How to Travel Legally and Safely with Your Medications

Updated on November 21, 2023
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Are you planning an upcoming trip and uncertain about what to do with your medications? It’s common for domestic and international travelers to carry medicines to treat their acute or chronic health issues. Carrying small amounts of medications for personal use won’t pose any problems for most US travelers. 

But every country has its laws regarding medications. What is commonly prescribed or accessible over the counter in the US might be unlicensed or controlled in other countries. Depending on your destination, you may undergo increased scrutiny from customs officials. In more complex cases, you may face potential confiscation and imprisonment. 

As with many aspects of life, traveling legally and safely with your medications is about preparation. However, figuring out the medication regulations on a plane or during travel can be challenging and confusing. This article discusses some legal and safe practices when traveling with medications abroad. 

Know the Restricted Medications at Your Destination

Before taking medicine on a plane, familiarize yourself with the rules of the country you’re traveling to. Be aware of the banned and restricted medications of your destination. It’s important to remember that laws regarding traveling with medications can be tricky. 

But checking the website of the US embassy in your destination country is an excellent way to start. You can verify information on your airline’s website to ensure your medications are permitted. 

Suppose any of your medicines appear on the embassy’s or airline’s list of banned or restricted substances. You must consult your healthcare provider about possible alternatives and request a letter detailing your medical condition and treatment plan. 

Secure Necessary Permits or Government Authorization

Retaining copies of your original prescriptions is critical, especially when traveling abroad. It’s also better to secure an official letterhead from your primary care physician that details the medications you need and the reasons they were prescribed. Ideally, consider translating these documents into your destination country’s language so they’re easy to read. 

It’s crucial to note that some countries may require you to submit documents to government officials before arrival for certain medications and specialized equipment used for their administration. Ensure you obtain the necessary permits or government authorization to transport your medications. 

Adjust Your Medication to the Anticipated Time Zone

The time difference in the country you’re traveling to may complicate your medication schedule. For short-term travel, you can set an alarm on your phone when taking your medicines home. Doing so will help you maintain the same interval between doses. 

On the other hand, you may have to gradually adjust the time you take your medication if you’re staying in the new time zone for an extended period. Taking medicines 1-2 hours early or late is generally safe, but avoid doubling your doses. However, checking with your physician to determine the best approach to adjusting your medication to a new time zone before traveling is always advisable. 

Learn to Store Your Medicines While Traveling Safely

When carrying medications while traveling, keeping them in their original containers is essential. Ensure they have clear labels with your complete name, healthcare provider’s name, generic and brand names, and the precise dosage. 

If you’re carrying refrigerated medications, utilize insulated travel cases. Likewise, identify whether any of your medications are photosensitive. Remember that certain drugs can increase your sun sensitivity and risks of sunburn. Likewise, be mindful of the meds in your patch that may be released too quickly when exposed to excessive heat. 

Pack Enough Medication for the Length of Your Trip

Before embarking on your trip, check and ensure you pack enough medication for your stay. Consider bringing an additional two-week supply if you cannot return home as scheduled or have to stay beyond the anticipated duration unexpectedly. 

You might also have to arrange to deliver a new prescription to where you are staying. Requesting an extra prescription from your healthcare provider before leaving is a good idea. This way, you can easily refill your medication in case you run out. 

Make an Appointment With a Travel Health Specialist

Making an appointment with a travel health specialist is a good practice before departure. These professionals specialize in providing specific and valuable recommendations and care to help keep you safe and healthy while traveling abroad. 

It’s advisable to consult a travel health specialist, typically at least four to six weeks in advance. This timeframe is usually enough for vaccines to take effect and allows you to make the recommended preparations. 

The Bottom Line

Most confusion about carrying medications happens when traveling abroad. But, you can prevent any hurdles by planning and consulting with your primary care provider. While you can find many resources online, verify whether the information you find is accurate and updated. Always contact your destination’s US embassy to ensure compliance with all regulations. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.