How to Travel with Prescription Drugs
Last updated on 03/16/2023
Traveling with prescription drugs internationally isn’t just as easy as packing up your toiletries. So how can you best pack up medicine for pain relief, allergies, or those prescriptions for more serious or chronic health conditions? Below you’ll learn how to travel with prescription drugs the safe way. Here are the rules you must follow to stay within the law:
Air Travel with Medication
Need to travel with prescription drugs but have to board a plane? Find out in advance what the rules are to get through security checkpoints and board the aircraft without issue.
Review the airline’s policy to make sure your prescriptions are allowed before you reach the gate. The TSA recommends clearly labeling medications. Your name should also appear on the prescription bottle. The same guidelines apply to vitamins and supplements too.
TSA Tips for Flying with Prescription Drugs
The Transportation Security Association’s website also lists the following tips for traveling with prescription medications:
- It is not necessary to present your medication to or notify an officer about any medication you are traveling with unless it is in liquid form (See next bullet).
- TSA allows medication in liquid form in carry-on bags in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, you must tell the officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subjected to additional screening. Extra screening often includes opening the container.
- Medication is allowed in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts as long as it is screened.
- You can travel with prescription drugs or medication in both carry-on and checked baggage. Place these items in your carry-on in the event that you need immediate access.
- TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.
- Medication is usually screened by X-ray; however, if a passenger does not want a medication X-rayed, he or she may ask for an inspection instead. Be sure to request inspection before sending any items through the X-ray tunnel.
- Airport security also permits nitroglycerin tablets and spray (used to treat episodes of angina in people who have coronary artery disease). Such medications have never been prohibited. (Source: TSA)
Packing Medicine for Travel
Ask your physician for a letter that explains your medical conditions and the medication required. Keep the letter in your carry-on luggage. This way, you’ll be prepared if you are questioned at security checkpoints or during customs screenings.
Also, consider environmental factors that may affect your health condition or medicine like altitude and humidity. Your doctor may want to make adjustments to your prescription.
If you have a condition that could flare up during your flight, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet that states your conditions, medicines, treatment and physician’s contact information. Your flight attendants will have a better understanding of what is happening in an event where you are unable to explain your condition during an emergency.
Taking Medication Overseas
Finally, before taking medication overseas understand the laws for bringing prescriptions and other medicine to a destination. Some countries ban or regulate even the most common over-the-counter medicines. The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Japan are some of the stricter countries. For example, it is illegal to bring into Japan even common allergy and sinus medications like Sudafed and Vicks inhalers. Other prescription medications, such as Adderall, are prohibited in Japan. Singapore does not allow medicinal chewing gums (Nicotine gum). Any controlled substance requires pre-authorization.
The United Arab Emirates also has a long list of banned substances and may arrest any person who brings prohibited medicines. Restrictions include even over-the-counter medicines containing codeine or similar narcotic-like ingredients.
In a recent New York Times article, "How To Make Sure You Travel With Medicine Legally" noted that travelers are best off consulting with their physician or local pharmacist in addition to the embassy of the destination country. Some countries, like Singapore, may even require pre-approval to take certain medicines or other medical equipment.
Bottom line — taking medication overseas legally is important. So, do your research well in advance of your trip. The U.S. State Department is a good resource. For embassy information, check the travel advisory resources page on InsureMyTrip.