Vaccinations for Travel

A Guide to Vaccinations for Travel

When you’re embarking on long-term travel, you accept that at some point you’re going to get sick on the road. However, while suffering a cold or minor injury is one thing, contracting a serious disease is definitely not on our list of things to do, so we’re making sure we get all the travel vaccination advice we can before we go.  

Vaccinations for Travel

Copyright Sanofi Pasteur on Flickr

Vaccinations for Travel – what do we already have?

Check out this update post to see how we’ve managed our malaria pills and medical vaccinations since we’ve been travelling.

Since we live in the UK, we’re incredibly lucky to receive free vaccinations throughout our lives, so we’re already covered for some of the diseases we might encounter when travelling. The vaccinations we’ve already had are:

  • BCG (for TB)
  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Polio
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Yellow fever – we paid £50 to get this vaccination for a trip to Kenya; it’s not offered as standard or for free in the UK.

What Diseases are we at Risk from when we’re Travelling?

Our existing vaccinations won’t protect us from the whole host of tropical diseases we’ll encounter in the countries on our travel itinerary; here’s what else we need to protect ourselves against:

  • Typhoid – is spread through contaminated food and water and causes septicaemia, which can kill.
  • Hepatitis A – is also contracted through infected food and water, especially shellfish. Very few people exhibit symptoms when they contract hepatitis A, however, the disease is serious and can cause liver damage and jaundice.
  • Cholera – this is spread through contaminated food and most commonly, water. Cholera vaccinations aren’t used in the UK because the risk of contracting the disease is very small; you’d need to ingest a lot of bacteria to contract it. Taking care to drink safe water is the best way to protect against this disease. 
  • Hepatitis B – is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids; symptoms include fever, joint pains and a rash; severe cases can result in liver damage and cancer.
  • Japanese encephalitis – is spread by mosquitoes and you’re most at risk of contracting the disease after the rainy season in many Asian countries.  This disease can cause meningitis and muscular paralysis in the worst cases; recovery is usually very slow.
  • Rabies – is a fatal and incredibly painful disease which is spread through animal bites and saliva.
  • Tick-borne encephalitis – has similar symptoms to meningitis and is spread by ticks or drinking unpasteurised milk from infected animals.

What Travel Vaccinations do I need?

You’ll need different travel vaccinations depending on which countries you’re planning to visit; here are the diseases we may encounter in the places we’re planning to visit, or might decide to go to once we’re on the road:

  • Indonesia – typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, cholera
  • Philippines  hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, cholera
  • Malaysia – rabies, hepatitis B, cholera, Japanese encephalitis
  • Thailand – typhoid, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B, cholera
  • Vietnam – rabies, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, cholera
  • Cambodia – Japanese encephalitis, rabies, hepatitis B, cholera
  • Laos – rabies, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, cholera
  • Myanmar – hepatitis B, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, cholera
  • Nepal – hepatitis B, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, cholera
  • India – hepatitis B, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, cholera
  • Japan – Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B, tick-borne encephalitis
  • Korea – typhoid, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies
  • China – typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, hepatitis B, cholera, tick-borne encephalitis

NHS Travel Vaccinations

Again, we are very lucky in the UK to receive free travel vaccinations from the British National Health Service (NHS). I dread to think how much all our travel injections would cost if we had to pay for them; still, not everything we need is covered, here’s what we did get:

  • Hepatitis A vaccination – we had our first vaccination for hepatitis A before we went to Thailand in 2009, we’ve just had a booster which means we’re protected against this disease for 20 years.
  • Hepatitis B vaccination – comes in a course of three injections to provide long-term protection. We’ve had our first hep B vaccination and will have the next one in a few weeks. We’ll need to have the third dose in six months time when we get to Australia.
  • Typhoid – we had a typhoid booster injection which protects us for the next three years.

Vaccinations from Travel Clinics

We’ll only be able to get these other recommended travel vaccinations through an independent travel clinic:

  • Rabies
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Tick-borne encephalitis

Cost of Travel Vaccinations

Travel clinics can be really expensive; we looked around online to find cheap travel vaccinations in London. The best we came up with was First Contact who charge the following prices:

  • Rabies vaccinationscost £20 per shot and you’ll need a course of three shots over a one-month period to give you one year’s protection.

Are we getting it? We’ve heard of some travellers who choose not to get rabies vaccinations, we’ve decided to because the disease is prevalent in many of the countries we’re visiting and we hope to work with animals at some point in our trip. Most importantly, rabies is almost always fatal, so it’s not something we feel like taking a chance on. Even if you get vaccinated against rabies, if you’re bitten by an infected animal you need to get follow-up shots immediately. We’re getting our rabies vaccinations done as close to our departure date as possible to give us the maximum amount of cover.

