IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

What You Need To Know About Travelling With Medications

Guest post by Professor Larry Goodyer, Head of the Leicester School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University in England. Dr. Goodyer is Immediate Past Chair of the International Society of Travel Medicine’s Pharmacist Professional Group.

One of the most frequent questions asked by travellers relate to carrying medicines for their own personal use across international borders. This is often prompted when stories hit the headlines describing individuals who have been imprisoned and prosecuted for being found in possession of medicines that are freely available in their country of origin. What are the laws regulating carrying medications abroad and what are the risks to travellers?

Which medications can be a problem?

Two classes of medicines – narcotics and psychotropics – are under the purview of international law. This covers any medicine that can have an effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the potential to be abused. The narcotic class mostly relates to analgesic opioids and their derivatives (e.g. morphine and codeine) which tend to be highly regulated. Psychotropics are all those medications likely to be used to treat mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and psychotic conditions.

In practice, some countries will include a range of medications used to treat neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease to their regulated list. Others would even include sedating antihistamines as a banned substance. The message is therefore to be wary of carrying any medicine with the potential to affect the Central Nervous System. However, a few countries such as the United Arab Emirates also include a range of non-CNS items.

What does international law say?

To view the international agreements governing the transportation of medications across borders check the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) website. An independent and quasi-judicial organization, the INCB is responsible for international drug control. Their site contains statements and broad principles relating to travellers intending to travel with narcotics and psychotropics, mainly:

  • That travellers should be allowed to carry quantities of such substances for personal use, usually for use of up to one month.
  • That travellers have a letter or prescription from their doctor if travelling with a narcotic substance (but not necessarily for pyschotropics).

The INCB also requires countries to submit their own individual regulations which can be viewed here. The problem is that not all of them have submitted entries; many are quite vague, and most deviate in some way even from the two INCB principles described above.

Know your risk

Searching out the true regulations of your destination country can be extremely difficult. Country websites that might deal with questions relating to medicine regulations abroad are also quite hard to interpret. The often quoted suggestion of contacting embassies and consulates directly can equally be very frustrating in attempting to identify the correct official and obtaining consistent advice.

So what are the most practical suggestions to minimise the risks? There do appear to be some countries where regulations are quite strictly applied; the United Arab Emirates and Japan are the two best known examples. Otherwise take note of the tip points below. Despite this seeming confusion there do appear to be very few cases of travellers encountering serious problems, given that a large number of travellers must carry medicines for personal use across international borders every day.

Travelling with medicines checklist:

  • Check the INCB Guidelines if travelling with medications that are narcotics or psychotropics.
  • Be aware of medications with potential for abuse (e.g. anabolic steroids).
  • Be aware that many countries permit taking only a 30-day supply of certain medicines and require carrying a prescription or an import license certificate.
  • Keep the tablets together with the original packaging and information leaflet. Carry a copy of your prescription, particularly for prescribed medicines that act on the Central Nervous System.

Before You Leave

  • Find out which travel health vaccinations you may need for you trip and that they do not interfere with your current medication. Seek alternative medication regimen and protection mechanisms.
  • Ask your doctor how to adapt your medication regimen across different time zones.
  • Bring enough medication to last the whole trip; ask your doctor for an additional dose in case of an emergency. Be aware of false or mislabelled medication being sold in pharmacies around the world.
  • Pack your medication in your carry-on bag. If you are travelling with someone else split the medication to minimize loss or theft. Don’t pack medication in checked luggage or send it by post to your destination since it may get lost.
  • Learn how to safely store medication and check if it requires refrigeration. Use insulated wallets or containers during transit (ask your pharmacist for recommendations) and make arrangements at your destination for safe storage. Keep in mind that extreme heat also impacts the medicine’s effectiveness.
  • Bring a copy of your original prescription and, if possible, keep the medication in its original packaging. Ensure that it is clearly labelled with your full passport name, doctor’s name, generic and brand name, and exact dosage.
  • Carry a letter from your doctor (preferably translated in the language understood at your destination) or an IAMAT Traveller Clinical Record describing your condition and the treatment plan. This will facilitate border crossing and help the attending physician abroad.
  • If you need syringes, get a note from your doctor explaining their use. Find out from your airline or other transportation company about the use of syringes during transit.

