Shipping Live Lizards via Cargo from the Dominican Republic

Assuming you can’t get your lizards to fly themselves to your lab, you might want to read this information on how to transport them home. Photo from

After years of transporting live anoles from the Caribbean to my lab in the United States in my checked luggage, this summer in the Dominican Republic, a Delta Airlines agent refused to accept our cooler full of lizards as luggage for our plane. After pursuing every avenue we could think of, it became clear that our only remaining option was to ship the lizards as cargo. We spent several days working out this process, and after making a number of mistakes, we finally arrived at a relatively smooth procedure. To prevent others from having to learn these steps on their own, if such a situation arises for other researchers, we’ve written out the steps that worked for us below. The details provided are for the airport in Santo Domingo, but this general approach may be helpful in other locations as well. (And, if you find yourself in the Dominican Republic in the near future, I’d be happy to give you the contact information for all of the folks listed below.)

1. Plan to ship your animals in a container that explicitly meets all IATA LAR (International Air Transport Association Live Animal Regulations) guidelines. You can purchase these guidelines online ( for $250+, or you can access the 2015 guidelines for lizard shipment here.

2. At LEAST one day prior to your intended shipping date (much better if at least 3 days before), meet with the director of cargo for the airline. In summer 2015 at SDQ, for Delta, this was Roberto Jimenez (Pilarte Cargo), and for American, this was Franklin Encarnacion. Call to set up an appointment before your arrival, if possible. You will have to go to the cargo terminal for the meeting, and you’ll need to know in which Deposito that airline’s cargo is housed. You’ll need to obtain a visitor’s pass at the front gate, and if you wish to drive to the Deposito (otherwise, it will be a ~20 minute walk), you’ll need to provide the registration of your vehicle to get an additional driving pass. You (and if you’re driving, your car) will then have to pass through security to enter the cargo terminal in the same line as the large merchants’ trucks.

In the meeting with the director of cargo, explain what you’d like to ship, assure them that your shipping containers meet all IATA LAR guidelines, and learn what other information is needed to schedule a shipment.

3. Gather the information needed for shipping with that airline. This could take several days.

To ship with Delta, I first had to become a registered freight shipper, and this required the sponsorship of a company that had an RCN number (a tax ID number in the Dominican Republic). (Note: the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in Santo Domingo was not able to serve as this sponsor, as a part of the national government, but a local nonprofit conservation organization was.) I had to provide an invoice from this company (we created this using an online template listing the “goods” (the lizards) being shipped from the Dominican company to my university in the United States). I also had to have the lizards inspected by the Ministerio de Agricultura at the airport – but before we could get this inspection, I needed a statement of animal health from the Ministerio de Agricultura office at the Ganadera on Autopista 30 de Mayo. (Note: this office is open weekdays, 8am-3pm.) At the Ganadera, we met with the Directora de Sanidad Animal, a veterinarian named Dra. Lissette Gomez Rodriguez, who told us that lizard health was not within her expertise, and she could not issue the statement of animal health for our animals. But, she called the administration of the Ministerio de Agricultura at the airport and told them that we did not need the statement requested from their central office (we were unable to get this in writing, but the phone call did the trick). At the Ministerio de Agricultura office at the airport, we were then able to get the Certificado Zoosanitario, Exportacion for our lizards from Dr. Luis Santana (for a fee of 500 pesos). With these tasks completed, we then needed a DUA (Declaración Única Aduanera) from customs (for 300 pesos).  Getting the DUA required a form from Delta, and one of the Pilarte Cargo employees walked us over to customs with this form.

The company that ships cargo for Delta (Pilarte Cargo) then scheduled our shipment on the next Delta flight to JFK. After the shipment was scheduled, there was an inspection by the Pilarte Cargo agents (which included emptying our carefully-packed cooler of all individual animal containers to run the empty cooler through an x-ray machine). Altogether, this process with Delta took 2+ days, as we sat waiting for hours at a time without receiving any information from Pilarte Cargo. The cost of shipping one large cooler with our lizards to JFK was $250 (payable only by cash, in USD).

With American Airlines, the process was much faster, easier, and less expensive, and I would strongly recommend using American for shipping anything from the Dominican Republic to the US. When meeting with Franklin Encarnacion the week before we planned to ship lizards, he introduced us to Freddy Roque, an agent of CaribeTrans, the highly professional company that ships cargo for American (and several other airlines). I was asked to email Franklin and Freddy with the following information: my local address and phone number, a copy of my passport, the size and weight of the container(s) I wished to ship, photographs of the individual animal containers and the large shipping container (to confirm they met with IATA LAR regulations), my own statement about the health of the animals I was shipping, and a statement from the Ganadera that the Zoosanitario form was not needed (this was accomplished via a phone call to Dra. Gomez, who verbally agreed that the form was unnecessary). I then asked for a cargo reservation on an American flight to Miami on a certain date (there are daily flights at 6am, 9am, 1pm, and 3pm), and I was asked to bring the shipment to the cargo terminal 4 hours prior to my desired flight. CaribeTrans took care of all other paperwork, and nothing else was required from me. We were able to send two separate shipments to Miami, spending only a few hours at the airport each time. The cost of shipping one large plastic box to MIA was $200 (payable only by cash, in USD).

4. Once the shipment arrives in the United States, someone must receive the cargo at the cargo terminal. When we sent the lizards through NYC, my technician was traveling on the same itinerary, and she had an 8 hour layover in which she was able to handle the shipment. Our shipments through Miami were handled by a former student from my lab. (You can also hire a professional broker for this.) The broker needs to set up an appointment with USFW to inspect the animals at least 48 hours prior to the arrival of the animals. And, as with any importation of animals to the US, you must submit a USFW eDec 48 hours prior to the arrival of the animals. After you ship the animals and get an Air Waybill number for the cargo shipment, go back and update the eDec with this number.

When the shipment arrives in cargo, the broker must go to the cargo terminal and pick up the documents included in the shipment (usually, several copies of the Air Waybill, the scientific collection and export permits, and a copy of the eDec). Then, the broker should go to USFW where an agent will look at the documents. It’s a good idea to have a CBP Form completed before this step, just for completeness. (For both shipments through Miami, an inspection of the actual container of animals was not necessary, because the documentation was sufficient. In New York, the USFW inspector came to the cargo terminal to inspect the animals directly. In that case, we needed to get a conditional release from USFW so that Customs could clear the shipment while the inspection occurred.)

Next, take all of the USFW-stamped forms to Customs.  Andrew’s explanation of this: “They probably won’t understand your purpose with, or how you got the lizards, but just explain it clearly. They will sigh and sign the forms, and stamp them with this hole-punchy thing.”

Finally, take all of the stamped, signed, and punched sheets back to Cargo. Depending on the airline/airport, they will charge you an import fee of $40-50 and then direct you to go collect your shipment.

5. Send the lizards on to their final destination. We repackaged our lizards in a large cardboard box insulated with styrofoam, and then shipped it overnight through the US Postal Service, which guaranteed their arrival by 10:30am for approximately $75/box.

Then, welcome your lizards to their new home!

This was a very complicated process for us, and I couldn’t have done it without the extensive assistance of Maria Jaramillo, Brittney Andre, Ariel Kahrl, and Miguel Webber; and the generous help of the amazing Andrew Battles. It always helps to have a great team!

2 thoughts on “Shipping Live Lizards via Cargo from the Dominican Republic

  1. Whew – sounds like a very stressful situation you were in, Michele! Quite the hassle now, but thanks so much for sharing your experience so the rest of us will be prepared!

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