Here’s a friendly PSA for those of you planning a South American adventure: don’t forget to check the vaccination requirements before you jet off! You don’t want to end up like me – stuck in São Paulo airport because I didn’t have the Yellow Fever vaccine certificate that Paraguay (and other countries) require for entry if you step foot in Brazil for even a few hours. If you need to get a Yellow Fever vaccine near São Paolo’s GRU (and the very important ICVP), may this post help you speed up the process. So grab a caipirinha and lets learn from my mistake.
Table of Contents
Update Sep 2023:
Let’s say things are “dynamic”.
After a reader shared in August that they weren’t able to get the vaccine or IVCP at the UBS, another reader shared in September that they did get the vaccine at a UBS, and explained the process for receiving the IVCP. You can find Violette’s experience in the comments below. Here’s a summary:
- She went to one of the public health centers and got a public health card using her passport, the name of a parent, and her address.
- That enabled her to get the Yellow Fever vaccine there.
- In a follow-up message that’s not covered in the comment below, she explained that a Brasilian person she knew helped with accessing the online site via their CPF to receive the necessary certification of vaccination. So you can get the certification but now you do need somebody with a CPF to get it for you. That might be doable if you’re at a hostel or have a friend that can help.
Update Aug 2023:
It’s been a little over a month since I had this experience and it sounds like things have already changed, and not in a way that will make things easy. Two readers posted in the comments that it’s no longer possible to get the IVCP at UBS Parque Cecap. Apparently, the only option is to now use the online system (which requires a national ID number). So getting your vaccination and certificate before departure is your best option. The other option you’ll have is to fly to a place that doesn’t require the certificate, and then fly from there to your destination.
You need an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis indicating you received your Yellow Fever vaccination at least 10 days before you fly on to several destinations from Brazil. When stopped at São Paulo’s GRU, I was able to get the vaccine on a Saturday from a private clinic, and then obtained the necessary certificate from UBS Parque Cecap the following Monday.
Stuck at GRU with no Yellow Fever vaccination certificate
I landed at São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport in the afternoon. My connecting flight wasn’t until the next morning, so I booked a room at the nearby Sao Paulo Airport Marriott. Had I decided to spend the night in the transit area of the airport, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But alas.
I got to GRU’s Terminal 2 around 5am to catch a flight with GOL. and returned early the next morning on their free shuttle for my flight with GOL. But when I went to check in at the counter (because GOL’s app wasn’t working for me), the first thing the agent said was something about Yellow Fever. I do not speak Portuguese, but I can say “yellow” and “fever” in Spanish, and I know those two words aren’t normal greetings at an airport.
The agent and I were communicating back and forth with Google Translate. It became clear quickly I wasn’t catching that flight, but they couldn’t explain what I needed to do. They typed out on my phone: “Talk to your CIA office in Qatar.”
And she wasn’t joking. She had a look on her face like she’d shared an incredibly helpful piece of information. She nodded and pointed at the translation on my phone. So I went to the GOL customer service desk…
There was nobody in line. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an airport customer service desk with nobody in line. But when I walked up to the counter, the first rep rolled her eyes and nodded to the woman beside her, who groaned. I asked if she spoke English. She didn’t. I typed out what had happened in Google translate. She read it and shrugged. She didn’t know about Yellow Fever vaccines, typed back that I should call the airport administration, there was a phone by the pharmacy.
Where to find information at GRU
I didn’t find a phone by the pharmacy but I eventually found one near a McDonald’s dessert kiosk. There are information boards around GRU and they have telephones on them. You can pick up the telephone and it connects you with a customer service rep that can speak English. BUT it doesn’t operate 24 hours. I can’t remember if the recording said the helpline hours were from 8am or 9am, but either of those were after my flight left. So I cancelled the flight and then waited for the line to get staffed.
While I waited, the McDonald’s dessert kiosk prepared to open and I learned why their ice cream machine is always broken: because getting it ready for the day involves banging on it over and over again.
The customer service line also happened to have super low volume. When I did speak to somebody, I kept asking them to repeat themselves because the McDonald’s staff were busy smashing the McFlurry robot into spare parts.
What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that it didn’t really matter if I heard the customer service rep because they were telling me a bunch of things about getting the vaccine and certificate from ANVISA, Brazil’s federal health regulatory agency. Not only was the ANVISA office not open on the weekend (it was Saturday morning), but everything they told would also turn out to be totally wrong.
Luckily, while I was on the quiet quiet phone, I saw a tourist information booth tucked behind a currency exchange shop. There was a friendly guy working there that explained to me what he would do if he needed a vaccine and documentation: He’d go to a UBS.
The Unidades Básicas de Saúde (UBS) are public health clinics. We’ll come back to these because they were the key to solving this challenge.
But the nearby UBSs were all closed on the weekend. Waiting until Monday to get the vaccine wasn’t ideal. With the Yellow Fever vaccine, it’s not as simple as getting jabbed and hopping on the next plane out.
The good news is the Sao Paulo Airport Marriot makes an excellent caipirinha and they give you a free one when you check in, each time you check in, even if you check in a few hours after you checked out.
When I showed up, back from the airport, the staff at the Marriot were extremely helpful and they gave me a room I could check into that morning. If you need a hotel near GRU, read the full review of the Marriot here: “Review: Sao Paulo Airport Marriott Hotel“
Details on the Yellow Fever vaccine and travel
Several countries around the world, in tropical regions, will require you to show proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine depending on where you’re traveling from. And the stop could be short. Currently, Thailand requires the certificate even if you’ve just transited through an airport for more than 12 hours in a country identified as having Yellow Fever cases.
