For the most part, travelers who take prescription medications of all kinds can travel without problems throughout much of the world.
Global Rescue Associate Medical Director Claudia Zegans, MD, provided the advice below to help keep our members informed and safe while they travel.
Travelers should follow basic precautions when traveling with prescription medications:
- Medications should be in their original container 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.
Despite this general ease of travel with medications, some countries have restrictions on the type and/or quantity of medications that can be brought in. The medications most often restricted are controlled substances, such as opiates and stimulants, and psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. However, even medications such as asthma inhalers and insulin are restricted or prohibited in some countries. Many countries allow people to bring in no more than a 30-day supply of even more routine medications. And, in some countries, certain over the counter medications are prohibited.
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 for 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 US Embassy located in the countries on your itinerary (https://www.usembassy.gov/). 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 include special permitting procedures 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: http://www.incb.org/incb/en/travellers/country-regulations.html.
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 that 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 that 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. Your travel assistance partner can help you obtain a reliable source of medication in this situation. Global Rescue provides this service to its members.
- 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 “Don’ts”:
- 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; they are less likely to store the medication correctly or have the correct medication in stock.
Remember that it is essential to have both medical evacuation coverage as well as travel insurance protection when you travel.
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