How to Travel With Medications
Michael Bihari, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician, health educator, and medical writer, and president emeritus of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod.
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If you plan to travel to a foreign country, it is important that you provide for your medication needs before leaving. An illness in the middle of your trip can ruin your vacation and cost you money to get needed medications.
Depending on the circumstances, buying medications in foreign countries can be expensive. Moreover, in some countries, you may be at risk of getting a counterfeit drug.
By thinking ahead and packing smart, you can stay healthy and enjoy your time. This article will help you understand what you need to know about traveling with over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Organize a Health Kit
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers assemble a health kit containing current prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can be used to treat minor problems. What you include in your travel health kit depends upon your destination and length of travel.
You also should anticipate some disruption in travel plans and take extra medication so you do not run out. For example, you do not want to be stuck in an airport for an extra day without your diabetes medication or pain medication used to treat arthritis.
Which OTC Medications Should I Pack?
Since it is not practical to pack your entire medicine cabinet, your travel destination and your itinerary may help you decide which over-the-counter medications to buy for your kit.
For example, you are less likely to have diarrhea from drinking water in Canada than in Mexico. And, if you are planning a walking trip in London, you are less likely to need an anti-motion sickness medication.
The following are some basic medications to consider:
- Anti-diarrhea medication: Foodborne illness is very common and may cause diarrhea in up to 30% of travelers. This is especially common in parts of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Pack Imodium (loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate).
- Antihistamine: To treat an allergic reaction, pack an antihistamine that will not make you drowsy, such as Claritin (loratadine).
- Anti-motion sickness medication: For a bumpy plane or boat ride, pack some Dramamine (dimenhydrinate).
- Medicine for pain or fever: Pack your preferred painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Mild laxative or stool softener: Changes in your eating routine and access to different foods can cause constipation. Pack a laxative containing bisacodyl such as Dulcolax or a stool softener such as Colace (docusate).
- Antifungal ointment or cream: Fungal infections of the skin, such as ringworm and athlete’s foot are common, especially in warm climates. Pack a tube of Tinactin (tolnaftate) or Lotrimin (clotrimazole).
- Antibacterial ointments or creams: To help prevent a skin infection from a minor cut or scrape, pack a tube of Neosporin Ointment (polymyxin B, bacitracin, and neomycin).
How Do I Manage My Prescription Medications on a Trip?
Before you leave for your trip, see your healthcare provider to get an ample supply of all your prescription medications. Also, talk to your practitioner about your change in schedule and ask when to take medications if you are moving through different time zones.
If you are traveling to a country with malaria, talk with your healthcare provider about getting a prescription for a medication to prevent malaria, such as Lariam (Mefloquine), Malarone (atovaquone, proguanil), or doxycycline (the CDC has a guide to each of the available medications, some of which are recommended for certain areas).
If your destination is a country that puts you at high risk of diarrhea or other bacterial infections, ask your practitioner about the possibility of getting a prescription for an antibiotic, such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin).
Talk to your pharmacist about drug-food interactions. Since your diet may change during your trip, your pharmacist can advise you about foods that could affect your medications.
Pack your travel health kit, including your prescription medications, in your carry-on luggage. Make copies of your prescriptions and pack them with your medications. You should also leave a copy of your prescriptions at home with a friend or family member.
Make a list of your medications, including the generic names and brand names, and what conditions the medications treat. That will make it easier to find a replacement if you run out of or lose your medications.
Will I Have Problems Crossing Borders With My Medications?
If you use a controlled substance, such as a sedative, tranquilizer or narcotic pain medication, make sure you obtain a letter from your healthcare provider, on the practitioner’s stationery, stating why you need the drug.
Without such a letter, these medications may not be allowed into another country or allowed back into the U.S. when you return.
Likewise, you should have a letter from your healthcare provider if you take any medication by injection and you have to carry needles and syringes.
Make sure that all medications are labeled properly. The safest way to carry your medications is in the original bottles, which will also speed the process if your carry-on bags are inspected (this applies to vitamins and supplements as well).
However, if you do not have enough space for the bottles in your carry-on, you can transfer them to small plastic bags. When you have your prescription filled, the pharmacy will give you a print-out that usually has a tear-off section on the top that has the same information as the label on your medication container. You can enclose this tear-off sheet in the plastic bag.
But note that the Transportation Security Administration—TSA—clarifies that although they do not require travelers to have medications in their original pharmacy-provided containers, “states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.”
You’ll also want to make sure that the name on your prescriptions, pill bottles (or tear-off sheet if you’re packing your medications in a bag or pill sorter), and ID or passport all match.
If you have a liquid medication, TSA doesn’t require it to be less than 3.4 ounces (the rule that applies to most other liquids), but you do need to tell the TSA agent that you have medically necessary liquids in your bag when you start the screening process at the airport.
Even with all of that planning, it’s important to also have a clear understanding of the laws and regulations in your destination country. In some cases, you might find that a particular destination’s rules simply aren’t compatible with a medication that you take, and you may want to consider a different destination instead.
