Travel Expert: ‘Can HIV-positive travelers vacation in China?’


Question: My husband and I travel and have always wanted to go to China. They had travel restrictions on people with HIV/AIDS. Was that lifted during the Olympics and can healthy people with HIV go to China for vacation now?

Answer: I lived in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, when mainland China briefly implemented a policy of testing each traveler for HIV at the border. It was a preposterous policy (since at that time you could not get HIV results on the same day) that made for excruciatingly long lines at customs, since each foreigner needed to receive a pinprick on their finger.

The policy was obviously aimed at discouraging known HIV-positive people from entering the country, not to actually test for HIV. The bogus blood-testing policy was dropped quickly, but the overall ban against HIV-positive travelers remained.

Since then, China has come a long way in dealing with the AIDS crisis, but it wasn’t until April 2010 that the country officially lifted its ban on HIV-positive travelers (as well as those with sexually transmitted diseases and leprosy).

However, HIV test results are still required on the visa application for foreigners planning to stay longer than six months.

Even though China no longer officially discriminates against HIV-positive travelers, the web site recommends that HIV-positive travelers to China do not declare their status on any visa application forms, as historically people truthfully declaring their positive status have been denied entry into the country.

The site also recommends as a precaution not wearing red ribbons or anything else that could disclose an HIV-positive status.

Note that the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macao (part of China since 1997) never had HIV-restrictive policies, and continue to have none.

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Matthew Link, a writer for Orbitz,  is the founding editor of two travel magazines, The Out Traveler and Sherman’s Travel, and he was also guidebook pioneer Arthur Frommer’s right hand man at Budget Travel magazine.