A Traveler’s Guide to Immunizations: Which Vaccines You Need for Your Trip
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I was two weeks out from arriving in South America when I realized I would need to produce a Yellow Fever Certificate. I was horrified at the thought. Proof that I had already been stabbed 4 years earlier existed somewhere, though for the life of me I couldn’t find that little yellow book. It had likely been misplaced after my Africa trip, or probably even thrown out.
Crap. Which vaccinations do I need when traveling to South America
One of the few mandatory vaccinations for many South American destinations, not having proof of the vaccine meant I was going to have to take it again. A costly and particularly nasty injection, it was bad enough having been subjected to this needle once, let alone a second time, which could have been prevented if I had harbored the sense to keep my documentation in line.
Though in my desperation to avoid a second jab at all costs, a light-bulb moment occured. I went out on a limb and phoned Australia from the States on the off chance my travel clinic kept records which dated back to 2010. They did. They were happy to produce a copy of my Yellow Fever Certificate at a $15 charge…though I had to personally pick it up.
Crap. Which vaccinations do I need when traveling to Africa
After some heavy bribes, my sister visited the clinic on my behalf, and posted the newly issued certificate to me in the States. It arrived two days before we were set to depart. List of vaccinations for travelers
Moral of the Story
Image credit: Pan American Health
The moral of the story is two-fold. Firstly, it’s wise to immunize. No matter what country you’re from and how experienced a traveler you are, the bottom line is you’ll probably need some immunizations before you visit developing countries. Do not leave this to the last minute or forget.
It is generally advised to plan your shots in advance since it can take as much as 4-6 weeks for vaccines to take full effect. Additionally, some may involve more than one shot, and sometimes you need a few days to recover from any potential side effects. List of immunizations for travelers
Countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe probably won’t require any extra vaccines, though if traveling through Asia, Latin America, or Africa, you may need a typhoid vaccine. Or a mandatory yellow fever shot. Which countries require a yellow fever shot?
Countries which enforce the yellow fever vaccine as mandatory will require a certificate of proof at passport control, otherwise they may administer it to you on the spot. And I would personally much prefer an injection to be administered in a hygienic local clinic rather than an unknown backroom in the airport of a developing country where the needle may have been used a repeated number of times. Do I need a yellow fever vaccine for
Secondly, your health records are just as important as your passport, and you should as such treat them that way. Losing track of them will likely mean being subjected to a continual string of doctors chairs before each trip, and I’ve never met a single person who has outright enjoyed the experience of paying to be stabbed in the arm. Do I need a yellow fever certificate for
A Travelers Guide to Immunizations
Simply put, immunizations help protect you from some of the diseases you may be exposed to on your travels, and it’s better to be prepared than scared.
The “Travelers’ Health” section of the CDC’s web site is a fantastic resource for destination specific advice relating to immunizations and vaccines. You can search based on where you’re going and any special needs you may have, such as whether you take medicines that affect your immune system, or you’re pregnant, and the site also includes a “healthy travel packing list” based on what country you’re planning to visit.
As a general rule you’ll want to be up to date on all of the usual vaccines that you get for everyday life in your home country. The same diseases are generally prevalent in other countries too, so if you go to the effort of protecting yourself at home, you should also get them for when you’re away. If you head to your travel doctor you can organize to have a group of shots and cover everything all at once.
Be wary of advice on immunizations issued by embassies or travel agents. Advice which states “no immunizations are needed” from these sources means that you won’t be asked to present a vaccination certificate on entry into the country, though it’s still likely you will need shots for your own health and safety.
The Most Common Immunizations for Travelers
Yellow Fever is a disease found in subtropical areas of Africa and South America. This is a viral infection spread by mosquito’s, and the name comes from a complication of the disease which turns the skin yellow.
The vaccine is highly successful in preventing the disease, and the immunization is good for 10 years.
Symptoms include sudden fever, chills, headaches, back pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Symptoms can then become much more severe and include high fever, visible bleeding, skin discoloration and kidney and liver failure; death is due to multi-organ failure.
