Ultimate guide to travel vaccinations for digital nomads and long term travellers
For the last couple of months, I have been researching and getting travel vaccinations. It’s been a little bit of a struggle to pull the information together, so I’ve pulled everything I have learnt together in this post.
There are lots of different vaccinations. Which ones will I need? When do I need to get them? What does it protect me against? Is it worth getting this vaccination over that vaccination? So I will try to answer these questions and more in this post.
I’m from London, so the prices and types of vaccinations might differ elsewhere, but everything else is relevant.
A full list of routine vaccinations, travel vaccinations, and required vaccinations
The World Health Organisation has a full list of routine vaccinations (the ones you’ll most likely have while growing up), travel vaccinations (the ones you can choose to have while travelling), and required vaccinations (the ones which are compulsory to enter some countries).
You might have some of these already from childhood jabs or previous travel vaccinations. You won’t need all of these but worth showing you a full list of vaccinations available.
- Hepatitis B
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type B
- Human Papillomavirus
- Seasonal Influenza
- Pneumococcal Disease
- Poliomyelitis (Polio)
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis E (only avaliable in China)
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Meningococcal Disease
- Tick-Borne Encephalitis
- Typhoid Fever
- Yellow Fever
- Yellow Fever (compulsory to enter some countries)
- Meningococcal Disease and Polio (required by Saudi Arabia for pilgrims)
Which travel vaccinations are available to me and what do they give protection from?
Unlike the exhaustive WHO list above, I only needed to get these vaccinations below, some like the DTP vaccinations were boosters which topped up my childhood jabs.
“Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if untreated. It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae.” – Source
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Polio (DTP)
“Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. The disease is transmitted by sneezing, coughing or by direct contact with respiratory secretions or by direct contact with skin lesions of an infected person.” – Source
“Tetanus is a serious disease of the central nervous system that is caused by bacteria that is found in soil. The disease is spread through open cuts and wounds that have been contaminated with infected soil.” – Source
“Polio is an acute viral illness that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract. It is spread mainly from person to person (faecal-oral route) contact in areas where sanitation and personal hygiene are poor. The Polio virus spreads through the bloodstream to the central nervous system. Symptoms of the disease can range from fever and meningitis to paralysis. Polio is a very serious disease, causing lifelong paralysis of those affected.” – Source
“Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is spread through contaminated water and food, especially shellfish or through person to person contact where personal hygiene is poor.” – Source
“Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. The virus can also be passed from mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.” – Source
“Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease found in South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The infection is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. This particular type of mosquito favours breeding sites in and around rice paddies. The mosquito bites mostly around dusk.” – Source
Meningococcal Meningitis / Meningitis ACWY
“Meningococcal meningitis is an acute bacterial disease that can cause systemic infection.” – Source
“The MenACWY vaccine is given by a single injection into the upper arm and protects against four different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia): A, C, W and Y.” – Source
“Rabies is an acute viral infection that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain (encephalomyelitis). Rabies virus is present in the saliva of infected animals. People are usually exposed to rabies through a bite or scratch from a rabid animal. The virus may also enter the body through a lick on broken skin or a lick on the eyes, nose or mouth.” – Source
“Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected ixodes tick. Less commonly the disease can be spread through drinking unpasteurised milk from infected animals, especially goats. The disease is maintained in the wild by birds, deer, rodents and sheep.” – Source
“The disease is caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi and Salmonella Paratyphi A, B or C. Typhoid is transmitted by food and drink that has been contaminated with human faeces or urine (faecal-oral route).” – Source
“Yellow fever is a viral infection that is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito which mainly bites during daylight hours. The incubation period is usually short, 3-6 days. Symptoms of the disease include sudden onset of fever, backache, generalised muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and jaundice. Infection with yellow fever results in lifelong natural immunity in individuals who recover. Up to 60% of those infected with yellow fever will die from the disease.” – Source
Which vaccinations do I need for where I’m travelling to?
The most at risk areas are Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia, Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe. So, if you’re travelling to any of those places, or heading out into the wilderness, or in areas with poor sanitation and public hygiene, then you’ll want to find out exactly what vaccinations you’ll need.
Cholera – Greatest risk in Africa, India and South East Asia.
Diphtheria – Greatest risk in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, Russia, Central and South East Asia.
Hepatitis A – Occurs worldwide in places with poor public hygiene and sanitation.
Hepatitis B – Greatest risk in Africa, the Western Pacific, South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Japanese Encephalitis – Greatest risk in South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
Meningitis – Worldwide.
Polio – Greatest risk in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Rabies – Greatest risk in Asia, Africa and South and Latin America.
Tetanus – Worldwide.
Tick-borne Encephalitis – Greatest risk in European Russia, Austria, Hungary, the Balkans, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Scandinavia.
Typhoid – Greatest risk in South East Asia.
Yellow Fever – Found only in parts of Central and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
When should I get my vaccinations?
It depends on which specific vaccinations you get, as some countries use different vaccinations, different combinations, and from different pharma suppliers.
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least 3 months / 90 days before your flight. You can always get vaccinations and boosters abroad (not that I’ve done that).
Based on the vaccinations I got in the UK is what I had to do:
Cholera – 2 doses on days 0 and 7
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Polio (DTP) Booster – 1 dose on day 3
Hepatitis A and Typhoid – 1 dose on day 0
Hepatitis B – 3 doses on days 0, 10, and 25
Japanese Encephalitis – 2 doses on days 0 and 30
Meningitis ACWY – 1 dose on day 3
Rabies – 3 doses on days 3, 10, and 25
Tick-borne Encephalitis – 2 doses on days 3 and 18
Yellow Fever – 1 dose on day 0
How much do vaccinations cost?
