Travelling with Prescription Medication

Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford

If you are on prescribed medication, it is worth taking some time prior to travelling to consider how to take it with you safely and effectively. Anticipating potential problems and barriers to travelling with essential medication can help prevent serious issues later on.

What am I allowed to take?

Spend some time checking that the country, or countries, you are travelling to allow you to take your medication in, and if so, how much you are allowed to carry. Some countries restrict what kinds of medications you can bring in, as well as the amount you can carry with you.

Don’t forget to make sure any countries you are travelling through or stopping off in also allow your medications in – don’t forget about layovers for flights.

Some medications which you can buy over the counter are also subject to restrictions. Basically, anything you want to take with you, CHECK FIRST!

The rules each country specify are subject to change and you will need to check up to date guidance within 8 weeks of intended travel. The most reliable source of up to date information is the country’s embassy – which you can find via the website.  The website is also a valuable source of advice about travelling with medication.

How do I carry my medication?

Ensure you take any medication in the original packaging. Make sure you have an up to date copy of your prescription, and a letter from your doctor if you are travelling to a country with restrictions on that drug. Take enough medication for a few days in your hand luggage, with the remainder for your trip in your hold baggage. If you have liquid medication, take care to make sure you only carry the permitted volume in your hand baggage.

Take enough to cover the duration of your trip and 48 hours spare. Do not take a lot of excess with you – just enough to allow for any delays in your return travel.

If you need to travel with prescribed oxygen, please make sure you check with your airline about how to organise this. Also, medication which requires injecting (such as insulin) will require a confirmatory letter from your doctor, so check with your airline. Only carry the needles needed for the journey with you in your hand baggage.

Some medications may also need to be kept at a particular temperature. Insulation and refrigerating travel storage bags are available from larger chemists to help do this effectively when travelling, and are well worth the small investment.

Travelling for a long period of time

If you are travelling for a long period of time, usually 3 months or more, you may need a special licence to travel with certain medications (known as ‘controlled drugs’ – for example, codeine, diazepam, morphine and temazepam). Check with the country you are visiting via their embassy. This licence can be obtained by a simple application form on the website.

Replacing lost medication

If you do need to access medication to replace any you may have lost whilst you are away, do so with caution. Make sure you obtain medication via a doctor, rather than a chemist. The sale of counterfeit medication is a real problem in some countries.

Border control

Make sure you have your medication in its original packaging, along with a copy of your prescription and a letter of authorisation from your GP. There is likely to be a small cost from your GP to provide this, but it can save a lot of difficult issues at customs.

Travelling across timezones

Bear in mind that you may be travelling across time zones, and this can be tricky to manage with medications that are required on a regular basis. Keep a notebook with details of the time you have taken medication, and consider keeping a watch on ‘home’ time to help regulate your dosing if it is too tricky to change it to your destination timezone.
Otherwise a timer on your smartphone, or a simple alarm, can help to trigger you to take medication when it is due.

If you are only crossing a one or two hour timezone, don’t worry too much about altering the time you take medications – a small shift of one or two hours sooner or later will not affect most medications effectiveness.

Keeping medication cool

Some medication, such as insulin in particular, needs to be kept cool, preferably in the fridge. Use a medication cool box to transport your insulin, and make sure your destination accommodation has a fridge you can use and access easily. It is recommended that all medication is stored at room temperature – ie from 68-77 degrees. It may be significantly hotter, or colder, than this depending on your destination, so make sure to keep your medication packets in a cool, dark place on arrival. Bear in mind that if you are travelling by car, medication left in the vehicle on a hot day will also be getting too hot! Consider using a cool box to keep it at a steady temperature.

People travel with their medication all the time, and usually without any issue or inconvenience. There is no need to change or avoid a trip due to medication, just make some simple preparations to avoid inconvenience later on, then you can enjoy your holiday, use your medication as needed, and not give it another thought!

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those taking prescription medication. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Travel Insurance for Medical Conditions

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you have existing medical conditions and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for them.