Ten clever packing tips for medications to ensure you don’t run afoul of the medicines’ laws and regulations.
Many travelers must carry medications with them any time they travel — internationally or domestically. Bringing medicines always takes some planning. Use these packing tips for medications.
When traveling internationally, planning may have to overcome significant obstacles.
International travelers must understand that legal medications in their home countries may be illegal at their destinations. Therefore, international travelers must be cautious about any medication they wish to take on their journey. I have a friend who takes a prescription medication daily that’s banned in some countries across the world. Fortunately, for the most part he’s permitted to travel with the medication, but he’s required to bring a prescription and a letter explaining his medical need for it from his physician.
If you break the law regarding medications at your destination, you may be facing a severe fine or even imprisonment.
The consequences of breaking medication regulations can be serious and range from confiscation to stiff financial penalties and even imprisonment for drug trafficking. Even seizures can be severe if the medication is essential to treat a chronic condition. No suitable substitute may be legally available at your destination. A local doctor will typically have to prescribe for you if one is available and only after an examination. That would take time from your trip.
Here are my ten tips for travelers who need to take medications on their domestic and international journeys.
Detailed medication list:
Make a detailed list of every medication, prescription, and over-the-counter drug you plan to take with you on your journey. Don’t omit any medications to facilitate the planning you’ll need.
Being sure you’ll have an adequate supply of medications that won’t violate drug laws at your destination requires these packing tips for remedies.
Research each international destination for its regulations for each medication:
If traveling internationally, you should research each medication on your list for each journey’s destinations to ensure it’s legal. What documentation for it is necessary, if any, should be compliant with your destinations’ medication regulations.
Some nations don’t only ban prescription medications containing controlled substances. They also refuse over-the-counter medications, including common allergies, cough, and sinus medications.
Don’t assume you’ll be able to purchase your medication at your international destination:
Never count on being able to purchase your medications at your international destination. While you may be able to bring all your medications from home to your destination legally, one or more of the medications may be banned for local sale, and some may be out of stock or not carried locally. In addition, in developing nations, be wary of potentially purchasing counterfeit drugs that may be useless or harmful. Usually, to buy prescription medications at an international destination, you need to have a local physician write the prescriptions. The doctor may require an examination first.
Bring a sufficient supply of your medications:
Always bring a sufficient supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications to cover you for their entire journey, plus an extra amount in case of delays.
Have an active refill of prescription medications for domestic travel:
For domestic travel, use the list of prescription medications to ensure you have an active refill available to potentially transfer if you need more medicines before you return home.
To avoid problems at your destination, pack your medication in its original container and have a copy of the medicine prescriptions signed by your physician.
Pack medications in their original container:
Always travel with each medication in its original container to identify it, in case of inspection. Suppose the prescription details of the medicines aren’t on the original containers, which is typical in many countries outside the U.S. In that case, you’ll need a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor concerning each medicine. In some countries, you may need a physician’s letter describing each drug and why it’s been prescribed, even if they’re in their original container, particularly in nations with highly restrictive medication regulations.
Many travelers who regularly take multiple medications per day use a pill organizer. Bring it along if you use an organizer, but don’t fill it until you’re safely at your hotel or other accommodations.
No matter how you’re traveling, pack your medications in your carry-on, not your checked luggage, to ensure they don’t get lost, stolen, or misplaced.
Pack medications in your carry-on:
While traveling by air, always pack your medications for domestic or international travel in your carry-on or personal item to ensure they arrive with you at your destination. If you are required to gate-check your suitcase, remove your medication before checking the bag and keep it with you inside the plane.
If traveling by bus or train, always pack your medications in your carry-on or personal item if you are checking a bag with the bus or train company. You want to make sure your prescription is available and not lost if the bus or train company misplaces or loses your checked bag.
If taking a cruise, your medication should be packed in your carry-on or personal item. Do not put it in a bag that will be transferred between your stateroom and the cruise ship pier by the cruise line. It may be misplaced or lost. On one cruise I was on a number of years ago, it took the cruise line more than 24 hours to find the misplaced bags of several dozen passengers.
You can take liquid medication in your carry-on on your plane flight, but you’ll need to let airport security know the liquid in your bag is medication.
Liquid medications at airport security:
In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows air travelers to bring medication in pills or another solid form in unlimited amounts in their carry-on. TSA also allows liquid medicines in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities in your carry-on, packed outside of the liquids bag. However, you must tell a TSA officer that you have such liquid medication. Most other countries’ airport security agencies follow similar regulations for drugs packed in carry-ons.
Your health insurance may not cover prescription medication purchases at your destination if that becomes necessary. For example, for U.S. senior citizens, Medicare doesn’t cover medication purchased outside the U.S. If you’re traveling internationally, unless your health insurance provides full coverage at your destination, buy travel health insurance that includes coverage for medications.
Be cautious with herbal medications:
Herbal medications often have a variety of ingredients, including teas, extracts, and plant materials. To be legally brought into international destinations, each component must be permitted under the destination’s regulations. Determining that before you travel may be tricky. Beware of violating your destination’s laws.
While these packing tips for medications are generally applicable for all travelers, particularly when traveling internationally, you need to be sure about each nation’s regulations, as you are responsible for following them. For U.S. citizens, start with the State Department’s Destination Information, health information, and check with your destination’s embassy.
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After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.