If you take prescription medication or over-the-counter medication on a regular basis, research its availability and legality in your host country before going abroad. You should never abruptly discontinue your medication. Prescribed medication regimens are important to your health and well-being. Below are some things to consider when taking both prescription and non-prescription medications abroad:
Before You Depart
Do not assume that prescription and over-the-counter medications available in the US are approved or legal in another country. Consult with your treating physician at least two months prior to departure about specific medications, and obtain a list of comparable, generic names — including their dosage, composition, and the chemical names of active ingredients, which determines the permissibility of the medication in the foreign country. Plan to travel with “requisite medical documentation,” which includes a letter from the prescribing doctor.
Obtain a translation of your documentation, if possible.
Some countries do not allow certain medications (including both prescription and non-prescription) and/or may require that you obtain a medical provider note or prescription documentation. Pain medications, ADD/ADHD stimulants, steroids, sedatives/anxiety medications, and injectable medications of any type may need additional documentation or may be illegal in certain countries. If you are in possession of illegal medications (even if you obtained them legally in the U.S.) or do not have the proper documentation, your medications may be confiscated and you could be arrested or deported.
Traveling with Medication
Medication should be packed in its original container with the traveler’s name on them. Do not combine different medications in one container in order to save space.
Pack your medication in a carry-on bag, because your checked baggage is occasionally lost or delayed.
Third parties should not carry prescription medication for another person.
Travelers should not travel with more than personal-use quantities. This generally means no more than a 90-day supply (in some countries 30 days).
Declare all prescription medications on the Customs form when you arrive in country.
Students with diabetes and those who use any injectable medications should obtain and carry, at all times, a doctor’s letter explaining the need to carry needles and syringes.
You may find that you need to refill your prescription while abroad. Many pharmacies in other countries will only fill prescriptions written in that country (i.e., that are prescribed by doctors who are licensed to practice in that country). It will be critical to have a letter from a US doctor during this appointment that explains the diagnosis, treatment, and medication regimen.
International Association for Medical Assistant for Travelers (IAMAT) provides health information by country.
Your Health Abroad is The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website for guidance on various topics, including medical emergencies.
CDC website provides immunization requirements by country.
International Narcotics Control Board is the independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions.
Mobility International USA’s Medications When Traveling Internationally, and Arizona State University Study Abroad Office Traveling Abroad with Prescription Medication offer helpful tips on traveling with medication legally.
How to Make Sure You Travel with Medication Legally, New York Times, January 19, 2018.