It takes 10 days for the Yellow Fever vaccine to kick in. So you can’t get the vaccine and hop on the next plane. Airlines will check the date you got vaccinated. When I eventually got on a LATAM flight (I’m finished with GOL) to leave Brazil, I had to show my vaccine certificate twice. The gate agent asked a colleague to count up the dates with her and confirm it was 10+ days after I got vaccinated.
When I arrived in Paraguay, while waiting for passport control, a nurse came down the line to check everybody’s Yellow Fever vaccine certificate.
Where to get a Yellow Fever vaccine in Sao Paolo on a Saturday
Because of the 10-day requirement, I wanted to get the vaccine as quickly as possible and get it make its tiny mosquito-fighting antibodies.
Where did I get the Yellow Fever vaccine? I went to a private vaccine store, Dr. Vacina, a 15 ~ 20 minute taxi from GRU, in the downtown area of Guarulhos. Here is the location on Google Maps as of June, 2023.
How much did the vaccine cost? It cost $195 reais, which is around $40 USD. That’s expensive when you consider that the UBS can do it for free. But the cost of waiting two extra days would’ve been higher. I paid in cash that I got from a Santander bank on the opposite side of the street.
The Dr. Vacina certificate is not good for flying though. To fly, we need a specific WHO document, the International Certificate of Vaccination Prophylaxis (ICVP or CIVP in Portuguese). I was told the ANVISA office at the airport would give me that if I took them my confirmation from Dr. Vacina. That was not true, however…
Dr. Vacina is located at the base of the Helbor Patteo Bosque Maia in Guarulhos. And do take a look at the sticker they put on the exterior of the vaccine card and inside, which looks like a bingo card of vaccines. The nurse had spelt my name incorrectly and I had to ask her to print out new stickers.
CPF, ANVISA, ICVP, GRU, LOL
Documentation for vaccines has moved online in Brazil. And like all government services, you need a CPF. It’s a national identity number and widely used. Even when you buy something at the grocery store, they’ll ask you for it. But tourists don’t have CPFs. That did not stop several people and websites telling me I could upload my vaccine documentation and then download the necessary form after 10 days. It was also what ANVISA directed me to when I showed up at their offices on Monday.
Where is the ANVISA office at GRU? It’s located on a purgatory floor between the departures and arrivals levels of Terminal 3. It’s at the back, down a dark hallway, with no windows into the office.
Office hours for this cheery place are Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Can you get the IVCP at GRU ANVISA? No. At least not when I went. But posts online and the airport customer service rep said I could.
The door and the narrow hallway had papers in Portuguese taped up, explaining you can’t get the IVCP there and need to get it online. There was no other info up. This is definitely a popular topic.
So I knocked on the locked door. When somebody opened it, I explained what I needed. They pointed to the posted signs, and went to close the door. But I was ready for that.
If you need to go, prepare your entire story written out on Google Translate. The airport rep on the quiet phone and the person who opened the door at ANVISA genuinely didn’t seem to understand that airports have people from other countries that don’t have local ID documents.
I held up a translated explanation on my phone explaining I had no CFP and couldn’t use the website. Then I learned I didn’t need to visit ANVISA at all…
The ANVISA staff member walked away, returning a moment later with a piece of paper smaller than a Post-it note. On the paper was an address: UBS Parque Cecap, R. Profa. Maria Del Pilar Munhoz Bononato, No 78 — Parque Cecap, Guarulhos, SP
This was the public health clinic the guy in the tourism info booth had told me about! This all felt exactly like an RPG video game but with less sword fighting.
Getting the IVCP (CIVP) at UBS Parque Cecap
** As noted in the update at the top, it sounds like it’s no longer possible to get the IVCP at UBS Parque Cecap or any UBS. **
I hopped in a taxi and went straight to the UBS. Here’s the translated text I had on my phone:
English: I need the Certificado Internacional de Vacinação. I already received the yellow fever vaccine. ANVISA at the airport sent me here. I’m a foreigner. I do not have the CFP. I just need the CIVP so I can travel on.
Portuguese: Preciso do Certificado Internacional de Vacinação. Já tomei a vacina de febre amarela. ANVISA no aeroporto me mandou aqui. Sou estrangeiro. Não tenho o CFP. Só preciso do CIVP para poder viajar.
There was a person sitting at a desk right at the door to the UBS. They triaged everybody coming in and assigned a number. The person read my phone, nodded, took my passport, looked at my vaccination document from Dr. Vacina, typed on a computer, and gave me a number.
The UBS was busy but it was moving smoothly. Everybody there was masked up. I had just arrived from Japan, so I had a facemask with me. They might give you one if you don’t have one. Be kind to the community and wear one.
I waited around 15 minutes before my number came up for the vaccination room. I showed my translated explanation to the doctor there. They then took my passport and vaccine receipt to a row of desks at the front of the waiting area. A staff member then typed in the info for the IVCP document and printed it. Then I had to take it back to the doctor to get it signed and stamped.
Then there were fireworks and we celebrated all night!
The fireworks and celebrating part didn’t actually happen. But I appreciated the help from the UBS staff. A week later, I was able to continue on from Brazil.
Back in 2006, after quitting my job in Korea, I was traveling back to Canada by land and sea. On the journey, I was passing