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 one or two small breathing holes. Line and fill the box with an insulating material, and put the snake inside of a small breathable fabric pouch, or a tub with a small hole for air. Then, pick one of several companies to ship your snake.
You should also make sure to affix a Lacey Act and IATA compliant label to the package. Without one, your package could be impounded, and you could be fined, or even face jail time. Each country also has its own laws that you have to abide by if you ship packages there. That’s why it’s so vitally important you ship your snake abroad correctly.
There are three main things you have to watch out for. First, you have to make sure that the snake doesn’t move around too much in transit. Second, you have to protect them against the worst of the cold. And third, you have to stop them from being able to get out of the package.
Guidelines for Shipping Snakes Internationally
Shipping a snake abroad isn’t too different from shipping across the country. The primary difference with international shipping is that it’s going to take longer for the snake to get to their destination.
It’s vital that your snake isn’t in transit for too long. The longer it takes, the more likely that they’ll get injured or sick. You should pick the fastest shipping method available to you.
Which Box Should You Ship Snakes In?
Pick a strong box. The stronger the box, the less likely your snake will get hurt, or crushed by another box. UPS recommend 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 an expert, e.g., at a USPS post office, because if you asked at a Target or similar store the person helping you probably wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.
The box will have to have one or two small airholes, so that your snake can breathe on their long journey. The rest of the box will be set up to allow them breathing room, too, but there’s no point if a little air can’t get in.
The box itself has to be properly labeled, too. The Lacey Act specifies that if you’re shipping a snake across state lines or internationally, the box has to be marked so that you can tell what’s 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 airlines that ship reptiles internationally. On your label, you’ll need to specify:
- That there are ‘Harmless Live Animals’ inside
- That these animals are reptiles
- That there are X number of them 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 inside are reptiles (as opposed to Aquatics, i.e., fish and similar) you make the package IATA complaint. If you fail to be compliant, your package may be confiscated, and you may be fined.
You can find pre-made labels online. You can also purchase them from businesses like Ship Your Reptiles, which send you the package and everything you need for it in the post.
It also doesn’t hurt to label the box on all sides ‘Handle With Care’, ‘Fragile,’ ‘Live Animals’ and similar. This should encourage anybody handling the parcel to treat it more delicately.
How to Keep Snakes Warm When You Ship Them
You’ll need insulating material like a foam box. Line the inside of your shipping container with something like Styrofoam. This will give it extra insulating power, plus give the box a little more shape and rigidity. Ideally, this layer should be between ¾ of an inch, and a full inch, for best results.
You’ll also need separate insulating material to contain the snake. Foam balls are best, as these insulate perfectly, but are also great shock absorbers. If you can’t find any for sale, you might be able to buy something that has them inside.
Usually, cheap neck pillows are filled with the exact right shape and size foam balls. Failing that, you could use shredded newspaper. Fill the box with either of these materials, so that the snake’s small container can’t move around.
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 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.
How to Keep Snakes Comfortable When You Ship Them
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 and roll around.
Put the bag right in the center of the box, surrounded by foam balls/newspaper. Then cover it and fill the box to the top.
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 insulating material just as you would if you were packing them in a pouch. Using tubs is a good idea if you’re shipping more than one snake.
You don’t need to pack your snake with any food or drink. Provided that you pay for fast shipping, they’ll get to their destination long before they get hungry or thirsty. And the little amount of substrate in the package with them will absorb any poo or urates.
How Much Does It Cost to Ship Snakes?
The cost depends on which company you’re shipping with. Each company has a different rate—although as we’ll find out soon, 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 usually 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 and efficiently as possible or they might get sick, hurt, or too cold.
Different companies charge different amounts for their expedited services. Shop around and see which company offers the best service—safe, quick and within your budget.
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?
You’re limited in your choice of companies when it comes to shipping 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 tiny ball python or corn snake can be that leads shipping companies to refuse them.
But whatever the case, you have to abide by their regulations, otherwise your package may be confiscated. Not only that, but falsifying a Lacey Act label is a criminal offense—you could be fined or even end up with jail time.
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 other reptile. Ship Your Reptiles send you the package and everything you need in the post, plus details of exactly how to set up your package. Ship Your Reptiles use 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.
- If the package isn’t insulated against the cold, your snake could die as it gets too cold.
- If the package isn’t packed well enough, your snake could bounce around inside and get hurt.
- If you don’t keep the snake inside a small fabric bag or similar container, they could try and wriggle their way out of the box.
- If the package isn’t properly labeled, it could end up at the wrong place. Or, just as bad, it might get taken back to the depot because the mailman doesn’t know where to deliver it. It could even get stopped by customs, who will hold onto it for who knows how long.
However, if you do everything correctly, the snake will be fine. Snakes don’t dislike being inside dark, cramped spaces.
Being inside a package for two days is little different to being in their hide for two days. They won’t panic or get ‘frightened’ either, because that’s not something that happens to snakes.
They also won’t need to eat or drink, and even if they’re a little hungry, they can survive for two or three days if they need to.
Besides that, they don’t need to move around and have a lot of room in an enclosure, a hide, or a package. After all, they don’t need to stretch their legs on a long journey like humans.
Shipping Reptiles in Cold Weather
As a rule, you should avoid shipping any reptile during the winter. Snakes are cold-blooded, so they can’t produce their own body heat.
For the duration of their journey, they 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?
They can, but your package won’t be indoors, like your snake would be if you ran out of power. Their package will be in the cargo hold of a plane, which can get awful cold.
Remember, they’re being sent as mail—and there’s no reason to keep mail warm. It’s likely that they’ll get very cold. That’s why it’s important to a) avoid shipping during the winter, and b) pick the quickest expedited shipping you can find.
If you do want to provide a heat source, you can’t use anything electrical. 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 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 it, as they could burn themselves.
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’re trying to ship.
With that in mind, let’s first take a look at the most critical law there is when it comes to shipping reptiles to or from the U.S.: the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act and Snakes
The Lacey Act was written into law in 1900, to try and 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 even plants that were illegally taken from the wild, as well as the failure to mark a shipment properly.
As for snakes, there is a number that the Lacey Act specifically applies to. It 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
These are all the snakes the act applies to. The full list of species can be found on the US Fish and Wildlife website.
However, do bear in mind that the list can be expanded—or a snake taken off it—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 good—the idea was to protect the Florida Everglades as they were becoming overrun with Burmese pythons. This had to be prevented, as well as any potential problems in other parts of the country.
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.
Other Countries’ Laws on Shipping Snakes
Different states and countries have laws on which wildlife they allow to be imported and exported. Close to home, Hawaii doesn’t allow the import of any snakes whatsoever.
That’s because they don’t have any native snake species, and any accidentally introduced to the wild could wreak havoc on the local 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 off to pet stores or breeders, which negatively affected the ability of the population to breed. So, if you’re planning on having a snake shipped to you, check export laws for the country.
Paperwork for Transporting Snakes Internationally
When you ship live animals, there’s a lot of paperwork you have 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 at the time of writing.
You’ll also need to book an inspection with a federal wildlife agent for your CITES II permit. This cost $331 at the time of writing. 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).
You may need extra paperwork for the country that you’re shipping to, so contact their respective wildlife service to see what you need to do.
What paperwork you’ll need depends on why you’re shipping the 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 do your research to ensure that you aren’t breaking the law. While some things will always apply, like the Lacey Act if you’re shipping to/from the United States, other factors vary.
Perhaps you’re shipping a certain kind of snake that isn’t allowed for import to a particular country. Or, you could be shipping a snake that’s too big to send.
Whatever the case, 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.