Many international travelers carry medicines with them to treat acute or chronic health problems. However, each country has its own laws related to medicines. Medicines that are commonly prescribed or available over the counter in the United States might be unlicensed or considered controlled substances in other countries. While rules vary by country, there can be serious consequences if you violate the laws at your destination. The consequences may include:
- Authorities taking away your medicine
- Penalties, including jail or prison time
Check with your destination’s embassy and embassies of countries that you have layovers in to make sure your medicines are permitted.
- Many countries allow a 30-day supply of certain medicines, but also require the traveler to carry a prescription or a medical certificate from their health care provider.
- If your medicine is not allowed at your destination, talk with your health care provider about alternatives and have them write a letter describing your condition and the treatment plan.
- You may also want to check the International Narcotics Control Board website that provides general information about narcotics and controlled substances, for countries that have information available, for travelers.
Check CDC’s destination pages for travel health information. Check CDC’s webpage for your destination to see what vaccines or medicines you may need and what diseases or health risks are a concern at your destination.
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider or a travel health specialist that takes place at least one month before you leave. They can help you get destination-specific vaccines, medicines, and information. Discussing your health concerns, itinerary, and planned activities with your provider allows them to give more specific advice and recommendations.
- If you plan to be gone for more than 30 days, talk to your health care provider about how you can get enough medicine for your trip. Some insurance companies will only pay for a 30-day supply at a time.
- If you are a traveling to a different time zone, ask your health care provider about any changes to taking your medicine. Medicines should be taken according to the time since your last dose, not the local time of day.
- Find out how to safely store your medicine while traveling and check whether it needs refrigeration. Keep in mind that extreme temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of many medicines.
Prepare a travel health kit with items you may need, especially those items that may be difficult to find at your destination. Include your prescription and over-the-counter medicines in your travel health kit and take enough to last your entire trip, plus extra in case of travel delays. Pack medications in a carry on in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
- Keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Ensure that they are clearly labeled with your full name, health care provider’s name, generic and brand name, and exact dosage.
- Bring copies of all written prescriptions, including the generic names for medicines. Leave a copy of your prescriptions at home with a friend or relative in case you lose your copy or need an emergency refill.
- Ask your prescribing health care provider for a note if you use controlled substances, or injectable medicines, such as EpiPens and insulin.
Buying Medicine Abroad
Counterfeit drugs are common in some countries, so only use medicine you bring from home and make sure to pack enough for the duration of your trip, plus extra in case of travel delays. If you must buy drugs during your trip in an emergency, see CDC’s Counterfeit Drugs page.
- CDC Yellow Book: Avoiding Poorly Regulated Medicines
- Travel Smartly with Prescription Medications (US Department of State)
- Traveling with Prescription Medications (US Food and Drug Administration)