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With Covid-19 vaccination campaigns rolling out much slower than expected on a global scale, citizens of countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, Canada, and many EU members, are now scrambling to get their Coronavirus vaccine shot abroad. On the other hand, the US is one of the countries with the most successful Coronavirus vaccination campaigns with 22% of its population being fully vaccinated (as of April 13, 2021). It ranks fourth worldwide following Greece, Cayman Islands, and Bahrain according to Oxford’s international vaccine tracker.
That’s what created a brand new phenomenon – Vaccine Tourism in the US. Right now there is a possibility for foreign people to get a Covid-19 vaccine in the USA. Immigrants and out-of-state US residents have succeeded in this venture too. However, it may not be as easy as you imagine.
Currently, there are no official policies set by the US government tackling this specific matter. There are only generic guidelines so it’s basically a gray area. Yet, what many now refer to as Vaccine Tourism has been on the rise and it’s definitely worth discussing.
This article will help you gain a bird’s eye view of how vaccine tourism actually is in the United States. Then you can go ahead and see the vaccine eligibility criteria state by state for all US states and decide how to proceed with any actions.
Can I Get Vaccinated in The US As a Foreigner?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question provided by officials. For that reason, we will try to make the best out of the information we have available.
Before we dive deeper we are obliged to say that information and opinions expressed in this article shouldn’t be considered as legal advice. You are solely responsible for any decisions you make with the information and opinions we present. With that clarified let’s get into it.
As a response to the outcry of US immigrants reporting they are being denied Covid-19 vaccination and their fear they might be deported if they decide to get vaccinated, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the following:
“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the U.S. have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines”
This means immigrant shouldn’t fear their efforts to get vaccinated could result in legal consequences. Having US identity documents and proof of residence isn’t mandatory and in most cases, only proof of age should be provided.
Following this train of thought foreigners shouldn’t have any trouble getting a vaccine because they wouldn’t be required to provide proof of residency or citizenship and they could pass as “immigrants” although they are not residing in the US.
Of course, the moral and ethical aspects of that matter are questionable. Many private jet companies reported they’ve seen a surge in bookings from foreigners who want to fly to the U.S. with the sole purpose of vaccinating. Having in mind the discrepancy between supply and demand in most foreign countries this is not surprising.
A large number of wealthy foreigners (and US out-of-state residents) effectively skip the line and make private arrangements using money and influence. And in general, most foreigners who have successfully got their shot in the USA, even the ones who don’t have deep pockets, say they had to pull some strings to arrange matters.
Yet, there are also individuals who are able to just go on a mass vaccination site and get a shot without any questions asked… which brings us to the next point.
Where Can I Get Vaccinated In the US?
While it’s still unlikely to get a Coronavirus vaccine in a doctors’ office in the US, you can expect to find doses at clinics, local pharmacies, health centers, health departments, and even at some large grocery stores and retailers. A large number of local US public health departments have online portals where one can pre-register to get a vaccine.
However, if you are a foreigner, the place where you will probably have the highest chance of obtaining the sought-after Coronavirus vaccine is at a Covid-19 mass vaccination site. Such mass stadium locations have been established all around the country and the events work pretty much on a first-come, first-served basis
However, the situation isn’t as simple as it sounds. Despite the U.S. officials provides guidelines on how the vaccine rollout should be happening, each state has the autonomy to set its own rules. Also, the government is supplying each state directly with doses but it’s up to each state to come up with a distribution plan. So you effectively end up with 50+ considerably different allocation plans and eligibility criteria.
To make matters worse, you can expect rules to vary from county to county and even from site to site. Moreover, we should take into account the human factor. At the end of the day, frontline workers who actually inoculate people can get confused by the constantly changing rules and priorities. They can also decide whether to vaccinate a person with questionable eligibility (or not) according to their own moral compass and ethical prejudice, especially when clear policies haven’t been set.
Is It Legal To Fly To The US to get a Vaccine?
There isn’t an explicit statement that it’s forbidden for people to fly to the United States in an attempt to get vaccinated. However, at the same time, this is definitely not encouraged in any form as well. So if you made up your mind to give it a try you probably don’t want everyone to know about your intentions.
