Wednesday 27 September 2023

Vaccine Tourism – A Practical Guide

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By Amy Gdala, Guest Contributor – The US has a surplus of vaccines, while Costa Rica is struggling to supply sufficient numbers to citizens and residents in a timely fashion.

“Vaccine Tourism” – traveling to get a vaccine abroad – has been a common topic on ex-pat forums.

Those who have the means to afford travel to the US can consider getting vaccinated abroad, making one less shot necessary for Costa Rica to obtain. (For US citizens, this should be an easy decision, given that Uncle Sam is still interested in income declarations on an annual basis.)

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At least 18 states, including Florida and Texas, have waived residency requirements in providing a vaccine. Many sites don’t require appointments. US passports are not a universal requirement either.

Miami airport has two vaccine sites open through June 18th. The site at the Concourse D Auditorium, 4th floor, above Door 1, had no line when we visited on June 6th to receive our shots. Five minutes after filling out a form to provide basic information, my husband and I had both received shots.

Sitting at the back of the hall for the mandatory 15 minute waiting period (to ensure no immediate side effects), I chatted with a Panamanian citizen who had also received a vaccine – he had been asked to show his (Panamanian) passport, and the nurse didn’t bat an eyelid.

There are several other sites in Miami that will remain open after the airport closes theirs.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is likely of primary interest to prospective vaccine tourists, given that it requires just a single shot (rather than the 2 shots, separated by weeks, for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.)

While it has a lower rate of effectiveness in preventing COVID than the 2 shot mRNA vaccines, in trials, it did have a 100% rate of effectiveness in preventing serious symptoms, hospitalization and death.

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Around 1 in a million recipients of the vaccine have had serious side effects from blood clots, with young to middle-aged women identified as the primary risk group – now that doctors are on the lookout for the side effects, they can be treated if observed in time. The J&J vaccine takes around two weeks to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Travel (via airports with inconsistent ventilation, planes, public transports, and hotels) of course also presents some risk. This can be mitigated to some extent through the use of good masks (remember, the virus is airborne) – our family ensures that we wear KN95 masks (at least 20-25% more effective than cloth masks at filtering the virus out) from door to door.

Surface transmission appears to be less of a concern than it was initially thought to be; nevertheless, attention to what you touch (or don’t touch) and regular use of hand sanitizer is a good practice.

It is good practice to get a test upon your return in any case, and to self-isolate for 7 days to prevent the risk of contagion.

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Travel to the US requires a negative COVID test to have been performed no more than 3 days before your flight to the US departs.

Rapid (Antigen) tests are accepted. The Q, Tico Times, Two Weeks In Costa Rica, and other publications have extensive lists of testing sites.

Many (all?) will theoretically require evidence of travel (i.e. a flight reservation) to provide the rapid test, though in practice neither of the providers that we’ve used have requested that evidence. If you don’t have US citizenship or residency, you may well require a visa to enter the country.

You may encounter side effects such as headache and fatigue within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine, as your body’s immune system goes into overdrive producing antibodies against the virus. For this reason, you may wish to book a hotel room for a day or two before flying back.

Costa Rica does not require a COVID test to re-enter the country. However, if you don’t yet have your residency, you will need travel insurance covering the costs of treating COVID, which can be obtained through INS and international providers.

Residents don’t require insurance to re-enter, but do need to be up to date on Caja payments.

You should be aware that the Ministry of Health at first said it would not issue a digital certificate of vaccination for those who have received their vaccine abroad; it later changed that will accept an affidavit as a requirement to validate the vaccination abroad.

The certificate may be required for future travel to some international destinations.

However, you will receive a vaccination card from the site in the US, which may or may not be of use in future travel plans.

Also consider that vaccines will likely need to be reobtained with some frequency (depending on how long they turn out to be effective, or on as-yet-unknown variants that may develop), so in the future, you may qualify for a Ministry of Health certificate if you were to get a booster in Costa Rica in future.

Whether or not to travel to receive the vaccine is of course a personal decision – there’s risk associated with it, mitigated by the benefit of getting vaccinated well in advance of when you would otherwise.

At a time when Costa Rica’s hospitals are under strain due to the virus, those who have the opportunity to travel and increase the vaccination percentage among our society can give careful thought to doing so.

You can contact Amy at

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of or

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