HIV Travel Restrictions: Where to Find Help Navigating Them

by Suzy Subways

Summary: Here are places to look if you need to find out about HIV travel restrictions and testing requirements of countries around the world. For example, a database of all countries is now being maintained in Europe, and made available through the Web in English, German, and French.


If you are planning to travel across international boarders, take a look at "Quick Reference -- Travel and Residence Regulations for People with HIV and AIDS" compiled by Peter Wiessner and Karl Lemmen of Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe in Berlin, Germany. Updated every two years, it includes details from 169 countries. The Internet version of their latest research (finished in December 2004) is now being made available in English, German and French by David Haerry of Switzerland at

Any new updates will be posted there first. But also, a complete 2004 Quick Reference booklet will be available to download from the website of Deutsche Aids Hilfe at (in English and in German).

Most tourist destinations do not restrict entry to HIV positive visitors who plan to stay for three months or less. Still, 24 of the 169 countries surveyed do frequently deport anyone with HIV. The "Quick Reference" database offers information for short-term visitors as well as for those seeking visas and residency. While the authors' main sources of information are each country's embassy in Germany and the German embassy in each country -- and the way travelers are treated may depend greatly on their country of origin -- the compiled information is designed for visitors from every nation. It includes details of particular rules for African visitors, for example, who may be more likely to be required by some countries to present (negative) HIV test results at entry.

Wiessner and Lemmen also consulted non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the countries concerned, the U.S. state department [see "Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Testing Requirements for Entry into Foreign Countries," ], United Nations and World Health Organization publications, and news reports and press releases. They asked about the official regulations of each country -- and how they are carried out in practice. When their sources provided contradictory information, the authors indicate where the different versions came from. Because the research is not definitive, they recommend that all prospective travelers contact AIDS service organizations or other NGOs located in their hopeful destination, and consult people with HIV who have visited there. They list contact information for such NGOs in most countries. Another source for international contacts is NAM's "AIDS Organizations Worldwide"; see

Peter Wiessner requests that readers contact him ( or David Haerry ( with any information you may have about regulations in various countries. The authors are eager to supplement their research with as much data as possible, particularly because the information about some nations is contradictory or entirely unavailable. If the 2004 Quick Reference book is not yet on the Web site, you may also email Wiessner to request a .pdf copy.

Visiting the U.S.

Despite the consensus among experts that HIV travel bans are unnecessary and harmful to public health (see, the U.S. still shuts its borders to visitors with HIV. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) sometimes grants a waiver for HIV positive visa applicants hoping to stay for 30 days or less, according to the "Quick Reference" database. This is for family visits, medical treatment, business travel, or participation in a scientific, health-related conference. Be sure to apply several months in advance, and don't make irreversible travel plans until you hear back -- and you won't hear back until less than 30 days before you hope to enter the U.S. If you are changing planes in the U.S. but not planning to visit, check with your airline about whether you will need to go through customs.

There is no actual HIV test at the airport or border, says Vishal Trivedi, Immigration Project Coordinator at the Legal Services Department of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York City. But travelers carrying HIV-related literature or HIV medications may be turned over to an immigration official for further investigation, he says. "If there is a determination made by the immigration officer that the traveler is HIV-positive and is traveling without proper HIV waiver clearance, he or she can legally be barred from entry into the United States."

In other words: proceed with caution. "There is no legal requirement that you keep your pills in the original, labeled bottle in which they came," says Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the Philadelphia-based AIDS Law Project. Many people who take medications on a schedule like to use pill organizers, or an attached set of color-coded smaller pill cases for each day of the week. Still, prepare for any possible scenario. "In general," Trivedi warns, "the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have wide discretion with regard to enforcement of immigration policies." And assumptions that visitors from particular countries of origin have links to "terrorist groups" or drug smuggling mean they "seem to be scrutinized more routinely," he says.

To be on the safe side, he says, travelers-to-be should consult with an immigration practitioner who is familiar with HIV travel restrictions to the United States. For individual consultation, contact the GMHC Legal Services Department at 212-367-1040 or the AIDS Law Project at 215-587-9377. Questions can also be sent to The UK's NAM offers more information about entering the U.S. with medication; see "Traveling with Medication,"


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