Travel Vaccinations for developing countries

  Real-world advice for Backpackers / Independent Travellers - 2016

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 Yellow Fever Vaccination

Because yellow fever is endemic in many tropical areas of South America & the central band of Africa (but not Asia), most countries in those regions require proof of yellow fever vaccination from all arriving travellers - yellow fever is unique is this regard. Without proof of vaccination, i.e. a certificate, you run the risk of being refused entry into a country.

Yellow Fever is a viral infection transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Yellow Fever gets it's name from the yellowing of the skin and/or eyes which occurs in the later stages of the disease.

Yellow Fever (YF) is said to be endemic in many developing countries, this simply means that YF is present to a greater or lesser degree in the country's population, i.e. the disease is ongoing in that locality... having said that, many yellow fever infections are mild, causing fever, headache, muscle pain and vomiting, but the infection can become more serious, causing bleeding and other life-threatening heart, liver and kidney problems. Symptoms begin 3 to 6 days after infection.

Yellow fever is unique in that getting vaccinated and being able to prove it is mandatory for the majority of African and South American countries, I'm not entirely sure why YF is different from say, Tuberculosis or Typhoid in this regard (which are recommended but not mandatory vaccinations) - but you should certainly get vaccinated for YF if you are headed anywhere near an infected country - your doctor's surgery or travel clinic will tell you if you need to have the jab and will issue the certificate. Keep the Yellow fever vaccination certificate with your travel documents, it's as important as your passport in affected countries.


Back in the day, a yellow fever certificate really was just that;  an A5 size, single sheet yellow/green certificate, nowadays it's a general purpose (albeit yellow) booklet written in English and French that could conceivably be used to certify any vaccination.

The YF vaccine probably won't be available for free in your country (it's certainly not available on the NHS in the UK) and it's one of the more pricey injections available from your Travel Clinic at ~50/USD~$75. On the plus side, the vaccine is effective for at least 10 years.

Any guidebook you care to mention will tell you how important your YF Certificate is, I won't argue with that;  however in my experience it's rare to be asked to show the Certificate, even on a big multi-country trip. Don't be complacent though - I was embarrassingly caught out in 2011 when entering Mali overland; the border guards (who had their football game interrupted by the arrival of our bus) requested YF Certificates for all passengers, everyone had them to hand except yours truly, who spent 10 frantic minutes scrambling up to the roof of the bus, pulling my kit apart in search of the certificate.

In addition to getting the YF vaccine, you can help protect yourself against yellow fever by preventing mosquito bites (see the Avoiding Mosquitoes page).


This page was last updated on 03-Feb-2016