During Your Trip

  • Take your medication routinely and consistently. Do not reduce or stop taking your medication.
  • If you require an emergency refill, show the attending physician the copy of your original prescription and letter from your doctor to facilitate the consultation. Be aware that some medications will not be available in your host country or that they may not come in exactly the same dosage that you require.

When You Return

  • Follow-up with your doctor if you needed a prescription refill abroad to ensure continuity of care back home.

Photo by Gravity X9 courtesy of stock.xchng


Comments are now closed.

The travel health recommendations on our website are intended as guidelines to complement, not substitute, the advice of your healthcare provider. To ensure that all your travel health needs are covered, seek further assistance from your healthcare provider or travel health clinic. For country-specific regulations on medications, contact your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or the embassy or consulate of your destination country.

  • Harlan & Karen Sager

    If you have emergency surgery while traveling, be sure to get a written statement from your doctor that it is OK to travel. Airlines now may not let you on the airplane. This happened last year while in Turkey. Had to have representative call the hospital for a release so we could get on the plane.

  • Robert Nartowicz

    I am planning to be staying in Europe during the summer and I will need to have my cancer medication also during that whole period. I am am only allowed to receive one month supply at a time from my pharmacist. While in Europe my sister in the USA plans to visit me. My question is can she carry with her one of my month’s supply of this this drug through the airports? What additional paperwork would she need? The drug is extremely expensive and vital to my ongoing treatment. Thanks for your help.

    • IAMAT

      Hello Robert,

      If your sister will be transporting the medication, we recommend she gets a note from your doctor (on letterhead) specifying why she is carrying them for you. Please ensure that her name is written as it appears on her passport, including the purpose of the medication, your condition, the dosage, and both brand and generic names. The medication should be carried in the original containers.

      Alternatively, ask your pharmacist if your specific medication is available at your destination. Once there, you can contact a reputable doctor who will write you a script so that you can fill it out at the pharmacy. If you need a list of English-speaking doctors, you can join IAMAT. It’s free of charge. Membership is valid for one year and renewable with a donation.

      https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory

      Hope this helps.

  • I am traveling 1 week in ireland, 1 week in the UK, 1 week in France, 1 week in Spain, 1 week in Switzerland, and 1 week in Denmark. A total of 6 weeks. Every 30 days I take 90 Dilaudid 4mg pills, 60 Oxycontin 30mg pills and 60 Soma 350mg pills. I am worried about this because the doctor prescribes these every 30 days. Should I ask him to fill the script and send me along with a script for refils when they are out? Or can I ask him to up the count to cover me for the time I’ll be abroad? I’m not sure how to go about this and I need help.

    • Thanks for your message, Cesar.

      The countries that you will be visiting only allow a 30-day supply of these medications. We recommend showing your original prescription to a doctor at your destination. You will have to get a new one in the country where you’re staying and have the prescription filled out there.

      If you need access to a reputable doctor, we have practitioners in the countries you’re visiting. Here’s more information: https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory. IAMAT membership is free. It’s valid for one year and renewable with a donation.

      Hope this is helpful.

  • vandana910

    Hi,

    I will be travelling from India to the USA from July 1st to 31st. I need to carry Lamitrogene that I take for bi-polar disorder. Please suggest the documents I need to carry for this. Also, can I carry extra medication, for a week or so, just for emergency?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

    Vandana

    • Hi Vandana,

      Thanks for your message.

      You should have no problem carrying Lamotrigine (also known as Lamictal) when you come to the USA since it is not a controlled substance. However, in case you get any questions at the border, please ensure that your pills are found in the original container / package and that the label has both the generic and brand name, exact dosage, and the name that appears in your passport. Also have your doctor write on letterhead why you need this medication and all the medication information.

