Traveling With Medications

Traveling With Medications

Traveling with Medications©


The International Travel Herald


Rick Stoneking Sr. CEO

Heather Pendley, Submissions Editor [email protected]



Traveling with medications is not something to be taken lightly. Surprisingly, many have learned the hard way that you cannot simply put medicine in your luggage. This applies to over-the-counter medicines, some vitamins, and even your prescription medications. You could end up in prison, especially in many foreign countries, so the caveat “know before you go” applies. In brief, the traveler bears the burden to know what they can and cannot do. Remember the old saying “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Use it to make wise travel decisions.

Please note that this article does not present medical advice or information. It seeks only to caution you in regards to traveling with medications. In addition, the caution applies to both prescription and over-the-counter medicines. This includes vitamins. Traveling with medications whether prescription, over-the-counter or even vitamins requires trip planning. Don’t get caught uninformed. Know before you go! Have a safe vacation!


Who Should Be Concerned About Traveling with Medications?

Without a doubt, everyone should be concerned about traveling with medications. Anyone who takes a medication should carry a letter from their doctor, whether the medicine is prescription or over-the-counter. This must be done for every medicine and some prescribed vitamins. The letter should name the medicine and indicate what it is for. This must be on the doctor’s letterhead and requires the doctor’s physical address, mailing address if different, and phone number with area code.

Most civilized countries probably carry any over-the-counter medications you may need, so you should probably wait and buy it at your destination. Check ahead of time to ensure you can get it there.


What Drugs Are Regulated for Travel?

First of all, when traveling with medications you should know if the drug is regulated or restricted. Second, it doesn’t matter whether they are prescription medicines or over-the-counter medicines. Weightlifters and bodybuilders, beware: controlled substances include anabolic steroids. Consider the following information from the US Postal Service which provides a good general description of a drug, whether for carrying or mailing:

453.12 Drugs (NOTE: Not all-inclusive!)

“The term ‘drug’ refers to:

  1. Prescription drugs which are licensed medicines that require a written order by a medical doctor or pharmacist before they can be obtained. Certain poisonous (toxic) drugs and medicines may be subject to the requirements for Division 6.1 materials in Chapter Three – Hazardous Materials.
  2. Over-the-counter drugs which are medicines that can be obtained without a prescription. This includes patent medicines and related items such as aspirin, antiseptics, cold remedies, diet pills, and cosmetic medicines that do not contain a controlled substance and are not poisonous drugs or medicines.”

Yet another thing to seriously consider: the requirements for shipping medications. Many people decide to ship or mail their medicines ahead of their trip as they do not want the hassle of numerous regulations for baggage requirements. However, this also presents regulatory issues. For example, the following applies to sending medicine through shipping companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL:

“To allow DHL Express to attempt to clear the shipment on your behalf, all of the following documentation must be provided:

  • Copy of prescription
  • Drug name (trade/generic), quantity and dosage
  • Drug manufacturer
  • Description of the continuing condition the medication is used to treat

Release of shipments containing drugs is contingent upon the determination of the FDA, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and potentially Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) depending on the nature of the product.”


When Traveling with Medications — Plan Ahead

You must consider all of the regulations for every country you travel to or pass through! Katherine L. Harmon, quoted in an article published in the New York Times (link below), oversees health analysis for iJET International, a travel risk management company. Harmon makes some very important points and provides practical resources.

Harmon suggests checking with the embassy of your destination country. The US State Department website lists foreign embassies in the United States, and their contact information. It also lists insurance providers that offer overseas health coverage. Comparison websites Insure My Trip and SquareMouth help assess those insurance plans, if they’re necessary.


Where You Travel Is Very Important When Traveling with Medications

Of course, you must obey all of the regulations for every country to which you travel! Open your eyes as to where traveling with medications is dangerous. In the article “Are your prescription drugs illegal abroad?” written by Rebecca Kingsley, published on 6 Nov 2017, she states the following:

“For many, taking prescription medication has become part of a daily routine and not something that is given a second thought — until it comes to going abroad. Just over a month ago, a British holidaymaker was detained as she flew into Hurghada, a Red Sea beach resort to spend two weeks with her Egyptian partner. She was found with Tramadol, given to her by a friend, which she was going to give to her partner to help with his back pain.”

The woman still awaits trial in jail!

