How To Save Hundreds of Dollars on Travel Shots

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Budget travelers can save big by getting their travel immunizations overseas.

With my leave date fast approaching and my savings growing so slowly, I’ve been looking hard at my budget and trying to find any savings I can. I had $300 budgeted for vaccinations, but a little research suggested that it might be even more expensive that that. Recent posts on the Lonely Planet Forums lamented a $160 bill for a single typhoid vaccination and $120 for a yellow fever stab. Another poster reported a $500 quote for “meningitis, typhoid booster, yellow fever, hep A booster, polio booster, and malaria pills” from a clinic, while others ran as high as $800+.

If people travel to Thailand and other countries to get hips, knees, and naughty bits replaced, surely I can find safe, inexpensive shots there.

My cheap-ass insurance covers very little in the way of travel immunizations, unless I’m traveling for work, so I was getting worried. Then I had a classic “Face, meet Palm” moment: if people travel to Thailand and other countries to get hips, knees, and naughty bits replaced, surely I can find safe, inexpensive shots there.

A little internet sleuthing led me to the Thai Red Cross Society where you can get inexpensive shots for tetanus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, encephalitis, cholera, polio, and typhoid. That $160 typhoid shot? Less than $10 from the Red Cross. The hep A is the most expensive, at nearly $23 — outrageous! The difference in cost of just two shots will pay for nearly a week’s travel. Numerous hospitals and clinics offer similar services.

That $160 typhoid shot? Less than $10 from the Red Cross.

Now, obviously, there are limitations and downsides to this idea and this will not work for many travelers. Many shots take a fair amount of time to become effective or even require boosters a month or two after the first shot. If I were only spending a few weeks in Thailand, this wouldn’t really do me much good at all. For the long-term traveler, however, it works quite well. I’ll be in Thailand for at least 2 months and will most likely pass back through Bangkok for an onward flight. I’ll have plenty opportunities for follow-up shots.

You will all have to wait an extra month for my post on “How to Wrestle a Rabid Bear”.
Sorry — doctor’s orders.

I will be somewhat vulnerable at first — the typhoid shot, for example, needs about 10 days to be effective. But as a typical male who eats day-old pizza rescued from the couch cushions, I’m not that worried — I’ll just need to watch my intake of raw sewage and avoid those who don’t. Rabies injections don’t seem to be much help until after the second injection, so you will all have to wait an extra month for my post on “How to Wrestle a Rabid Bear”. This is actually a good thing, as it gives me more time to get in shape and practice my moves. (Bears are suckers for a left hook — scientific fact)

I’ll post a followup once I’m there and let you know how things work out. If you’re heading out of country for some time, give it some thought, do a little research, and potentially save yourself a lot of cash.

UPDATE: I looked into getting my yellow fever vaccination here in Austin — with my insurance “discount”, it still would cost $135. Turns out that I don’t need it to enter Thailand (coming from the US), so I’ll get it from the Immigration Office in Bangkok for 550 Baht ($17 US).

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis Grant January 17, 2010 at 1:54 am

Hey — Great tips here.

Another thing I learned is that very few shots are required — most are recommended. Of course, if a shot is recommended, you should probably get it. But THINK before you get them. Hep B, for example, is sexually transmitted. I don’t sleep around during my travels, so I skipped that one. Only get the shots that make sense for you!

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Dustin Main July 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Just an FYI. Hep B is transmitted from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids containing blood. Meaning if you happened to come in contact with someone who was injured, or if you required hospitalization, you could be at risk.
.-= Dustin Main´s last blog ..Photo of the Day – Side Streets of Hoi An =-.

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Tremendo Viaje January 17, 2010 at 1:55 am

Thanks I live in Spain with one of the best public health care system.

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Chris - The Aussie Nomad January 17, 2010 at 2:24 am

That’s a really good idea. Dose up on your shots before heading out into more remote areas etc and your going to save a fortune. As you said its only going to work for travelers looking to stay more than a couple of weeks but all those others its a nice saving.

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wes January 17, 2010 at 2:41 am

Very happy for you, Tremendo. Unfortunately, I don’t live in Spain. :(

Thx, Chris. Which of us is buying the first round? I forget….

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Chris - The Aussie Nomad January 17, 2010 at 7:06 am

Well mate since your saving all this money on your vaccinations I’d say it would have to be you :)
.-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..Travel Dilema =-.

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wes January 17, 2010 at 11:15 am

wow, I walked right into that one… :/

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Chris - The Aussie Nomad January 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

Yeah mate you left yourself wide open for that, it would have been wrong of me to not say it.
.-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..Travel Dilema =-.

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brian | No Debt World Travel January 19, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Thanks for the post! Wish I knew this before I spent hundreds of dollars in the States.

It makes perfect sense that if people go abroad for medical tourism to save on major surgery and dental work, simple vaccination shots should be cheaper too. Wonder if this applies for India, Costa Rica and other spots famed for inexpensive medical work.

Will retweet.
.-= brian | No Debt World Travel´s last blog ..Best Travel News and Deals – January 19, 2010 – Haiti, Beat the Single Supplement, See Namibia, Frequent Flyer Miles, More Charges for Checked Bags =-.

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wes January 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm

thanks, Brian, for the comments and the retweet. I imagine this would work in other countries as well — haven’t got around to researching it yet, though…

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Leon January 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I’m actually thinking of making some money on this idea. Now I just need to travel to thailand, find an open transom, climb through, get all the typhoid remedy juice I can find, travel back to the states and make a mint. The capitalist system does work. Thanks for the idea wes!

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wes January 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

See why I don’t take you anywhere, Leon?

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Bethany January 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Hi Wes, I’ve always wondered about this since the system here is so screwed up. I was repulsed at how much it was going to cost for shots.

