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HIV and Traveling

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2019

Although HIV is a chronic condition, treatment advances have made it possible to live a much longer life than ever before. Receiving an HIV diagnosis should not impact an individual’s ability to live their life to the fullest. This includes participating in activities like traveling. While certain considerations and extra planning may be needed, traveling with HIV can be manageable and low-stress.

Tips for traveling with HIV

Although traveling with HIV may be challenging at times, there are steps that can be taken to help make things go as smoothly as possible. Several tips for traveling with HIV include the following:

Plan ahead

A big factor in having a relatively easy travel experience with HIV is how much planning goes into the trip. It’s important to consult a doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible before traveling, especially if you’re traveling outside of the United States, as there may be additional safety precautions that need to be taken. The earlier you can start planning with your provider, the more obstacles you’ll be able to plan for and the greater the chance you’ll be able to stick to a similar routine (including medication schedule) while away. Contacting your provider a month or more before your trip may make a big difference.

How to prepare when traveling abroad

Additionally, if you are traveling abroad, it may also be necessary to review any travel restrictions for the country you’re headed to. Some countries do have HIV-related travel restrictions or laws that may allow the discrimination of individuals based on their sexual identity or other personal characteristics.

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Fortunately, laws like these are decreasing across the globe, but you may still need to consider these depending on where you’re traveling to. Information on health-related travel notices, restrictions, and laws can be found within the U.S. Department of State’s Country Information Summaries, the CDC’s Yellow Book (a printed guide), or through The Global Database on HIV-Specific Travel and Residence Restrictions run by several organizations, including the European AIDS Treatment Group.

Traveling with HIV medication

When you talk with your provider about traveling, ask them to prescribe plenty of your regular medications for your trip. Having extra doses on hand may be helpful if your trip gets extended or plans change and delay your arrival back home. They may also recommend other medications, such as antibiotics for minor infections or traveler’s diarrhea.

Whatever prescriptions you have, even if it’s only for your regular medications, carrying documentation may be helpful (especially if you’re traveling abroad and need to go through customs). A note from your provider outlining any medications you have is typically enough to get you where you need to go. This kind of documentation does not have to say why you are taking the medication though. If you are uncomfortable with sharing details of your personal medical history, ask your provider to leave off information about any specific diagnoses on your medication note.

Taking care of medications

All medications should be carried in their original packages and in your carry-on luggage if you are flying, just in case your bag gets separated from you. Your healthcare provider can help determine if any of your medications need to be stored in a specific way, such as in a cooler. They can also help you plan a new medication dosage schedule if your daily routine will significantly change or if you will be traveling across time zones. Written prescriptions for pertinent medications may also be helpful, in the event that you run out or lose your medication while away.

Be prepared in case you need care while away

Depending on where you’re traveling to, your provider may be able to recommend a clinic or provider at your travel destination, in the event you need medical attention. You may need to do some of your own research, especially if you’re traveling outside of the United States, in order to find a healthcare facility in case of emergencies. Some organizations, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have facilities across the globe that can link you with providers or care when you’re far away from home. However, if you are traveling abroad, it’s important to investigate your insurance coverage. Your current plan may not include care outside of the United States and you may need to add supplemental coverage to be best prepared.

Regardless of where you travel though, carrying your insurance information (such as a copy of your insurance card), and ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, or other official forms of identification) may be helpful if you need assistance. Some individuals with HIV or healthcare providers may recommend traveling with a brief copy of your medical history, including any medications taken, allergies, or other special considerations. Documentation like this may come in handy in the event of an emergency, or if you need to see a new provider while away.

Vaccinations for travel

It may be required or strongly recommended to get certain vaccinations before traveling. This may be due to a specific illness linked to a location, or it could be to ensure you’re up to date in general, required vaccinations to reduce your risk of getting sick while away or traveling in enclosed methods of transportation, such as planes or trains. Your healthcare provider can suggest vaccinations or travel clinics in your area to make sure you are appropriately vaccinated before your trip.

Food safety and infection prevention

Since individuals living with HIV may have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to infections and other illnesses, it’s important to reduce these risks while traveling. This includes practicing good food safety, such as avoiding raw meats, washing fruits and vegetables well before eating, drinking only bottled water or boiling water before drinking if the tap water isn’t safe, avoiding street vendors when possible, and avoiding unpasteurized dairy products.

Good general infection prevention includes washing your hands regularly, wearing shoes when outside, putting towels or mats on the ground before sitting down, and using insect repellant or nets around bedding if insect-borne infections are a threat in the area you’re traveling to.1-3