What are travel vaccinations?

Travel vaccinations are vaccines you need before traveling outside of the United States. Children and adults should also be up to date on all routine vaccines before traveling abroad.

Depending on your age, where you’re going and the nature of your trip, you may need vaccines that aren’t on the list of routine immunizations. Or your provider may recommend that you (or your child) get a vaccine or booster shot earlier than you normally would.

Talk to your provider about the specific immunizations you’ll need to stay healthy while traveling. Keep in mind that you may need more than one dose of a vaccine for it to be effective, so you should plan ahead. In short, it’s never too early to start the process.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines work by stimulating your immune system. When you receive a vaccine, your immune system responds by creating antibodies. Antibodies are proteins in the body. They fight bacteria and viruses that cause disease.

After you’re vaccinated, your immune system is better able to protect you. If you come in contact with the germs (bacteria or viruses) in the future, your antibodies recognize them and attack them so they can’t make you sick.

What is a booster shot?

A booster shot is another dose of a vaccine that you get months or years after a previous dose. Providers call them booster shots because they “boost” your immune system. These boosts of immunity help your body protect you from disease.

Do I need vaccines before traveling outside of the United States?

Before you travel outside of the United States, make sure that you and your family have received all routine vaccines and booster shots, including the influenza (flu) shot. Children and adults need routine vaccinations at different ages. Talk to your provider to review your child’s immunization schedule and ensure that you’re up to date on your vaccines. Few vaccines are required, but several can protect you from illness that would ruin your trip.

In addition to routine vaccinations, you may need other vaccines to travel outside of the U.S. Providers recommend vaccines for travel to some countries. Most countries don’t ask to see proof of vaccination. But some countries require you to have a vaccine (such as the yellow fever vaccine) before you to enter, or to get a visa.

When you travel to other countries, you may expose yourself to diseases that aren’t common in the U.S. The required vaccinations for travel depend on many factors, including:

  • Age: Babies, children and adults need vaccines at different times. Younger children may not be old enough for some immunizations. If you’re older than 65, you may need additional vaccines (such as a shot to prevent shingles).
  • Countries you’re planning to visit: The guidelines and vaccine recommendations vary widely among countries. Ask your provider for information about the countries you’re planning to visit. They can make sure you’re getting the immunizations you need. The recommended and required vaccinations also depend on how long you plan to stay in the country and what areas you visit.
  • Overall health and health history: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may need different vaccines to travel. Or your provider may recommend avoiding certain vaccines. Talk to your provider about the vaccines you need while pregnant. If you have cancer, a weakened immune system or a condition that puts you at a higher risk for illness, ask your provider which vaccines you should get.
  • What you’re planning to do while you’re there: Tell your provider what your plans are when you get to your destination. People who are traveling for vacation may need different vaccinations than people who are traveling for work. Tell your provider if you’ll be working as a veterinarian, healthcare provider or lab worker. If you’re handling animals or caring for patients, you may need extra protection.

What vaccinations do I need before traveling abroad?

Depending on your destination and travel plans, you may need additional vaccines to protect you from disease. These may include:

  • Hepatitis A and hepatitis B, serious infections that cause inflammation in the liver.
  • Japanese encephalitis, a disease that results from a mosquito bite. Your provider may recommend the Japanese encephalitis vaccine if you’re traveling to Asia or the western Pacific, and plan to stay for more than four weeks.
  • Malaria, a disease that’s common in tropical regions, such as areas in Africa and Asia. It results from a mosquito bite. To prevent malaria, your provider may recommend taking one of several different types of antimalarial drugs. There is no vaccine.
  • Measles, a viral disease that’s rare in the United States but occurs in other parts of the world. Babies between 6 to 11 months need a measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shot before traveling abroad. This is earlier than the routine vaccination schedule recommends. Measles is highly contagious.
  • Rabies, a life-threatening illness that people get from animal bites. Some countries have a high risk of rabies due to the presence of rabid dogs and other animals. If you plan to handle animals on your trip, you may need the rabies vaccine even if the risk in your destination is low. The rabies vaccine is also the rabies treatment. Most people do not need a rabies vaccine.
  • Tetanus, a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. The tetanus shot is part of the routine vaccination schedule. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster within 10 years, you should get one before traveling. This is especially important if you’re over 65.
  • Typhoid fever, a disease that spreads from eating or drinking contaminated food or water. You might need the typhoid vaccine if you’re traveling to places where food and water may not be reliably clean.
  • Yellow fever, a life-threatening infection that results from a mosquito bite. Some countries in Africa and South America require the yellow fever vaccine for entry.
  • COVID-19, a very contagious virus that causes mild to severe respiratory illness including death. Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, you should be two weeks past your dose of a one-dose series or your second dose of a two-dose series before you travel.

