September 19, 2018

Keeping up your daily medication regime while traveling is integral to maintaining good health. Medication laws vary substantially worldwide, and it is important to know the best way to enter a new country with potentially regulated drugs and if they are allowable.


Keep the following in mind when traveling: 

  • Thorough documentation may be necessary to clear customs.
  • Not all medication may be available for refill.
  • Advanced consultation with medical providers and research into your destination are necessary prior to embarking to ensure compliance and access to medicines that keep you well. 

International Regulatory Challenges


Bringing medications into a country can be fraught with challenges. Many psychotropic drugs (those that impact the central nervous system) are intensely regulated. These include, but are not limited to, narcotics, anti-anxiety drugs, sleep aids, and drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD. Most countries do not allow the importation of narcotics. Some medications that affect the central nervous system are over-the-counter in one country but may be controlled in another.

There is no single database of restrictions on medications for all countries. Regulation is not confined to the national level, either; local and state governments in many countries impose restrictions separate from those of the national government. Some local areas have stricter laws than the national government, while others have looser laws. Areas may post laws about medication restrictions on their embassy site, ministry of health website, or entry regulation and visa sites. These sites can be challenging to navigate, especially as the names of medications may vary from one place to another, be confusing, and the list may be extensive.

Tips for Traveling with Medication

The safest way to travel with medication – in the absence of clear laws and regulations, is to:

  • Keep the medication in its original container
  • Have an original copy of the prescription
  • Include a physician or provider’s note on letterhead proving your need to take the medicine
  • Obtain a letter from the embassy of your destination for highly controlled substances such as narcotics or amphetamines

It is a good practice to ensure that copies of prescriptions, as well as the label on the bottle, include:

  • The patient’s name that matches a government-issued identification
  • A valid home address
  • The name of the medication in generic form
  • The number of days that the medication should be taken, how many times per day, and the size of the dosage in milligrams
  • The name and contact information of the dispensing pharmacy and prescribing doctor, clearly printed on the bottle and the prescription

If a prescription is lost, stolen, or misplaced, obtaining a new prescription may be fraught with challenges. As not all countries have access to the same stocks of drugs, a bio-equivalent - a medication that acts in the same or similar fashion as the one you are taking - may be prescribed. These may be more or less effective than your prescription, contain different ingredients, and have different side effects. Furthermore, not all countries use the same formularies – lists that doctors rely on to determine equivalent drugs. As a result, you may be prescribed a different bio-equivalent in one country than you would be in another, regardless of what drugs are available. It is important that you discuss these medications with your provider at home, including the risks and benefits of starting or stopping a new prescription. Be sure to have your doctor’s number handy when you travel.

Your medical assistance provider can aid you in finding your medication or having it delivered to you. It is essential to have a medical insurance policy that is valid in the country you are visiting. If you should lose or run out of your medication, your provider can help you replace your necessary medications.

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