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How To Get A COVID Vaccine If You’re An Expat

If you’re an expat living and working in a foreign country, are you eligible for a coronavirus vaccine? And if not, can you return to your home country for a jab? Can you get a second or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in another country? To answer these questions, we take a look at some of the more successful COVID-19 vaccination programmes around the world, including Spain and other UK vaccine programme overseas.

A quick note to say that we are an expat health insurance company and we don’t actually help expats with getting COVID-19 vaccinations or any other vaccinations.

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How can I get a COVID vaccine as an expat overseas in another country?

COVID-19 vaccination programmes tend to be run by national governments or local health authorities. Most countries run their own vaccination programme, with a clear order of priority for different age groups, health conditions, and occupations, such as health workers. It’s a little different in Europe, where the EU runs the COVID vaccination programme for its member states. But wherever they’re available, the authorities are providing vaccines for free, with the most vulnerable vaccinated first.

As an expat, you should be able to get a coronavirus vaccine in the country where you live. When you will receive your invitation depends on your position in the order of priority. You need to check if you can get a second dose or booster jab in a country different from your country of residence. Some locations, such as Dubai, are offering free coronavirus vaccinations to expats who have a residency visa and have come to work remotely in the country.

Can foreigners and overseas visitors get a vaccine in the UK?

Overseas visitors to England, including anyone living in the UK without permission, will not be charged for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing, treatment and vaccination.

Do I have to be a resident to be eligible for a COVID vaccine?

Whether you’re an official resident may also have an impact, particularly for Britons living in the EU post-Brexit. If in doubt, a relocation expert can advise on whether you need to be a resident to have access to healthcare, including the COVID vaccination.

Many governments are discouraging travel, so expats will probably need to wait for their COVID-19 vaccine appointment in their country of residence. Any health insurance you have will not necessarily cover you for having vaccines elsewhere, but as we’ve pointed out, authorities are not currently demanding payment for vaccines.

However, according to news reports, some expats around the world are planning to return home for a coronavirus vaccination. For example, when Israel was leading the way in terms of its vaccination programme, some Israeli nationals considered flying home for their COVID vaccine to avoid waiting longer in their current country of residence. There are also news expats in Kuwait (they make up 70 percent of the population) struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines in the country because citizens get more priority.

The UK government is advising British expats, some of whom are perhaps hoping to return to the UK for a coronavirus vaccine, to wait and receive the jab in their country of residence. The UK government hopes to avoid unnecessary international travel and place additional strain on the UK’s National Health Service.

If you’re an expat, however, and you’ve decided to return to the UK permanently, you’ll be eligible for the COVID vaccination. When you actually have the jab will be according to where you are on the priority list. To make sure you’re on the list, re-register with a local GP.

Anybody aged 18 or over in the UK is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination for free, regardless of their nationality or immigration status. The COVID-19 vaccination in the UK is being offered free of charge to everyone aged 18 or over at local sites run by GPs or community pharmacies, at larger vaccination centres and in some hospitals.

If you are going to get a first dose abroad in another country (not in the UK), you need to check in first with their healthcare services.

For those who are due to move abroad in the coming weeks or months, it might be best to delay getting vaccinated until settled overseas. It is always best to speak to your GP and explain your unique circumstances and see if anything can be changed to help your circumstances. For example, there are expats in Kuwait, who make up 70 percent of the population, struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines in the country because citizens get more priority. Similarly, those living in post-Brexit Europe could face differing rules. People who are not legal residents or citizens might be impacted. This depends on the rules and regulations of the country they are residents in.

Most of the approved COVID vaccines are dispensed in two doses, followed by a booster jab. For some expats this may mean getting your first dose in one country, moving abroad and needing your next dose overseas (in a different country).

Whilst, in theory, it’s fine to get your second dose or booster in another country where you are resident, vaccine schedules still vary wildly from one country to the next. This means you might not be able to get your next dose of the vaccine at the appropriate interval. It’s, therefore, best to speak to your vaccination centre or GP about your individual circumstances.

If for instance you are only on a temporary assignment and are freely able to return home (safely) then it may be best to continue with the vaccination schedule in your home country. Conversely if you’re going to be abroad for a longer period of time, you may want to consider getting both vaccine doses in your new country of residence.

