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.
So no hope for a bird of unknown origin? I have an older grey (previous owners say she was born 1995-2000) with no band, no papers, nothing, no proof of origin whatsoever. Are we screwed? Will I have to choose between moving, and keeping her?
Do you guys know of an importer in the USA to help me bring birds from Belgium
Good to know all this “oldest “ experience because I’ll start my journey now 2021/2022 and I’m very excited to see how’s everything will ended.
Interesting to hear all the successful true stories of import to USA. However, i wonder if pet parrots can be exported successfully from USA to Asia too? Any recommendations which pet shops in USA are popular and successfully imported parrots to Asia? Cheers
I’m leaving in May 2015, moving back to the US from Belgium. I’m bringing my Senegal parrot with me. I started a blog to document the process, as I’m doing everything myself. If anyone needs additional info, the blog is titled “Tiger the Senegal parrot moves to America from Belgium”
I moved to the UK from Los Angeles 2 years ago with my umbrella cockatoo. If you are moving to Europe with a bird only British Airways will travel Easterly with live animals. You need to work with the Animal department which operates out of Canada. Something to know is that they have a non-compete clause which means if someone books a dog, cat or ferret before you book your bird they will not take them. Also you can not book the bird more than 2 weeks prior to your departure. If you have a CITES bird this is a mess because by CITES law you must be on the same flight as the bird. CITES export documents from the US will take 9 months to a year to obtain from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. You also need to apply for a CITES Import permit from the country you are moving to (the UK took 2 weeks). I waited a year for my CITES Pet Passport only to be denied the UK Import form ( 3 weeks to departure) because the classification was “F” meaning first generation and they required a “C” Captive breed to issue a CITES Pet Passport Import permit. What this means is F means my bird is a US citizen, he was born in the US but no proof that the parents were citizens and not immigrants. Category C means your bird was hatch in the US by parents that were also hatched in the US. I had to reapply for a 1x CITES export form. I was very luck the US Fish and Wildlife Services helped to expedite the new permit but I was on the phone daily making it happen. If you are buying a bird that is on the CITES list, adopting or already have one, all I can say is do everything you can to get breeder certificates and keep all the documentation of the purchase/adoption documentation. CITES was put in place to protect birds from smuggling so what they care about the most is where the bird originated from. Origin documentation is key with CITES. If you can do one thing for your bird get a breeder certificate. I heard so many horrible heart breaking stories of people having no choice but to leave their pets behind because they could not get a CITES. 75% of my move was spent on making sure everything was done for my bird. For Cockatoo owners this is the best travel carrier is the Wingabago http://www.playfulparrot.com/ctgy/Wingabago-Bird-Carrier.html There is also a form from the USDA that is not required but if you have it processed at the same time as the health certificate it will prove your bird is a “Bird of Origin” and it will not have to be quarantined if you come back to the US. I am happy to share info with anyone interested just contact me.
Wow this is great information , we’re planing to move over seas , I’ve been in-touch with a local business that plans it all out , but knowing others have received there loved ones safely and with out any harm ,,,make me fell a bit better . Both of my birds are very close to us and I am still raping my head around quarantined for two weeks , hearing what was sad about the cleanliness and soundings in your area I’ll have to look into we’re are babes would be in holding …Tks much for all great info .
I went through this process when I moved from Hamburg, Germany back to the US in 1994. I was lucky to have asked all the correct questions, because neither USDA nor US Fish and Wildlife tells you outright what is necessary to import your pet bird. At that time, CITES had been newly instituted and I got a certificate just in case. Glad I did. I had to take the bird to a German veterinarian, then arrange to be able to see my macaw at the lay-over in Frankfurt (they were great), and had had numerous long-distance phone calls with Fish and Wildlife about how we would be met. If you want your pet to have fruit, DON’’T include it on the flight – have someone provide it on the US side. Also, no rawhide products. ANY infraction, and you will be in danger of losing your bird. US Wildlife keeps the bird and then auctions it off – you may wind up having to buy your own bird. Again, this was 20 years ago, but they weren’t generally helpful in giving you all the information you need. I’m glad someone has taken the time to impart this information. I was going to do a little booklet at the time, but there was no internet as there is today and no real way to disseminate this information. I used a small dog/cat carrier and outfitted it with a perch and food cup. I had trained my macaw to drink from the attached water bottle and made sure the carrier was ATA-approved. Lufthansa was terrific. Quarantine in California is in San Diego. The agent met us at LAX and we exchanged information. Always keep 3 copies of all the paperwork and, if possible, send one to your friend/family member in the U.S. and keep complete copies for yourself and another to send with the bird to quarantine, even if USF&W has the already-sent paper work. I called every other day of the 1-month quarantine in San Diego. I was not allowed to drive down to pick up my pet; the agent drove up to LAX and handed him over. I had to fly with United Airlines to SF because it was the only available airline that accepted birds. It went off without a hitch, but UA was notorious for screw-ups and I was nervous. Take your pet to a US vet ASAP after quarantine – it’s not the healthiest place for birds..The process was costly, but I knew this going in and I started saving specifically for it when I knew I would be returning to the US. I’m sure it’’s much more expensive now. Again, if a single piece of required information is not present, you stand to lose your bird. At that time, mine had been wild-caught (I got him in Germany in 1983 – the information available now regarding wild-caught birds, was not disseminated – I now know better), but he was a spectacular companion for 27 years and it would have been horrible to leave him there – I probably would have stayed, had I not been able to take him with me. In 1982, regulations on importing birds was very lax compared to now, so all I really had was a bill of sale and the proprietor of the store had since died. It was honored, but I don’t think it would be these days. Keep all documents regarding your bird, including health records and CITES, so you aren’t caught off-guard. In 1994, I think all of it came to around $600 US. That was then.
I recently acquired a blue fronted amazon. I dont know his age? and would like to know how to help him to adjust. ie the taming process …. Will he ever settle down and connect with me? dont know his history except he was supposed to be used as a breeder and since he wouldnt they took the other bird away much to his distress. I have another very tame amazon and there are no problems between them. Suggestions please.
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