Passport Health: Prescriptions While Traveling
Traveling abroad can be intimidating especially when it comes to figuring out how you will travel with or refill your much-needed prescriptions. Prior to my decision to leave the U.S. and travel full time, I was very intimidated about how I would obtain my prescriptions abroad during my travels. Before I left I made sure to fill a 90 day supply, the maximum quantity my insurance at the time would allow for, but let’s be honest, I knew that was just a “band-aid” for the moment and I would soon be out of my medications, in South America, with no family physician, and no prescription coverage. Fast-forward 12 countries and 9 months later, I have learned some great information that I want to share with you to not only save you time and money but potentially save you from some complications and headaches along the way!
Check with the local embassy that your medication is legal – The very first thing you should do before you pack your medication in your travel bag is check with the local embassy that your prescribed medication is legal (acceptable) to bring into the country. Once you have typed your country destination into the embassy website, the information can usually be found under U.S. Citizen Services → Local Resources for U.S. Citizens → Medical Assistance and searching for information contained within this section about importing medication into the specific country that you will be traveling to.
Pack your prescriptions in your carry-on – Make sure you pack your prescriptions in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. Also, this will help if customs go through your luggage and has any questions about your prescriptions; you can address it right then and there.
Keep your prescriptions in the original containers – Make sure you keep your prescriptions in the original, clearly, labeled containers. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you are traveling with medication that was not prescribed for your use.
Bring a letter from your family physician – When in doubt, bring a letter from home, from your family physician, listing each medication that is prescribed to you and explaining the use for each medication.
Bring extras – Be prepared. Running out of necessary medication in a foreign country is not fun. One good rule of thumb is to have an additional week of medication on hand at all times. Prior to traveling full time, I used to work as a pharmacist. A little unknown fact that some people may not be aware of is that insurance companies will allow you to refill a prescription PRIOR to it being eligible for a refill if you are going on vacation (usually only an international vacation as access to similar pharmacies in the U.S. is not an issue). This is what is called a “vacation override”. This “vacation override” is an exception allowed by your insurance company so that you are able to have essential medications with you while you are on vacation. Note that usually your insurance company will only allow one “vacation override” per calendar year so choose wisely when you are using this amazing feature on your insurance plan. You can either call your customer service number on the back of your insurance card or contact your local pharmacist and ask them to start the process for you. You will have to provide certain details such as when you will be leaving for and returning from your vacation.
Visit your international pharmacy – Pharmacies abroad are located every few blocks and for the most part are staffed with very knowledgeable people (physicians, pharmacists, and technicians). I have found that medications are much cheaper abroad also! If you have a current prescription that needs to be refilled, there should not be a problem. Most of the time, no prescription is necessary. In my experience, brand names of the drugs are different. As long as you know the generic name of the medication you are taking, the pharmacist will be able to fill your prescription with the same medication (generic). Be careful when shopping for medications in pharmacies located in extremely warm climates/ countries. Some pharmacies have unregulated store temperatures and are exposed to the outdoor elements, thus exposing the medications to the extreme outdoor heat. When shopping for medications be sure to look for pharmacies that are enclosed in a well air-conditioned building, not exposed to heat, air, light, and moisture. This will ensure that the medications you receive are not damaged.
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