It depends on the country of your first and second doses of vaccine. Beat in mind your second dose should be the same type as your first.

In England, the NHS would contact people to bring forward their appointments. You can currently get the 2nd dose 8 to 12 weeks after getting your 1st dose. You can also rearrange an appointment yourself. You can do this online at NHS website, or by calling 119. There are also walk-in jab sites available, which you can find by entering your postcode.

In the UK, third doses (or booster vaccines) were offered to 32 million Britons starting early September 2021 with up to 2,000 pharmacies set to deliver the programme. The decision to go ahead with a third shot was made by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The two main arguments to support giving a third dose are that the effectiveness of the first two jabs falls over time and that there’s a need to take new vaccines to deal with viral variants, such as the delta and omicron variants.

In England boosters are now available to all over-16s three months after their second dose – but appointments can be booked after two months. Some walk-in appointments may also be available. In Scotland boosters can be booked online. In Wales people should wait to be invited, with older and higher-risk people being prioritised. In Northern Ireland people aged 18 to 29 can go to walk-in hubs, and make booster appointments.

The following chart shows the number of booster doses administered worldwide. Booster doses are doses administered beyond those prescribed by the original vaccination protocol — for example, a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or a second dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Graph showing cumulative COVID vaccine booster doses - March 2022

The chief executive officer of Pfizer says a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine will be needed to head off another wave of new cases.

Countries such as Israel have already rolled out second booster doses to offer eligible populations four doses in total.

Other states and countries have also since introduced fourth doses, such as Denmark, Sweden, Chile, and the United Kingdom.

Another topic on the table is that of shortening the intervals between the second dose and booster shots.

From 28 July 2021, the UK began delivering 9 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world, including to Indonesia, Jamaica and Kenya, to help tackle the pandemic, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced.

Five million doses are being offered to COVAX, the scheme to ensure equitable, global access to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX will urgently distribute them to lower-income countries via an equitable allocation system which prioritises delivering vaccines to people who most need them. Another 4 million doses will be shared directly with countries in need.

Indonesia will receive 600,000 doses, 300,000 will be sent to Jamaica and 817,000 are to be transported to Kenya, among other countries.

The UK is donating the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, made by Oxford Biomedica in Oxford and packaged in Wrexham, North Wales.

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UK vaccination programme overseas

According to the UK government, wherever possible British citizens should aim to be vaccinated in their country of residence. If you live overseas you should find out about COVID-19 vaccines available locally, and contact your healthcare provider for further advice. Local authorities where you live should provide information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national vaccination programme, including their regulatory status.

How do expats get a COVID vaccine in Spain?

The Spanish national vaccination programme started in December 2020 and is using the AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson), Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. British nationals resident in Spain are eligible for vaccination. Spain operates its health system regionally, therefore the way people access the vaccine will differ depending on where you live. You should refer to your regional health authority for information regarding the vaccination plan in your area. If you are already registered for public healthcare you should be contacted by your regional health service to make an appointment when it is your turn to be vaccinated. Vaccination in Spain for foreigners is also allowed, however, you cannot have a private COVID vaccine in Europe.

All residents in Spain need to register to access healthcare. In Spain, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises British residents to obtain their vaccines in the country where they live. Those who are registered for healthcare in Spain should be contacted directly by their regional health service. They will then be able to book an appointment. However, Britons living in Spain who are not registered for healthcare are still eligible for their jab.

Each regional health authority has issued its own instructions as to how unregistered locals can book their appointment. Check FDCO advice here.

What about the COVID vaccine for US citizens living abroad?

The US government isn’t providing COVID-19 vaccinations to US citizens living overseas, so access to the vaccine will depend on the rules of the country you’re in.

If you’re a US citizen living in the UK, the vaccine is free on the NHS. You do not require an NHS number or GP registration to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and should not be denied vaccination on this basis. Individuals who do not have an NHS number or are not registered with a GP are still entitled to free COVID-19 vaccinations. Read our guide on UK healthcare for expats.