Kingsley goes on to say that local laws and customs vary dramatically between countries and gives some examples:

“United Arab Emirates – people have been imprisoned for testing positive for codeine and temazepam following a urine sample. In order to carry Diazepam and Tramadol through the border, you are required to seek permission from the UAE’s Ministry of Health and carry a copy of your prescription.

Japan – allergy medications including Vicks inhalers and some ADHD medications are banned.

Thailand – if you are carrying codeine into Thailand you must have a permit issued by the Food and Drug Administration.

Zambia – the popular cough medicine Benylin is banned in Zambia

China and Costa Rica – be careful to not pack too much medication as authorities will check you are only carrying the required amount of medication for your trip.”


Why You Must Understand the Importance of Traveling with Medications

I believe this quote from an Arizona State University article says it best. The article titled “Traveling Abroad with Prescription Medication” reports:

“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.”

Please note that it goes on to say:

“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 can get arrested or deported.”


How Can You Make Sure You Are Traveling with Medications Legally?

First of all, the traveler bears responsibility for knowing what they can and cannot carry, regardless of the item. This includes traveling with medications. As noted above, you cannot simply pack it in your carry-on or checked baggage. The US Embassy provides the best source of information. Review the information for all of the countries you plan to visit. Most importantly, try to get something in writing from the embassy regarding the specific medicine(s) you wish to bring with you, as well as a letter from your doctor. This could help if you are detained.

We also recommend reading the summary and case studies from OSAC (the Overseas Security Advisory Council), as it helps explain the gravity of the issue.

If you are only traveling to one country, perhaps the safest thing to do is to take a prescription from your doctor. It is imperative that the prescription states the type of medicine and why you need to take it. And, it must be in an easily readable form. But, keep in mind you must:


Take Traveling with Medications Seriously!

If you don’t think it really matters, the OSAC document states, in part:

“Commonly prescribed medications in the United States could be unlicensed or controlled substances in other countries. Failing to follow specific guidance may result in confiscation, which could impact medical treatment, or stiff penalties, including imprisonment on charges for drug trafficking, with no available recourse from the U.S. government. Countries have different rules and regulations about the types of medicine allowed to be brought into the country and the maximum amount the traveler can bring. Please be sure to check before you start your trip.” Boldface and italics mine.

Knowing the rules could keep you out of prison.



Traveling with medications is not as simple as you’d expect. Moreover, the laws vary drastically between countries. So, trying to apply a one-size-fits-all answer to traveling with medications is not wise. Ultimately, responsibility to know the rules lies with the traveler. The traveler bears responsibility for everything in their possession, including medications. Common sense for this issue simply does not apply. Some laws defy common sense.

Our best advice: the “know before you go” strategy embodied in this article “What You Need to Know About Travelling with Medications.” The “know before you go” approach is the only effective strategy you can safely apply. The last thing you want when you take a vacation is to end up in prison because of the medications you brought along. Getting them cleared ahead of time provides the best solution. Know before you go. And, have a safe vacation!


2 Your Success

Rick Stoneking Sr. CEO
International Publishing Group, LLC™
and International Travel Reviews™
A Division of IPG
Inverness, Florida

About the Author

Rick Stoneking Sr. is the founder/owner of International Publishing Group, LLC™. He is also the founder/owner of™. Rick operates ITR as a sole proprietor. ITR is now a division of IPG, and publishes The International Travel Herald™.

Rick has written in one form or another for over forty years. His published books and articles have appeared in multiple genres in both Christian and secular circles. Rick developed the math formula for writing called Using Math to Become a Better Writer.

Rick is also a disability advocate. As a result, he promotes accessible travel for everyone.


About International Travel Reviews

International Travel Reviews™ (ITR) was founded to promote the gold standard for providing timely, top-notch, world-class travel intelligence. In addition, we emphasize high travel safety and travel security standards. We assist all travelers, including those with accessibility issues, in all aspects of their own safe travel. We promote safe and accessible tourism for everyone worldwide.


About the Editor

Heather Pendley plays a triple role for The International Travel Herald. First, Heather is our staff editor for company pages for both IPG and ITR. Second, she serves as our proofreader for everything submitted, including our own writing. Third, and most important to you, Heather is our submissions editor. We could not be prouder of Heather and the work she does for us. Heather owns her own copy editing and proofreading business called If you need a copy editor or proofreader, contact Heather.


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Related Links For Outside Articles

DHL Shipping Medical Information. I could not find much specific information regarding shipping medicines via DHL. However, because of repeated unresolved issues with DHL, we cannot recommend using them for shipping anything.

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