Yellow fever has been declared a risk in 43 countries, and proof of vaccination for travel may be required as a condition of entry. To avoid mosquito’s, use insect repellent, and wear light coloured, full coverage clothing where possible.
Typhoid fever occurs in many areas around the world, especially Asia (except Japan), Africa, and South America. The vaccine reduces the risk of getting typhoid, and it lasts several years.
Food and water precautions also reduce the risk of disease.
Hepatitis A is a common disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. All travelers should be protected against it. People get sick two to six weeks after they get the virus, and symptoms include nausea, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, pale stools, loss of appetite, and fatigue. It could take up to six months to fully recover.
The disease is spread by mistakenly ingesting human waste, for instance shaking hands with someone with contaminated hands and then touching your mouth, via sexual contact or through contaminated needles or the transfer of blood. It is prevalent throughout the world, though more common in developing countries.
The vaccine is incredibly effective, and you can generally now combine a Hep A and typhoid vaccine which will help cut down on the number of injections you need to take.
Hepatitis B is recommended for long term travellers to hot spots which include Africa, China, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. You might also need it if you’re going to be working as a medic or nurse, or if needle sharing or sexual contact is a possibility at your destination.
This immunisation is given routinely to children in some countries, including Australia and the USA. A combined hepatitis A and B vaccine is available if you need to have both.
Malaria is another serious and potentially life threatening infection spread to people by mosquito’s. Any person who lives in or travels to a country where malaria is present is at risk of contracting the disease.
Malaria is present in approximately 100 countries – mainly in Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific, and remains a major problem in the world’s tropical regions. It is more prevalent in rural areas, and mosquitoes usually bite between dusk and dawn.
Prevent malaria by avoiding mosquito bites, and with anti-malaria medication which can be obtained from your doctor before you go overseas.
While not a vaccine, preventative medication is very important, and some medications must be started two weeks before departure, so make sure you plan to see your doctor or travel clinic well in advance. Anti-malaria medications vary, as do their side effects. Consult your doctor.
Polio is an important vaccine for those traveling to countries within Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East – the list of infected countries is constantly changing, as some countries successfully eliminate the infection and others become reinfected.
This is a viral illness which can lead to neurological problems like weakness and paralysis. It is spread from person to person via bodily fluids and feces.
Rabies vaccinations are recommended for travelers who visit rural areas, and for those spending time around wildlife or handling animals – the disease is spread via an animal bite.
With this immunisation you can choose to have it before you go, or after your get bitten.
Cholera is not a generally recommended immunization anymore, but travelers providing humanitarian aid to underdeveloped areas, or areas were sanitation and water supply is disrupted by disaster, should be aware of the risk.
Cholera is spread by bacteria when human waste contaminates water and food. It is most common in areas that have poor sanitation, with faulty sewage systems or contaminated drinking water. Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been affected for several decades.
Ebola is a disease which has caused widespread panic throughout the world quite recently, however there is no vaccination.
Travelers who visit a country with Ebola outbreaks (ie to Sierra Leone and Guinea) should protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are sick.
Just as some countries won’t let you in without your yellow fever certificate, a growing list of countries won’t let you in without health insurance. This is as such equally as important to organize before you leave.
If you have no idea where to start, head on over to our post which details what to look for when purchasing international health insurance.
Domestic health plans don’t cover international travel, so it’s essential to take out a policy which specifically covers you for your time abroad. Make sure that emergency evacuation, terrorism coverage and repatriation of remains is included in your plan.
Pro Tip: We go through Tim Jennings at Individual Health for insurance with #GeoBlue – they have a network of elite doctors in over 180 countries, a hugely helpful mobile app for when you’re sick abroad, and make their best attempt to arrange direct payment no matter which medical provider you see.
If you do fall ill from any of the above diseases, you need international health insurance which will come through. For more information on insurance with #GeoBlue contact Timothy Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org or click for a free quote.
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I hate getting immunizations but I’d hate to get sick in a developing country even more. I take more care now that I have a child too. It’s not just me I need to consider.
I couldn’t agree more. What happens when mom is sick??? Things have to keep on going.
