Thursday, April 23, 2015

Travel Vaccinations: Do you need them?

This is a common question among travelers to countries in Africa, South America, and South East Asia, and it's easy to just ignore it and hope for the best. But these diseases are the real deal, many of which can have a deadly outcome. First and foremost, you must visit your doctor for general health and a travel clinic for country specific recommendations.

Here are some things I have learned along the way regarding health abroad:

1. Where can I get vaccinated?

There are lots of travel clinics in the US and abroad. The US tends to have them separate from doctors' offices while in the UK it's possible to go to your registered surgery. In the Netherlands, KLM runs some of the travel clinics. You can find the nearest one to you by calling the local health department, asking your doctor, or doing a simple internet search. The one I went to in the states is called Passport Health, and they operate all over the country.

2. How do I know what vaccines I need?

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the US State Department websites are a good place to start. They will list recommended vaccinations and other pertinent health information. There's a good chance you will already have some of the recommended vaccines and just need a booster.

Also visit the website for the country you are planning to visit to see if there are any entry requirements. While the country may not have any entry requirements, that doesn't mean you are out of the woods. Visit a travel clinic for region- specific information. If possible, it is also a great help to bring your vaccination record to show what you have received, what you need a booster for, and new ones like yellow fever.

3. What can I expect at a travel clinic?

When you book your appointment you will need to let them know where you will be going and for how long. If you are visiting more than one country, be sure to tell them. When you arrive, the nurse (it's always been a nurse for me) will review your trip information, let you know about general health and safety advice, and provide you with printed information about the country, vaccine recommendations, and medication information. Then you will get any necessary vaccines right away all at the same time. You will be in and out in no time at all with a yellow card to prove your new vaccination history.

Even though you will be provided with printed information, you should also take some notes while you are there. Make sure you understand all of the information provided and ask questions if you don't. You control the appointment. If you need something explained again, just ask. It's their job. You may also be given prescriptions for things like anti-malaria pills and pills for travelers diarrhea. If you have insurance, they should be covered.

You will also find out about bug spray. Yes, it needs it's own paragraph because it is that important. So many nasty diseases are contracted by tiny mosquitos like dengue fever and malaria. The best way to protect yourself is to get a good bug spray or cream and use it like your life depends on it. Because sometimes it just may. All it takes is one bite, so you can't be too cautious.

4. What is it going to cost? 

Brace yourself, the price tag on these appointments can be very high, and it may not be something you have factored into your overall budget. An office visit alone can cost from $0 to upwards of $100 which includes the information packet and consultation. Then, each vaccine carries it's own price tag. Travel clinics in the US don't usually take insurance, so if you are concerned about cost, visit your primary physician first to see what's covered. When all was said and done, the clinic visit for my trip to Tanzania was around $800 for six vaccines, and my recent visit for my trip to India was about $600. All I'm saying is be prepared.

5. What else do I need to know?

Give yourself at least six weeks to get all your doctor appointments and vaccines. Some of shots (or jabs if you are in the UK) require two courses and need a couple weeks in between doses. Plan for that. And if you have everything sorted with weeks to spare, then you will have nothing to worry about except what to pack.

The longer you are on the road, the more protection you may need. For example, a short trip to major cities in India won't require the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, but I needed it. Why? I'm going to a rural area for more than a month. Time and region matter which is why it's so important to see a specialist before your next great adventure.

Ultimately, you make the final decisions as to what vaccines to get and medications to take. The travel clinic will make recommendations, but you are the final say. Travel is risky enough without having to worry about contracting a deadly disease, so take the advice seriously.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Applying for an Indian Visa

I recently read an article about the elusive Indian visa where the author was providing a shameless plug for a passport service without providing accurate information. It got me thinking about all of the faulty information on the internet due to people trying to make money off of their websites. Well rest assured, if you are reading this, I make absolutely no money on this website. The information you read here is based on my own experiences. Here's my take on applying for a visa to India.

When I first started looking at the visa process in India I was overwhelmed. It was enough to make me not want to go. The process has since changed, outsourced to private companies. A tourist visa on arrival was also added for US citizens (and some other countries too). All you have to do is fill out an online application at least 4 days before your departure date, pay the fee, print the confirmation page, and take it with you on your trip with your passport and any other necessary documentation. All the information you need is on the application page. So easy!

If your travel plans exceed 30 days, you will need to apply through the embassy's company of choice. In the US it is Cox & Kings Global Services. What this means is that this company handles all of the paperwork and provides middle man service to the Indian embassy or consulate. Extra costs are involved, but it allows the whole process to be much more efficient. Their website provides very clear instructions for all of the paperwork involved. Follow that, and you are all set. If you have questions along the way, they are very prompt in responding over email as well.

The tourist visa application asks for basic personal information. You will also need to know your parents birthplace, birthdate, and citizenship. Also note, the application asks for an address and contact in India. It's also best to apply for the minimum amount of time necessary. If you are going on one trip, don't apply for the 10 year multiple entry visa even if there is a chance you will return in the future. Other than that, it's a standard application that can be filled out and paid for online.  Then just print it and the other necessary forms listed on the Cox & Kings website, and you're all set.

If you live close to the nearest global services office, you can personally drop off your application. If you don't, you can pay for door to door courier service.

If you opt for the personal approach, it goes something like this:

1. Make online appointment a couple days prior
2. Find the office (for me it was taking a train trip to New York City)
3. Hand the person at the desk your paperwork (already filled out with your passport)
4. Person takes your paperwork, sifting out the unnecessary pages
5. She enters your information into the system while chatting to other employees.
6. Less than 5 minutes later you are getting an email update and are out of the building wondering what to do with the rest of your day
7. Three days later, visa arrives to your house if you paid for courier service (or you go back and pick it up)

Maybe I showed up on a good day, or maybe it's always like that. Either way, I was in and out in less than 5 minutes. The process couldn't have been easier, and I received email updates at each stage of the process. I caused myself all sorts of stress for no reason. The important thing is to allow yourself plenty of time before you are set to go on your trip, and you'll be fine.

**Disclaimer: I am an American citizen with parents and grandparents who are also American citizens. This made the process easier. If you have parents or grandparents with Pakistani citizenship, the process can be much more difficult.