You can discuss the specifics with your healthcare provider, your pharmacist, and the U.S. embassy in the country you’re considering visiting. The embassy will be able to tell you whether a medication you take is banned in the country or only allowed in limited quantities.
Where Can I Get More Information Before I Leave on My Trip?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC maintains an excellent Travelers’ Health website that includes a wide range of information about travel issues related to health. One section of the site has an interactive map that provides access to health information for each country. And their traveling abroad with medicine page is a must-read if you’re planning a trip outside the U.S. and will need to bring medication with you.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA): The TSA provides online information for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions, and it explains the current requirements for how to go through airport security with medications.
U.S. Department of State: The State Department maintains a travel website that provides a profile about the current status of every country in the world. These profiles include information about health-related issues and often highlight issues with prescription medications.
Transportation Security Administration: TSA has a helpful page about disabilities and medical conditions. It includes a tool that allows you to select from among a range of common disabilities and medical conditions to see exactly what you need to know about the screening process and any steps you might want to take in advance to make it as smooth as possible.
Traveling with medications is common, but does require some advance planning. It’s generally advisable to pack medications in your carry-on luggage, and to have copies of your prescriptions with you. Liquid medications can be brought onboard aircraft even in quantities greater than the limits that apply to other liquids, but you’ll need to notify the TSA screening agent of your liquid medication. For controlled substances, you’ll need a letter from your medical practitioner, explaining why you need the medication. And there are some countries where certain medications simply aren’t allowed, even though they’re prescribed in other countries.
A Word From Verywell
Staying healthy on your trip can save you a lot of money. Out-of-pocket medical expenses in a foreign country can be enormous. Make sure to purchase travel insurance before you leave and pack your medications!
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travelers’ Health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Choosing a Drug to Prevent Malaria.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveling Abroad with Medicine.
By Michael Bihari, MD
Michael Bihari, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician, health educator, and medical writer, and president emeritus of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod.
Tips for Traveling with Medication
Many common U.S. medications and supplements are illegal abroad or require government authorization before your arrival.
Drug Facts: Traveling with Medication
Adderall. Benadryl. Birth control. Protein powder. These are just a few of the common U.S. medications and supplements that are illegal in some countries or require government authorization prior to your arrival.
Travelers are often caught off guard by the wide variance of laws regulating the importation of and access to medications across borders, whether mailed or hand carried. Depending on your destination, you could be subject to increased scrutiny from customs officials (not a big deal, you think) or confiscation and imprisonment (that escalated quickly). In Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia, for example, a drug offense conviction can result in the death penalty.
Know Before You Go
Be aware of your destination’s banned and restricted medications. The U.S. embassy website of your destination country is a good place to start—a quick query in the search bar should do the trick. You can also check your airline’s website to see if things like flying with Adderall, for example, are prohibited.
If any of your medications are on the embassy’s or airline’s list of banned or restricted substances, you’ll need to talk with your health care provider about suitable alternatives. Make sure the alternative medications are legally permitted and readily available in your destination.
- Narcotics and psychotropic medications (e.g. Adderall and Ambien)
- Over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements (e.g. protein powder)
- Hormone medications (e.g. birth control pills, morning after pills, and hormone therapy medication for gender transition)
- Certain ingredients or quantities of ingredients (e.g. pseudoephedrine found in Sudafed, and diphenhydramine HCI found in Benadryl and Tylenol PM)
Ignorance isn’t an Excuse
Take this example of an American Toyota executive arrested in Tokyo after Japanese customs officials found a controlled pain medication in a package she mailed to herself. Japanese authorities can detain suspects without charge for up to 23 days, and the executive spent almost three weeks in jail before being released without charge. At a press conference, Toyota explained that their executive did not intentionally violate local laws; however, ignorance, in this case, had serious repercussions.
For travelers with chronic physical or mental health conditions, anticipate how your new environment can affect your health. For example, if you have asthma and are traveling to areas with high levels of air pollution, you’ll want to discuss mitigation strategies with your health care provider. If you require injections, you’ll need to review airline and country-specific regulations for traveling with needles or syringes. Many airlines, like Emirates, have a list of prohibited goods on their website, as well as guidelines for traveling with a chronic health condition.
Practice self-care; difficulty in adjustment can be mitigated by trying to maintain your daily routine while abroad. If there are aspects of your routine that keep you happy at home—for example, working out—try to find facilities in your destination by which you can continue them.
Preexisting mental health conditions can be intensified by living in a different culture, and local resources may be less than or different from those to which you’re accustomed to at home. Discuss these concerns with your health care provider and know the counseling resources available to you abroad—including International SOS—should you need help.
Europe Travel Tips: 50 Things You Should Know Before Going to Europe
Europe is my favorite place to travel. Despite having traveled extensively around the world, it’s still the place I return to again and again. We travel Europe at least once a year, and even lived there for an entire year!
