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  • Writer's pictureNozibele Qamngana

My experiences travelling overseas and being HIV positive

My experiences travelling overseas and being HIV positive

“I’ve been postponing going on a baecation to Mauritius because I didn’t want anyone discovering my ARVs in my bag”

“I’ve been letting international Fellowship opportunities pass me by because I didn’t want to go through the pain of disclosing my status to people I didn’t know”

These are some of the few conversations I’ve had with others.

In this article, I share my own experience traveling overseas.

My first international trip, after my HIV diagnosis, was in May and June of 2014. I had recently joined an international NGO. I was based in the Port Elizabeth office. Our fundraising offices were in London and New York. After recently joining the organization, I was told I will be travelling to New York and London, to represent our South African office and share some of the work we do back home. Before that, I hadn’t thought of telling my employer. There was no need. But when I heard of these news, I was concerned. What if I couldn’t travel? What would happen to my job? I was particularly with New York. I had read that it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the US lifted the ban on people living with HIV to enter their country.

I decided to consult with a travel agent. She must have not heard me correctly. When I told her I was HIV positive, she shut me down immediately and told me she wouldn’t be able to assist; that I couldn’t be part of her program. After a lot of back and forth, I explained I wasn’t a student trying to apply for a teaching opportunity. I just wanted to spend a few weeks in London and New York. That’s all. When she had eventually calmed down, it’s when she started to explain that it shouldn’t be a concern that I wanted to apply for a tourist VISA.

The only way that authorities of another country would know you are HIV positive is when a medical examination is done. When you plan to stay less than 6 months in country, for the purpose of visiting only, chances of you being asked for a medical examination are zero. You complete a VISA questionnaire, secure an appointment with the consulate, and that’s it. During the interview with the consulate, examples of questions asked are as follows:

- How much money do you have to travel?

- How long are you staying?

- Where are you staying?

- Who’s sponsoring the trip?

- What is the nature of the visit?

At no point, they asked anything medical.

Things change when you plan to visit a country for the purpose of working there or applying for residence. For example, for the students teaching overseas, there are required to complete a medical examination. Part of that examination is to complete an HIV test. If found positive, chances of being accepted into the programme are zero.

For the last 5 years, I have traveled in between New York and London every year. I had also traveled to Norway, Belize and Egypt. In all these trips, I had never had an issues. I’ve had my ARV’s in my bags. My luggage has been scanned and I have never been stopped and asked to explain.

I trust that this has been helpful.

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Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba

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