Forgetting to Check Entry Requirements Abroad — Reader Mistake Story

Jan 29, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from reader Josh, who had to buy expensive last-minute airfare after forgetting to check vaccination requirements for his destination. Here’s what he had to say:

My friend and I booked flights to Panama and returning from Nicaragua using Delta SkyMiles. It was New Year’s as well as my birthday week, and we couldn’t have been more excited to spend it in Central America. We had arranged all the lodging, airport transfers, activities, etc., and we were ready for a great trip!
 
After our few days in Panama, we get to Tocumen airport to board our Copa Airlines flight to Managua, but they wouldn’t let us on the plane. In January of 2017, Nicaragua started requiring proof of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter from vulnerable countries (like Panama). Our gate agent told us they had recently been letting people through without it, but just that month they decided to get more strict. After a few calls to Managua, she assured us we would not be boarding our flight.
 
I had checked entry requirements for US citizens traveling to Nicaragua from the US, but hadn’t thought to check the requirements for travelers entering from Panama. Even if we went to the local clinic and got the vaccine, we wouldn’t be allowed into Nicaragua for 10 days, and our flight home from Managua was in five days! We were officially stuck in Panama.
 
Our first thought was to change our Delta flight home, but it would have cost us more to change our existing tickets home than to buy entirely new ones, so we each spent $700 to fly home on United. We found cheap last-minute tickets to Costa Rica, so we still got to spend New Year’s and my birthday in the sun, but my costly mistake is one I will never forget. Lesson learned: always check entry requirements between countries you plan to visit, not just from your home country!
Doctor giving patient injection in volunteer clinic
Make sure to check vaccination requirements before traveling abroad. Photo by KidStock via Getty Images.

Josh’s takeaway advice is sound: you should always check visa and vaccination requirements for any border you plan to cross on an international trip. That applies even when you’re just transiting through an airport, since you may still have to clear customs and immigration upon landing. If you’re uncertain about the rules, contact the local consulate for clarification. I also recommend checking local laws surrounding controlled substances, as even items that seem harmless (like prescription medication or fresh produce) can create a hassle.

Another consideration is that visas and vaccinations can be expensive — for example, Bhutan infamously charges tourists as much as $250 daily in high season. Make sure you budget for those expenses when planning your trip so the costs don’t eat into your other activities. Finally, don’t wait until the last minute to get vaccinated, as some vaccines take days or weeks to work effectively.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Josh for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured Image courtesy of P. Lubas via Getty Images.

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