Traveling with HIV/AIDS
With proper treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS lead full and active lives, including traveling for business and pleasure. However, there are many things to consider if you are planning a trip outside the United States. It’s important to plan carefully to protect your health and safety.
Before You Travel
Talk to your health care provider or an expert in travel medicine about health risks in the area you plan to visit—especially if it is in a developing country. There are places where it is simply not safe for people living with HIV/AIDS to travel. If possible, get the names of doctors who treat people with HIV in the region you plan to visit. U.S. Embassies and Consulates maintain lists of physicians and medical facilities for distribution to American citizens needing medical care. Visit the State Department’s Doctors/Hospitals Abroad for more information.
Infectious diseases are a big problem in certain parts of the world and you may be especially vulnerable if you have HIV disease. These diseases can increase your risk of getting opportunistic infections. Ask your health care provider if you need to take medicine or get special vaccinations before you travel. He or she will know which vaccines are safe for you. Your health care provider will also know the best ways to protect you from such things as malaria, typhoid fever, and hepatitis. Make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. This is very important for HIV-infected children who are traveling.
You may also want to consult the CDC’s Health Information for International Travel (also called the “Yellow Book”), a guide published every two years as a reference for those who advise international travelers about health risks. It is written primarily for health professionals, although others will find it useful. See Chapter 3 on HIV and AIDS, and Chapter 8 on Immunocompromised Travelers.
Staying Healthy While Traveling
Be aware that food and water in some countries may not be as clean and safe as they are in the U.S. If you eat raw or undercooked food or drink contaminated water, you could get sick from bacteria, viruses, or parasites. For more information on protecting yourself, see CDC’s HIV/AIDS: Safe Food and Water and Preventing Infections During Travel.
Insurance Outside of the U.S.
U.S. health insurance is generally not accepted in other countries, nor do the Medicare and Medicaid programs provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. If your health insurance policy does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy that does.
For more information, see the Department of State’s Travel.State.gov: Medical Information for Americans Abroad.
Bringing Medications or Filling Prescriptions Abroad
Before traveling outside of the U.S., the Department of State recommends that you get a letter from your doctor listing your prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs. Any medications being carried overseas should be left in their original containers and be clearly labeled. When checking your personal belongings for air travel, you should inform officials if you have needles or syringes in your luggage for your medication. In addition, you should carry one week’s worth of medications in your carry-on baggage in case your luggage is lost.
You also should check with the foreign embassy of the country or countries you plan to visit to make sure that your required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics. To contact a foreign embassy, see the Department of State’s Web Sites of Foreign Embassies in the U.S.
Restrictions on Traveling with HIV/AIDS
Some countries restrict visitors who are HIV-positive from entering their borders or staying for long periods of time. Others permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Before you travel internationally, you should 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. Information about entry and exit requirements compiled by the Department of State can be found here.
Traveling to the U.S. from Other Countries
As of January 2010, people living with HIV/AIDS are allowed entrance into the U.S. after Congress lifted the former entry restrictions for HIV-positive travelers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What illnesses caused by germs in food and water do people with HIV commonly get?
Germs in food and water that can make someone with HIV ill include E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and Cryptosporidium. They can cause diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, headache, muscle pain, bloodstream infection, meningitis, or encephalitis.
- CDC – HIV/AIDS: Safe Food and Water
Provides information on how food and water can carry germs that cause illness. Germs in food or water may cause serious infections in people with HIV. You can protect yourself from many infections by preparing food and drinks properly.
- CDC – HIV/AIDS: Preventing Infections During Travel
Provides information on how infections can increase your risk of getting opportunistic infections and how you can take steps to protect yourself.
- CDC – Traveler’s Health
Provides information to assist travelers and their health care providers in deciding the vaccines, medications, and other measures necessary to prevent illness and injury during international travel.
- U.S. State Department – International Travel: Health Tips for Traveling Abroad
- The Well Project – Travel Tips for People Living with HIV
Offers tips for traveling with your HIV drugs – and staying on your dosing schedule
Last revised: 02/14/2012