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Advice to Travelers Traveling With Prescriptions Internationally- By a Pharmacist

If you’re planning an upcoming international trip and you’re not sure what to do with your medications, you’re not alone. Traveling abroad with medication can be intimidating and confusing. As a clinical pharmacist, I’ve been asked about medication and traveling a lot. Laws about traveling with medicine can be confusing because each country has its own rules. Here is some advice to keep you out of trouble and plan ahead anywhere you go. 

Plan Ahead

Some countries restrict what medication and how much you can bring along with you. You can check with the local embassy that you’ll be visiting or flying through to see if your prescribed medication and quantity is allowed. Most countries only allow a traveler to bring a maximum of a 90-day supply of medication into the country at one time. If your medication is not allowed, you can talk to an experienced traveler or ex-pat who has traveled to or currently lives in your desired travel location and ask if your medication is available. If your medication is unavailable, talk to your physician about alternative medication options.

Pack Your Prescriptions in Your Carry-on

Most medications are allowed on planes. You can bring injectable medications (like an insulin pen or peptides). Make sure to tell the TSA officer that you have diabetes or use peptides and clearly identify these items. If you need needles or syringes to inject the medication, it’s okay to have them in your carry-on. This is only okay if you have your injectable medication along with them.

Always make sure to pack your prescriptions in your carry-on in case your checked luggage gets lost. If customs go through your bags and has any questions about your prescriptions, you can address them right then and there.

Keep Your Prescriptions in the Original Containers

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 prescribed to someone else.

Bring a Letter from Your Family Physician

When in doubt, bring a letter from your family physician listing each medication prescribed to you. The letter can explain the use of each medication. The generic and chemical names of the active ingredients should be listed to determine the legality of your medications, not the brand names. Ideally, you would have this translated to the language of your destination country. 

Bring Extras

Be prepared. Not having the necessary medication in a foreign country is scary. One general guideline is to have one extra week of medication available at all times. Pharmacy insurance companies will allow you to refill a prescription early if you are going on vacation in the United States or abroad, where there is little or no access to a pharmacy. This early refill is called a “vacation override”.

This vacation override is an exception your insurance company allows to refill your medication early to have essential medications with you while you’re on vacation or traveling abroad. Your insurance company will usually only allow one vacation override per calendar year, so be careful when you are using this benefit of your insurance plan.

You can call the 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 specific details about your upcoming travels, such as when you’ll leave and return from your vacation.

Visit Your International Pharmacy

Like the United States, pharmacies abroad are staffed with healthcare professionals willing to answer your medical and prescription questions. Most of the time if you need a specific medication no prescription is necessary.

In my experience, the brand names of the drugs are different. However, if you know the medication’s generic name, the pharmacist will fill your prescription with the same medication.

Be careful when shopping for medications in pharmacies located in hot climates. Some pharmacies have unregulated store temperatures. They don’t have air conditioners and use fans to help cool the store. The medication in these pharmacies may be exposed to extreme temperatures.

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