We were seriously thinking of changing our RTW so that Thailand would be first and i think that thanks to this article we will definitely do that.

I hate how ridiculous things are here for medical costs so I honestly would love to spend the smaller amount of money elsewhere. I’m going to sign up for your RSS feed too – you are so funny!

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wes January 31, 2010 at 12:47 pm

thanks for the kudos, Bethany! Yeah, complete agree with you about the sad state of the health system here. Looks like I’ll save over $500 by having my shots done out of country. I’d understand if this was a cutting edge medical procedure, but that much money for hepatitis jabs? crazy…

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Ayngelina February 11, 2010 at 1:41 am

Hmm, Brian brings up a really good point with Costa Rica. I have all my shots except for the dreaded Yellow Fever which is $150 in Canada plus probably a $80 consultation fee. As I’m traveling through Central America first I’m going to see if I can get it either in Mexico, or to Brian’s point, Costa Rica.

Do you know if the Red Cross will give it in other countries. I just wonder where I go in another country to ask about getting it.
.-= Ayngelina´s last blog ..The 8 Weeks and Counting List =-.

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wes February 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

For Yellow Fever, I found that the Immigration Office in Bangkok offers it. Perhaps the Mexican version does the same? I’d search around the Lonely Planet forum — there are a lot of good leads there for such info.

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Ryan February 17, 2010 at 3:08 am

Just got all of our vaccinations for our upcoming RTW trip. I’m not sure exactly what the costs were but the cost of these shots are definitely OUTRAGEOUS though… Luckily for us, our insurance (Harvard Pilgrim) covered us 100%.
.-= Ryan´s last blog ..Flashbacks: Summer Fun – Boston, MA =-.

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wes February 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Wow, that’s very cool that insurance covered them! More moeny for traveling :)

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Addie July 29, 2010 at 1:03 am

Watch out…sometimes the doctor won’t even recommend shots that you should get. For example, my husband and I got yellow fever shots before we left for West Africa, as recommended. He took malaria pills as well. Well…about a week after leaving Ghana, he got a high fever and chills, and it turned out he had Typhoid Fever! Since he works in the food industry, he couldn’t go back to work even when he felt better until his blood showed no signs of it. It would have been cheaper to get the shot, had we known. The bill (with insurance) for his treatment was over $800…and that number doesn’t include wages lost from missing work.

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wes July 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

Very good point! It’s definitely worth your time to research before going. Sorry to hear about the typhoid fever — that doesn’t sound fun at all.

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Andrew Morris August 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Great blog! Quick question that’s kinda related to this, but what malaria pills do you have if any? Are they easy to get a hold of in Thailand?

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wes August 19, 2010 at 7:27 am

I’m not taking any. I took Larium years ago in India and it made me sicker than a dog. I just try to keep the repellent handy. As for finding anti-malarials in Thailand, I don’t think you’ll have any problems.

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finsto March 26, 2011 at 1:32 am

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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wes March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am

Very cool! Thanks :)

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Rolland Khounthavong June 2, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hey! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the superb work!

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Diana August 16, 2011 at 3:50 am

Hi Wes,
I’m finally setting out for my year long travel this September, and I’m really interested in cutting down on my immunization costs. I tried your link to the Thai Red Cross, but it brings me to a blank page. When I enter the site from my own google search, I cannot locate any info re: immunization prices. I’m initially heading to China & Mongolia, and wondering if it makes sense to swing through Thailand first. Do you still have access to the information online?
Thanks!

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wes August 19, 2011 at 4:36 am

Here’s an update on where I got my shots in Bangkok. I don’t have a website to point you too, unfortunately. It seems like the Red Cross in China would offer them as well.

http://johnnyvagabond.com/budget/save-hundreds-travel-shots/

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with2kidsintow February 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm

hi
we did a similar thing as you, but we chose the Thai Travel Clinic at the Mahidol University close to Victory Monument in Bangkok. Here’s their link http://www.thaitravelclinic.com/ as well as the link to the one you went to i think http://www.saovabha.com/en/clinictravel.asp?nTopic=5

we were also slow traveling through SEA so we just used Bangkok as our base and in between our weekly rabies shots, we just traveled to other places like Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai. Worked well for us, especially being a family of 4–HUGE cost savings.

of course, we too wrote a post about our experience with the clinic, which was oh-so-professional. http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/how-to-cut-cost-of-travel-vaccinations.html

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wes February 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the info! Very helpful :)

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Becky October 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm

As someone who just paid $60 for a typhoid vaccination (+$43 “clinic fee”), this is a good alternative to think about. While I am not a long-term traveler and sticking around for months at a time isn’t a reality for me, I like the out-of-the-box thinking!
Becky recently posted..Next Stop: El Salvador or Nicaragua?My Profile

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Trevor October 15, 2013 at 5:39 am

dt u wish u were in the UK with free to cheap jabs….. but i dt even bother now…. i got bit by a dog in India…. had 5 rabies jabs… cost me….. wait for it 40US$…
malaria tablets?? pfff just use a mozzie net and cover up at dusk/dawn… people die from Malaria cos they cant afford a 10$ test and some pills at the local health clinic…. we westerners can…
dont drink the water,
try not to sleep around….

but what do i know….. :P…. ya gonna die some day any way…… better to have on ya head stone that u died of some exotic disease than of old age, alone in a bed sit!!!!!

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Ben @ Road Affair July 14, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Great post. I was just looking through google on how much those travel shots are in the US and I landed on your blog. Good idea about getting them abroad instead seems to be so much cheaper.

FYI for people living in NYC you can get the Hep A & B for free if you say that you are in the “at risk” group. (ex. being gay would put you in this group :D)
Ben @ Road Affair recently posted..The Hitchhikers’ Plan !?!My Profile

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