Vaccine Tourism In Reverse: Travelers Are Coming To The U.S. To Get Vaccinated

I wrote back in November that I expected vaccine tourism to become a trend in early 2021. That was just before the impressive results of Phase 3 trials from Pfizer and Moderna, which meant many U.S. citizens would want to wait for those jabs rather than going abroad for Sinopharm or Sputnik. And U.S. vaccine rollouts accelerated rapidly after a rocky start, which meant Americans weren’t waiting as long for vaccination as most of the world.

So when we started to see travel agencies advertising vaccine tourism packages, it wasn’t aimed at Americans going abroad.

In fact it’s the opposite. While the Maldives is talking up vaccination on arrival for tourists, and Serbia welcomed foreign tourists with shots, Alaska also sees vaccine availability as a tool to promote tourism.

And now travel agencies in Thailand are promoting tour packages to the U.S. to get vaccinated. That’s a function of,

  • Widespread availability of vaccines in the U.S.
  • The greater effectiveness of the vaccines available here, compared to what many countries use (such as Sinovac’s Coronavac)
  • The slow rollout we’re seeing in much of the world, not just in poorer countries but also in countries that fared well during the pandemic limiting the spread of Covid but which tend to be behind in vaccines.

Bangkok tour operator, Unithai Trip, has packages from 75,000 baht to 200,000 baht ($2,400 to $6,400) for trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, with prices dependent on the time gap between doses.

“Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) is one jab, but 90% of inquires want Pfizer (PFE.N),” which needs about 20 days between the first and second doses, the agency’s owner, Rachphol Yamsaeng, told Reuters.

…A spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok declined to immediately comment, but the U.S. State Department’s website lists medical tourism as a valid reason to visit.

Vaccine tourism – taking a VACCation – is also being promoted for travel to Russia with “[a]nother agency, Udachi, advertised a 23-day “VACCation in Russia” to receive the Sputnik V vaccine for up to 210,000 baht ($6,700).”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Weird. Sounds like the US is doing something right here anyway, and I imagine it will spread a little goodwill abroad (and cash here). But our visitors will be stuck with the little cardboard slips to show that they got their shots.

  2. @drrichard CVS sent me a detailed vaccination record after my second pfizer dose so I think they are getting ready for some more elaborate verification system.

  3. Yep. I have a lot of friends that have come up from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina to get shots here. They don’t even require ID’s in California and will just take foreign passports. They aren’t turning anyone away.

  4. Saw a post this week from an old classmate from HS on IG who lives in Germany who came home for the first time since before the virus in part to see family but also to get vaccinated now. Little diff as she is an expat but I am sure the airlines appreciated her trip.

  5. Kind of a win/win situation where the USA gets additional tourism money and the visitors get vaccinated without taking any jabs away from natives. Nice thinking.

  6. I’d imagine some vaccination centers have no choice other than throw out any thawed unused Pfizer vaccines.
    Better to give them to foreign tourists helping the US economy than throw them away.

  7. Not really a surprise, the main issue for many who are still working in their home countries is having to quarantine when they get back home.

  8. I’m in cabo now. R/t Tijuana 1000mxn or $50 plus $35 to cross at CBX then to your appointment at Walmart where the shot is free. Buy an iPad or iPhone and return home same day.

  9. It is clear we have more than enough vaccine for our own needs in the U.S. We need an all out mobilization to get vaccines manufactured, distributed and injected everywhere. Defeating COVID depends on it. It should not just be the elites who can afford to make intercontinental trips to get their vaccines who are protected.

  10. A friend’s company is doing business with Germans. First thing they did after arriving for their business trip was drive to the drive-through vaccination clinic to get their shots. J&J for most of them and Moderna for the guy coming back in a month.

    Vaccination is free with no questions asked in Colorado.

