Taking prescription medicines abroad: what you should know

If you’re going abroad for a holiday this summer you may need to take some medicines with you. If you take regular prescription medication it’s essential to take what you’ll need for your trip plus extra in case you’re delayed or some of your medicines get lost. Many people also take over-the-counter medicines away with them to treat a range of everyday health problems.

This year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging holidaymakers to check their medicines are allowed in the country of their holiday destination before they depart.

That’s because some commonly-prescribed medicines are classed as controlled drugs in certain countries – even some popular over-the-counter remedies are banned in some holiday destinations. And if you break the law in the country you’re visiting by taking controlled or banned medicines with you, you could risk getting a fine or even imprisonment.

The reason the FCO is warning holidaymakers to check their medicines before travelling this year is that a survey it carried out recently found only a third of adults check the rules on medicines before they go away.

Many of these rules apply to long-haul destinations, such as China, Indonesia and Japan. But other countries that are popular with UK holidaymakers – including Greece and Turkey – also have rules about certain medicines.

For instance, some types of decongestants are banned in Japan, while cough and cold remedies are classed as controlled substances in Qatar. If you’re going to Costa Rica you need a doctor’s note if you’re taking any type of prescription medicine, while in China you should carry a doctor’s note for any personal medicines. Some countries – including Greece – class strong painkillers containing codeine as controlled drugs, while sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills require a licence in many parts of the world.

So wherever you’re headed, it’s a good idea to check that it’s legal to take your medicines with you well before you leave. Ask your GP or your local Careway pharmacist for advice, or search for the country you’re visiting online and check the rules on medicines.

Tips for travellers

The FCO recommends the Travel Health Pro – a website set up by the Department of Health – as a resource for information on travelling outside the UK with medicines. Here are some of the things it advises:

  • Take your medicines in their original packaging. If you’re taking prescription medicines, also pack a copy of the prescription and a letter from your GP on letterheaded stationary. The letter should include the generic names for your medicines, which may be helpful for border control checks or in case you need medical help while you’re away.
  • Carry your medicines in your hand luggage with an extra supply in the suitcase that’s going in the hold. Check with your airline before you travel for any restrictions that apply to your medicine – particularly if it’s an injectable or a liquid medication – including the amount you’re allowed to take in your hand luggage.
  • If the medicine you need is a controlled medicine in the country you’re visiting, you have to arrange an export licence to take them to your destination if you’re taking three months’ supply or more. If you’re taking less, a letter from your GP may be sufficient – check with your destination’s foreign embassy in the UK for precise details.
  • Make sure your travel insurance includes cover for any pre-existing illnesses.

Your local Careway pharmacist can help you with any queries you have about your medicines, including taking them abroad. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.