If you’re preparing to take a trip, make sure your to-do list includes being up to date on all routine vaccinations — and getting any other vaccines that are recommended for your destination. That’s because other countries may have higher rates of certain diseases — including some infections no longer seen in the U.S. at all. And some countries may require proof that you’ve received certain vaccines.
It’s important to budget enough time to get your vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends starting your immunizations at least one month before travel. Most vaccines aren’t fully effective for at least two weeks — and some may require more than one dose. Here is information on the most common vaccines travelers may need.
Common Travel Vaccines
The CDC’s Traveler’s Health Destinations page lists the recommended — and required — vaccines by country. Each country page has a link to “Vaccines and Medicines” to the right of the country map. Below are the most common vaccines recommended for international travel.
The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for travel to nearly every country in the world. Hepatitis A is a common liver disease that you can get from drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated food, touching infected objects before touching your nose or mouth, or having sex with an infected person. Hepatitis A can make you sick for several weeks, though most people recover. The most serious complications are liver failure or death, but these are rare and mostly occur in people with existing liver problems.
Complete hepatitis A vaccination involves two shots. People should get the first dose at least two weeks before traveling. You’ll need a second dose six to 12 months later, but the first dose offers sufficient protection until it’s time for the second dose. Once you’ve had two doses, you have long-term protection against hepatitis A.
The typhoid vaccine protects against typhoid fever, a bacterial disease that’s common in countries with poor sanitation, especially countries in Africa and the southern half of Asia. Most people get exposed to this bacteria by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
Typhoid fever typically involves a high fever, stomach pain, headache, diarrhea, and sometimes a rash. It’s possible but very rare to experience internal bleeding or to die from typhoid fever. You can get an oral live typhoid vaccine or an inactivated (“dead”) typhoid vaccine shot. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or travel health clinician which is right for you.
With the inactivated typhoid vaccine, you need to get a shot at least two weeks before traveling, and it remains effective for two years. With the live oral vaccine, you take one pill every other day for a total of four pills. You need to take the last one at least one week before traveling, and the vaccine is good for five years.
Yellow fever is a disease carried by mosquitoes in multiple African and South American countries. If infected with yellow fever from a mosquito bite, you will likely experience fever, chills, headache, backache, and muscle aches. Yellow fever can be very serious. About one in seven people develops severe disease with bleeding, shock, organ failure, or death.
Even countries without circulating yellow fever may require proof of vaccination if you arrive from a country that has yellow fever.
One dose of the yellow fever vaccine provides protection for a lifetime. You need to get the vaccine at least 10 days before traveling.
COVID-19 remains high risk throughout the world, and many countries require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or recent infection to enter the country. The U.S. State Department lists the most current COVID-19-related entry and exit requirements for each country. U.S. citizens and permanent residents don’t need to show proof of vaccination to return to the U.S.
The initial series of COVID-19 vaccines includes two doses of either an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. You’re fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving your last dose.
Being fully up to date with COVID-19 vaccination means having received the initial series of doses plus any booster shots you’re eligible for. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if you need a COVID-19 booster shot.