Few people own snakes compared to other types of pets. By far the most important thing to know is whether it’s legal to own a snake and whether you need a license for snake ownership.
Venomous snakes (rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, etc.) almost always require a license. For non-venomous snakes (ball pythons, corn snakes, kingsnakes, rosy boas, milk snakes, boa constrictors, etc.) a license isn’t required. However, the state of Georgia places restrictions on the ownership of many non-venomous snakes. Federal, state, and municipal restrictions may also apply.
In this guide, we will look at whether you need a license to own common pet snakes. We’ll also cover everything you need to know about venomous snake licenses, and what to do if you need one.
Do You Need a License for a Pet a Snake?
In the vast majority of cases, you won’t need a snake license. You rarely need a license to own a common pet snake, like a corn snake or ball python. That’s because these snakes aren’t dangerous.
There are exceptions, though. You usually need a permit to catch or own a venomous snake. That’s because venomous snakes are genuinely a health risk.
There’s also the chance that you might not know what you’re doing with them, so the licensing committee will want evidence that you know how to care for them. That means having a suitably safe enclosure, for example, with no chance of the snake escaping.
Do You Need a License to Own a Corn Snake?
You don’t need a license to own a corn snake. Corn snakes are constrictors, meaning that they don’t use venom to incapacitate their prey before eating it.
And because of their average length, they aren’t big or strong enough to pose a threat to anybody (at least no more than other pets). They aren’t regulated on a federal or state level.
The only exception to the rule is in the state of Georgia. In Georgia, you need a permit to be able to own and breed them. That’s because, in Georgia, native non-venomous snakes are illegal to own.
Non-native venomous snakes are illegal, while native venomous snakes are legal. Needless to say, but this law is entirely unfit for the modern world—corn snakes are completely harmless.
Besides, the corn snakes you could buy at a pet store are all captive-bred, so corn snake ownership has not affect on wild populations.
Do You Need a License to Own a Ball Python?
You don’t need a license to own a ball python. Just like corn snakes, ball pythons are too short and thin to pose a danger to their owners. They also don’t pose an ecological threat.
Ownership of certain species of snake is restricted because setting those snakes free could damage the local habitat, and disrupt the food chain. But ball pythons can’t survive and breed in the wild in the U.S.
Even in Georgia, ball pythons are allowed. That’s because they aren’t a native species. Only native non-venomous species are protected, while exotic non-venomous species are perfectly legal to own.
Do You Need a License to Own a Venomous Snake?
In the majority of U.S. states, you need a license if you want to own a venomous snake. These licenses typically require that you show expertise in snake care, and that you have a secure enclosure (complete with padlock) to house them in.
It’s also a frequent requirement that you need a reason to own a venomous snake, such as a rattlesnake. For example, many licenses require that you either work for a research institution and need the snake for research, or that you run a circus or similar show. Alternatively, they might require that only people who run educational programs can own them.
In short, the average person isn’t allowed to get a venomous snake license. And besides that, many venomous snakes are protected at both state and federal level. You aren’t allowed to own these snakes no matter what, usually because they’re endangered.
Do You Need a License to Own a Large Snake?
Another gray area is whether you need a license to own a large snake. A reticulated python, for example, isn’t as dangerous as a rattlesnake. It isn’t venomous, and is much happier with being handled provided that they’re trained from a young age.
But its sheer size means that it can be a genuine danger. Imagine if the snake got loose. It could cause traffic accidents, attack somebody’s pet, or give an elderly person a heart attack. It could even attack somebody.
Many places that regulate venomous snakes also regulate large constrictors too. Any law that does, generally focuses on their size. So, for example, a state law might require a permit for any snake longer than ten, or twelve feet. This kind of blanket law is the easiest way for lawmakers to deal with problems they might not understand.
Why Is It Illegal to Own Venomous Snakes?
So, it’s usually legal to own a pet snake. And in circumstances where you need a permit, if you’re awarded one before you catch or purchase your snake, then you’re legally in the clear. And while it might be annoying to have to apply for a permit, there are good reasons why they’re necessary.
1) To Protect Native Wildlife
Are there states where you’re not allowed to own snakes, no matter what? In Hawaii, it’s illegal to own any pet snake of any species, and there are no permits available for any reason. That’s because Hawaii doesn’t have any native snakes.
Hawaii itself is a volcanic island chain. Like many similar island chains, it was formed long after the rest of the continents, and long after islands that naturally form part of existing continental plates.
Because of their relatively recent formation, and their isolation, there aren’t any native snakes and hardly any native reptiles there. That’s why the state banned the import of snakes and reptiles, to protect the unique environment from any snakes that might get free.
It’s happened before, like in Florida’s Everglades, where the non-native Burmese python has decimated local mammal and bird species.
Try as they might, rangers and scientists haven’t been able to stop the population from growing. It’s a perfect example of how one or two irresponsible owners can ruin things for everyone else.
2) To Put Off Irresponsible Owners
Not only that, but it’s important for everybody that irresponsible owners are put off owning venomous snakes. It’s most important for the owner. Purposefully or not, they’re ignorant of what it takes to own a venomous snake, which puts them in danger.
It’s also vital for the snake-owning community, because irresponsible owners are the ones that get bitten and make the news, which in turn encourages stricter laws. Of course, it’s crucial for communities too. A venomous snake that escapes from its enclosure could kill somebody.
