Global travel is an important aspect of life, be it for business or pleasure, for many. But for those travelers living with HIV, many countries around the world may restrict the entry, residence and stay of foreigners. While some countries prohibit people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) from traveling to them, this is changing as governments learn more about HIV. Being HIV positive does not mean that individuals cannot travel; however, travelers living with HIV should plan more carefully when planning a trip outside the United States.
Planning carefully to protect your health and safety is important. Before traveling abroad, travelers should talk to their healthcare provider about health risks in the intended area to visit, as well as any need for special medications— especially in developing countries. Infectious diseases are a big concern in certain parts of the world and travelers with HIV may be especially vulnerable. These diseases can increase one’s risk of getting an opportunistic infection; an infection that occurs more frequently and is more severe in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as some PLWHA.
Healthcare providers will also know If a country does have entry restrictions, people with HIV who still decide to travel risk being refused entry. the best ways to protect global travelers with HIV from such things as malaria, typhoid fever, and hepatitis. Travelers should also make sure
all routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Additionally, travelers should be aware that food and water in some countries might not be as clean and safe as they are in the United States. By eating raw or undercooked food or drinking contaminated water, individuals could get sick from bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Before traveling outside of the United States, the Department of State recommends that travelers with HIV get a letter from their doctor listing prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs. Medications being carried overseas should be left in their original containers and clearly labeled. When checking personal belongings for air travel, travelers should inform offcials if needles or syringes for medication are present.
In addition, travelers with HIV should carry one week’s worth of medications in their carry-on baggage in case luggage is lost. Also, travelers should check with the foreign embassy of the destination country or countries to make sure that required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics. When contacting an embassy or consulate to ask about travel restrictions, an individual’s name and HIV status can be kept anonymous.
If a country does have entry restrictions, people with HIV who still decide to travel risk being refused entry. According to UNAIDS.org, America lifted its restrictions on HIV-positive visitors in 2010. Previously, the United States travel ban prevented visits to the U.S. by people with HIV, excluding exceptional circumstances. An HIV waiver could only be obtained if the traveler met one of only a few exceptions. Although the ban was widely defeated, individuals with HIV who were detected by U.S. immigration staff were refused entry to the country and deported.
Following the removal of this ban, HIV-positive individuals can now legally visit and migrate to the U.S. In other countries where restrictions have been recently changed, added caution needs to be taken if discussing HIV status. If someone with HIV disobeys a regulation and traveled into a country when a ban was in place, they could still be open to deportation following a travel ban being lifted. This could happen if there was proof that the individual knew of his/ her HIV positive status when the ban was in place and still entered the country. In this circumstance, the individual would have broken the law in the past and could be deported for that reason.
There are some simple steps all HIV-positive tourists can take regardless of their destinations to minimize chances of undue customs delays or deportation:
- Keep anti-HIV medications in their original bottles and do not attempt to hide the containers. Customs offcials may think hidden bottles may contain contraband, which could result in the traveler being detained while medications are verified. Opening packages or taking pills out of their prescription bottles will delay time in security.
- Pack extra medicine and supplies when traveling in case of unexpected delays.
- For those taking injectable medications, when carrying empty syringes, travelers must also have the medication.
- Depending on the circumstances, it may be worthwhile taking along a doctor’s certificate (in English), which shows that the holder is reliant on the medication and that it has been prescribed by the doctor. Also, carry a copy of prescriptions in carry-on, purse, or wallet.
- Travelers may ask and are entitled to a private screening to maintain confidentiality. Show copies of prescriptions and/ or medication bottles. If there are any problems, ask to see a supervisor.
- Travelers should avoid starting a new treatment combination within a month of the trip, as health care providers may need to monitor and adjust treatment in case of side effects or allergic reactions.
- Providers may also be able to suggest some tips and tricks to help with adherence to your dosage schedule when traveling across time zones and wrestling with one’s body clock.
While some countries restrict visitors who are HIV-positive from entering their borders or for staying for long periods of time, there are many countries that have legislation that clearly states that entry, and permission to live and work will not be affected by HIV status. There are also several countries that do not require any type of medical tests either for short-term or long-term stays. For more information for travelers with HIV, visit hivtravel.org and aidsmap.org
Gerald Garth, a writer and publicist, works at the Black AIDS Institute as Outreach and Media Coordinator. Garth currently resides in Los Angeles, California.