      As for supply while you travel, you can check with your doctor if you can get additional pills for your trip, but many insurance companies will not cover more than a 30-day supply. Alternatively, you can visit a physician in the USA
      who will write you a prescription (your doctor’s letterhead will come in handy in this case) so that you can purchase your additional medication at a pharmacy. We have a list of English-speaking doctors you can access in the USA.
      For more information, please go to: https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory

      Hope this is helpful. Enjoy your trip!

  • Paul

    Hi, I’m thinking of going to Japan in August. I take Capecitabine (aka Xeloda) twice daily as part of a chemotherapy regime. I haven’t seen the medication named on the prohibited lists or anywhere else during my research surfing, so I’m assuming it’s okay to take into Japan despite it being cytotoxic (although ‘poisonous’ medications for personal use seem to be allowed). What do you think? Thanks in advance. Paul.

    • Hello Paul,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      This drug is available in Japan. It is not a narcotic or psychotropic so you should not have any problems at the border.

      To ensure smooth travel, we recommend getting a note from your doctor explaining why you need the medication, the exact dosage, brand and generic names. Also make sure that the medication is in the original container and that the label has the same name as your passport name.

      Enjoy your trip!

  • Miguel

    Hi. Thank you for all the help you’ve been providing to the commenters on this thread. I do have a query of my own, and I hope you can help me out, too 🙂

    I’m leaving for the US to pursue my PhD. I take Orvakline and Ezetrol once a day and was wondering if I could take a whole year’s worth with me when I leave. I plan to come back home over the summer next year, and while I’m back here, fill another year’s worth of medicine for when I return to the US for my second year.

    I’ve tried doing some research, but I can’t seem to find anything on the subject. Would it be okay to take a year’s worth of medicine with me? What do you think? Thank you in advance! Miguel.

    • Hi Miguel,

      Thanks for your question.

      These medications are not controlled substances in the USA so you should not have any problems at the border. However, it is still recommended that you have a note from your doctor explaining why you need them and ensure that the labels mentions all the relevant details about dosage, drug name, and includes the
      name on your passport.

      Regarding taking a full year’s worth of supplies, you can try asking your pharmacist if they will supply it for you. It has to be done a long time in advance of your trip in case your pharmacist doesn’t have a full stock. On the other hand, your insurance company may not cover a year’s supply. Typically they only cover costs up to 3 or 6 months depending on the medication. You may have to pay out-of-pocket for the balance. Another alternative is getting a prescription from a US doctor once you arrive. Your doctor’s letter will come in handy here.

      You can access a list of our doctors in the USA by becoming an IAMAT member. Membership is free, valid for one year and renewable with a donation.

      https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory

      Best of luck with your studies!

  • Hi Jayne,

    We just heard back from Dr. Goodyer. This is what he says:

    “To carry a small quantity for personal use into the UK should not be a problem but the main worry is obtaining supplies once moved. License was withdrawn in 2013 as risks of drug outweighed benefits and there are alternatives. She could contact migraine action for advice:

    http://www.migraine.org.uk

    Alternatively, contact your pharmacist and ask them about equivalent alternatives. Your doctor may also be able to help you.

    Hope this is helpful.

  • Hi, thanks for the write up,

    Currently I take 60mg codeine 4 times a day for severe dysmenorrhoea (5 days a month) and I’m going to Canada for a year on a university exchange trip. My doctor has prescribed 200 tablets of 30mg codeine phosphate and has given me a signed letter explaining that I need it for pain and the exact amount he prescribed. Will I be allowed to take this through the border?
    I’m travelling at the end of August and i’ve already used some for my dysmenorrhoea. Would this also pose problems?

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your question about travelling with medications.

      You can bring narcotics like codeine phosphate into Canada on the following conditions:

      1. The “quantity must not exceed the lesser of a single course of treatment OR a 30 day supply, based on the usual daily dose”. Accordingly, you may have to ask your doctor to write a prescription based on this requirement. To get additional medication during your stay, you will have to visit a Canadian doctor who will be able to prescribe the same medication for you to buy at a Canadian pharmacy. Your host university health centre will be able to help.

      2. In addition to your doctor’s signed letter, bring the original prescription with you in case they ask to see it at the border. This will also help the Canadian doctor who will be prescribing the medication.