Absolutely – I can imagine it’s pretty tough having to push on despite feeling horrible! Anything to prevent falling sick overseas – immunizations are probably the worst thing about travel but they really are key!
Great resource. I recently went to the Philippines and did a bunch of research to find out if I needed any vaccinations. This is wonderful for anyone traveling internationally!
Thanks Alexa! Glad you traveled through Asia having taken all of your shots – it’s just not worth the chance of getting sick. Feel free to share as a resource if any of your friends ask about vaccinations :)
This post reminds me that I have no clue where my yellow book is now, haha! Time for me to check all the boxes that I have in the room. Tsk!
Yes, do find it! Trust me, not fun realizing you may need to take that shot again! I don’t know why I cast it to the side after my first trip – though kind of glad that I’m not the only one lol :)
What a fantastic post, as a travelling mum this information is vital! Thank you
Glad you found the information useful Michelle – especially when traveling with children, immunizations are an absolute must. As Lesley commented above too, sadly as a traveling mum if you get sick the show must still go on! So really important to keep up to date on your shots :)
I remember having to do this all the time when I was growing up. We were stationed overseas and we always had to make sure we were up to date.
I guess that’ll happen being stationed overseas! I hope they at least gave you treats and sweets after each shot – they always bribed us with some kind of candy when we were growing up to convince us to sit still for a jab!
My daughter is headed to Argentina and I told her that I had heard that Yellow Fever was the least painful of the vaccines. I guess I was wrong. Glad you did find your records. We keep ours well protected at home, and with our passports when we travel. The recommended jabs are enough for me, don’t need extras. Love your chart which explains the symptoms as well as the recommendations. It made me realize I don’t know that much about any of the diseases, just enough to know I don’t want them.
No harm in letting her think that Rhonda! From memory it was a pretty painful one, though maybe just don’t correct that – no need to get her worked up in the lead up to it. In reality it’s over pretty quickly.
Glad that you do keep your documents all together with your passports – I learned that pretty quickly after this temp freak out!!
I used to be very bad at keeping records of my vaccines… Until I started to get immunizations for traveling! There are too many of them and there’s no way I’ll do an extra shot if I can avoid it!!
Very good job on compiling all these info Megan!
Absolutely – when it comes down to it, not keeping records means the possibility of having to sit in that chair again, and if it’s not necessary I don’t want to have to do it! Lol so I’ve since become organized :D
Before I left on my travels I remember getting at least 10 injections. I had to plan months in advance to make sure the timing was right. I totally agree that health records are just as important as your passport!!
That’s the thing, you usually do have to make the plans months in advance, I know that the Hep A and B shots usually require multiple shots over a few months, so it’s really not something you can leave to the last minute, and you sure want to make sure you’re vaccinated against each of these before you head overseas!
You’re sharing lots of super useful posts Megan! I carry my vaccination card with me for the last 10 years. It is in my wallet, together with my ID and my money. It is the one thing, with my passport, that goes with me EVERYWHERE. Why? I saw colleagues of mine having to take a jab at the airport in South Africa more than once when we would return home from East Africa and they had forgotten their card. They had the vaccine but no proof so they border control would stab them again. This was silly because the vaccine needs to be taken in advance but I guess it was better than deportation! Since I traveled in Yellow Fever areas for so long I got used to carrying it to show proof. In the days of technology, it is funny how the little cards are still best proof of such record. Mine looks quite mankie these days, so I might have to transfer the record into a new one soon!
Thanks Mar – glad you’re enjoying our posts :) And especially when you travel throughout developing countries as much as you do, glad to hear you’re in the habit of having your vaccination card handy.
It’s kind of ironic, that you could contract Hep B from having a vaccination shot forced on you in a dodgy airport!! :S And I totally agree – they should surely introduce some kind of technology to act as proof of a shot, though I guess not everyone has access, and let’s say if the tech went down or out of batteries you’re a bit out of luck!!
Happy travels :)
Perfect roundup. Sometimes, I tend to overlook immunizations (even if I’m a nurse myself). After living in the Philippines for 6 years (and going through nursing school here), being exposed with the weirdest diseases and hazardous environments, I feel a little invincible that I forget just how vulnerable I really am in reality. Hah.
