Medications & Travel - How to Get Them Through Customs

Some prescription medicines which may be safe at home can be considered illegal in other countries. Find out what you need to know before you go.

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Photo © Getty Images/Azman Jaka

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are planning to take any medications with you while traveling, please contact the relevant country's embassy who can best advise you on whether the medication is considered illegal or not plus any further information or permits you may need in order to travel with your medications.

Pre-Trip Medication Tips

  • Make sure you travel with enough medication for the length of your trip; you might also want to carry a couple of extras in case of delay, or if one accidentally takes a dive down the sink
  • If you're on an extended trip and taking more than one month's supply (three months in some countries), you may need to explain. A copy of your itinerary or return airline ticket should do
  • Prescriptions written by your doctor at home will not be valid overseas
  • Carry medicines in their original packaging with prescription labels showing your name attached
  • Ask your doctor to write a letter verifying they're only for your personal use, stating what the drug is (not brand name), what you're taking them for, and in what dosage. If you have to administer any medication with a syringe, make sure it is also noted and that it's for personal use only.

Special Rules for the United Arab Emirates

As of mid-2018, the government of the United Arab Emirates requires ALL passengers, including those in transit, to register online if they are carrying any medications. There is a long list of narcotics and psychotropics that will require registration. It includes codeine, a drug commonly prescribed in many countries.

To see a list of medications requiring registration and to register them, go to the Ministry of Health and Prevention's webpage.

During Your Trip Tips

Always carry your medications, doctor's letter and permits in your carry on luggage; not just in case your checked in bag goes missing, is delayed or stolen, but also for convenience sake as illness could strike at any time while traveling.

Declare any syringes you may have with you for medical reasons to customs.

Try to keep your medications cool and dry. Heat and moisture can damage medications which reduce their effectiveness.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Something as simple as a cold and flu tablet containing pseudoephedrine can get you into trouble. Over the counter medications can be considered illegal in some countries or there may be limits on how much you can bring in.

Carry a doctor's letter outlining its use and make sure the medication is in its original packaging. If in doubt, give the relevant embassy a call and check with them.

Traveling With Painkillers

Most western nations have removed codeine from over-the-counter medicines in pharmacies.

If there is codeine in a medicine, you'll need a prescription to get it, so the rules above apply.

If you use strong, opioid (morphine-based) painkillers, or treatment for addiction (methadone, for example), many countries require you to get a special permit before you arrive.

This may include codeine-based medicines. You may also need a letter from your doctor which outlines which painkillers you are taking and their dosage.

Contact the relevant embassy in your country for details, should you have any questions before traveling.

Traveling With Vitamins

Any vitamins and supplements should be carried in their original packaging so authorities can identify their contents. It may also be worth getting them added to your doctor's letter.

Buying Medications While Traveling

  • Caution should always be taken when buying medications while traveling overseas. Sometimes the medication can be of poor quality, counterfeit or expired e.g fake medications have contributed to the continued presence of malaria in many developing nations
  • It's also important to check the dosage of the medication before taking it as it may be more or less than your usual supply. You; could risk overdosing or not getting the relief from the condition you have
  • Check the packaging of the medication, is it sealed and intact? Does the package printing and imagery look dodgy?
  • The medications you normally take may be known by another name in another country. If in doubt, ask the pharmacist
  • If you have an allergic reaction to the medication, cease taking it and seek immediate medical assistance.

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20 Comments

  • ben howell said

    hi,im planning on traveling to srilanka with my partner and her daughter,her daughter is on 100mg of methedone,will she be able to travel with us,

    Reply

    • Jacqueline montoya said

      I plan on traveling to Lagos, Nigeria, to be married. I also plan on living there if I can get all my daily medication. I am on 85mg of methadone I also take Clonazepam for anxiety also take U-500 for diabetes. What do I need to take a one months supply from the State ofNew Mexico in the United States. I also need to know how I can find a doctor who can perscribe me my medication legally. Thank you

      Reply

  • vicki cushing said

    I am a UK Citizen going to visit my son in Canada for 30 days (May 15-June12) & take strong opiates for severe medical conditions (ZoMorph tabs/codeine tabs/diazepam (severe anxiety/PTSD) I have a Drs letter explaining what these are for (1 month supply) and the strengths/amounts etc. Will I encounter any problems entering Calgary Canada?