COVID-19 vaccines for expats in different countries

Country Are expats and foreigners eligible for a vaccine? What vaccines are available? Is a COVID vaccine free of charge?
Spain Yes, the entire population is eligible for vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) and Moderna Vaccines are free for everyone in Spain.
Ireland Yes, the entire population from 5 years old is now eligible for vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) and Moderna Vaccines are free for everyone in Ireland.
Italy Yes, the entire population is eligible for vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca Vaccines are free for everyone in Italy.
France Yes, the entire population is eligible for vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca Vaccines are free for everyone in France.
Taiwan Yes, the entire population is now eligible for vaccines. AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Medigen Vaccines are free for everyone.
Germany Yes, the entire population is now eligible for vaccines. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi-GSK, Curevac, Biontech, Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines are free for citizens and residents in Germany.
Canada Yes, the entire population is now eligible for vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) Vaccines are free, including to those who aren’t citizens (foreigners and expats).
South Korea All adults can now book a vaccination and reservations available to book for children aged 5-11. Some age groups and professions continue to be given priority. AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) and Novavax Vaccines are free, including to those who aren’t citizens (foreigners and expats).
Thailand Residents over the age of 18 can register for a vaccine at any hospital that holds their health records. Short and longer-term visitors may not be eligible under this scheme. AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccines are free, including to those who aren’t citizens (foreigners and expats).

If you are an expat in Indonesia, you can get vaccinated based on the official vaccination programme. There are four stages in the programme, so you need to check with your local medical practice when it is your turn as it will depend on the region you are.

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Anyone who is returning to live in the UK from abroad will be eligible for the vaccine in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority list. Britons living overseas should obtain the vaccine in their country of residence. They cannot arrange a vaccine in the UK from overseas.
Spokesperson for the UK Department of Health told

COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad: travelling back to or through the UK

From March 2022, people arriving in the UK from abroad do not need to:

  • complete a UK passenger locator form before you travel
  • take any COVID-19 tests before you travel or after you arrive
  • quarantine when you arrive

This applies whether you are vaccinated or not.

Will expats need COVID passports to move and travel abroad?
Find out more here

Which country has the best COVID-19 vaccination programme?

Graph showing share of people vaccinated against COVID-19 as of March 2022

64.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Countries with the highest COVID-19 vaccine dose rate worldwide include:

  1. Gibraltar
  2. Cuba
  3. Chile
  4. Malta
  5. South Korea

Within Europe, the countries that had vaccinated the most people (per capita) against COVID-19 were:

  1. Malta
  2. Denmark
  3. Portugal
  4. Italy
  5. Iceland
  6. Belgium

So far, the EU has secured access to 4.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The EU is committed to ensuring that safe vaccines reach all corners of the world. The Commission and EU countries have pledged over €3 billion to COVAX, the global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and are supporting vaccination campaigns in partner countries.

Which countries have the best healthcare system in the world?
Check the top countries ranked here

Which is the best COVID-19 vaccine?

The vaccines approved for use have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Medical experts do not recommend one vaccine over another.

COVID vaccine mixing: studies have shown that people who receive two different COVID-19 vaccines generate potent immune responses, with side effects no worse than those caused by standard regimens.

How safe is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Despite the fact that all the approved vaccines have met rigorous safety standards, as of 7 April, under-30s in the UK are to be offered an alternative COVID vaccine to the AstraZeneca jab due to evidence linking it to rare blood clots.

Meanwhile, the EU’s medicines regulator says unusual blood clots should be listed as a possible very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca jab, but that the benefits outweighed the risks. Some European countries have restricted the vaccine’s use altogether.

The World Health Organization said the link between the vaccine and blood clots was “plausible” but not confirmed, adding that the clotting incidents were “very rare” among nearly 200 million people who have received the jab worldwide.

The 1st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine should give you good protection from coronavirus from 3 or 4 weeks after you’ve had it. But you need to have the 2 doses of the vaccine to give you longer-lasting protection.

There is a chance you might still get or spread coronavirus even if you have the vaccine.

However, data shows us that the higher the vaccination rate, the lower the death rate.

William Russell blog - European Commission - Vaccination rate and death rate


Why are vaccines important for you as an expat?

Vaccines have long been important for preventing serious and potentially deadly diseases. They are the best way to protect yourself, your children and people in your community. As an expat, vaccinations are additionally important because you may need protection against diseases of the type that you have not encountered before. Whether you are up to date with all the required vaccinations may also affect your health insurance and access to healthcare.

