Travelling with medicines

Key messages

  • Travellers who take regular medication should allow time to prepare for their trip well in advance of travel. A medical check-up is recommended to discuss fitness to travel, ensure medication is optimised and sufficient supplies are available.
  • Travellers should take medication in its original pharmacy packaging, along with a copy of their prescription and letter from the prescriber. Medication should be carried in hand luggage, with an extra supply in hold luggage.
  • Some countries may not allow the entry of certain types of medicines, and others may have regulations requiring specific permission for a medication to be brought in. These rules can also apply to medicines available over the counter in the UK. 
  • Certain medicines are ‘controlled’ in the UK and travellers are required to obtain an export licence prior to transporting a certain quantity (usually three months or more supply) of these drugs out of or into the country. A letter from the prescriber detailing the medicines is advised for travelling with smaller supplies. 
  • Travellers should be aware that the legal status of their medication may be different outside the UK. Rules for the different countries can be checked with the foreign embassy in the UK.
  • Counterfeit (fake) drugs are more common in certain regions and can be a significant health risk.

Overview

Travellers who need to carry medication should be aware that their medication’s legal status in other countries may be different from in the UK. Legal requirements for carrying personal medicines across international borders are highly variable and often not consistently enforced. This applies to over-the-counter medication as well as prescription drugs. Some countries may not allow the entry of certain types of medicines, and others may have blanket regulations requiring specific permission. The regulations regarding whether a traveller needs to carry a doctor’s letter describing the medication also varies widely. 

Before travel

Travellers who take regular medication should allow time to prepare for their trip well in advance of travel. A medical check-up is recommended to discuss fitness to travel, and ensure medication is optimised and sufficient supplies are available (including cover for possible travel delays).

Travellers should check the regulations on importing or transporting medicines to their chosen destination by contacting the relevant embassy/high commission or checking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) country advice.

Travellers who are taking certain ‘controlled drugs’ may be required to obtain an export licence prior to transporting set quantities (usually three months’ or more supply) into or out of the UK. The application should be made at least 10 days prior to travel. Some examples of controlled drugs include: Diamorphine, Diazepam, Codeine, Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine, Pethidine, Ritalin and Temazepam. Further information on the drugs which will require an export license and application forms can be found on the Gov.uk website. Those carrying controlled drugs and other prescription drugs on shorter trips are advised by the Home Office to obtain and carry a letter from the GP or prescriber detailing the medicines.

Wherever possible, travellers should avoid the risk of purchasing counterfeit medication, by obtaining all the medication they will need prior to travel.

Travellers should also be advised to:

  • Carry medicines (including those bought over the counter) in their correctly labelled container, as issued by the pharmacist, in their hand luggage. Airline regulations should be checked, particularly for injectable medications or liquids as restrictions apply to the quantity that can be carried in hand luggage.
  • Passengers needing to fly with oxygen, insulin or other injectable medicines should contact their airline in advance to make appropriate arrangements.
  • Consider packing a spare supply of medication in the hold luggage in case of loss of hand luggage.
  • Storage requirements for medication must be checked in advance. Arrangements for control of temperature during transit with certain medications may be needed.
  • Carry a copy of all prescriptions.
  • A letter from the prescriber detailing the medicines with the generic names for the medications can be helpful for border control checks, and in case medicines have to be replaced or medical help is required.
  • Carry a note from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationary for controlled substances and injection medications.
  • Take out an appropriate level of travel health insurance including repatriation and specific cover for any pre-existing illnesses.

During travel

Travellers who need to obtain extra medication during travel should be aware of the risks of counterfeit medications. They should carry copies of prescriptions of regular medications and consult a recognised pharmacy or health care provider. Medicines should not be purchased from open markets or street vendors.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers and the International Society of Travel Medicine global clinic directory can provide contact details of medical practitioners overseas.

After travel

Travellers who have taken medication acquired abroad and are unwell after travelling should seek advice from their GP or pharmacist.

FACT SHEET WRITTEN BY:

NaTHNaC

The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) is commissioned by Public Health England to provide health information for both healthcare professionals and travellers. Information is compiled by the NaTHNaC clinical and scientific team, and updated regularly. Further advice on health risks and disease outbreaks is available at www.travelhealthpro.org.

Date last reviewed: April 2017


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