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HIV and travel

Greta Hughson, Michael Carter
Published: 13 November 2013

This factsheet provides an introduction to some of the issues you may want to think about if you are living with HIV and are planning to travel.

Is travel possible?

For many people living with HIV, travel is not only possible, it is a regular part of life. Many people travel for work, business, study, and for pleasure. In most cases, HIV is not a barrier to travel and holidays.

As for other long-term health conditions, it is sensible to consider HIV, your health, and any medication that you may be taking when you make your travel plans. At the most basic level, consider if you are well enough to undertake the trip you are planning.

If you are planning to travel internationally, find out in advance if the country you are planning to travel to puts any restrictions on entry for people with HIV (see Travel restrictions below).

Also, find out if you need any vaccinations or other preventive medicines, and if it is safe for you to have them. What vaccinations you might need depends on where you are travelling to. If you are accessing travel vaccinations through your GP, it is important that they know you have HIV so they can give you the most appropriate care. It’s also important your GP knows about all the drugs (including anti-HIV drugs) you are taking, in case there are any possible interactions with drugs you might be given for travelling, such as anti-malarials or antibiotics. People with HIV are recommended to avoid some live vaccinations.

Travelling with HIV treatment

It might be very difficult, or even impossible to get supplies of your medication once you’ve left home – even if you are just taking a short trip in the UK or Europe. Therefore, make sure you take enough of all your medicines with you to last the full duration of your trip. It might be wise to count out your medicines before you travel and to take a few additional doses just in case you are delayed.

It’s safest to carry your medication in your hand luggage, as this is less likely to get lost. If you are travelling to another country it makes good sense to have a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor saying you are taking the medicines you are carrying for a chronic medical condition.

Taking a treatment break to travel

Treatment breaks are not recommended. If you are thinking of taking a break from your HIV treatment to travel, then you should discuss the possible risks of this with your doctor. These risks may include developing resistance to your drugs, and if you have a low CD4 cell count, of becoming ill.

Timing your doses

If you are travelling across international time zones, then this is likely to have implications for the time you take your medication. There are three options you could consider. These include, continuing to take your medicines at your UK time – but this could mean that you have to take your doses at inconvenient times. Another option is to gradually adjust the time you take your medicines from UK time to the time in the country you are visiting. A third option might be altering your dose time to fit in with the time zone of the country you are visiting, but this could mean that there are some long, or short, intervals between doses as you adjust. It might be wise to talk over your plan with a doctor or pharmacist before you travel.

Accessing medical treatment away from home

If your trip is in the UK you should contact the nearest accident and emergency department if you need emergency care. You can be seen by a GP away from home as a ‘temporary resident’ if your trip is for under two weeks. If you are entitled to free NHS care you can get this anywhere in the UK.

If you are travelling to Europe you should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. Take this with you as it allows you to obtain reduced-cost or free medical care in all countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). You can apply for an EHIC online here: www.nhs.uk/ehic. You can also apply by telephone on 0300 330 1350.

Be careful when applying for the card online. It should be free, but there are some companies which charge you to apply for the card.

The UK also has agreements with some other, non-EEA countries allowing for free or reduced cost emergency medical care that a person may need. Check before travelling.

It may also be wise to consider taking out travel insurance. Most policies specifically exclude treatment for HIV or any pre-existing medical condition, but will still provide cover if you have an accident or become ill with something unrelated to HIV. Some companies provide travel insurance cover that includes HIV. Premiums are calculated on an individual basis.

Travel restrictions

Some countries have put in place restrictions on people with HIV entering their country, staying, or becoming a resident.

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, has made eliminating HIV-related travel restrictions one of its key targets. Its executive director, Michel Sidibe, has gone on record saying, "Placing travel restrictions on people living with HIV has no public health justification and violates human rights".

According to UNAIDS, as of October 2013, there are 136 countries with no HIV-specific restrictions, but there are still 41 countries or territories which have some restrictions. Five have a complete bar on the entry and stay of people living with HIV: Brunei Darussalam, Oman, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. You can check for updates on the UNAIDS website (www.unaids.org) or check with the embassy or consulate of the country you want to visit.

The USA's long-standing ban on non-US citizens visting or migrating to the country ended in January 2010.

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this factsheet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.