Do I Need a Yellow Fever Certificate to Travel to Africa?

If you’re travelling to Africa, you may be required to get vaccinated against Yellow Fever, which is a disease that is spread by infected mosquitoes. Like malaria, Yellow Fever is present in some areas of Africa but not all. And in those areas, some mosquitoes will carry the disease and some won’t.

You can see all the countries with a risk here.

For the countries that do pose a risk of Yellow Fever transmission, the risk can vary from a pretty high risk – just named as ‘risk’ (for some it’s the whole country and others just parts of the country) to a low risk, and each country has their own rules as to whether you need to have had the Yellow Fever vaccination.

For some of the risk countries it’s just advised to have the vaccination and other times it’s an entry requirement.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not qualified to offer medical advice, I just want to point you in the right direction so that you can find out whether you need a Yellow Fever certificate, based on the entry requirements of specific African countries.

Yellow Fever Requirements in Africa

So, do you need a Yellow Fever certificate to travel in Africa? Well, it really depends where you go in Africa.

It’s a little bit complicated, but here’s the general low down!

If you are travelling directly from a country that poses no risk of Yellow Fever transmission (ie. UK or USA) to an African country with a low or no risk of Yellow Fever then usually you won’t need the vaccination or be asked for your certificate on arrival.

So if you are flying direct from the Europe (no risk) to South Africa (no risk) or Tanzania (low risk) – you won’t need a Yellow Fever certificate.

If you are travelling from a country with a low risk of contracting Yellow Fever (i.e. Tanzania or Zambia) to another African country with a low or no risk of Yellow Fever, then you won’t usually be asked your Yellow Fever certificate on entry.

For instance when you leave Zambia (low risk) to go into Botswana (no risk), you aren’t usually asked for your certificate. But it’s always best to check first – just in case.

For some countries that have a higher risk of Yellow Fever, for example Kenya or Ethiopia, you don’t need to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to enter, but, it is recommended to have the vaccination.

But even though you don’t have to have a Yellow Fever certificate to enter those countries, you will need a certificate if you’re going to other African countries afterwards – this applies if you have spent more than 12 hours in an endemic area (including airport layovers).

I am almost always asked for my Yellow Fever certificate when I cross over from Kenya (risk) to Tanzania (low risk) but not usually the other way around. The only time I’m not, is when I’ve just had a short layover through Nairobi airport.

However, I have never been asked for my Yellow Fever certificate when returning from risk areas (i.e. Kenya, Benin, Togo or Sierra Leone) to the UK.

But for other countries with a high risk of Yellow Fever, it is mandatory to have a Yellow Fever certificate, regardless of where you travel from. For instance, if you travel to Ghana or the DRC, straight from Europe, you will need a certificate anyway. It is an entry requirement.

The only people who are exempt are children under 9 months. Some people who are not able to get a Yellow Fever certificate for medical reasons (it’s not always advised for people over 60 or those with certain medical conditions to have the vaccination) may be able to get an exemption letter from a doctor.

To make it even more complicated, sometimes the rules seems to bend…

I once met three Zambians at the airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We all arrived on the same plane from Abu Dhabi, where they lived. Just to note, that the none of the United Arab Emirates are a Yellow Fever risk zone.

There was a health official at the airport, going down the queue asking for our Yellow Fever certificates. By the health regulations, technically we didn’t need Yellow Fever certificates as we were coming from a no risk country.

When the guy came to me I told him I had it and he moved along. I didn’t even have to show it. Another girl I met (from Spain), went to reach into her bag and again he moved along without checking. She didn’t even have the vaccination or the certificate.

The three Zambians on the other hand didn’t have the vaccination, but technically as they were coming from Abu Dhabi and lived there, they shouldn’t need it. But all three were made to go and get a shot for $50 each.

Was it because they were originally from Zambia? I don’t know. Were they too honest? I don’t know. Would the official have checked if they had just pretended to have it like the Spanish girl? I don’t know.

I always carry my Yellow Fever certificate with me, just in case.

How to check if you need a Yellow Fever certificate for Africa?

My favourite resources for checking whether I need a Yellow Fever certificate are listed below:

NHS Fit for Travel

This is an amazing resource, that allows you to check each country individually. Under the vaccinations section, you can check whether a Yellow Fever vaccination is unnecessary, recommended or required for entry.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Here you can see an up to date map of all the countries that have a Yellow Fever risk. The ones classed with a ‘risk of yellow fever virus’ are the main ones you need to look at. The ones that are ‘low potential for exposure’ are less

Please be aware that the regulations do change from time to time, so even if you’ve been to a country before, it’s always good to recheck!

Should I get the Yellow Fever vaccination?

If it’s required by the country that you are visiting then you probably have to, unless you don’t want them to let you in.

If you don’t have a certificate, but arrive in a country that requires it, you may be made to get a shot on arrival at a cost of $50. But, t won’t be effective for 10 days.

I’ve known people to bribe their way in, but that only reinforces the bribing culture and I strongly disagree with that.

If you don’t need it for entry but there is a risk of contracting the disease, then that is a personal choice that should be discussed with your doctor. The risk is usually greater in some areas than others and if you are spending an extended period of time in an endemic country.

Please note that there are some people who are advised not to get a Yellow Fever vaccine for various medical reasons. For more information on the Yellow Fever vaccine please click here.

Currently there is no cure for Yellow Fever and it can be fatal.

What is the cost of a Yellow Fever vaccine?

The cost of a Yellow Fever vaccine varies.

