Travelling internationally with HIV
Travelling abroad can present a unique set of considerations for those living with HIV, but with a little bit of thought and preparation, there’s not much that should stop you from planning the trip of your dreams.
A lot of places around the world, like most of Europe and the US, have no restrictions on travelling with HIV, but even today, many countries discriminate against the positive traveller.
A small number threaten immediate deportation if HIV status is declared or discovered, while others only hold restrictions if you plan on staying longer than three months.
It is important to mention that these cases are very rare and, for many people living with HIV, these laws do not necessarily stop us travelling to these countries, but you should take adequate precautions to limit the chance of your status being discovered.
A check list:
This article contains specific information about a host of different points to consider, but here is a short checklist that covers most of what you should do when travelling abroad:
- Pack double the amount of medication you will need; put half in your on-board luggage, and half in your check-in, in case one bag goes missing.
- Travel with a note from your doctor or your prescription, explaining that your medications are for a medical condition. This does not have to disclose your HIV status.
- Check up-to-date information about the country you’re travelling to and their restrictions on people living with HIV. Remember to research what medical treatment you are eligible for, should you need to see a doctor while you’re there.
- Take your meds at the same time you always do, regardless of the time-zone changes.
- A lot of travel health insurance policies do not cover HIV-related illnesses, but for the most part, it is unlikely you will need to claim for something HIV-related during your stay (a broken ankle, for example, has nothing to do with your illness). Read the fine print, and ask the complicated questions before you travel.
- Enjoy yourself! Thousands of us living with HIV travel in and out of Australia every year – a little bit of research before you go should allow you to forget about it while you’re there.
Travelling with treatment
We know that taking a break from treatment or missing doses is not a good idea, so always pack more pills than you’ll need in case you are held up.
For short trips, carry double the number of tablets. Put half in your carry-on luggage and half in your check-in luggage, in case either bag goes missing.
Carrying a note from your doctor or the prescriptions as well will not only verify that your medications are bona fide, but will also make it easier to obtain more should the need arise. The medical letter does not need to say you are living with HIV, just that the medications are for a ‘medical condition’.
Six months worth is the maximum amount your doctor can prescribe at any one time. But for this amount to be dispensed, you may need your doctor’s help to negotiate with your dispensing pharmacy. If you are away longer and are unable to return to Australia to refill your scripts, you may wish to purchase cheaper generics through a reputable online website such as AIDS Drugs Online.
“Pack double the amount of medication you will need; put half in your on-board luggage, and half in your check-in, in case one bag goes missing.”
Talk to your doctor about vaccinations or prophylactic medications if you are travelling to areas where malaria, yellow fever or other bugs may be prevalent.
As a rule of thumb, people living with HIV should not take live vaccines, such as those offered by some clinics for yellow fever, but speak to your doctor about which options are available for you.
Anti-diarrheals are also a good idea, particularly if you are visiting developing countries.
Some people avoid carrying their drugs through borders by posting them to their destination ahead of time, or try to obtain HIV medications in the destination country. These strategies can be problematic, as customs have been known to intercept such packages; mail can get delayed or not arrive at all; and, buying drugs in other countries can be expensive and difficult unless you are sure of the medical procedures there.
Time zone changes
Most people like to take their HIV drugs at the same time every day and this can prove difficult when crossing time zones. You may want to set an alarm as a reminder.
The best advice is to continue to take your medications at the same time you usually do. So, if you usually take them at 9pm each night, do so in the new time zone you are in, even though it may be a different time back home.
“…with a little foresight and planning, there’s really not much to stop you having a great holiday.”
For the most part, our medications work in our bodies for longer than 24 hours which allows for the occasional missed dose or shift in time it is taken. The important thing is that you stick to a routine that works best for you, allowing you to be able to take them every day without it interfering with your holiday.
While adherence is important, it is also true that missing one dose because of a time zone is unlikely to cause any problems.
If you are on a particularly complicated regimen, consider asking your doctor if it can be simplified.
Before any travel arrangements are made, it’s important to check up-to-date information on the country you are visiting. The UNAIDS website or HIV Travel are thoroughly useful, provided by Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, the European AIDS Treatment Group and the International AIDS Society.
The People Living with HIV / AIDS website suggests the following tactics to try to get through customs in a country which may otherwise be problematic:
- Carry your prescriptions and a doctor’s letter with you. The letter should include a list of the medications and the words: “These medications have been prescribed for a medical condition”, without mentioning HIV.
- Keep your HIV medications in their original bottles and do not attempt to hide the containers. If you do, customs officials may think they contain contraband.
- Don’t advertise the fact that you are HIV positive. Even a red ribbon might alert a customs official to follow up on a suspicion.
- Be discrete and polite. Don’t draw any attention to yourself that could cause customs officials to pull you aside.
- If you are taking injectable medications (such as Fuzeon, insulin or testosterone), you must have the medication with you in order to carry any empty syringes.
- If you encounter problems, it can be worthwhile asking for a private screening to protect your confidentiality or to ask to speak to a supervisor.
- Take the attitude that it’s not really an issue unless it is presented as one.
While this may seem like a lot to think about, the important message is that with a little foresight and planning, there’s really not much to stop you having a great holiday. And, the good news is that an increasing number of countries are removing barriers to HIV-positive travellers.
Find out more about choosing the right travel insurance when you’re HIV positive.
(This article includes information provided by David Menadue, originally posted by Napwha)