how to ship pet snakes
Questions About Snakes

How to Ship Snakes Internationally (Shipping Companies + Rules)

If you run a snake breeding program, you need a website and to be comfortable selling online. It’s the best way to reach potential customers, especially if you breed expensive morphs or rare species. But to do that, you have to be comfortable shipping your snakes through the mail.

Use a strong and secure box when shipping snakes abroad. It will need 1 or 2 small breathing holes. Line and fill the box with an insulating material, and put the snake inside a small breathable fabric pouch, or a tub with a small hole for air. Then, choose a shipping company.

Affix a Lacey Act and IATA-compliant label to the package. Without one, your package could be impounded, and you could be fined or face jail. Each country also has its own laws that you have to abide by if you ship packages there. That’s why it’s vital you ship your snake abroad in a compliant way.

Shipping Snakes Internationally

Shipping a snake abroad isn’t too different from shipping snakes domestically. The primary difference with international shipping is that it’s going to take longer for the snake to get to its destination, and it’ll cost slightly more money.

It’s vital that your snake isn’t in transit for too long. The longer it takes, the more likely that it’ll get injured or sick. You should select the fastest shipping method available to you.

Which Box Should You Ship Snakes In?

Choose a strong box. The stronger the box, the less likely your snake will get hurt or harmed by another box.

UPS recommends a minimum of 27# bursting strength, or a score of 44 on the edge crush test.

Boxes this strong are corrugated. You should consider asking a USPS post office because, if you asked at a Target or similar store, the person helping you probably won’t know much about shipping reptiles/snakes.

The box will need to have one or two small air holes, so that your snake can breathe during its long journey. The rest of the box will be set up to allow the snake some extra breathing room.

The box will need to be properly labeled. The Lacey Act specifies that if you’re shipping a snake across state lines, or internationally, the box has to be marked so that it’s quick and easy to tell what’s kept inside.

This is called a Lacey Act label. The labeling also has to be IATA compliant. IATA stands for International Air Transport Association, and its guidelines apply to all airlines that ship reptiles internationally. On your label, you’ll need to specify the following information:

  • That there are ‘Harmless Live Animals’ inside
  • That these animals are reptiles
  • That there are X number inside
  • The common name of the species
  • The scientific name of the species

By specifying the species and quantity, you make the package Lacey Act compliant. By specifying that the animals are reptiles (as opposed to Aquatics, i.e., fish and similar) you make the package IATA complaint. If you fail to do so, your package may be confiscated and you may be fined.

It also doesn’t hurt to label the box on all sides ‘Handle With Care’, ‘Fragile,’ ‘Live Animals’, or similar. This should encourage anybody handling the parcel to treat it more carefully.

Keeping Snakes Warm During Shipping

You’ll need insulating material, like a foam box. Line the inside of your shipping container with Styrofoam. This will give it extra insulating power, and it’ll give the box more shape and rigidity. Ideally, this layer should be between ¾ of an inch and a full inch wide.

You’ll need separate insulating material for the snake. Foam balls are recommended as these insulate well and are good shock absorbers. There are alternatives. Cheap neck pillows are filled with the right shape and size foam balls. Failing that, you could use shredded newspaper. Fill the box with these materials, so that the snake’s small container can’t move around.

international reptile shipping

If your snake is heading somewhere cold, you could pack them with a heat pack. Depending on how much you pay, these can stay warm for several days, providing some essential warmth for your snake.

Considering that your snake will be traveling in the hold of a plane, this can make all the difference. When you pack it, don’t put your snake’s bag/tub directly against it as they could overheat.

Unfortunately, you can’t put anything in there that uses batteries, and is switched on. This rules out using any battery-powered heat mat. To do so would be against shipping regulations.

Keeping Snakes Comfortable During Shipping

Find a small fabric bag to keep the snake in, one that can be closed. The fabric itself is breathable but comfortable, and doesn’t allow for the snake to rattle or roll around. Put the bag right in the center of the box, surrounded by foam balls/newspaper. Then, cover it and fill the box.

Alternatively, you could use small tubs to keep the snake or snakes in. You put the snake in the tub, along with some substrate that they’ll be comfortable in, e.g. Aspen for a burrowing snake.

You then surround the tub with an insulating material, just as you would if you were packing them in a pouch. Using tubs is a good idea if you’re shipping multiple snakes.

You don’t need to pack your snake with any food or drink. Provided that you pay for fast shipping, it’ll get to its destination long before it gets hungry or thirsty. And the small amount of substrate in the package with it will comfortably absorb any excrement or urates.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Snakes?

The cost depends on the company you’re shipping with. Each has a different rate, but there’s only one company you can ship snakes with anyway.

It also depends on where you’re shipping the parcel to. The further it has to go, the more you have to pay. Some countries have customs charges on top of the shipping price.

It depends on the cost of the expedited service. It’s important that you ship the snake as quickly as possible or they might get sick, hurt, or too cold.

If you’re thinking of shipping between Africa and the U.S. you might expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,000. You would also have to take the time to complete the relevant paperwork, which can be irritatingly complex.

Which Companies Ship Reptiles Internationally?

UPS will ship lizards and turtles, but not snakes. USPS similarly won’t ship live snakes, although they will ship many other cold-blooded animals.

It’s likely a misunderstanding of how dangerous a ball python or corn snake can be that leads shipping companies to refuse them. Regardless, you have to abide by their regulations or your package may be confiscated. Not only that, but falsifying a Lacey Act label is a criminal offense.