Although there isn’t a regulation tackling the vaccination tourism matter yet, other regulations currently in place may prevent you from entering the USA in the first place. For instance, there is a list of countries banned from entering the US which you can see here.
As stated on the page you can’t attempt to enter the United States if you’ve been present in one of the banned countries 14 days prior to your arrival. However, if you’ve been in another country that is not on the list, for example, Mexico, you are not subject to this restriction.
So basically, you can go on a vacation in Mexico and after you spend 2 weeks there and everything is fine, you can enter the US, provided you have the required documentation or permit. Currently, you can enter the USA by:
1. Applying through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which is still valid even for people from banned countries (like most EU member countries). It is an online registration system that allows you to travel visa-free to the US if approved.
2. Having a Valid Tourist Visa (typically valid for 10 years) or any other form of visa allowing you to enter the US for an extended period of time in the future.
3. Being a Citizen of a Visa Exempt Country (like Canada)
4. Possessing a Valid US Passport
Can Vaccine Tourism Packages Guarantee Successful Vaccination?
If you’ve been able to get the gist of what we shared so far, you probably already guess the answer to this question. It’s a big, fat NO. Unless not in any legal manner.
Travel Agencies are very well aware of the current situation and take advantage of it. Some tour operators go to great lengths, providing empty promises and unfeasible vaccination guarantees. Let us make it clear once again. There is absolutely NO WAY for them to guarantee your successful vaccination as a foreigner in the USA. So don’t be fooled by their sweet talk.
Consider all the factors we outlined above before you make a decision. And make your own research. As vaccination priorities and eligibility change often across all states, we recommend reaching out to a health department in the state you plan to travel to. Ask them what is required to book a vaccine appointment or get a shot at a mass vaccination site to ensure you won’t be left stranded.
How Popular is Vaccine Tourism in the US?
Although it resembles medical tourism to a large extent, the Covid-19 vaccine tourism isn’t quite the same. It’s an unexplored territory. The wave is still in its early stages.
States aren’t really tracking the number of foreigners and out-of-state residents that are doing vaccine tourism. For an outsider, this lack of information could make it seem like nothing is happening. Administrative authorities can get away with this. However, everybody is aware that vaccine tourism is actually on the rise, it’s one of the greatest publicly kept secret.
Information that can help us understand the situation better, could be extracted from events in Florida, the state that was the first vaccination tourism mecca in the USA.
On December 23, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that everyone over the age of 65 can receive vaccination, despite residency status. The Florida Department of Health reported more than 128,000 out-of-state residents were vaccinated but they don’t specify whether foreign visitors are included in the figures.
Outside the official channels, vaccine tourism is exploding. The famous Mexican TV host Juan José Origel bragged about getting his second vaccine dose in Florida in an Instagram post. In social media, you can also expect tips and tricks on how to enter the USA to get your own shot.
Naturally, Florida residents weren’t particularly happy that outlanders were getting a shot before they did, and expressed their frustration openly. On January 21st as a response to this outcry, Dr. Scott A. Rivkees (Florida’s surgeon general) issued an advisory demanding all people who wish to be vaccinated to provide proof of residency.
However, that led to other problems like leaving the majority of working immigrants (undoubtedly the highest risk group) without an option to receive the vaccine. Also, many seasonal residents, mostly elderly Canadians, residing in Florida for around 6 months each year were left out of the picture as many of the so-called “snowbirds” usually don’t obtain formal documentation (lease agreement, official mail) that could serve as proof.
After Florida, Arizona went on to become the next out-of-state foreigner vaccination hotspot as the state announced it would take care of seasonal visitors. Texas and California have been other hotspots for the same purpose.
Lately, all states have been loosening vaccination requirements in alignment with Biden’s administration orders. However, you still need to explore whether you will be required to prove that you work, study or reside (even temporarily) in the corresponding state to get a vaccine.
Yet at the end of the day, most people agree that it’s better for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible and it doesn’t matter where you come from. Economies depend on each other. To bring the world back to normal we all have to work together, help each other, and fight as one to put an end to the Covid-19 crisis.