Travelling abroad with prescription medication

So, you’re all packed and ready to go on your holiday. The suitcase has been weighed, you’ve checked your documents over and over, you’re excited to get away with your loved ones – but have you checked to see if your prescription medication is legal in the country you are travelling to?

Understandably if you have an existing medical condition, that requires you to take prescription medication, you may be concerned about travelling abroad. But don’t worry. We have put together everything you need to know about travelling with prescription medication and the precautions you should take.

Why Do I Need to Check My Medication Before Travelling Abroad?

For many of us, taking prescription medication is part of our daily routine, but some medications that are widely available in the UK are, in fact, illegal in some countries. 

The penalties for being caught carrying ‘illegal’ medications abroad, whether it is intentional or not, can include hefty fines, deportation, being banned from returning to the country, imprisonment and in severe cases, the death penalty. 

If you are going on holiday and need to take your prescription medication with you, it is a good idea to discuss your travel plans with your GP or practice nurse.  Planning ahead means you will be readily prepared and can make sure you are able to get enough medication, before you travel, to last you the duration of your trip. It will also allow you time to get a doctor’s note to accompany your medication should you need one.

What Do I Need to Do Before I Take My Medication Abroad?

Before travelling abroad, it is important to check the regulations that may apply if you are taking your prescription medication with you. Be sure to check the rules for taking the medication out of the UK as well as any restrictions for the country you are visiting.

While most medications will not cause any issues when travelling abroad, if you are still in doubt after checking the Government’s Travel Advice it is best to contact the country’s Embassy or Consulate.

Getting a Doctor’s Note:

Even if it is not a legal requirement, it is a good idea to carry a doctor’s note and a copy of your prescription with you in case you are questioned by customs upon arrival. It is recommended that the doctor’s note contains the following information (but check specific requirements for the country you are travelling to); your medication’s generic name (not just the brand name), the health condition it is being used for and the dosage needed.

Ensuring your doctor’s note is translated into the language of the country you are visiting is also a good idea to prevent any miscommunication. It may also come in useful if you need to seek medical attention during your trip and are asked for a list of your medications and medical conditions.

How Should I Pack My Medication?

Most people chose to keep their medication with them in their hand luggage, just in case their suitcase is lost in transit or it gets damaged in the hold. Be sure to have your doctor’s note and prescription in your hand luggage too. With regards to how much medication you should take on holiday with you; if you are carrying more than three months’ worth, you will need to apply for a personal license. You can get this from the Home Office and we recommend allowing plenty of time for it to be processed prior to your departure date.

It is important to keep your medication and any associated equipment, such as syringes, pumps and needles, in its original packaging so you and others are aware of what it is and can easily match it to your doctor’s note and prescription.

It is also a good idea to check the expiry dates on your medication, ensuring these are valid for the full duration of your trip abroad. You don’t want to get to your chosen destination then realise you are not able to use your medication!

Common Medications That are Banned Abroad

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, it is important that you take some time to research the laws and regulations of your chosen holiday destination.

Some medications that are widely available on prescription in the UK can contain ingredients that are classed as illegal in other countries. For example, common painkillers; Codeine and Tramadol are banned in Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Medications to treat anxiety, such as Diazepam and Lorazepam, are banned from popular holiday destinations including Greece, Japan, and the UAE.

Not only should you be aware of prescription medication, also over-the-counter medication may be classed as an illegal substance in some destinations. For example, Loperamide – also known as Imodium – which is commonly used to treat diarrhoea and short-term irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is illegal in Pakistan and India.

Vicks nasal inhalers, allergy, or cold and flu medications, which are widely available to pick up in UK stores without a prescription, may also be illegal in the country you are travelling to.  For example, Pseudoephedrine, which is commonly found in these types of medicines, is banned in Japan. It is extremely important to check official listings of banned products before entering a country to ensure you are not caught out at the border.

Travel Insurance for Existing Medical Conditions

If you or anyone travelling with you has an existing medical condition, it is important you declare this to your travel insurance provider when taking out a policy. Here at Insurancewith, we are proud to consider cover for over 1000 medical conditions and always ensure we are assessing your condition on how it affects you day to day and not just based on the diagnosis.

Ensuring yours and your family’s medical conditions are covered, will give you peace of mind knowing that should something happen whilst you’re away and you need medical treatment, your travel insurer will be able to take care of any necessary costs and get you back home safely.

In the event of a medical emergency, it is important to go to your nearest public medical facility for treatment and also notify your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. You should research medical facilities in the area you are travelling to before departure so should something happen, you will know where to go. If in doubt, your travel insurer will have a 24-hour medical assistance team you can contact for assistance and medical advice.

Whilst abroad, if you do end up having to make any payments relating to sickness or injury, it is important to hold onto all of the receipts as you will most definitely need these later on down the line if you submit a claim.

If you are looking for travel insurance to cover your condition, take a look at our dedicated page for those looking to get travel insurance with medical conditions here.

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