How I convinced Madagascar to change their visa policies


I’ve been trying to figure out if I’ll be ok to enter Madagascar with a 15 year old Yellow Fever vaccine for about two months now. A few weeks ago I wrote about this Madagascar travel vaccine saga.  The official Madagascar visa website said that you must have proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine within the past ten years. This was correct until recently, as the vaccine used to require a 10 year booster. But in 2016 the WHO revised the Yellow Fever requirements, recognizing that this vaccine is good for life.

I’m a big supporter of vaccines. But I’m definitely not a fan of unnecessary medical treatments of any kind. And the YF vaccine is not without side effects. So I wasn’t enthusiastic about getting a completely useless booster just to have it written on my yellow card. I figured maybe the Madagascar visa website was just out of date. I started searching for some evidence that my older vaccine would suffice.

I tried emailing the embassy in DC. In the email I included a link to the new WHO guidelines and a copy of what I found on their visa page. I never got a response. I tried calling the embassy but they didn’t answer so I left a voicemail. I reached out to a friend who works for a company that sends tours to Madagascar. She said I’d probably be fine, but if I got the wrong immigration agent they could reject me. I don’t speak French, much less Malagasy, so I really won’t be in a position to negotiate or explain myself to immigration officials.

I’d finally given up. The week I had my vaccine appointment I made one last attempt to call the embassy. A man with the most lovely accent I’ve ever heard answered the phone. I explained my question and he immediately knew what I was talking about. He said they had been researching this question. They’d read the WHO and CDC recommendations. And he thought I’d “probably” be ok with my old vaccine. I pushed a bit more. Probably didn’t seem like much of a guarantee for me when facing an immigration agent at the airport.

After asking some more questions about my travel plans the man put me on hold for a few minutes. He came back and said that the ambassador had agreed that they would change the policy and update their website. He assured me that the updated website would be my guarantee that I’m fine with a vaccine that is more than ten years old.

After getting off the phone I checked the website and it had already been changed. It no longer has the 10 year language and instead just says “Yellow fever: vaccination is required if you  travelled from an infected area. ” Phew!

I think their research was probably inspired by my previous email and voice mail. I doubt there are many people visiting Madagascar in this same situation. It’s only been a year and a half since the WHO updated their Yellow Fever guidelines. And most tourists visiting Madagascar are not flying there after visiting an infected area. I’m very impressed with the responsiveness of what I assume is a tiny consular office in Washington DC.

Now I just have to hope they really did communicate this change to immigration officials at the airport in Antananarivo.

1 Comment

  • I’ve been with tourists stopped at country boarder crossings in Africa and refused entry. The tourists were offered a way to renew the required vaccine inoculation at an exorbitant cost. A car took them off to someplace and a short time later they came back to our waiting bus. No one would say if they were given the vaccine. It’s possible that some boarder crossings use the most stringent requirements rather then the most recent. As long as Madagascar has no internal checkpoints there would seem to be little risk of this problem.