FedEx is your best choice. They allow you to ship snakes, but they do have specific requirements. You have to ship through their Live Animal Desk, which is a drop-off point for you to leave your package. The package also has to meet several specifications, specifically the construction and size of the box, as well as the labeling on the outside.

Alternatively, you could try working with companies that help people ship their pets. Reptile Express is one, and another is Ship Your Reptiles.

These companies work with you to help you ship a snake or reptile. Ship Your Reptiles sends you the package by post, and provides details of exactly how to set up your package. Ship Your Reptiles uses FedEx.

Snake Size Restrictions

As for size restrictions, FedEx state that “…Package size and weight restrictions vary by country. Details are available upon request.”

You should speak to a representative at one of FedEx’s Live Animal Desks. They’ll be able to tell you whether there are any size restrictions in place for the country you’re shipping to.

Is Shipping Reptiles Safe?

Shipping a snake through the mail is perfectly safe, provided that it’s done right. If you don’t, there are lots that could go wrong, such as:

  • If the package isn’t insulated, your snake could get too cold.
  • A poorly-constructed package could cause the snake to bounce around inside. It could get hurt.
  • If you don’t keep the snake inside a small fabric bag or similar container, it could wriggle its way out of the box.
  • If the package isn’t properly labeled, it could end up going to the wrong place. It could even get stopped by customs.

Snakes don’t mind being inside dark, cramped spaces. Unlike other animals, snakes won’t panic or get frightened. They also won’t need to eat or drink for the duration of the journey.

Shipping Reptiles in Cold Weather

If you can, avoid shipping any reptiles during the winter. Snakes are cold-blooded (ectothermic), so they can’t produce their own body heat.

For the duration of their journey, the snake won’t have any heat source, unless you provide one. This might not sound too bad—a snake can survive for a day or two with no belly heat, right?

It can, but your package won’t be indoors, like your snake would be if you ran out of power. Its package will be in the cargo hold of a plane, which can get awfully cold.

Remember, the snake is being sent as mail, and there’s no reason for the company to keep mail warm. It’s likely that your snake will get very cold. That’s why it’s important to avoid shipping during the winter and pick the fastest expedited shipping service that you can find.

If you do want to provide a heat source, you can’t use anything electrical. As we’ve explained, nothing that has batteries would be allowed.

You could ship your snake with a small heat pad, the kind that you crack and which keep your hands warm for a while. Good ones will stay warm for a day or two. When you pack your snake with one of these, don’t put them in direct contact with the snake.

Laws On Shipping Snakes Internationally

International reptile shipping is complicated enough without even considering the legal ramifications. The U.S. has its laws on shipping reptiles, either across state or national borders.

Besides that, some countries ban either the import or export of certain snake species to protect the environment. You have to make sure you abide by whatever laws apply to the package you want to ship.

is shipping reptiles safe?

The Lacey Act and Snakes

The Lacey Act was written into law in 1900 to protect North America’s native wildlife. The act makes it a federal crime to hunt game with the intent of selling it in another state.

It’s the oldest federal wildlife protection bill there is, and it still applies today, both in the context of shipping reptiles between states and to other countries.

The Lacey Act has since been amended several times to change the species it applies to, and increase the penalties that it can dish out. It prohibits the trade of wildlife, fish, and plants that were illegally taken from the wild, as well as the failure to mark a shipment properly.

There is a number of snakes that the Lacey Act specifically applies to:

  • Yellow anacondas
  • Green anacondas
  • DeShauensee’s anacondas
  • Beni anacondas
  • Burmese pythons
  • Northern African pythons
  • Reticulated pythons
  • Southern African pythons
  • The brown tree snake

The list can be expanded or reduced at any time. You should keep up to date with the latest changes in the law to make sure you don’t fall foul of them.

For example, in 2012, the federal government used the Lacey Act to ban the movement of large constrictors across state borders. The intent was to protect the Florida Everglades as they were becoming overrun with Burmese pythons.

Unfortunately, the government’s use of the Lacey Act was heavy-handed. It was unnecessary to place a ban on all large constrictors, which was the view of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK). USARK fought in the US Court of Appeals, and the ban was lifted in 2017.

Country And State Laws On Shipping Snakes

Different states and countries have laws on which wildlife they allow to be imported and exported. In the United States, Hawaii doesn’t allow the importation of snakes. They don’t have any native snake species, and any accidentally introduced to the wild could wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

Other countries ban the export of their native species, to prevent declining numbers. In 2017, Kenya banned the export of many snakes, including the African rock python. According to The Guardian, this was done as any snake reaching adult size was being caught and shipped to pet stores or breeders, which negatively affected the ability of the population to breed.

Paperwork for Transporting Snakes Internationally

When you ship live animals, there’s paperwork to fill out. You’ll need a CITES permit. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The point is to prevent you from shipping an endangered or threatened snake. CITES permits cost $100.

You’ll also need to book an inspection with a federal wildlife agent for your CITES II permit. This cost $331. If this inspection is done at a non-designated port, you’ll also need an ‘Exception to Designated Port Permit’ from USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

The paperwork needed depends on why you’re shipping snakes. If you’re shipping them as merchandise e.g. you are a breeder, and you’re trying to turn a profit, then you’ll need each of these permits. However, if you’re shipping your pets, then you likely won’t need an import/export license.

You should research the laws of the country you’re shipping to and the company you’re shipping with to ensure that you stay within the law.