Thanks Erica – and yes, it’s fairly easy to become complacent and think we’re invincible, though you definitely don’t want to learn the hard way on that one! Make sure you’re protected just in case :)
Excellent advice on the immunizations, thanks! I’m so glad to hear that your records arrived to you in time before departing for your trip! That must have been stressful! I completely agree with you about the timing of the shots. I’d didn’t educate myself prior to leaving for a trip and almost ran into trouble having to wait to get the second round prior to our departure date.
Good point with having health insurance too! I has been worth it’s weight in gold for us!
Thanks Heather – yes, I can’t believe how close to the wire I was cutting it though!! I think I heard you can actually get away with not having the shot in the airports if you produce something which says you’re gluten intolerant, so worst case I think I would have just done that, though I still wouldn’t trust it 100% to get away with not being taken to that back room!!
Glad to hear your health insurance has proved worthwhile – it’s something I never want to leave home without. That protection is so crucial, not only for peace of mind.
A very good post once again, Megan! I love that you mentioned Cholera and Ebola, and it is such a relief that Australia kept your record of your Yellow Fever vaccine! I forgot that South America requires it and only thought it would required in Africa. It’s a good reminder to prepare to save up not only for travel itself but all the pre-planning, like this one. Malaria is quite expensive!! I haven’t gotten it, but I know I should get it to be safe when I travel again in the future.
I remember there was a person that didn’t get vaccines while traveling. I asked him why didn’t he get it. He said it wasn’t necessary and that he was completely healthy. “Just because you are healthy doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you,” I told him. Well, to this day, he still doesn’t do it. I get it is due to finance and perhaps pride but never know!
Thanks Stacey! I thought I would throw Cholera and Ebola in there just because even though they’re not vaccinations which you’ll recieve, they’re well enough known as diseases that I still think it’s important to be set up with some info on what they are and how to avoid them.
And absolutely for pre-planning, even if it’s just for managing your budget. I think for my trip to Tanzania I spent around $500 on health stuff prior to the trip, which included the yellow fever vaccine, Malaria pills, a gastro kit etc. It’s not cheap!!
I hope for that guy’s sake that he’s lucky enough not to contract anything – people like that really make me wonder!! We’re not invincible, but I guess some people are going to have to learn the hard way :S
Very useful post, Megan! I’ll make sure to bookmark it, since you never know when I may need to get vaccinated again. I went through this ordeal 5 years ago when traveling to South America. I had some vaccines done, stayed in line and got my little “yellow book,” just to arrive there and find out nobody cared for it. So far though I never bought health insurance when traveling. I didn’t know there are countries that may impose this on you.
Thanks Anda – definitely let us know if you have any Q’s about vaccines, it’s usually every 5-10 years that you need a new injection depending on the vaccine.
I’ve also traveled through some countries which say that the yellow fever card is mandatory but then found that it was never checked. Though I’m still going to keep traveling with it regardless because ultimately I bet the one time I don’t have it is the time they’ll insist on giving me the injection. Not letting that happen under any circumstances!!!
Imposing health insurance as a means of entry is starting to pick up in different locations – and it makes sense – after researching the topic for the post the main reason is because local governments were losing atrocious amounts of money covering health and medical costs for international guests. So it’s starting to become mandatory in different parts of the world.
This reminds me I still need to look into mine for Nepal. We always make sure we have the right immunizations because they only cost a little but can help you so much while on the way … thanks for the reminder!
Glad we could remind you! Happy travels to Nepal! Sounds like an amazing adventure!
Thanks a lot for the useful information. This aspect shall be given importance while planning any trip.
You’re welcome Rakesh – definitely make this your top priority for travel planning :)
Useful post, thank you for the up to date info. Jabs and insurance are important parts of the planning/travelling process.