  • Japanese encephalitiscosts £60 per shot and it’s recommended that you get at least two doses over a one month period to give two year cover.

Are we getting it? At the moment we’re not sure whether we’re going to get this vaccination in the UK, mostly because of the expense. Instead, we are looking into getting a Japanese encephalitis vaccination once we get to Indonesia, where it will be a lot cheaper.

  • Tick-borne encephalitiscosts £70 per shot; you’ll need to have two separate doses one to three months apart to give one to three years of cover.

Are we getting it? We’ve decided not to get the tick-borne encephalitis vaccination because of the cost. Also, it’s only really a risk in parts of China and Japan and we’re not sure yet whether we’ll be visiting these countries. We can always get the vaccination a lot cheaper in Asia if we do decide to add those countries to our travel itinerary.


Another very serious disease that we’re at risk of contracting while we’re away is malaria. There are a variety of options for protecting against this disease, which I’ve tackled in a separate post on malaria prevention

  • The Guy
    Posted at 20:10h, 15 November Reply

    That is a very comprehensive and informative positive. Certainly one to bookmark for future reference. Thanks for writing such a great article.

    • Amy
      Posted at 22:25h, 15 November Reply

      Thanks, I hope it helps other travellers figure out what vaccinations they need – it took us a while to find all the info we needed. I’m just so thankful that we got a lot of the injections free on the NHS too.

  • Charlie
    Posted at 05:06h, 16 November Reply

    Great post, Amy! I’ll definitely be checking back on this when it comes to sorting out our vaccinations. Thanks! Out of interest, how far in advance before leaving did you have to get Hep A & B and Typhoid? Since I’ll be back in the UK before traveling, think I’ll try and get them on the NHS instead of paying the high prices here in Canada!

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:44h, 16 November Reply

      Thanks Charlie. I’d definitely recommend getting as many vaccinations as you can free on the NHS. Ideally, make an appointment with the nurse six months before you travel, as the hep B vaccination needs to be taken as a course of three shots over a six month period. We weren’t quite in time so we’re going to have to get our last shot of this while we’re away. Hep A and Typhoid can be given closer to your leaving date but you may as well schedule them in with your hep B.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 07:26h, 16 November Reply

    One thing to look into is whether you may need a polio and/or tetanus booster. In Canada, most of our routine vaccinations are covered by healthcare as well and we get major vaccinations early in life, but I still got a polio & tetanus boosters before we left on our trip as the vaccinations I had received were no longer active & I needed some boosters.

    Obviously the UK system is different than in Canada, but if you want some info on what Tony & I elected to get before leaving on our trip, I wrote about our vaccinations here:

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:55h, 16 November Reply

      Hi Steph, yes, the nurse checked that our polio, tetanus and diphtheria injections were up to date too (we had boosters for these before we went to Thailand in 2009.) Interesting points you make in your vaccination post about Japanese encephalitis; the cost of the vaccination is pretty steep in the UK and it’s something we also feel we’re at lower risk of contracting. To be on the safe side though, we’ll probably get it in Asia where it’s much cheaper. Since you’ve been on the road have you considered getting the rabies or Japanese encephalitis vaccinations?

  • DebbZie
    Posted at 12:29h, 16 November Reply

    Yes, malaria and also dengue fever is quite common here in Asia. I suffered dengue fever twice within 2 years which was terrible because I had it combo with thyphoid :((

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:38h, 16 November Reply

      How awful for you, that sounds terrible. I haven’t really researched dengue fever yet, but it seems like the best course of action is to try and avoid mosquito bites as much as possible? I bet that’s really difficult when you live in Asia or travel around for long periods of time though.

  • Vicky from acoupletravelers
    Posted at 16:03h, 16 November Reply

    That is so awesome you get so many vaccines for free!!! And even the paid ones — rabies and JE are SO SO SO cheap compared to the US. Both of these were hundreds of dollars per shot when we looked into them so in the end we opted to skip both but will hopefully get the shots in Thailand when we’ll be there in January for a much more reasonable price! For malaria we brought with us Malarone and doxy – have yet to start taking those pills though. Oh and definitely DEET mosquito repellent!

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:22h, 16 November Reply

      Hi Vicky, yes, we are very lucky having a national health service in general I think. The cost in the US sounds absolutely insane – definitely the best choice to get your vaccinations in Thailand! Malaria pills are pretty pricey over here though from what I’ve researched so far, so I’m hoping we can get these abroad too – need to look this up in more detail.

  • Patti
    Posted at 17:49h, 16 November Reply

    That is a LOT of shots! Ouch! I will save this though for future reference, thanks for sharing!

