When traveling outside the United States, there’s a good chance you’ll need certain vaccinations in order to fully protect yourself from illnesses that are more common in other countries than they are here. These vaccinations may be ones that you would probably never need if you didn’t leave the United States (like typhoid and yellow fever) or ones that you are supposed to have regularly no matter what but that some people can get away with neglecting (like the tetnus/diphtheria booster that adults should get every 10 years). Most doctors go by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for travel immunizations. What you need depends on the country-and sometimes even the specific part of the country — that you’re visiting.
Traveling internationally is often more expensive than traveling domestically to begin with-plane fares are higher, there are no friends to crash with, and as of this writing, the dollar is weak. Travel vaccinations can add another couple hundred dollars to your already high international travel costs. What’s more, some vaccinations require multiple doses for maximum effectiveness. But just like with any other product or service, you can shop around to get the best deal.
Many health insurance plans will not cover travel vaccinations because they are not “necessary.” The insurers’ reasoning seems to be that you could just stay home and not need the shots. So if you go to your doctor for the shots, you’ll pay an office visit fee plus full price for any travel-specific shots. However, your insurance will probably cover shots that are already recommended within the United States, like the aforementioned tetnus/diphtheria booster.
Private travel clinics that specialize in travel vaccinations and prescriptions (such as for malaria and traveler’s diarrhea) are another option. Their prices for vaccinations will vary. Some charge a consultation fee (similar to the office visit fee you’d pay at the doctor) in addition to a fee for each shot. Some may not charge a consultation fee, but may make up that cost in higher immunization prices or a fee to write prescriptions for malaria pills or yellow cards (an internationally accepted document proving that you have the required vaccinations to enter a country). Some may sell medication directly, saving you a trip to the drugstore.
City and county health departments also typically provide travel vaccinations and other pretravel health services similar to those you’d get from a doctor or private travel clinic. It is, after all, in the best interest of public health to ensure that people don’t get sick abroad and bring those illnesses back home where they may infect others.
The option that will be the most cost effective for you will depend on which vaccinations and prescriptions you need, what your health insurance covers, and the options available to get vaccinated where you live. It may make sense to get some vaccinations at your doctor’s office (if any are covered by your insurance) and others at a travel clinic. The important thing to know is that you do have options and prices vary by provider. Researching the providers available in your area and calling around for prices on the shots you need can save you $100 or more. If you have multiple family members going on the trip, that savings becomes even more important. Make sure to make your appointment several weeks in advance of your travel. There may be a wait time to get an appointment, and many shots require a couple of weeks to become effective in your system.
Another way to reduce your costs is to get multiple opinions on the vaccinations you need for your travels. Different doctors may have different recommendations, and you may agree with one doctor more than others based on your own health profile and risk tolerance. In other words, you may not need as many vaccinations or pills as you think.
Finally, while it may be possible to save money in the short-term by only getting one of a recommended series of shots, you may save money in the long term by completing the series. For example, Hepatitis A requires two shots for maximum effectiveness. If you get one dose, it is only good for one year, but if you get the recommended two doses, it is good for 10-20 years. If you think you will visit an area that recommends Hepatitis A vaccination more than once over the next 10-20 years, you will probably save money in the long run by completing the series now.
A good place to start your research is at the CDC website, which provides information on travel vaccinations, health information for specific destinations, travel medicine clinics, and more.