5 Precautions for Traveling with Medication

January 7, 2019

Categories: Health, Safety, Travel Tips,

For the most part, travelers who take prescription medications of all kinds can travel throughout much of the world without problems. 

To help our members stay safe and informed while traveling, Global Rescue operations personnel have provided the following advice below for traveling with prescription medications.

Travelers should follow basic precautions:

  • Medications should be in their original container (prescription bottle) with label affixed.
  • Make a list of all your medications and their generic names in case you need to replace any medications during travel. Leave a copy with a family member or friend. Your pharmacist can create a Personal Medication Record, which lists the drug, regimen and purpose.
  • Carry a copy of the original prescription and/or a letter from the prescribing physician (ideally translated into the language of your destination country).
  • These documents should include both the brand name and the generic name.
  • Carry only a supply of medication adequate for your itinerary, with enough for a few extra days or a week to allow for unforeseen circumstances.
  • Carry medication in your carry-on baggage.

[Related Reading: 10 Reasons You Need a Travel Protection Membership]

In addition to the suggested precautions, some countries have restrictions on the type and/or quantity of medications that can cross their borders. The medications most often restricted are controlled substances: opiates, stimulants and psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics.

However, even medications such as asthma inhalers and insulin may be restricted or prohibited in certain countries. Many countries allow people to bring in no more than a 30-day supply of even more routine medications. In some countries, certain over-the-counter medications are prohibited.

“Just as some medications available in the U.S. can sometimes be prohibited in other countries, there are medications restricted in the U.S. that can be easily purchased — sometimes even without a prescription — in other countries,” said Michael Lovely, operations supervisor at Global Rescue. “I recommend to speak with your treating physician to come up with multiple alternatives in case one type of medication is not carried by local pharmacies.”

traveling with medication

How does a person navigate this patchwork of individual country requirements? 

  • The first step is to identify potential medication problems with your particular itinerary.
  • You should complete this step at least 2-3 months prior to your trip to allow sufficient time to remedy any concerns.
  • Check with the foreign embassy of the country you will be visiting or passing through to make sure your medications are permitted in that country.
  • You can also consult with the U.S. Embassy located in the countries on your itinerary.
  • Another resource is the individual country’s ministry of health department. Some countries that post medication restrictions will also detail the procedures you can take to bring restricted medications into that country. These procedures may include special procedures to grant permission and/or documentation requirements, among others.
  • If you are traveling with a controlled drug, you should review medication regulations on the International Narcotics Control Board website.
  • At least 6-8 weeks prior to departure, arrange a formal travel consult with an experienced travel medicine provider. This advanced timeline will allow adequate time to complete any vaccines needed for your destination, as well as to sort out specific medication issues. Your travel medicine specialist may have additional information on traveling with restricted medications and can help you complete any necessary paperwork, if applicable.

If you determine a country on your itinerary has a ban on your medication, consider these options:

  • Consult with your prescribing provider and discuss an alternative medication that is not on the restricted list. Be sure to trial the medication for an adequate period of time prior to travel to assess for efficacy and any side effects.
  • Consider obtaining your medication in the country of your destination. Some countries will not allow import of certain medications, but do allow prescribing of that same or similar medication by a licensed healthcare provider in-country.
  • Consider changing your destination. If your destination country has an absolute ban on your medication and your health requires that you continue your medication without interruption, you will not be able to travel to this destination at this time. 

A Few Things to Avoid:

  • Don’t attempt to enter a country with a banned medication. If discovered, your medication will be confiscated at a minimum, placing your health at risk. Many countries have severe penalties for possessing banned medications, including prison.
  • Don’t have family or friends mail medications to you.
  • Don’t assume you can access the medication in a foreign country just by presenting at an emergency department.
  • Don’t purchase medications on the street, in open markets or from businesses that do not appear to be a legitimate pharmacy. Counterfeit and expired medications are common in developing countries.
  • Don’t purchase medication from physicians in developing countries as they are less likely to store the medication correctly or have the correct medication in stock.

“Sometimes medication packages are not written in English especially in non-English speaking countries so I suggest that travelers install an app on their mobile phones that can help with the translation,” Lovely said. “If members have concerns with the medications, they can always contact operations and we can assist.”

Members can also call if they need help finding a licensed health care provider in their destination. It’s all part of a Global Rescue travel protection membership, which includes everything from medical advisory services to field rescue at the point of injury or illness to hospital transport. Learn more about Global Rescue’s medical advisory services and how you can access them 24/7/365.


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