The infectious yellow fever is widespread in Africa and some countries require a yellow fever vaccination to enter their territory. Others require a vaccination if you have visited a high-risk country during the past few days. The same goes for a few countries in South America where there is also a risk of yellow fever.
In order to be able to prove you have the required yellow fever vaccination you will be given a yellow card which the doctor should stamp and sign and which you should bring on your trip. There are clear rules guidelines how the yellow card should look and be signed so it will look pretty much the same no matter in the world you got the vaccination and no matter where you go. And it does work.
However if you travel to Africa, be aware that the rules you may find on the internet may not always be correct. And in some cases the immigration staff at the airport may use their discretion to interpret the rules as they want and even make up their own rules
A few days ago I visited Mozambique and the rules regarding the yellow fever vaccination says:
”A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is only required for travellers 9 months of age and older coming from – or who are in airport transit for more than 12 hours within – a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission.”
I had not visited a single infected country for years and although I did transfer at Nairobi airport in Kenya, a country where the yellow fever does exist, I was only in transit during a morning, well under 12 hours, and never left the international transit hall.
However upon arrival at Maputo airport in Mozambique I was asked to show my yellow card at the entrance to the immigration area. When I was not able to present it my passport was immediately taken and I was escorted to the health service area.
The stupid thing is that I do have the yellow fever vaccination, but I had forgotten to pack the yellow card with the required stamp as a proof. I actually became aware of it already on my way from home to the airport but there was no time to turn back to fetch it and when I did quick search on the internet the same day I could not find any information indicating it would be a problem.
However the people at Maputo airport had a completely different opinion. I explained the situation, that I had the yellow fever vaccination, that I had not visited an infected area and that I would only make a brief visit to Mozambique. But they would not have any of that.
I should mention that I was very calm and cooperative and although they were rather strict they were definitely both friendly and respectful, clearly understanding my issue. I was told if someone at home could take a photo of the yellow card and sent it to me by MMS, that would be acceptable to them and they would let me go, but in my case that was not an option.
At the end I had two option. Paying 50 USD and getting a new vaccination on the spot, or being denied entry to Mozambique and in one way or another deported from the country. I reluctantly accepted my fate and paid those 50 USD upfront in cash. I got the shot a minute later, a new yellow card with the required stamp and was handed back my passport and allowed to proceed to the immigration counters.
So if you do travel to Africa and especially to a country neighbouring an infected country, or if you travel to a country which gets many visitors from infected countries, do bring your yellow book with the required yellow fever vaccination stamp (if you have it) and do consider a yellow fever vaccination if you do not have it. It will save you a lot of problems. Generally South Africa seems to be an exception though, which gets many European visitors arriving on nonstop flights from Europe, but of course there could be spot checks if you transfer somewhere in Africa.
Back in Maputo, shortly after my flight another flight landed, a TAAG flight from Luanda in Angola with many Portuguese passengers who had transferred from another international flight from Lisbon. Although most of them had the card, a handful of passengers received the same reception as me, including a visibly frustrated Portuguese middle-aged man who got the same two options, vaccination or deportation.
The vaccination should be given at least ten days before arrival, and you will definitely want to take it at home as the side effects can be rather rough, with fever, muscle pains, body aches and nausea, if you are unlucky. The first time I was got the vaccine the side effects came after six days, a day I had to stay at home in bed as I was completely out. However all the symptoms were gone after 24 hours, but those 24 hours were anything but pleasant.
I was unsure whether I would get any symptoms the second time, since I already had the vaccination. Eventually I did get some symptoms, this time on the 10th day, so much later the second time. No fever this time though and generally a much milder reaction, but I still got an awful nausea which came started around 8 am and stayed for most of the day. Although I did not stay at home this time it was not the most productive of days and I am glad I was not travelling that day. So if you need to take the vaccination, do plan accordingly. If you get the symptoms they will usually come within 5-10 days if you get them you will want to be at home.
If I had just packed my yellow card it would have saved me 50 USD and a day of nausea. Fortunately I had already returned home when the symptoms appeared. Getting them on the road would not have been fun.