But you don’t have to stay for an entire year to get a feel for this amazing continent. Even just one week in Europe at any of these incredible destinations is enough to make you fall in love!
There are so many incredible places to go in Europe with so many different countries and cultures to explore without actually traveling very far! Traveling through Europe can seem a little overwhelming if you’ve never been before, so I wanted to share a few things you should know before going to Europe. This will make your first visit much more enjoyable.
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to read these 10 tips for taking kids to Europe.
1. Budget for Your Trip
Before you even purchase tickets to Europe, sit down, like a responsible adult, and plan a budget for your trip to Europe. Make sure it’s realistic and make sure it’s something that you can afford right now. While I love to rack up credit card points by using them on travel, it’s important to be reasonable. The good news is that Europe can be done fairly inexpensively, in fact, we actually spent less money traveling Europe for a year than we did staying home!
How much does it cost to travel Europe?
That answer really depends on how many people are in your party, what style of travel you like, and how budget you’re willing to go. You can travel Europe cheap if you’re smart about it, but I would plan on $1,000/person for each week just to be safe.
The cheapest way to travel Europe is to plan ahead and shop around for the best deals on accommodation, transportation, and airfare because there are tons of Europe travel deals out there on the internet! If you want to know how to travel Europe cheap, you can read about how we actually spend less money living there for a year than we did at home.
Be sure to read my guide to planning financially for a vacation, which includes a Europe travel budget calculator so that you can find out just how much your trip will cost.
2. Save for Your Trip
Now that you have your budget set in place for visiting Europe you can start saving! These are some easy ways that I save money for travel. You don’t need to turn over your whole paycheck, but you’ll need to make saving for travel a priority so you don’t go into crazy debt to be able to afford it. Credit cards definitely have their place and can be useful for earning points, but be sure you pay it off each month! If you can’t afford to do so, maybe don’t spend it. This is why having a travel fund is so important. When those travel deals pop up you’ll be ready to jump with your special savings!
3. Check Europe Travel Visa Requirements
Americans traveling to Europe won’t need a Visa to travel to most countries on the continent. Europe travel visas are a little complicated, but you can learn more about them here. If you’re looking to stay in Europe for more than 90 days, read this.
Beginning in 2023, US citizens and citizens of other previously non-visa countries coming to the EU will now need a ETIAS Visa. Read here for what that means for you.
4. Buy Flights Early
You can usually get the best deals to Europe by booking early. Start keeping an eye out for cheap flights as early as possible. Read my guide to finding cheap flights to be sure you’re getting the best deals!
5. Read Books About your Destinations
Once you decide where you’re going in Europe, find books to read about it. I don’t mean guide books, although those can be great. I love these ones. I mean books, both fiction and nonfiction, that tell a story set in Europe. It can make your trip so much more meaningful when you have some connections.
You can read this awesome list of 100+ books organized by continent that will inspire you to travel.
6. Pack Light
Pack light, especially if you’ll be traveling around Europe and taking public transportation. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to haul heavy luggage around on trains! I promise!
Make a packing list, then take less than you think you’ll need. If you’re going to Europe for more than one week, pack for one week, then plan on washing and/or re-wearing what you’ve brought. There’s nothing shameful about washing your laundry in a tub or sink or even spending some time with the locals at the laundromat! It could be an adventure!
If you want to wash your own clothes more efficiently, consider getting one of these awesome laundry wash bags that make laundry day way easier and more fun!
7. Bring Melatonin to Beat Jetlag
Consult your doctor before taking any medication. I am not a doctor, but this is what works for me. I buy the gummy melatonin (because I have kids) and take it with me every time I travel. Sleeping in a new bed is hard enough, but add a 6 hour time difference once you’re in Europe and it’s all over! When you’re ready for bed, take about 3-10 mg of melatonin which will help you shift your internal clock. Melatonin is an over the counter sleep aid and can be purchased at any drug store or grocery store. I really like this one because it tastes delicious and is 5mg (a good amount for adults) and this one for kids or smaller people since it’s only 2.5 mg (which is hard to find in stores).
Be sure to pull down the shades and make it as dark as possible. I like to use this amazing eye mask to achieve complete darkness! I love that it leaves space for your eyelashes, which is a huge selling point for me! And yes, it does look like a bra for your eyes!
8. Don’t Try to See it All!
This is probably one of my best Europe travel tips! T raveling to Europe for the first time will be so exciting and you’re going to want to see as much as you can. Europe is filled with so many bucket list destinations screaming to be visited! Unless you’re staying in Europe for a year, don’t try to see it all in one trip! Europe is huge and each country is so different. Just one city could honestly keep you busy for a lifetime!
Even though it’s so easy to travel around Europe, don’t spend all of your time on a train, plane or car! Plus, just more reasons to come back right?! I would stick to 2-3 cities in one visit depending on the length of your trip. The best way to travel Europe is slowly! Take your time, you can always come back.
If you only have one week, these 20 One-Week Europe Trip Itinerary Ideas will help you decide which cities to visit.