How To Get an ESA Letter in Virginia: A Complete Guide

Emotional support animals are so much more than pets. They are friends and companions, enabling their owner to access more from their life than they could otherwise. Despite their incredible impact on their owners’ lives, they are still drastically misunderstood. One of the best ways to mitigate this confusion is to own an ESA letter.

An ESA letter is an official document written by your chosen healthcare provider that explains your need for the animal’s presence. Not only can it help to navigate questions from those who don’t understand why your animal is allowed in specific spaces, but it can also provide various legal benefits. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about obtaining an ESA letter in Virginia. Let’s jump in!

Do You Qualify For An ESA Letter in Virginia?

If you’re reading this, then the most likely answer is yes. Anyone with an emotional support animal is eligible for an accompanying letter. However, to own an emotional support animal and receive the benefits, you must be prescribed one by a medical professional as part of your overall treatment plan. 

Some of the most common conditions an ESA can help with include depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD, among many others. While service dogs serve a specific purpose, emotional support animals are much more versatile, meaning they can assist with a wide range of conditions. 

Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Virginia

The individual that writes your ESA letter must be a licensed medical healthcare professional; otherwise, the letter will be deemed invalid. This list covers a wide range of careers, including but not limited to the following:

  • Psychologists
  • Licensed Counselors
  • Clinical Social Workers
  • Psychiatrists
  • Physicians
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses

Any of the above is appropriate to write your letter for you. All you need to do is make an appointment and explain your reasoning. We recommend that you talk to a professional already familiar with your condition, as this can make the process smoother. 

If you are concerned that your ESA letter may not be legitimate, look out for some of the tell-tale signs. This could include a lack of physical address on the letter, no mental health assessment, or if the process seems unusually cheap. Remember, it’s better to be too careful than too lax regarding your health. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the writing process. 

What’s Inside a Virginia ESA Letter

In addition to looking out for red flags, knowing what you need in your letter is helpful so you’re certain it covers all bases. This could also be helpful for your chosen healthcare provider to see, as it may be the first time they’re writing an ESA letter for a patient.

The necessary criteria include:

  • The licensed type and number of your chosen healthcare professional
  • The date their license was issued
  • The state in which they are licensed to practice
  • Printed on official letterhead
  • Their full contact information
  • The date the letter was issued

Without these necessary components, your ESA letter won’t be considered valid. This could prevent you from accessing some key benefits. 

Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Virginia

Anyone with an emotional support animal knows how much joy and accessibility they provide. This can only be expanded upon by owning an official ESA letter, as they can validate your claim for many of these benefits. Let’s walk through some of the best benefits you can expect. 

Saves You Money

Since an emotional support animal is more than just a pet, they are exempt from associated fees. This could include pet deposits on housing, application fees, or otherwise labeled ‘pet fees’. With an ESA letter, you have a legitimate document validating your need for your animal by your side. This exempts you from the costs other pet owners would incur, which is good news for your bank account!

Allows You to Live in Otherwise Restricted Properties

If you have ever owned a pet, you will already be all too familiar with the sinking feeling of reading ‘no pets allowed’ in the advertisement for your dream apartment. Thankfully, emotional support animals aren’t pets, so these restrictions don’t apply. This is legitimized by the Fair Housing Act that applies in Virginia – more on this below)! Some landlords may be unaware of the relevant legislation despite being legally enforced. Possessing an ESA letter will immediately dispel any potential confusion. 

Increases the Likelihood of Flying with Your Animal

It once was the case that emotional support animals received the same legal protections as service animals when flying in the great skies. Your ESA could sit right at your side for the duration of the flight. Since 2020, however, this hasn’t been the case. Despite this, some airlines are sympathetic. If you provide them with your ESA letter ahead of time and explain your circumstances, they may allow you to bring your animal on board with you. Each airline is different, so we recommend contacting them as soon as possible before your flight.

