If you're planning to travel outside the UK, you may need to be vaccinated against some of the serious diseases found in other parts of the world.
In the UK, the childhood vaccination programme protects you against a number of diseases, but doesn't cover most of the infectious diseases found overseas.
Which jabs do I need?
You can find out which vaccinations are necessary or recommended for the areas you'll be visiting on these two websites:
Some countries require you to have an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) before you enter. For example, Saudi Arabia requires proof of vaccination against certain types of meningitis for visitors arriving for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.
Many tropical countries in Africa and South America won't accept travellers from an area where there's yellow fever unless they can prove they've been vaccinated against it.
Read more about the vaccines available for travellers abroad.
Where do I get my jabs?
You should get advice at least eight weeks before you're due to travel, as some jabs need to be given well in advance.
First, phone or visit your GP or practice nurse to find out whether your existing UK jabs are up-to-date (they can tell from your notes). Your GP or practice nurse may also be able to give you general advice about travel vaccinations and travel health, such as protecting yourself from malaria.
Your GP or practice nurse can give you a booster of your UK jabs if you need one. They may be able to give you the travel jabs you need, either free on the NHS or for a charge.
Alternatively, you can visit a local private travel vaccination clinic for your UK boosters and other travel jabs.
Not all vaccinations are available free on the NHS, even if they're recommended for travel to a certain area.
Which travel vaccinations are free?
The following travel vaccinations are usually available free on the NHS:
- diphtheria, polio and tetanus (combined booster)
- hepatitis A – including when combined with typhoid or hepatitis B
These vaccines are usually free because they protect against diseases thought to represent the greatest risk to public health if they were brought into the country.
Which travel vaccinations will I have to pay for?
You're likely to have to pay for travel vaccinations against:
- hepatitis B when not combined with hepatitis A
- Japanese encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitis
- meningitis vaccines
- tuberculosis (TB)
- yellow fever
Yellow fever vaccines are only available from designated centres.
The cost of travel vaccines at private clinics will vary, but could be around £50 for each dose of a vaccine. It's worth considering this when budgeting for your trip.
Things to consider
There are several things to consider when planning your travel vaccinations, including:
- the country or countries you're visiting – some diseases are more common in certain parts of the world and less common in others
- when you're travelling – some diseases are more common at certain times of the year; for example, during the rainy season
- where you're staying – in general, you'll be more at risk of disease in rural areas than in urban areas, and if you're backpacking and staying in hostels or camping, you may be more at risk than if you were on a package holiday and staying in a hotel
- how long you'll be staying – the longer your stay, the greater your risk of being exposed to diseases
- your age and health – some people may be more vulnerable to infection than others, while some vaccinations can't be given to people with certain medical conditions
- what you'll be doing during your stay – for example, whether you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors, such as trekking or working in rural areas
- if you're working as an aid worker – you may come into contact with more diseases if you're working in a refugee camp or helping after a natural disaster
- if you're working in a medical setting – for example, a doctor or nurse may require additional vaccinations
- if you are in contact with animals – in this case, you may be more at risk of getting diseases spread by animals, such as rabies
If you're only travelling to countries in northern and central Europe, North America or Australia, you're unlikely to need any vaccinations.
If possible, see your GP at least eight weeks before you're due to travel. Some vaccinations need to be given well in advance to allow your body to develop immunity. Some also involve multiple doses spread over several weeks.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Speak to your GP before having any vaccinations if:
- you're pregnant
- you think you might be pregnant
- you're breastfeeding
In many cases, it's unlikely a vaccine given while pregnant or breastfeeding will cause problems for the baby. However, your GP will be able to give you further advice about this.
People with immune deficiencies
For some people travelling overseas, vaccination against certain diseases may not be advised. This may be the case if:
- you have a condition that affects your body's immune system, such as HIV or AIDS
- you're receiving treatment that affects your immune system, such as chemotherapy
- you've recently had a bone marrow or organ transplant
Your GP can give you further advice about this.
As well as getting any travel vaccinations you need, it's also a good opportunity to make sure your other vaccinations are up-to-date and have booster jabs if necessary. Your GP surgery can check your existing vaccination records.
Read more information on NHS vaccines for adults and children to find out whether you should have any.