  11. I am from a medium-sized Mexican city. All my adult family and friends have been vaccinated in Texas.
    I am a travel advisor and have booked over 50+ people who have visited the US to get their shot. We’re not a big enough market to have more than a daily departure to the US which means you fly one day, overnight, fly back the next. Repeat in 3/4 weeks if two-shot and maybe stay longer to shop.
    I haven’t seen the TRC-DFW flight leave with more than one seat open in the last month or two.

  12. I urge all Canadians to do it but they refuse to allow vaccinated travelers to bypass quarantine. They’d rather lock thier citizens up to die waiting then allow the view of Canadians being vaccinated in USA.

  13. Also this is not reverse vaccine tourism. It’s just the USA offering vaccine tourism.

    Just like “reverse racism” isn’t a thing. It’s just racism.

  14. @isaac. I know – I’ve suggested it to Canadian friends. Come down, get Pfizer shot #1, vacation 3 weeks, get shot #2 and then return to 2 weeks of quarantine after which you’re 100%

    I’m waiting for the border to open to people who are vaccinated. Keeping it closed to vaccinated people is a waste of tourist dollars!

  15. The US has been big on attracting medical tourism for decades. Among other places in the US, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Texas, Maryland, California, Arizona and Florida have been getting medical tourists going back to at least the Nixon Presidency.

    Now it’s vaccines at no direct charge to the vaccinated. But the trips to the US to get vaccinated are costing the vaccine-seeking tourists money too.

  16. If you’re willing to travel to America twice to get a vaccine, you’re probably an elite who can figure out a way to get vaxed in your home country. This seems like a small, short-lived phenomenon.

  17. @chopsticks, I think for most foreigners seeking to get a vaccine shot they’d rather be a tourist in the USA for at least 3 weeks (enough time to get the Pfizer shot) rather than come here twice in 3 weeks.

  18. A lot of countries have not made it easy and so quick to get vaccinated with the more globally respected vaccines, and so people with the means and opportunity to seek out a timely vaccine are doing so even outside of their own countries.

    Having the means to try to bribe their way to try to get vaccinated earlier “at home” isn’t for everyone; nor is it without its own costs and risks. And so people do legitimately travel abroad and get vaccinated abroad when and where they can do so without taking a huge legal risk or additional risk to their reputation by doing what chopstick wants.

  19. @joey I guess it depends how far they’re coming from. literally only 1/50 of my clients who I know traveled to get vaccinated stay for three weeks. 10 got the one-shot and the rest did 2 separate trips.

  20. I have been a long-time fan of yours, but your blog has become more political every day and you are constantly pushing the jab. My young and fit girlfriend just passed away days after taking the jab. I’m devastated for her and her family. If you are going to push the jab so much, perhaps you can also cover the other side of the story and those who have been injured or died. According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), 3,000+ deaths have occurred after taking the jab. All I’m asking you is also to report the RISKS of taking the jab. If you are going to continue to push the jab, perhaps you can help inform your readers of the risks involved so they can decide if a plane ticket is worth their life for the upcoming “vaccine passport”. It’s not all fun and games for some people.

  21. @Vivian, I am very sorry for the loss of your girlfriend. But please, if you’re going to talk about VAERS, at least provide the full context. Any event is reported, regardless of any potential causation. On average, over 7,800 people die every day in the US. With over 40% of the US population having received at least one shot, we should definitely expect people to have died within a week or two of having gotten the shot.

    The risk of dying from an adverse side effect from the shot is significantly lower than dying from covid. On average, about 700 people are dying from COVID every day in the US recently. That’s with only ~44% of the US population having gotten at least 1 dose of vaccine. The vaccine is 98% effective against death from covid. That means if we were all vaccinated, deaths would be reduced to <75 per day from covid, saving more than 600 lives every single day. That is significantly more lives saved EVERY DAY than the total number of deaths than can even possibly be attributed to vaccines for the entire vaccination effort.

    Humans have a hard time processing passive vs. active risks. It's very easy for our brains to associate correlation between an event like getting a vaccine and an event like death. It is MUCH harder for us to associate the correlation between "went about my daily life" and died from covid. But the risks are both measurable, and the scales tilt heavily toward getting vaccinated.

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