The requirements of a permit prevent anybody that isn’t prepared from owning a dangerous snake. Even just the bureaucracy of having to apply is enough to put some people off!
What to Do If You Need a Snake License
If you think you might need a snake license, the first thing you should do is check for any relevant laws. Start with federal laws, especially the Endangered Species Act 1973, or ESA.
The ESA specifies many different U.S. snake species that are protected from hunters and owners, because their wild populations are declining or at all-time-lows. Examples include several garter snake species, the black pine snake, the eastern indigo snake and more. Check to see that the species you want isn’t on here before you think of getting one.
Next, check state laws on whether you can own the species of snake you want. Each state has its separate laws on reptiles and snakes, or failing that, ‘dangerous’ pets generally. To list the ins and outs of each of these laws would take far more space than is available here, which is why we have a complete guide to state laws elsewhere on this site.
Last but not least, you should check municipal laws to see whether there are any relevant to you. Many cities across the U.S. have their laws, making snakes that are otherwise safe and legal illegal within city limits. These laws vary hugely. Get in touch with someone in authority in your town/city to find out more.
Where to Get a Snake License
If you need to get a license for a snake, your best bet is to write to the fish and game commission in your state. Usually, if there’s a permit that you need to get, that’s where you get it from. Fish and game departments usually deal with the kind of animals you can catch in the wild (hence ‘game’), but are also responsible for issuing permits for exotic or dangerous pets.
In the build-up to getting your license, you may need to do some due diligence. This involves setting up the snake’s enclosure to a satisfactory standard. You may need to make the cage extra safe, using a strong lock so that it’s impossible for the snake to get out.
When you get your license, take note of whether you’ll have to renew it or not. There’s a chance that you might have to renew it every year, or every few years. Or, it might last indefinitely. Whatever the case, it’s best to know, so make sure you’re aware either way.
Typical Snake License Requirements
Snake licenses typically require that you meet certain requirements before you’re allowed one. That’s because licenses are for dangerous snakes. A person who owns a small constrictor like a baby corn snake doesn’t need one, because only the snake will suffer if you don’t keep them in the right conditions. But if you didn’t know how to look after a venomous rattlesnake, the snake will try and escape, and if they do, then they could kill somebody.
As such, the requirements relating to care and expertise. Depending on the area where you live, and the unique laws that apply there, you may need to show:
- That you have prior experience handling venomous or dangerous snakes. The authorities want to know that you understand venomous snake behavior.
- That the enclosure you plan on keeping them in is secure. It should be of a solid material that’s won’t easily crack or allow gaps for the snake to fit through. It’s often mandatory that you keep the cage locked at all times.
- That you have a valid reason for wanting to own a venomous or dangerous snake. Valid reasons include research projects at universities and educational projects at zoos.
The law varies from state to state and town to town. If you don’t adhere to the law, your pets will be taken away and most likely killed.
Example of a Venomous Snake License
To help you understand better what to expect, let’s end on an example. California has state laws that govern possession of both native and exotic snakes. There are many restricted species listed under CCR, Title 14, Section 671(c)(7)(E). Restricted snakes include:
- All species of elapids, including cobras, coral snakes, mambas, and kraits.
- All true vipers and adders.
- Any rattlesnakes, with six exceptions: Western rattlesnakes, Western diamondback rattlesnakes, red diamondback rattlesnakes, Mojave rattlesnakes, speckled rattlesnakes, and sidewinders.
- Also, boomslangs, vine snakes and water snakes are protected too.
This means that you need to try and obtain a permit if you want to own any of these species. The six exceptions listed above are legal to both catch and own without a permit. However, the daily bag limit (the amount you’re allowed to catch at one time) is just two.
Example Snake License Requirements
The law goes on to specify the scope and requirements of the license. First, they state that import, export, transport, ownership or disposal of any restricted species is illegal without a permit.
They even go so far as to say that ‘use for any purpose’ is unauthorized. Furthermore, the permit you can acquire doesn’t supersede any federal, state or local law that might otherwise apply. The requirements for the permit include:
- That somebody inspects the enclosure that you’ll be keeping the snake in. Depending on what you need the license for, they may also inspect what you keep the snake in when you travel, or the rest of your home/office.
- That you keep the department up to date with changes of name or address.
- That you need to keep records of your snakes. It isn’t made clear in
The law goes into great detail about their requirements. For example, the enclosure for snakes less than 6 feet in length has to be at least 1½ times the length of the snakes.
For snakes longer than 6 feet, it has to be at least double their length. The snake also has to be kept within a locked enclosure, within a locked building.
The enclosure has to be labeled with both the common and scientific name of the species and subspecies, as well as the number of animals contained inside. The label should also specify that they’re venomous.
The law goes on, adding several more requirements:
- The floor of the container should be a non-abrasive material, and the snake should have at least one hide.
- There should always be two people present when the enclosure is opened.
- There should be emergency procedure guidelines written out, and posted in the building where the snakes are kept (i.e., a sign). As well as these guidelines, there should be a notice making clear the location of the nearest appropriate antivenin, as well as a written plan for hospital staff on how to treat the bite of the snake/snakes that you keep.
- Snake hooks are necessary for handling and caring for the snakes.
Failure to adhere to these rules would mean that you won’t be given a permit, or that your permit will be revoked upon inspection.
Bear in mind that the law might be different where you live. It could be stricter, or it could be more relaxed. Or, it could be that you’re not allowed one at all where you live.