      3. The medication must be kept in the original packaging / container and fully labelled. The label should have the exact name that appears on your passport.

      Hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your studies!

  • Alisha

    Hi,

    I am traveling to the USA for three months (tourist visa) and then crossing over into Canada on a working holiday visa.
    I have bipolar type 2 and I am on lamotrigine (also known as lamictal). 125mg morning and 100mg at night.
    I’m wanting to take at least 6 months to a years worth purely because I don’t know how much it could be over there and where I could get it.
    I can show the USA my work visa and of course, my doctors certificate.
    Will I run into any issues since there’s a decent amount and Because it’s a mood stabiliser?

    • Hi Alisha,

      You should not have any problems bringing lamotrigine in either country. However, make sure that the medication is in the original container and that the label matches your passport name. Bring with you a letter from your doctor specifying why you need the medication, the dosage, and generic as well as brand name of the drug.

      Canada allows you to bring in a supply for 30 days. The US doesn’t specify the supply limit, but we suggest bringing a supply for 30 days and getting a prescription from a US doctor that you can fill out when you’re there. You can access a list of English-speaking doctors here: https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory. IAMAT membership is free, valid for one year and renewable with a donation.

      Hope this is helpful,

  • Mithos

    Hello! I will be traveling from the United States to Lodz, Poland (landing in Warsaw) this November for approx. 3 weeks. I am currently taking Atenelol for MVP and SVT (50mgs/once per day) as well as, MS Contin (30mgs/bid), Hydrocodone ‘Norco’ (10/325mg, 3-4 per day) and Ambien ‘Zolpidem’ (10mgs. once per day) for Interstitial Cystitis, CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) and severe problems with both knees. Will I have a problem taking these meds into Poland? What do I need to take with me, specifically, to show at customs? And, is there any way to get emergency doses, if necessary while I am there? Thank you so much in advance for any information that you can assist me with. My trip is getting very close and I really need to get this all taken care of quickly.

    • Hi,

      The narcotic and psychotropic substances that you describe are regulated in Poland. You are allowed to bring in a supply for 30 days only.

      Make sure that the medication is in the original container and that the label matches your passport name. Bring with you a letter from your doctor specifying why you need the medication, the dosage, and generic as well
      as brand name of the drug.

      To get the name of a reputable doctor in Lodz, contact us at info@iamat.org.

      Thanks.

      • Mithos

        Thank you so much for the information! I have arranged to see my doctor a few days prior to my departure to be sure that I have a full prescription to take with me of all meds. I will certainly contact the email listed to get that name of a physician while I am there just in case that is necessary.

  • Yogesh

    Hi

    I am travelling to Canada next week, I have gone through an Angioplasty procedure 2 years back. Doctors have advised me 3 different medicines everyday (Cholesterol, BP and Asprin). Can I carry those medicines with me. I have a doctors prescription with stamp. Can I carry 6 months medicines with me.

    Thanks in Advance

    Regards,
    Yogesh.

    • Hi Yogesh,

      You should not have problems taking these medications with you since they are not narcotics or psychotropic drugs. Make sure that they are in the original container, properly labelled – your name has to be the same on your passport – and bring your doctor’s letter as well.

      Enjoy your trip.

  • shiv

    Hi

    I am travelling to malaysia and singapore in march next year , I have diabetes and BP . Doctors have advised medicines everyday (TAB.TRIGPM 1, combination of Trigpm Glimepiride 1 mg, Pioglitazone15 mg, Metformin hydrochloride(SR) 500 mg, and BP TAB Amlopres-AT, combination of Amlodipine besylate 5 mg,atenolol 50 mg. ). Can I carry those medicines with me. I have a doctors prescription with stamp. Can I carry 15 Days medicines with me.

    Thanks in Advance

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your message.

      The medications you mention are not controlled substances in Singapore or Malaysia. Along with a copy of your doctor’s prescription, please ensure that the medications are in the original containers, labelled with your passport name, including dosage and the generic name (as well as the brand name if available).

      Enjoy your trip.

  • Hi Rachael,

    Thanks for your message.

