Bringing a Dog to Costa Rica – Part Three – Travel Day

rindo3bMy alarm went off at 2 in the morning last Friday and it was go time. Time for Rindo and I to travel to Costa Rica together. Rindo and I were scheduled to leave at 6 am on a flight to Dallas and then catch a quick connecting flight to Liberia, Costa Rica. We would be landing in Costa Rica around 1 pm and my friend Brian was planning on picking us up at the airport to drive us the 45 minute drive to Tamarindo. The rest of the family would be joining us the next day. We had all of our ducks in a row, our paperwork filled out and there was nothing stopping us.

Or so we thought.

Our airport shuttle was right on time and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I had to skip the self check in and stand in a line to get Rindo squared away. I was feeling nervous about the day of travel, but that feeling was trumped by the fact that in just a few short hours Rindo and I would be arriving in my favorite place in the world.

When it was our turn with the ticket agent they started clacking away at their keyboard and after a few minutes the agent looked at me and said, “Sorry, you’re not flying to Liberia today.”

WHAT?! He then explained that it was supposed to be 97 degrees in Liberia when we were landing and that they are not allowed to bring dogs on a flight when it’s that hot when you land. I was aware that she could not take-off in extreme heat or cold, but never realized that landing had the same rules. Oh crap. I asked him if there were any other flight options and he said that there was only one flight per day and they all landed at 1 pm. He looked at the next week worth of forecasts and said that there was no way we’d be going to Liberia anytime soon.

I started sweating. A lot. I think the agent could feel my desperation to get to Costa Rica, so he started clacking away at his keyboard again. He found a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica that landed at 8 pm and would “pass” the temperature requirements. Ok, that’s good and all, but San Jose is a solid 5-6 hour drive from Tamarindo and while in the same country, not very close to where I needed to be. Additionally, the only flight to Dallas that had space that day was the 6 am flight that I was already booked on, so I would need to fly to Dallas, arrive about 8 am and then wait until my 4:30 pm departure.

I had to think fast. My brain was juggling all the variables while I stood there and he awaited my answer. I kept coming to the same conclusion every way I thought about it. I’ll take it. It’s going to make things much more complicated, but if I was at least able to get into the country, I’m in. Book it. I’ll deal with the rest later.

Thankfully, American was cool enough to change my ticket free of charge.

rindo3cWe finalized all the paperwork for Rindo, verified that I had every document I needed to leave the USA and the documents I needed to enter Costa Rica, and we were set.

Rindo and I were led to a back room where the TSA had me take Rindo out of her kennel and they checked things out. When we were deemed “safe” I said bye to Rindo and she was wheeled off in her crate and I was off to security.

The flight to Dallas was simple. Nothing to report.

When we landed in Dallas I had requested, and later learned that it was not an option, to pick up Rindo so she wasn’t in her kennel for the 9 hour lay over. Sure enough, over in the oversized luggage area, Rindo came out of an unmarked door and we were re-united. She was so happy to see me. It was mutual. Flying didn’t seem to phase her at all. Relief.

Now it’s 8:00 am in Dallas, Texas and I’ve got a dog, a kennel, a smart cart and 8 hours to kill. I immediately took Rindo out of the building and let her out to stretch her legs. I had no idea what to do for the next 8 hours, but I knew she wasn’t going to sit in her kennel the whole time, so we sat outside together for a while to come up with a plan. I talked to a number of airport employees to find out what my options were and came to the conclusion that I really had no options. Unlike the Denver airport, Dallas has NO SERVICES (other than a Starbucks cart) outside of the security area and I was not allowed to go through security with Rindo. I found the Starbucks cart and got two bottles of water, one for me and one for Rindo. Basic needs met.

I figured it would be a good idea to touch base with the ticketing agents, so after the line died down, I went to chat with them. I explained what I was doing and they were great. They told me when I needed to be back to check in Rindo and also told me about a little dog area in the parking garage where Rindo could pee and poop. The agents all pet Rindo and she was a mini-rock star. I thanked them for their help and we headed to the parking garage.

rindo3aRindo and I proceeded to do laps around the 6 story parking garage. We walked for almost 90 minutes back and forth, up and down. We took elevators (which was very confusing for Rindo!) walked on moving walkways, and met a ton of great people. Most everyone wanted to meet Rindo that we walked by. It was almost therapeutic. We found the little dog park (about 4 ft x 5ft) but it worked. She did her business and we both felt better.

Eventually, we were done with our journey to nowhere and went back to the ticketing area. Rindo got back in her kennel and I started to figure out the plan. First step was to get in touch with Brian who was supposed to be picking us up at the airport to let him know that we were not landing there. Brian is one of those amazing people who will do anything for a friend, so I asked if he could help me find a ride from San Jose to Tamarindo. He was ON it. 5 minutes later I got an email that he’d sent a driver to San Jose to come pick us up. I wouldn’t be arriving in Tamarindo until the middle of the night, so we had to figure out keys, logistics etc. Between Brian and our property manager, Bob, I was in great hands. Everything was set up and ready to go. I wasn’t planning on a $250 5+ hour drive from San Jose to Tamarindo, but was so thankful that it was an option and so easy.