Research has shown the vaccines help:

  • reduce your risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19
  • reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19
  • protect against COVID-19 variants

When thinking about becoming an expat, you should research the vaccination programme in your destination country as this may vary from the one you live under at home. Expats with children, or who are pregnant will need to consider any variations between vaccines available and/or required.

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Does being vaccinated help with travel and returning to the UK as an expat?

Yes, being vaccinated facilitates freedom to travel if you need to see your family or go abroad for work. Vaccine passports and COVID status apps are commonplace and in some places are required when travelling abroad as proof of your COVID-19 status.

Can you still spread COVID-19 if vaccinated?

Right now, health experts know that the vaccines authorised in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries globally are effective at reducing the chance of infection and drastically reducing the severity of the virus. However, it’s unclear if a vaccinated person can still transmit the virus to other people. There is not enough data yet.

Can you return to work if you have not been vaccinated?

COVID vaccination is not mandatory in the UK for most industries, however, depending on your country of residence, your employer may insist on you getting the jab before return to your workplace. Some private companies have also said their staff must be vaccinated.

Read more about how you can plan your return to work as an expat after COVID-19.

Do you have to isolate if you are vaccinated? Who has to self-isolate?

While you’re no longer legally required to self-isolate if you have COVID-19, you should try to stay at home and away from others to avoid passing on the virus.

Should I get tested for COVID if I have been vaccinated?

Free testing for coronavirus from the NHS has ended for most people in England, so people are no longer advised to take a test. If you still want to get tested and you’re not eligible for a free NHS test, you must pay for a COVID-19 test yourself. You can buy a COVID-19 test from some pharmacies and retailers, in person or online.

All current COVID-19 vaccines are given by injection into the upper arm. Vaccines currently approved for use in the UK are Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. These vaccines are given in 2 doses with the 2nd dose being offered around 12 weeks after the first. A booster dose is also available 3 months after 2nd vaccination.

Wherever possible British nationals should aim to be vaccinated in their country of residence.

If you live overseas you should find out about COVID-19 vaccines available locally, and contact your healthcare provider for further advice.

Local authorities where you live should provide information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national vaccination programme, including their regulatory status.

It’s strongly recommended that you get vaccinated against coronavirus if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you’re pregnant, it’s important to get vaccinated to protect you and your baby.

You’re at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 if you’re pregnant. If you get COVID-19 late in your pregnancy, your baby could also be at risk.

A very small number of people have experienced a severe allergic reaction after the Pfizer vaccine.

You should discuss any serious allergies with your healthcare professional before being vaccinated.

Most people will not be affected in any way, although side-effects with all vaccines are possible.

With some health insurance plans, such as our Silver and Gold plans, you may be covered for a COVID vaccination under your well-being benefit. However, you’re unlikely to have to pay for the vaccine at the point of delivery. Find out more about COVID-19 and private medical insurance.

Rapid lateral flow tests are a test for coronavirus that gives a quick result. You usually do this test if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19.

You’re no longer advised to get tested or legally required to self-isolate if you have COVID-19, however you should try to stay at home and away from others to avoid passing on the virus.

If you still want to get tested you must pay for a COVID-19 test yourself.

It’s well documented that alcohol has a negative effect on your immune system, and studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption to more severe respiratory infections. However, there’s no evidence that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol will impact the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine.

You really need to listen to your body on this one. Sure, in most cases, it’s totally OK to work out after you get your vaccination, as long as you’re feeling well enough. But some of the more common vaccine side effects might impact your exercise plans, so it’s best to be aware of those – and how you can plan your physical activity around your vaccine — to feel a good as possible.

What else do expats need to consider about healthcare?

Since Brexit, many countries in Europe require British expats to become official residents in order to access public services including healthcare. There are a number of requirements needed to become resident and not all expats will qualify.

For Britons travelling in Europe, a European Health Insurance Card is being replaced with Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) for accessing healthcare while visiting EU countries.

Position of British expats in the EU becomes increasingly opaque amid compounding influences of Brexit and COVID-19. Expats can still get the COVID vaccine.

Overseas visitors to England will not be charged for vaccination against COVID-19.

Thinking of moving abroad in 2022?

There has never been a better time to think about starting a new life abroad. We have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats, and we have considered healthcare as one of the biggest factors when you make a move. Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of international health insurance.

At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could support you.

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