The cheapest Yellow Fever vaccines in the UK that I’ve found are at Traveldoc (£64) and Superdrug (£69). It costs £70 from Nomad or Boots. You can find a full list of UK Yellow Fever vaccination centres here.

In the US, Yellow Fever vaccinations can be quite expensive and it isn’t usually covered by regular health insurance policies.

Prices usually start at around $210, but I have known people to pay around $500 including a consulation with the clinic and the vaccine itself, so make sure you look around for the best prices. You can search for US-based vaccination centrers here.

It is possible to get Yellow Fever vaccines at airports and hospitals in Africa at around a cost of $50 and some people are choosing to do this as it’s much cheaper than the US. But, just be aware this is best done in a country with a low or no risk, as the vaccine will not be effective for 10 days.

But be careful if the country you are travelling to requires a Yellow Fever certificate on entry as you may not be allowed in without it. Not all borders have this facility, especially at overland borders. And even if they do, you may not want to get one there.

Things to Consider

  • The Yellow Fever vaccine becomes effective 10 days after immunisation, so if you are having it before you go, allow at least this amount of time.
  • The Yellow Fever vaccine cannot be given within 28 days of receiving MMR or Varicella vaccines.
  • The Yellow Fever vaccination is now valid for life according to the World Health Organisation.
  • When I first got my certificate it only had a life of 10 years, however once the WHO changed their stance, I was able to get a replacement certificate with lifetime cover for a cost of £20 from the clinic where I had my vaccination.
  • There is a shortage of Yellow Fever vaccines, especially in the US, so make sure you plan ahead.
  • If you plan to get your vaccine whilst in Africa, just check that you will be allowed in the country where you plan to get the vaccine without a certificate.
  • And bear in mind that you won’t be immune for 10 days and you may have a bad reaction to the vaccine.
  • Know the regulations so you are not made to get a shot unnecessarily (and politely stand your ground) but be aware that they can change so check just before you go.
  • If you are backpacking through a number of countries in Africa then it’s likely that you will need a certificate (depending on where you go) so it is usually advised to get vaccinated, but again, please discuss with your doctor.

I hope this helps point you in the right direction to find the information you need on whether you need the Yellow Fever vaccination!

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  1. Yes, the yellow fever vaccine situation is confusing. In November of 2017, I traveled from Johannesburg to Livingstone via Nairobi on Kenya Airways. (I know that sounds like crazy routing, but it’s so that I could continue to Cape Town later on the continuation of the Nairobi to Livingstone flight. It cut the fare for the trip in half.) Kenya Airways required that everyone present yellow fever certificates when checking in at Johannesburg, regardless of whether passengers were going to Kenya (risk) or connecting to places with little or no risk (such as Livingstone). I suspect (but have to specific evidence for this) that Kenya Airways is acting out of prudence: even if someone is connecting through to a no-risk area, that person may miss a connection and be stuck in Kenya for more than the excepted 12 hours. Also, I was asked for my yellow fever certificate in Cape Town, apparently because my flight originated in Nairobi (even though I was arriving from Livingstone). So, if Kenya Airways is any indication, it is possible to need a yellow fever certificate even if passing through a yellow fever risk country.

    1. Wow! Yeah that’s crazy! I always tell people to get it (with the disclaimer that I am not a doctor and seek medical advice) – it’s just easier!

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Thanks for the information. I am visiting Tanzania in June for about a month and I was worried about needing the vaccine. I have a layover in Ethiopia on the way, so I will probably get the vaccine while I’m home in the states before we go. I kind of want to visit Nairobi for the weekend too, possibly, so I might as well.

  3. Good day helen! Hope all is well, im travellimg from NYC (JFK) to Narobi for 3.5 hours layover and fonal stop is capetown…. im worried maybe in South africa they wont let me in because i have a layover in Narobi even for 3.5 hours only???????? i call the SA embassy here in NYC they said yes I need a yelow fever even im just 3.5 hour layover in Narobi…. but i see some online its ok you dont have as long you dont stay more than 12hours in the airport…. im so confuse, do they have a yellow vaccine shot in cape town airport for $50?…… any advise? Hope to here from you.. thanks

    1. Hi Pol,

      You shouldn’t need a YF certificate for that short a layover. To be honest, I don’t think they’ll have an issue when you get there, but I can’t say for sure. If they do, I’m sure they will have the vaccine there.

  4. It’s a good idea to confirm with your airline. I flew from Johannesburg to Livingstone and changed planes in Nairobi last year. I had to have a yellow fever certificate to board the plane in Jo’burg. Kenya Airways was quite clear about that. (Fortunately I had my certificate with me.) You don’t want to get to the airport and find out that you will not be allowed to board the plane.
    On the other hand, when I flew from Livingstone to Cape Town on a Kenya Airways flight that originated in Nairobi, South African immigration did not care at all about a yellow fever certificate. SA seems to be more laid back.

  5. Can I ask? You may have answered it already , but I need a direct answer at least from your experience and advice. Here are two scenarios

    1. I am travelling to Uganda. I would like to take my son with me. I am vaccinated and he is not. He is ten years old. The trip involves one stop off in Egypt for 16h before going to Uganda and returning, I have a 22h layover in Egypt again.

    Would he require a vaccine card since Egypt is low risk? And would Egypt require vaccination cards on the way back given that we have come from Uganda?

    2. If I change my ticket and get a direct flight from a European country to uganda, would my son be required to present a vaccination card? And would that card be required on the way back? The thing is, official government sites are vague about this. I understand African culture that although a certificate may not be required, if they ask and you refuse, it may not turn out good for you in that, you will be either denied entry or pushes to take the vaccine.

    What do you think ?

    Please help


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