The cost of this seems extreme, as it runs $450 per bird, in an individual isolet, for 30 days. Parrots or finches who can live together safely can potentially share one, however. As it turns out, the isolets are state-of-the-art, beautiful enclosures with branches, toys, fresh food, and more. They have unique filtered air systems that function even during cage cleaning, so no bird ever shares the same air – but they can see each other, which is a comfort to most parrots. Human attention is given where possible, and a radio is always left playing softly.
After quarantine is up, your broker can also potentially arrange a convenient flight for the birds. I was going to do this, but the USDA vet wouldn’t let them fly due to the extreme weather we’ve been having – and for this I was glad. It was much safer to drive up and collect them myself.
As the end of your import journey approaches, ensure that you’ve done your research, and know the state requirements for pet parrots. Some states outlaw quaker (monk) parakeets, for instance, so check to make sure you don’t get in any trouble.
Throughout all of this, the government really seems to work with you, so long as they see you doing the same. I have probably bugged several of them half to death with my questions, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
Writing this now, I have my birds with me – and it is the BEST feeling. Importing them to join me here was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But it is worth it. One bird playing on the desk, another preening on my knee. Life is good.