    It sounds like you have taken care of everything. We double checked the Colombian regulations and they specify that you are allowed to take in a controlled substance for personal use over 30 days.

    Enjoy your trip!

  • Hi there,

    You should not have any problems bringing in or finding birth control pills over-the-counter in Dubai. Availability may vary from pharmacy to pharmacy.

    Enjoy your trip.

  • John

    Hello!

    I am travelling to Canada via train from New York, and I will be in Canada for only 2 days. It’s part of a trip with my family, and Canada is the second destination of 6 for us.

    I take Codapane Forte, which is 500g of Paracetamol and 30g of Codeine Phosphate per tablet, I can take up to 4 a day for neck and back pain, stemming from both my previous spinal surgery and persistent headaches.

    I will need 120 over the course of my 6 week trip, and I’m concerned that Canada may be an issue even though I will only be there for 2 days.

    They will be correctly labelled and I can get a letter or whatever paperwork is needed from the doctor who prescribed them.

    Do you know if I will have an issue passing the boarder with my medication?

    I fear my trip will be less enjoyable if pain is going to be constant and without relief.

    Please help!

    • Hi John,

      Canada allows travellers to bring in a supply of 30 days of controlled substances for personal use. You don’t specify how many days you’re going to be in your trip when you arrive to Canada. However, we suggest contacting the Canadian embassy or consulate, but if you don’t get an answer we recommend getting a note from your doctor explaining why you are carrying a supply of 120 tablets, including the number of countries you will be visiting and that Canada is your second destination.

      Hope this is helpful and that you’ll get to enjoy your trip.

  • ankur garg

    Hello iamat

    I am travelling to Texas (USA) this month and taking Valprol CR 500 1 tablet daily.. i have prescription from doctor with stamp..can i take 2 months stocks with me??

    Thanks in advance…

    • Thanks for your inquiry.

      The US doesn’t specify the supply limit for controlled substances. We suggest contacting the US embassy or consulate to double check. If you don’t get a response, we suggest bringing a supply for 30 days (just in case) and getting a prescription from a US doctor (your own doctor’s stamped prescription will facilitate this) so that you can have it filled by a pharmacist when you’re there. Please contact us at info@iamat.org to get the contact of a doctor where you will be staying.

      Enjoy your trip.

  • Nikaela Walsh

    Im travelling to Hong Kong for 14 days and was wondering if I will have any issue taking paracode or panadine and histfen (sudfed allergy relief) with me. Its from the doctor but they never gave me a letter or copy of the prescription. I have the receipt from the pharmacy which list them all and they are in their original container from the pharmacy. Will this be a problem?

  • Nikaela Walsh

    Hi,

    I am travelling to Hong Kong for 13 days and will be taking codine phosphate 30mg, parcode/panadine and histfen (chlorpheniramine maleate). Will it be ok without an official letter? I have the receipt from the pharmacy and all original packaging that pharmacy provided me.

    Will have other regular medications and mutli-vitamins with me also.

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Nikaela,

      Thanks for your inquiry. Because codeine phosphate is considered a narcotic, Hong Kong stipulates that you need a valid prescription. Try to get a copy of the original prescription from your doctor before your trip. Alternatively, getting a note from your doctor is a good idea if you can’t get a copy of the prescription.

      Enjoy your trip.

  • Sara Mascari

    Hi,

    I’m travelling to Ireland this fall. I use a biologic, Humira, it is in a self injection pen. My plan is to keep it in the original box with the rx on it but also get a letter from my rheumatologist. Will those two things be enough?

    Thanks!

    Sara

    • Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your inquiry. Yes, a letter from your doctor and keeping the medication in the original container should be fine when entering Ireland.

  • d2

    Hi,

    I’m travelling from New Zealand to the Philippines soon, I plan to take Lorazepam 1mg tablets for my panic attacks. Could I encounter any problems?

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your message.

