Can I Travel Abroad with HIV?
With proper treatment, people with HIV can lead healthy and active lives, including traveling for business and pleasure. However, traveling to other countries, particularly developing countries, may require some advance preparation and special precautions.
Before You Travel
See your health care provider or travel medicine specialist to discuss the medical risks you might face and what you should do to prepare for safe and healthy travel. Ideally, this conversation should take place at least 4-6 weeks before your scheduled departure.
Talk to your provider about the places you plan to visit. He or she may:
- Recommend certain travel vaccines. Most travel vaccines are made from killed bacteria or viruses and can be given safely to people with HIV and others with weakened immune systems. However, they may be less effective than in people with strong immune systems, and may not provide full protection. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to confirm that a vaccine was effective, or recommend additional precautions to keep you safe. Some vaccines are made from live viruses and many people with weakened immune systems should not take them. However, depending on the circumstances, the benefits of protection may outweigh the risks. Talk to your health care provider about what is recommended for you.
- Recommend you pack a supply of medicine like antibiotics to treat travelers’ diarrhea, which can affect people with weakened immune systems.
- Provide you with the name(s) of health care providers or clinics that treat people with HIV infection in the region you plan to visit.
- Advise you on how to minimize the risk of malaria and other insect-borne diseases such as dengue and yellow fever, depending on your destination. People who have weakened immune systems can get seriously ill from malaria, so it’s important to closely follow your doctor’s instructions for taking the preventative medicine, which may include taking it for several weeks before and after the trip. You should also take steps to avoid bug bites: wear insect repellent, wear long pants and sleeves, and sleep under a net if your rooms are exposed to the outdoors.
Also, educate yourself about your insurance policies:
- Review your medical insurance to see what coverage it provides when you are away from home. You may purchase supplemental traveler’s insurance to cover the cost of emergency medical evacuation by air and the cost of in-country care, if these costs may are not covered by your regular insurance. View the U.S. State Department’s information on insurance for overseas travel.
- Take proof of insurance, such as a photocopy or scan your policy and send the image to an e-mail address you can access both in the United States and abroad. Leave a copy at home and tell your friends or family where it is located.
When You Travel Abroad
Food and water in developing countries may contain germs that could make you sick.
- eat raw fruit or vegetables that you do not peel yourself;
- eat raw or undercooked seafood or meat;
- eat unpasteurized dairy products;
- eat anything from a street vendor;
- drink tap water (in developing countries some hotels may purify their own water but it is safer to avoid it), drinks made with tap water, or ice made from tap water.
Do eat and drink:
- hot foods;
- hot coffee or tea;
- bottled water and drinks (make sure the seals are original and have not been tampered with);
- water that you bring to a rolling boil for one full minute then cool in a covered and clean vessel;
- fruits that you peel;
- wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages are also safe.
- Tuberculosis is very common worldwide, and can be severe in people with HIV. Avoid hospitals and clinics where coughing TB patients are treated. See your doctor upon your return to discuss whether you should be tested for TB.
- Animal wastes, such as fecal droppings in soil or on sidewalks, can pose hazards to individuals with weakened immune systems. Physical barriers, such as shoes, can protect you from direct contact. Likewise, towels can protect you from direct contact when lying on a beach or in parks. If you are in physical contact with animals, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with soap and water.
- Take all your medications on schedule, as usual.
- Stick to your special diet, if you are on one.
- Take the same precautions that you take at home to prevent transmitting HIV to others.
Are There Restrictions on Traveling Abroad?
Some countries restrict visitors with HIV from entering their borders or staying for long periods of time. Others permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. According to the State Department, more than 70 countries consider consensual same-sex relations a crime, sometimes carrying severe punishment. Before you travel internationally, be aware of the laws, policies, and practices in the country or countries you plan to visit. This information is usually available from the consular offices of each country or in the State Department’s country information summaries, along with information about entry and exit requirements.
Traveling to the U.S. from Other Countries
As of January 2010, travelers with HIV or AIDS are allowed entrance into the U.S.
What Travelers’ Health Resources Are Available?
CDC's Yellow Book, a guide to health information for international travelers is an excellent resource for anyone traveling overseas. The section on Immunocompromised Travelers has extensive information for people with HIV.
CDC’s Travelers’ Health website contains find information on:
- travelers’ health for people with weakened immune systems
- travel health notices for destinations
- recommended vaccinations and precautions for destinations
Additionally, the Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in Adults and Adolescents with HIV contain information about immunization against malaria and other infections that may be useful.
Content on this page was adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.