For the next 4 hours Rindo and I hung out outside of the airport. I made calls to Erin to let her know the change of plans, called my mom and dad to check in and did a little bit of work. Rindo and I met some really nice people throughout the afternoon. Of the people I met, the most memorable one was a woman who was traveling by herself. She was about 75 years old and was traveling to a friends funeral. It was clear that she was very upset about the loss of her friend. She came and sat down next to us quietly. After a few moments she reached out her hand and started petting Rindo’s head. She then realized what she was doing and asked me if it was ok to pet her. Sure! I said. She told me her story and I could see the sadness in her face. After she finished telling me about her travel, she continued to sit with us for another 15 minutes in silence, petting Rindo the entire time. Eventually, she got up to go check in for her flight and said, “Thank you. You have no idea how much better you just made my day. You have an amazing dog. Take good care of her.” – and she walked away, at least a little lighter and comforted. It was a really cool moment. We had quite a few moments like that, the crazed mom that was at her wits end traveling with her three kids, the couple from Africa that has never been to America before and the father and son that had been stuck in Dallas the night before after a cancelled flight and missed connection. All of them connected to Rindo and she helped lighten their days.

Finally, it was 2:30 and time to check Rindo back in for the next leg of our flight. At this point I haven’t eaten all day so I was looking forward to clearing security and grabbing something (anything!) to eat. We got back in line and ended up with the same agents we had spoken with earlier in the day. They knew our story and were eager to get us all checked in. We had to do all of the paperwork again, but at that point, I didn’t even care. Whatever it takes. After everything was completed, the agent said “Ok, now I just need your Costa Rican import papers for Rindo and we’re all set.”

Chirp. Chirp.. I don’t have Costa Rican Import papers for her. I was told earlier that you only needed that paperwork (along with approval from the CR government) if you were sending the dog alone, not traveling with the dog. The agent explained that since she was going to be traveling as “cargo”, the paperwork was necessary.

Sweating again. Even more than in Denver, it’s humid in Dallas.

I kept explaining over and over that I was told the paperwork was not necessary. They wanted to believe me, but the computer said we needed it. I was starting to freak out inside. Was I stuck in Dallas now??

Finally, after what felt like an hour but was probably only 10 minutes, a supervisor came by and explained to the agent that I was correct, I did not need that particular form. Thank god!

We were all set. All that was left was the TSA check, so we were wheeled into another unmarked door for the kennel check.

rindo3dA really nice TSA agent checked everything out and said we passed. I said goodbye to Rindo and she was taken to a freight elevator at the back of the room to head down to baggage. Suddenly I remembered that we hadn’t put the Zip Ties back on her door to keep everything secure, so the TSA agent held the elevator door and I went in to secure her door. I got everything tied down and suddenly the elevator started to go down. I could tell the TSA agent was a little freaked that we were moving because we were headed to a secure location and I was NOT supposed to be in that elevator. She said “well.. this should be interesting.. I’ll try to explain everything to them, you just stand still here and play dumb.”

When the door opened we were in the bowels of the airport. The TSA agent at the bottom looked very surprised to see me but after an explanation, it was a non-issue, I just went back up the elevator and all was good. Phew..

OK, Rindo is checked in, I’m headed through security and finally got a bite to eat before boarding.

The flight was uneventful. I was lucky enough to be in the exit row, so I had a lot of space, including the empty seat next to me.

When we landed in San Jose I was feeling a little stress about getting through customs with a dog. The first part of customs (when they ask for your passport, etc) was as easy as always. Then I went to the baggage area and waited FOREVER to get Rindo from the oversize luggage area, but eventually she was wheeled out and again, super happy to see me and as energized as always. She seems to be a good traveler!

The final step was clearing customs with Rindo. We waited in line and I was ready for the next glitch. To my surprise, this was the easiest part of the entire day. The customs agent asked for Rindo’s paperwork, I gave it to him, he glanced at it, stamped it and said “Welcome to Costa Rica!”. We had arrived!!!

We walked out the exit of the airport and the driver Brian had arranged was right outside. 5 hours later (around 1 in the morning) we met the security guard with my keys in Langosta, drove to the house and Rindo and I breathed a HUGH sigh of relief. We were home. We were in one piece. We were happy. She cuddled with me all night (hot..) and it was worth every second.

It was a journey. Not the easiest one I’ve ever taken, but in the end, I couldn’t be happier. Rindo loves Costa Rica. It’s a dog friendly community. And she fits right in.

rindo3eI’ll save this story for another post, but when Rindo and I woke up in the morning we had to immediately hop in our car to head to the airport in Liberia to go pick up Erin and the kids. When I turned the key, nothing happened, the battery was dead. OK, I guess the journey wasn’t over quite yet.

That’s a story for another day.

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  1. Cute story! When we make the move, we’ll probably be bringing a cat. Not sure how well that’s going to go over with our cat, though!

  2. Great story! My husband and I are planning a move with our dog to Costa Rica in December. We are a little worried about the heat on arrival too. Do you know how they unload the dogs at the airport? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!!

    1. Author

      Hi Andria! Thanks for writing 🙂 Yeah, the heat on arrival is a tricky one in Liberia as almost all flights land around noon. It’s ALWAYS warm here, so I would not recommend even trying to make that one work, but if you can find either an early am flight (6 am or so) or the evening flight (10:30 pm arrival) that is ideal. If not though, it’s probably best to fly to San Jose as they do have more variety in arrival times and then catch a ride to your final destination. It’s not an easy process, but if you’re staying for a long time, it’s certainly worth bringing your buddy with you! 🙂 Safe travels and enjoy CR!

  3. Hi Matt, we are planning a one week trip to Liberia in June. What types of documents will I need going there and returning back to the US?

    1. Author

      Hi again Liz – You’ll want to have your own Vet check the current status of documents as it’s constantly changing. It’s a USDA form that has to be approved within 5 days of travel and then down there you do a similar thing where your vet will get all the paperwork submitted for you and then 4 or 5 days later the export papers arrive at their office. That being said though, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I would not recommend bringing a dog to CR for a week because it’s a real pain. There are all kinds of variables as well, temperature, document delivery speed, it adds a lot of stress to the process. So if you can avoid bringing your dog, I’d highly suggest that. Hope that helps!

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