      The Philippines has not specified their regulations on the importation of psychotropic medications like Lorazepam. However, the Philippine consulate in Sydney mentions that the amount of prescription medications that you bring into the country should only last you for the duration of your visit. If you travel to another country after the Philippines, they advise that you pack medication separately (sealed) for that leg of the trip. Here’s more information: http://www.philippineconsulate.com.au/bringing-medicine-into-the-philippines.html

      Also make sure to bring a written letter from your doctor specifying why you need medication, the exact dosage, and generic/brand names. This will also facilitate a visit to a doctor in the Philippines in case you need to refill your prescription. Carry all medications in their original containers and make sure that the name on the label matches the name in your passport.

      Enjoy your trip!

  • N2

    i am travelling from pakistan to canada in near future. can i carry escitalopram 10mg and clonazepam 2mg? as my doctor prescribed me these medication.

  • N2

    i am already taking escitalopram 10mg and clonazepam 2mg from 1.5 years i also told to embassy during my medical examination for canada. now i got visa and travelling from pakistan to canada in near fututre can i take 6 months medications with me on doctors prescription?

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your message.

      Canada’s regulations state that you cannot import psychotropic drugs longer than a 30-day supply. We recommend that you get a letter from your doctor stating the reason for treatment, exact dosage, and generic / brand names so that you can get a prescription from a Canadian doctor throughout your stay.

      When you travel, ensure that the medications are in their original container and that the label specifies the dosage, generic / brand name, including the name that matches in your passport. In case you get asked, having a letter from your doctor may also facilitate entry.

      Hope this is helpful.

  • cute khan

    Hello Sir,
    Please let me know can i send psychotic medications like qusel 200mg,epival cr 500 mg,ziprawin 40 mg from pakistan to United States through courier?.If someone needs these medications in US

    • It is not advisable that you send medications from Pakistan to the USA through a courier service. It may be stopped at the border or lost. The best solution is to get a prescription and letter explaining the reason for the treatment from a healthcare provider in Pakistan so that it can be presented to an American doctor who will have to write a prescription for the patient to buy medications in the USA.

  • Hi Neet,

    Thanks for your message.

    The drugs you mention are psychotropics and New Zealand allows a 30-day supply for personal use. We recommend that you get a letter from your doctor stating the reason for treatment, exact dosage, and generic / brand names. Ensure that the medications are in their original container and that the name on label matches the name in your passport.

    Having a letter and prescription from your doctor will also facilitate getting a prescription from a doctor in New Zealand so that you can fill out the prescription throughout your stay. IAMAT lists reputable doctors in New Zealand. Here’s more information about accessing our Medical Directory: https://www.iamat.org/medical-directory. Membership is free, valid for one year, and renewable with a donation.

    Enjoy your trip!

    • Neet

      Thank you

  • Hello Ed,

    Thanks for your message.

    The best way would be to get a prescription from a Mexican doctor. Depending on where you are, we may be able to provide you with the name of a reputable doctor in your area who is familiar with your medication. Alternatively, we suggest that you contact a courier company directly to inquire about their policies on shipping medications. Be aware that the package may be stopped at the border further delaying delivery.

    Having someone bring them down for you without a doctor’s letter is not advisable in case they are stopped at the border and can’t prove why they are importing the medication without a note from a certified practitioner. Even with a doctor’s note, it’s uncertain if it will be confiscated or not.

  • I receive my meds by mail from an HMO in 90 day supplies in large containers. A dozen of the original bottles would take a lot of room. I never see a prescription as it is all done electronically. Not sure how to handle that

    • Hello Diane,

      Thanks for your inquiry. We need additional information on the type of medications you’re taking with you. Are they narcotics or psychotropics? Countries have restrictions on importing these types of drugs. Depending on the type of medication you’re bringing, an original prescription or letter from your doctor is important to facilitate entry in case you get asked or need a prescription from a doctor at your destination. We recommend asking the HMO to provide you with copies.

  • Thanks for your inquiry. Some of the drugs you list may be flagged at the border. We recommend contacting the Mexican embassy or consulate to double check whether these medications are prohibited. Be sure to bring a letter from your doctor documenting the medication you’re taking, the dosage, and reason for use. Also, make sure that all your medication is stored in their original containers and that the labels match the name on your passport.

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