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:55h, 16 November Reply

      Yep – the last visit to the doctors we had three shots in one go; our arms ached for a good couple of days afterwards. I would recommend spreading vaccinations out if possible!

  • Shane
    Posted at 03:16h, 17 November Reply

    Nice one guys. That’s another task off my list thanks to you. I think I’m going to watch a couple of episodes of Survivors, or maybe Supernatural, and tell Deirdre I spent the night researching vaccinations. Then it’s just a matter of deciding whether to spunk away all the brownie points in one go or spend them more slowly. 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:58h, 17 November Reply

      Ha- how crafty Shane – I would watch Survivors if I were you though! I guess you guys must already have quite a few of the necessary vaccinations, especial since you live in Turkey? The summer we went to both Thailand and Turkey I’m sure we needed more shots for Turkey than Thailand.

      • Shane
        Posted at 14:54h, 17 November Reply

        I’m not sure if we needed any for Turkey – we were still protected from a previous trip and didn’t have to check. This time it is just a question of figuring out which ones need a boost.

        • Amy
          Posted at 14:58h, 17 November Reply

          Ah yes, shouldn’t be too painful then!

  • Jen
    Posted at 11:27h, 20 November Reply

    Getting the rabies vaccination is definitely sensible; a friend of ours was bitten by a dog with rabies in Thailand and had to go to hospital immediately, then have the follow up shots (he’s terrified of needles too, so not a great day for him). There are lots of strays in Thailand, so makes sense to get it done. Bet you feel like human pin cushions! 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:41h, 20 November Reply

      That is a terrifying story and exactly why I’m so adamant that we get our rabies vaccinations. I’d rather be a pin cushion than risk getting such a painful and lethal disease! Hope your friend was ok after he had the shots.

  • Sarah Robinson
    Posted at 19:18h, 19 August Reply

    I’ve just had to battle with my doctors surgery to give us the free vaccinations we’re entitled to. They offer no travel clinic at my doctors, so the receptionist was point blanc refusing to book me in with the nurse. After a lot of trawling the Internet, and ringing another local doctors who were very helpful, I spoke to my practice manager, he explained that they didn’t run a travel clinic ‘as it was too costly to staff, and know all the relevant information about every country’. I had already visited a private clinic, so knew exactly what we needed, and thanks to the NHS website knew what we were entitled to (and you can only have your free jabs at the doctors your registered) so he agreed to order in the vaccinations and scheduled us with an appointment for the nurse.
    We didn’t get Hep B free though, me and my hubby got: a combined Hep A & Typhoid, and a combined diptheria, polio and Tetnus. The children are covered with DTP from their pre school jabs, so had individual Hep A and Typhoid jabs. Getting these free ones saved me £500.
    We are having the rest of the jabs in the UK, although it is quite costly, as I’m just unsure about getting the children vaccinated out of the uk. It’s not cheap, but I’d rather we were all done before we left, if it was just the two of us I would definitely be looking at getting it done cheaper abroad.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 14:17h, 20 August Reply

      Wow, that’s awful Sarah. I’m glad you managed to get some free jabs eventually. I’ve heard that the scope of shots you can get varies depending on where you live in the UK; my younger brother had to pay for Heb B too. I don’t know where you’re from but if you’re in London First Contact seems to be the cheapest option. I’m planning to write a new post to cover info we’ve since found out about getting vaccinations abroad – we got the third dose of Hep B in Jakarta and it wasn’t as cheap as we were expecting it be; more on this to come!

  • Rita
    Posted at 15:07h, 26 October Reply

    you’ve mentioned Rabies shots priced at £20, but all travel clinics, including your chosen one charge £55 for each vaccine.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 15:20h, 26 October Reply

      Hi Rita, thanks for pointing that out. We paid £20 per shot (3 shots each) and this covers us for one year, we need to boost it every year to keep it going. From looking at the First Contact website it appears that they now only advertise the £55 shot (a course of three should cover you for 3-4 years). It’s worth giving them a call to see if they still offer the £20 shots – if I remember right the cheaper shot is just under the skin, rather than intramuscular.

  • Jessica
    Posted at 17:58h, 04 January Reply

    Hi again, quick question: did you end up getting the Japanese encephalitis shot in Indo? I think I’m gonna pass on that one, the risk is so small… right?

    • Andrew
      Posted at 01:26h, 05 January Reply

      Hi Jessica, we looked into getting that shot in Indonesia but it was expensive and I don’t think they had much stock of it at the clinic either. In the end we decided against it, as you say, the risk is very small. I think it’s cheaper to get it in Thailand though if you want to look into that.

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