Travelling with HIV treatments
Being HIV positive can influence your decisions about travel in a number of ways. You may be cautious about travelling to places where there is only limited access to quality medical services with experience in HIV medicine, or concerned about how you will manage your treatments while away from home.
Access to treatment
Some countries have restrictions on travel for people with HIV, even for tourists. While it is best not to disclose your status, carrying HIV treatments can be seen as an admission of being HIV positive and may result in you being denied entry.
You can minimise this risk by posting your treatments ahead, either to friends or to a PLHIV organisation that will hold the treatments for a short time. You can seek advice on doing this from your local PLHIV organisation.
Remember that this does not always work: packages go missing or get held up. If you are posting ahead, do it in plenty of time and check that your treatments have arrived safely.
Specific country information and hints and information for Australian travellers: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Global Database on HIV-Specific Travel and Residence Restrictions provides information on entry requirements for people with HIV.
The US Centers for Disease Control provides information for travellers, including required vaccinations and other precautions for specific regions.
Travel Health ONLINE provides individual health and safety information for over 200 countries as well as travel medicine providers.
If you are carrying your treatments, pack enough for your entire trip, with a bit extra in case of unforeseen delays. Carry it with you in your hand luggage rather than in your suitcase as checked luggage can be lost or delayed.
Although you do not need to declare your medications when you go through customs, if a customs official checks your luggage and finds your medications, you may be asked to produce a doctor's letter and the prescriptions.
The letter does not need to reveal that you are HIV positive, but it should include the words: 'These medications have been prescribed for a medical condition,' and a list of all the medications you are on.
Keep the letter and prescriptions separate from your medications, so that if you lose one, you do not lose the other. Keep the medication in the original bottles with your name on them. Some countries have strict laws on drug labelling.
Entry and visa requirements for individual countries can be found on The Global Database on HIV-Specific Travel and Residence Restrictions website.
Sticking to your dosing schedule
Being on holiday means a big change to daily routines. Disruption or change to daily routines is one of the most common reasons for missing doses of HIV treatments.
Time zone changes and variations to normal daily routines are reasons for missing doses. If you have chosen a particular drug combination because it suits your lifestyle (e.g. your eating, sleeping, and working patterns), travelling can upset this balance.
If you plan to stay in a new time zone for a week or more, you should consider changing your dose routine until it is in sync with the local time.
This can be done by changing the dosing time gradually (by moving the dose slightly each time) until they fall at more convenient times. This is particularly important for drugs that need to be taken at regular intervals. Work out a schedule with your doctor.
If you are in a different time zone for only a few days, it may be easier to keep the same medication routine as at home. Book wake-up telephone calls or use an alarm clock to wake you for doses in the middle of the night.
Other health issues
Ask your doctor, AIDS council or PLHIV organisation Treatments Officer for the details of HIV clinics in all the cities you are visiting, so that if any health issues arise, you know where you can go.
For overseas travel, check for any special medication or vaccination requirements.
It is important that you do not have any 'live' vaccinations, such as those for yellow fever, TB, measles, and typhoid oral dose vaccine.
Ask your doctor or travellers' medical centre for a detailed guide on avoiding food-borne diseases when you are away.
In countries with different food hygiene standards, it is best to avoid tap water, uncooked food (shellfish, salad and fruit dishes) and some meat products. Boiled or bottled water (sealed), thoroughly cooked food and fruit you have peeled yourself (with clean hands) are safest.
Some anti-diarrhoea treatment can be useful, but ask your doctor which ones are suitable for people with HIV.
Medicare and travel insurance
Australian residents are entitled to 'immediately necessary medical and public hospital treatment' under reciprocal health care agreements with a number of countries.
HIV related conditions should be covered by this arrangement, however ongoing HIV therapy would be at the discretion of each individual country. The exact nature of the agreement between Medicare and each of these countries differs slightly. For information regarding these agreements visit the Medicare website.
To access emergency medical care under the reciprocal health care agreement, in any of these countries, you are required to present your Australian passport as well as your current Medicare card.
Medicare also recommends taking travel insurance in case your situation is not covered by these agreements. Insurance is strongly recommended for the United States of America where the cost of health care is extremely high.
For advice on finding a travel insurance company that offers affordable insurance for people with HIV, contact your local PLHIV organisation.
This page was published on 20 September, 2011
This page was reviewed on 24 March 2016
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