Thanks Jen – I think they’re probably the most important part of travel planning – health and safety should be everyone’s primary concern :)
Very helpful post! Talk about cutting it close for your South America trip though! So lucky you managed to get your sister to pick up the certificate and get it to you in time! Really like the tip on the “Travelers’ Health” section of the CDC’s website. I remember when I was a travel agent, the advice we received changed so frequently, it was hard to pass it all on! It’s also quite hard to find reliable info for these things is hard, so knowing that there is a website handy!
Thanks Kim – I know, we ct it so close to the wire it was a bit stressful honestly!!
The Travelers Health Section of the CDC has proved to be so useful, I know it’s an American site, though I’ve found the information is pretty relevent regardless of where you’re from or where you’re going in the world. I usually point people there now if they come to me with specific health questions about countries I haven’t yet been to. The most reliable info I’ve found :)
Great guide, Meg! You should never be too stingy when it comes to your health and vaccinating is one of those things that can save your life, your health of your holiday, so it is always a good idea to take safety precautions and vaccinate!
Thanks guys! Health is the one thing which should be treated with the upmost respect, because it really can make a holiday go south so quickly. We’ll never travel overseas without our proper shots or insurance.
Travelling without having the proper vaccines is ridiculous and i don’t understand why anyone would do it. There is already the probability that you may fall ill (particularly if travelling in developing countries – an especially bad case of food poisoning in Mumbai comes to mind) so why would you risk getting **really** sick by not vaccinating?! This post is a great reminder!
You would think! Though some people seem to think they’re invincible. Really trying to make people realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re currently healthy, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never before been sick – different countries expose you to totally different bugs and diseases, and it only takes one mosquito bite or one drink from contaminated water to fall ill. Often those diseases can stay with you in partial form for life, so it’s absolutely not worth the risk.
I always use the CDC for reference on immunizations on where we are heading, however, I do NOT keep good record of them. Great tip!
Glad to hear that LeAnna – it’s one of the best sources of info (the CDC), though take it from my experience, definitely start keeping a record of those immunizations that you do get. It’s a horribly stressful thing when you don’t!
Thanks for such an informative post about insurance and vaccines! I always think it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to anything health related. I remember I had to get quite a few vaccines for my trip to South East Asia along with ingesting Dukoral but for peace of mind, I’m glad I did!
You’re welcome Portia – I’m glad you found the post informative and helpful :) It’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health, and even though I hate needles there’s no way I would venture overseas without having been given the required shots. So not worth the risk of contracting something nasty when it can be prevented with a simple jab.
Glad to hear you travel fully immunized too – happy travels!
Great tips, its always better to be safe than sorry.
Thanks Brianna – always. Especially when it comes to your health.
Ha, Megan. I went through the same thing with Zambia. The difference was that I’d forgotten I’d had the Yellow Fever shot and was all set to get one when I found my old records. I’m with you, keep your records safe! I’m forever trying to hunt them up.
I’m glad you realized in time Carol! I really have no idea if there would be any side effects of having the same vaccine twice. Surely not, though that’s something I was partially concerned about. Will never again misplace those records!
This is definitely great information to have before traveling. Personally, I have only immunized like twice when traveling but I know I should be doing it more often :D
Definitely make sure you’re on top of the immunizations Chanel – absolutely worthwhile for protecting yourself against unwanted illnesses :) Travel safe!
thank goodness my son can’t read this! I really want to go to Africa but after last years typhoid shot, he has sworn off travel injections for a bit.. And now I read you post saying its a tough shot.. Guess we will be looking only at Soith Africa!
Though granted, I’ve heard South Africa is a wonderful destination!
I’m glad you were able to get those records! The thought of a 2nd round of shots is not a pleasant one!! I didn’t know that some countries required health insurance to enter. Good thing to research!
So am I!! I wasn’t sure for a bit there – was a little bit stressful for a while! Jump through to our post on those countries which require health insurance as a condition of entry – I compiled a list for everyone’s ease of reference :)
Thanks for this! I’m one of those travelers who don’t think about the possibilities of contracting diseases or getting into accidents, which is something that I need to change, really.
You’re welcome Gem – I’m glad we could make you stop and think about immunizations before you head out abroad, it really is important to make sure you’ve protected your health :) Feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all – always happy to help.