When should I get these vaccinations?

Visit your healthcare provider at least one month before you travel to discuss the immunizations you should get. Your body needs about two weeks after getting a vaccine to build up immunity. So you should plan to get your vaccines several weeks before you travel.

Some vaccines have limited availability in the U.S, such as the yellow fever vaccine. If you’re traveling to an area where yellow fever is common, talk to your provider. You may need to schedule this vaccine months before your trip.

You can also visit a travel clinic before your trip. Providers in these clinics specialize in travel health and stock most vaccines. They also have updated immunization requirements based on where you’re going as well as other ideas to keep you healthy.

Do I need the COVID-19 vaccine to travel abroad or get back into the United States?

You do not need the COVID-19 vaccine to return to the United States after traveling abroad. But some countries do require proof that you received the COVID-19 vaccine before allowing you to enter.

COVID vaccine travel requirements vary. Countries all over the world have different requirements, guidelines and rules about who needs the vaccine to enter. Some countries may also require a negative COVID-19 test to enter. Ask your provider about the COVID vaccine and travel. They can give you up-to-date information about the latest requirements.

What should I expect from travel vaccines?

Vaccine side effects vary depending on the type of vaccine. Serious side effects and allergic reactions are rare. After getting a vaccine, tell your provider right away if you have signs of a reaction, including:

Who should not get these vaccines?

Before getting a vaccine, tell your provider about your health history. Some people should not get certain vaccines. Tell your provider if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or plan to become pregnant. You should also tell your provider if you have:

  • Allergies, especially if you’re allergic to medications or other vaccines.
  • Any type of infection with fever.
  • Autoimmune disease.
  • Bleeding disorder (such as hemophilia).
  • Cancer, or if you’re getting treatments for cancer.
  • HIV.
  • Kidney disease, heart disease or liver disease.
  • Problems with your immune system.

Some vaccines can interact with other drugs and vaccines. These interactions can be serious. Be sure to tell your provider about any medications you’re taking.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick while I’m traveling?

To prevent illness while on a trip, you should:

  • Call your provider well in advance of your trip so you can plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to get the vaccines you need.
  • Keep accurate immunization records for yourself and your family members.
  • Protect yourself from bug bites, especially from mosquitoes. Wear insect repellent, long sleeves and pants. Consider sleeping under mosquito netting. Mosquitoes spread malaria, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.
  • Take a picture of your shot records or bring paper copies with you on your trip.
  • To avoid contaminated food and water, be careful about what you eat and drink.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

By taking the time to plan ahead and schedule vaccinations before your trip abroad, you can keep yourself and your family healthy. Be sure to talk to your provider at least a month before traveling. Make sure you and your family have received all the routine vaccines and booster shots. Keep shot records for everyone. Before getting a vaccine, tell your provider about your health history and any medications you’re taking.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/25/2016.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Destinations. (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list) Accessed 7/9/2021.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). International Travel During COVID-19. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/international-travel-during-covid19.html) Accessed 7/9/2021.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Need travel vaccines? Plan ahead. (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travel-vaccines) Accessed 7/9/2021.
  • Vaccinate Your Family. Jobs, Lifestyle and Travel. (https://vaccinateyourfamily.org/adults/lifestyle-jobs-and-travel/) Accessed 7/9/2021.

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