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Can I travel abroad when I have an immunodeficiency?

Patient information A-Z

You have told your doctor that you are planning to travel abroad. The following leaflet aims to provide you with helpful information. Because you have a primary / secondary immunodeficiency you need to take more:

  • Care
  • medications
  • information
  • letters

You have told your doctor that you are planning to travel abroad. The following leaflet aims to provide you with helpful information. Because you have a primary / secondary immunodeficiency you need to take more:


A lot depends on the type of immunodeficiency that you have. Leaflets and information available at a local chemist are aimed at people with a fully functioning immune system and may be incorrect for you to follow.

Ask the immunology team about any protection that may be appropriate for you. For example: people with antibody deficiencies will not make a response to vaccinations but those with complement deficiencies will.


Depending on the hygiene in the countries you will be visiting, you may have to be more careful in following basic advice about avoiding food poisoning.

Avoid unpeeled fruit and vegetables, salads, shellfish, ice-cream, ice in drinks, under-cooked meats and pates. Choose meals cooked to order rather than any food that may have been kept warm or just reheated.

Avoid tap water, even for cleaning your teeth! Choose bottled water and check the seal is intact. If this is unavailable sterilise water by boiling, tablets or filtration. If the water is highly suspect do not use it for washing your hands.


Carry a small first aid kit with antiseptic cream and plasters. Prompt treatment of scratches and insect bites could prevent an infection.

Carry insect repellent and if you are going to a malarial area take the correct antimalarial medications for that region.

You may be prescribed antibiotics to carry with you in case of an infection. This would allow you to start treatment promptly, although you should still seek medical advice as soon as possible. Make sure you understand what infections the antibiotics are likely to cure.

For example, if you are normally prescribed medication for recurrent chest infections, it may be unsuitable for a bout of diarrhoea.

Do you have regular infusions of immunoglobulin?

If you are only going to be away for a few weeks, let the infusion unit and immunology specialist nurses know. This is so that your infusions can be timed just before you leave and if necessary immediately after your return.

If you normally have infusions of immunoglobulin at home under the home therapy programme, speak to your specialist nurse to discuss management of your infusions whilst you are away. Your hospital doctor may be able to contact a hospital or clinic in the area where you will be staying to make arrangements.


Most countries will allow you to take in drugs, needles and syringes if you have a letter from a medical practitioner explaining why you need to carry them. Getting the letter translated into the relevant languages for your itinerary is advisable.


Find out as much as you can about health care in the countries you are planning to visit. The Embassy should be able to help. Check out any reciprocal arrangements with the UK and if you are visiting another EU country you can apply for a healthcare cover abroad (GHIC and EHIC) on the NHS website (opens in a new tab).


Make sure you have adequate cover, especially if travelling to the USA. Advice on travel insurance is available from the UK Primary Immune-deficiency Patient support:

UKPIPS Registered Address:

UKPIPS c/o Marine House
151 Western Road
Haywards Heath
RH16 3LH


Office telephone: 07531 076409

UKPIPS website (opens in a new tab)

UKPIPS Facebook (opens in a new tab)

UKPIPS LinkedIn (opens in a new tab)


Some parts of the world require vaccinations, live vaccines are contraindicated in many people with immune deficiency, and yellow fever exception certificates can be organised via the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) (opens in a new tab).

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Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151