One of the most common concerns for those traveling abroad for the first time is taking medication overseas. The rules about what drugs are legal in one country can be completely different from the next, and while your prescription medication may be completely fine in your home country, it could be another matter in your destination.
You Must be Careful When Taking Medication Overseas
Some prescription medications won’t even raise an eyebrow from authorities, while others are more closely controlled, including painkillers such as diamorphine, anabolic steroids and some anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines. Any medication that affects the central nervous system tend to be highly regulated and some are even banned, with both Japan and the United Arab Emirates having tightly controlled laws regarding these drugs.
If you’re heading overseas and need to take medication with you, the International Narcotics Control Board website is a good place to start for information on international agreements regarding the transportation of medication. Individual countries are able to submit their own regulations about what is and isn’t permitted on the website, and while some are comprehensive, others are fairly vague, while some countries haven’t yet bothered to submit information.
But provided you consult your GP early, carry detailed information about the drugs you are carrying, and ensure you have enough for the duration of your trip, taking medication overseas shouldn’t impact your travel plans. Here are a few steps we recommend leading up and during your travels to reduce the chance of encountering any issues.
Before You Depart
You should visit your doctor well before your departure date, not only to discuss your prescription medication requirements, but also any necessary vaccinations. While some vaccinations are a one-off shot on the spot, others need to be given over the course of a few weeks before they are effective.
So as soon as you know you will be heading abroad, make an appointment with your GP! They will be able to advise you of the vaccinations you need and whether or not they will affect the medication you are currently taking. If so, you may need to take alternative protections or change your current medication regime.
You doctor can also give you advice about when you should be taking medication overseas as you travel through different time zones and how you can adjust to the time zone of your destination on arrival.
Ask your doctor for enough medication to last your entire trip, plus an additional dose in case of flight delays or any emergency situation. As a general rule, GPs will not prescribe medication for more than three months at any one time, so if you are traveling for longer than this, you will need to consult them about what you will do or apply for a permit to carry more if this is required by your home country. Some countries, however, will only permit you to carry a 30-day supply of medications and may require an import license certificate, particularly for narcotics and psychotropics.
It’s also a good idea to research whether or not your medication is available at pharmacies in your destination country and if you need a prescription from a local doctor for it. The consulate or embassy in your home country may be a good first port of call, and if they can’t offer accurate information, then online forums are another good source. People who travel frequently to your destination or expats living there are usually really helpful when it comes to finding out about what is available in pharmacies and the procedures necessary to acquire medication. While some may be available over the counter, others won’t be available at all, and it’s much better to be prepared than have to cut your trip short because you run out.
Preparing for Travel
The most important thing you need to remember when taking medication overseas is having a letter signed by your doctor, as well as an original copy of your prescription. The letter should state your name and address, date of birth, travel departure and return dates, as well as your planned itinerary. It should also list each of the prescribed medications you are carrying, including the total amount and the dosage. The medication must be kept in the original packaging and correctly labeled, and you should always carry it in your hand luggage, provided the airline regulations allow for it. If you are traveling with a friend or family, split the medication between the two of you, just to cover yourself if one of your hand luggage bags go missing.
If you need to carry syringes with you, find out from your chosen airline about what their regulations are. This information should be available on their website or by phoning their customer support direct.
In come cases, the medication will require refrigeration and you can purchase insulated wallets and containers to use during transit. Avoid subjecting your medication to any kind of extreme heat before or during transit as it may reduce its effectiveness.
During Your Travels
Always ensure you keep taking your medication as per your usual routine, even though you may have unusual sleep patterns due to jet lag. If necessary, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder, as this will help you create a routine, despite being in a completely different time zone.
If you do require more medication while abroad, take your prescription and letter from your GP with you to show the doctor in your destination country. Keep in mind that a prescription from your GP cannot be filled in another country, so you will need to get a separate prescription from a doctor there. If English is not widely spoken, then have the letter translated into the preferred language to help facilitate the consultation. In some cases, the medication will not be available or will come in a different dosage, so just be aware of exactly what you are being prescribed.
It’s also important that you don’t substitute your prescription from back home with a medication that is not permitted in your home country, or you could run into big problems when you return. This also goes for general medical issues encountered abroad that result in a doctor prescribing you medication. Always carry the prescription with you when you return and try and check before you fly home that the drugs you are bringing with you aren’t illegal! Hopefully all of this will help you in your journey. Nothing should prevent you from traveling and now taking medication overseas shouldn’t either!