    Reply

    • Mindy said

      I'm going to be travelling to the USA from Canada for approx 4 - 6 months. I take prescription Nabilone. Can I carry this much medication with me?

      Reply

  • Dannah said

    I am flying from Chicago to Japan and then on to manila, philippines next month. I will be gone about a month. Will I be able to take a multivitamin, probiotic, and vitamin c /magnesium in my carryon? Whether it's in the original container or baggies, should I have a problem?

    Reply

  • Adrienne atkin said

    Hi
    Travelling to Sri Lanka and Maldives shortly. I have some medication drugs which I am taking my prescriptions. I was advised by the GP some time ago to take parectomol over the counter as it's cheaper than on prescription. I take very few a day but on adverse 2 to 4. Am I allowed to take in parectomol without problems

    Reply

  • Dee Dee Kearney said

    We are traveling to Barbados June 2018. I am on methadone liquid. Will I be able to make it through customs as long as the bottles have my and my info on them?

    Reply

  • Mark said

    I'm living in UK. Born there. I am moving to live in France. I'm trying to find out if I can still get my medication.
    Methadone
    Diazepam
    And other mess
    Cheers

    Reply

  • victoria said

    my partner is on 90ml of methdone a day and we are flying to tenerife from uk this year and need to know where we put does it go in hold luggage and keep perscription and letter from perscriber in hand luggage.does he need a licence aswell we are only going for 7 days

    Reply

  • Annmarie Clark said

    I am travelling to Mexico in August.. I take tramadol for pain relief will this be OK

    Reply

    • Graham said

      I am travelling to Prague, Czech Republic and Bulgaria in July. I very low doses of Effexor and Clonazepam. I have a doctors prescription and a medical certificate to carry with me.

      Do I need anything else?

      Reply

  • Debbie Klein said

    Hi im going to the Dominican republic soon and have to take codeine based psin killers for a chronic back condition do i have to have a doctors letter

    Reply

  • lorraine melrose said

    I am going to the Philipines next year I am on morphine for pain can I take it with me

    Reply

  • Caren said

    I'm on 75mls methadone im planning to go to Bahrain for 1 month to be with my husband as he's working there do I need a license or just the letter from the prescriber?? I already traveled to Pakistan 9 months ago with no problems I just took the letter from the prescribed.

    Reply

    • julie said

      I went to saudi arabia in 2013 for 1 month. Took physeptone tablets as methadone liquid not allowed. No problems whatsoever. I was on 120mg liquid so i took 360 tablets of physeptone instead. Must be in original packaging and original script plus cover letter from prescribing doctor. No one blinked an eye. I came from Australia to saudi. I had overnight stay in dubai on return trip. I would think bahrain would be the same.

      Reply

  • Christine said

    I'm travelling to Sydney via stopover 3 nights in Luala Lumpur. any advice on travelling with prescription medicines - I'm on a nerve painkiller which is an opiate, and also paracetamol. I will be getting a letter and written updated prescription from my GP. Need to know restrictions for both Malasia and Australia [I'm an Australian citizen and long-term resident of UK].

    Any advice on this would be most welcome, thanks
    Christine

    Reply

  • Phil Sylvester said

    Hi Christine,
    Check out the Malaysian High Commission site:
    http://www.malaysia.org.au/travel3.html

    From what I can tell you're doing all the right things and should be ok.
    Their advice is aligned with what's said in the article above:
    "Malaysia accepts all medications prescribed for their patients by Australian doctors. If the medication is unusual, or requires use of scheduled drugs such as morphine tablets or the use of syringes, or is for treatment of HIV infections or drug dependency then a letter from the prescribing doctor should be sought.

    All medications must be carried in the bottles or packets in which they were dispensed with the name of the patient on the label and must carry a description of the contents."

    Reply

  • kaitlin fogarty said

    are you aware of any issues regarding methadone in spain?

    traveling in february 2019, valid prescription in my name

    thanks

    Reply

  • Allyson said

    Hi Kaitlin,

    If you have any questions regarding medications for a specific country, you are best to contact that country's embassy for further information.

    Cheers,

    Allyson

    Reply

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    Reply

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