Price varies significantly. In the UK, on the NHS, you can get some for free, so make sure you check with your GP first to see what you can get.
This is what I paid at Boots Travel Clinic, here in the UK:
Cholera = £58 ($78 USD)
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Polio (DTP) Booster = £35 ($46 USD)
Hepatitis A and Typhoid = £89 ($119 USD)
Hepatitis B = £120 ($160 USD)
Japanese Encephalitis = £178 ($238 USD)
Meningitis ACWY = £50 ($67 USD)
Rabies = £165 ($221 USD)
Tick-borne Encephalitis = £130 ($174 USD)
Yellow Fever = £58 ($78 USD)
Total = £883 ($1184 USD)
How long do the vaccinations last?
This can vary significantly depending on the type of vaccination, whether it’s a combination, which country you got vaccinated in and many other reasons. So it’s worth checking the specifics of the vaccinations you’ll be getting.
The vaccinations I got here in the UK last for:
Cholera – 2 years then a booster
Diphtheria – 10 years then a booster
Hepatitis A – 1 year then a booster
Hepatitis B – 5 years then a booster
Japanese Encephalitis – 1 year then a booster
Meningitis – long term
Polio – 10 years then a booster
Rabies – 10 years with more regular boosters if working with high-risk animals
Tetanus – 10 years then a booster
Tick-borne Encephalitis – 3 years then a booster
Typhoid – 3 years then booster
Yellow Fever – long term
Any side effects from these vaccines?
Side effects. Well, yes. The only noticeable side effects I had were feeling tired after pretty much every jab, and on my 2nd round of Hep B and Rabies jabs I did have super sore arms for a few days, and with Chloera my stomach did not feel great for an hour or so afterwards.
Most people will be ok with all of these vaccinations. However, some will experience mild side effects and, rarely, will there be anything more than mild.
Mosquito-Borne Diseases… Malaria, Dengue Fever, and Zika
I have left these for last. Unfortunately, you cannot vaccinate yourself from Malaria, Dengue Fever, Zika, or most mosquito-borne diseases (Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis are ones that can be).
There are lots of mosquito-borne diseases and they generally suck! Those include:
- Dengue fever
- West Nile virus
- Yellow fever
- Japanese encephalitis
- Saint Louis encephalitis
- Western equine encephalitis
- Eastern equine encephalitis
- Venezuelan equine encephalitis
- Ross River fever
- Barmah Forest fever
- La Crosse encephalitis
- Zika fever
There are a few good steps you can take to be prepared to fend off mosquito bites and any diseases that can be transmitted.
Mosquito Bite Prevention
Prevention is the easiest and most effective thing anyone and everyone should do if they’re travelling to an area where there is any risk of mosquito-borne diseases.
Here are some quick tips:
- Insect repellent – use on your clothes and skin when heading outdoors. DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 for use on skin, while using permethrin for clothing.
- Cover up – long, loose-fitting clothing will help keep those pesky mosquitos away.
- Dawn and dusk – take extra care at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active.
- Sleep under a net – a mosquito net will help keep mosquitos away while you sleep.
- Keep windows and doors closed – keeping your accommodation sealed is an easy way to keep mosquitos out.
- Standing water – make sure there’s no standing water near your accommodation which is a breeding group for mosquitos.
Anti-Malarial tablets do not vaccinate you against malaria, instead, they help decrease the risk of malaria by about 90%.
If you’re heading into an area with even a low risk of malaria then it’s worth taking the precaution before, during, and after your time in that area.
Not all anti-malarial tablets work everywhere so be sure that you get a tablet that’s effective to where you’re going.
Do you need to get vaccines or anti-malarial tablets?
You don’t have to. Well, unless you’re going to a country that requires Yellow Fever or other compulsory vaccinations.
That being said, it’s better to be safe than sorry. These infectious diseases sound horrid and there’s a way you can help protect yourself.
The £900, or so, that I spent on the vaccinations mean another thing I don’t have to worry about.
With anti-malarial tablets, some people don’t even bother to take them, but again it’s a risk thing. If you’re heading to an area with a risk of malaria then it’s worth taking them while you’re there. At the very least, you should be taking anti-malarial tablets in high-risk areas. As well as following basic malaria prevention such as netting, sprays, etc.
I do and I will continue to do so. I’ve not yet been hit by a car, but I still take the precaution of looking both ways when crossing the road. Malaria, and these other infectious diseases don’t happen till they happen. When they do, they suck. A little precaution can save a lot of hassle later on.
Don’t forget your EHIC Card
If you’re a citizen of the EU (European Union) and you’ll be travelling in Europe, make sure you get your EHIC (European Health Insurance) card for free. It gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.
Vaccinations will help protect you from some of the nastiest infectious diseases around. It’s not worth the risk to get yourself protected.
It’s not cheap! So, first, check that you can get coverage on the NHS (UK), on your medical plan/insurance (Worldwide), or failing that shop around for vaccinations as some clinics are cheaper that others (Everywhere).
I probably should have heeded by own advice, and I could have got some of these jabs on the NHS, but I wanted to get them done quickly, so I used Boots travel clinic. I had to pay for all of them, but the prices were some of the cheapest around, plus they had online booking which made it so much easier.
You definitely should do your research. A good starting point is answering these questions…
- What vaccinations have you already had, including childhood, boosters, and previous travel jabs?
- Which countries you’re going to be travelling to in the next 12 months?
- When will you be going to those countries?
- How long will you be travelling?
- Do you have any personal health issues, allergies and medications?
Don't forget travel insurance
We use World Nomads as it's travel insurance specially designed by travellers for travellers. Especially for long term travellers, digital nomads, and backpackers. One of the things that tops it off for us is that you can buy it while at home or while abroad.