How to Get a Covid Vaccine in the United States

As Central America’s Covid vaccine programs stutter, an option for many is to travel to the United States instead. Some states have a surplas of vaccine supply and welcome foreign tourists who want to get vaccinated. 

This week, US President Joe Biden set a new goal for Covid vaccines. He said he wants at least 70% of American adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4, and 160 million adults fully-vaccinated by the same date.

The vaccine drive has been one of the United States’ few success stories during the Covid pandemic. At this stage, any adult who wants the vaccine can have it. This has led to a drop in the US vaccination rate, as most of the most vulnerable have already received at least one dose.

Our World In Data shows almost 45% of the entire U.S. population has received at least one shot. According to CNBC, that works out at 56% of the adult population.

As the rate of vaccination slows down in the U.S., some states find themselves with a surplus of vaccine. This has lead to a curious new form of tourism.

Central Americans who can afford to are heading to the U.S. to get vaccinated.

It makes sense.

The vaccination rate in Central America is far lower than the U.S., and the rollout far slower. While 45% of all Americans have received at least one shot, less than 15% of the population of El Salvador have received the same. El Salvador is the Central American country with the highest percentage of vaccinated citizens to date.

Slow vaccine rollouts in Central America plus a vaccine surplus in the U.S. creates an opportunity that some states are jumping on.

Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas have all opened up their vaccine programs for foreign travelers.

Some travel agencies in Central America, for their part, have built special vaccine packages to the States. Prices range from $800 to $1,200 per person and cover accomodation, appointment, and transfer to/from the vaccination center. The vaccines themselves are free.

Tourists are welcome in these states,” says Sary Valverde from Costa Rica’s Association of Travel Agents. “We can arrive at the U.S. immigration post and give the vaccine as a reason to travel.

In Costa Rica so far, over 1,000 people have already bought vaccine packages to the U.S.

Travel insiders expect thousands more people to go to the U.S. in the coming months, from Costa Rica and elsewhere in Central America.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado is all for the idea.

They say that the best vaccine is the one you get as soon as possible,he said in April.

If someone can get it by traveling to the United States, let them do it.

For Central Americans and non-U.S. citizen expats thinking of going to the States to get vaccinated, Costa Rican news site La Republica has come up with a handy guide.

Here’s what to do if you want to get vaccinated in the United States:

  1. Visit Vaccine Spotter. It’s a great guide for figuring out where to get your vacine in the U.S.
  2. Choose the state you want to visit for your vaccine. Make sure that state residency is not a requirement for vaccination. So far, as mentioned above, states not requiring residency are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas. Some counties in Arizona DO require state residency, so be careful here.
  3. Choose the type of vaccine you want and book your appointment online by clicking through to the vaccine provider (CostCo, Walmart, etc.). Be sure to save your confirmation email for your appointment.
  4. Book your travel to the United States and any accomodations you need. Do this through a travel agency or on your own. Make sure you stay in the U.S. at least one night after your vaccination.
  5. When you show up at the vaccine center, carry some ID with you. It doesn’t have to be U.S. ID, your non-American passport is fine.
  6. Receive your vaccine, wait 15 minutes, and go.

If you receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re all set, as you only need a single dose. Any other vaccine, you can either stay in the States or go back to Central America and return in three or four weeks for your second shot. 

Remember that all travelers to the United States, citizen or tourist, vaccinated or unvaccinated, must get a Covid test within 72 of travel.