I always always always get vaccinated when I travel. I have asthma and one of my biggest fears is to get sick with something that affects my breathing, so I prefer being on the safe side. Besides, although we like to think that someone else is going to be affected by malaria, dengue or the rest, i have actually travelled with people who got infected and it was not fun at all. Always better to be safe and to travel with health insurance, for sure.
Glad to hear that Claudia! And absolutely if you suffer from asthma – it’s not worth skipping an immunization when the stakes are so high. I had an asthma episode while traveling through Budapest a few years back now and it was not fun. Very scary infact. So I’ll take every single preventative measure I can to ensure that my health stays intact while traveling. Being sick can totally ruin a trip.
Great comprehensive list of immunizations. Definitely a go-to page for anyone who is on the fence about getting them. Yellowfever vaccine is not recommended for anyone over the age of 60 though, which sucks because so many countries require it.
Thanks Mallory – and I wasn’t aware of the yellow fever shot not being recommended for those over the age of 60. Super frustrating I’m sure as you’re still very able to travel at that age. I think that you can often try and claim you have an intolerance to gluten to avoid taking the yellow fever shot – my husband is gluten intolerant so apparently couldn’t take it and got through fine with that explanation.
They really should have some kind of waiver if it’s not recommended.
This is a great reminder of how important immunizations are. I had to get some before my trip to Bali. I also need to see any more for my upcoming trip to Thailand. Now to find that damn yellow book! lol
Happy searching! Trust me, after hours spent trying to find it once you’ll never have to look for it again lol I’m keeping mine with my passport from now on under the same strict lock and key!
I never actually thought of this but this educated me. Thanks for sharing. Definitely going to get myself immunized the next time I leave for a vacation.
I’m glad Vedante :) Let us know if you have any follow up Q’s before your next trip.
I did the same thing with the yellow fever shot. It really was a horrible one. I made my mom run around town finding the record and then having to overnight the certificate. The other one I would recommend would be the tetanus shot.
Glad it’s not just me then!! And good recommendation re the tetanus shot – absolutely agree :)
Having lived, worked, and traveled in Malawi, one of the world’s most impoverished countries, I have seen first hand the horrific, painful deaths and devastated communities that come from vaccine-preventable diseases. By following the advice of your travel physician, you are not only protecting yourself you are also being one less person who will unwittingly pass along diseases to truly vulnerable individual for whom access to vaccines and healthcare is a remote possibility.
I’m so sorry to hear that Vanessa :( And you’ve made an excellent point about the vaccine not just protecting yourself, but protecting those who may be more vulnerable to a disease if you happen to pass it on. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, so thankyou for highlighting that; really does make it just so much more crucial than before when it’s not just about you anymore.
Great tips on vaccines and health insurance – and the interactive chart of common vaccines is a useful quick reference, thanks!
Thanks Mary – thought it would be better to put all of the different diseases into a quick and clickable chart for everyone, that way you don’t have to scroll down through tonnes of information you may not necessarily need to read :)
i completely agree with the health insurance part. While I’ve never been sick while traveling, I had a friend with me who did. Thankfully we had purchased insurance before going. It was a lifesaver and a pocketbook saver as well!
Very glad to hear that you were covered with health insurance Joe – so sorry to hear that you’re friend got sick on your trip though. Really does highlight that it can happen to anyone though – it only takes one time for hospital bills to completely bleed you dry!!
Lost yellow fever certificate is one of the reason, I keep it in my passport holder with my passport. I have to lose my passport before I lose my certificate. I also keep a scanned copy in my email.
Oh no, sorry you went through the same thing! Though glad you now keep it safe. Keeping a scanned copy is a great idea actually, I should do that myself. Thanks for the tip!
Before our RTW trip we were at the doctors getting immunization after immunization…they are needed though!
Glad to hear you had everything sorted out before you left – they really are necessary. May be one of those annoying parts of travel, but it’s essential for taking care of yourself :)
Immunization is a very aspect involved in traveling. Thanks @mappingmegan my soul sister for the expert travel tips on your websites. You rock darling.
Glad the post was helpful for you Denis :) Happy travels.