May Grant Access to Public ‘No-Pets’ Spaces

It isn’t just housing that could open up to you with an ESA letter; it’s the entire world! Okay, we might be getting ahead of ourselves, but owning a valid ESA letter can certainly grant you access to spaces you otherwise wouldn’t be able to enter. Public spaces that specify ‘no pets allowed’ may open up to you if you present your letter as proof of your animal’s necessity. It’s important to remember that exceptions apply, but an official letter will help your case. 

May Permit You to Bring Your ESA to Work

Numerous factors are at play here, most notably the industry you work in and how understanding your employer is of emotional support animals. However, with a valid ESA letter from a medical professional, you may be able to bring your ESA into your workspace. This isn’t a guarantee, primarily if you work in the service industry, but if you work in an office environment, you might find yourself in luck. 

Helps to Navigate Awkward Conversations

Lastly, having an ESA letter on hand can get you out of some uncomfortable confrontations. Unfortunately, emotional support animals remain pretty misunderstood. Most people will see an animal in a ‘no pets’ zone and immediately feel entitled to question their presence. With an official letter, you can present that as your explanation and swiftly diffuse a situation before it develops. 

Emotional Support Animals Laws in Virginia

Specific laws often back up the many benefits of owning an ESA letter. To better understand the specific protective legislation available to you in Virginia, we have listed some key examples, including all the relevant information you need. 

Employment Laws

This may feel tricky to navigate, as the legislation isn’t entirely clear. First of all, it’s vital to know that employers cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities or those that own an emotional support animal. It is illegal for this to influence their decision during the hiring process. However, employers are not legally obligated to allow your ESA in the workplace. Some may be sympathetic, especially if you present them with an official ESA letter.

Fair Housing Act

Landlords cannot kick you out or deny your application for a residence due to your emotional support animal. This is covered in Virginia via the Fair Housing Act, stating that landlords must make reasonable accommodations for their tenants under federal law. This also means you are automatically exempt from the usually associated pet fees, such as a deposit or application fee. 

Changes to Air Carrier Access Act

Before 2020, emotional support animals were protected by the Air Carrier Access Act alongside service animals. However, an amendment to the bill now means emotional support animals no longer receive that protection, even if you own an ESA letter. Although there is no legal obligation for airlines to allow your animal to travel with you, some airlines may still be sympathetic if you explain the situation beforehand. 

How To Get An ESA Letter in Virginia: A Step-by-Step Guide 

So now that we’ve taken you through the many benefits of owning an ESA letter and the relevant legislation in Virginia, it’s time to talk about acquiring one. Listed below is a step-by-step guide on getting your own letter so you can enjoy the benefits ASAP!

Understand Fully Why You Need One

Before explaining to a health professional why an ESA letter is necessary, you must understand it yourself. Discussing your mental health can often feel challenging, so preparation beforehand can make a significant difference. If you think it would help, write down a list of reasons why you need an ESA letter to present to your healthcare provider. 

Arrange an Appointment with Your Chosen Healthcare Provider

Once you have your reasons together, it’s time to attend your appointment. Ideally, we recommend choosing a healthcare provider who is already aware of your reasons for needing an ESA. If this isn’t available, select the one you are most comfortable with. Just make sure they are suitably qualified to provide a legitimate letter. Use the list we provided above as a guide. 

Wait for Your Letter to Arrive and Enjoy the Benefits!

After the appointment is complete and your healthcare provider has agreed to write you an ESA letter, all you need to do is sit back and wait for it to arrive. This could be via mail, email, or both, depending on your preference. If an extended amount of time passes and you still haven’t received your letter, don’t be afraid to follow up. Your healthcare provider may have forgotten, or there may have been a disruption in transit. It’s always best to check!


Emotional support animals make an extraordinary difference in the lives of their owners every single day. Owning an ESA letter can give you access to numerous benefits relating to employment, housing, and everyday life. If you own an emotional support animal, you should look into obtaining a letter in Virginia. It’s a surprisingly easy process that is well worth the benefits!