Taking medication abroad

Taking medicine abroad? Here's our tips

If you're travelling with prescribed medication, you might have a few questions about making sure you can travel safely with your medicine.

Luckily, with a little bit of extra planning, you'll still enjoy your holiday and stay healthy as you're globetrotting. Here's how it's done.

medicines on top of a travel map of the USA

Plan ahead if you're travelling with medication

Get your prescription in advance

It's a good idea to talk to your GP a few months before you set off. They can help you sort out any extra medication you might need before you leave. And they can also warn you if your medicine has certain storage requirements which could be affected by extreme heat or cold.

Consider a doctor's letter

Many people ask for a letter from their doctor which explains their condition, the medication they need, any allergies, and any medical devices they use. This can help you pass through security more smoothly.

Remember that your GP practice may charge for writing such a letter, as GPs are not obliged to provide the service under the NHS.

Organise your pills

Organise your medicines with a pill organiser, and make sure you take enough to last you throughout your trip - as well as extra supplies in case you are delayed coming home.

Swot up before you go

Make a list of all the medications you’re on, the amount you take, as well as both generic and brand names. You could also find out if your medication is known by another name abroad. This could come in useful if you lose any medicine and need to get more abroad or in case you need healthcare while you're out there.

Which medicines can you take abroad?

Check the rules of all the countries you're going to - some countries will have tighter regulations on the medication they will allow people to bring in.

You'll need to research:

  • The kind of medicine you can bring into the country.
  • The maximum amount you're allowed to bring in.
  • How easy it is to find your medication abroad; some over-the-counter medicines in the UK are much more strictly controlled in other countries.
  • Some countries, such as UAE, India, Pakistan and Turkey, have a list of medications which are banned. Codeine, for example, is banned in a lot of countries.

Rules on medicine vary around the world, so it's best to contact the embassy of the country you're visiting several months before your trip.

Travelling with over-the-counter medicines

Taking medicines like paracetamol, hay-fever tablets or cold and flu medicine on holiday? This is often fine, particularly in Europe, as they're usually less tightly controlled than prescription medication.

However, you still need research which medicines are allowed into the country you're visiting. Some common ingredients in cold and flu medication and painkillers, like codeine, are controlled in certain countries.

Travelling with controlled medicines

You may need a personal licence to take controlled medicines abroad. These are drugs which are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs legislation.

Examples of controlled medicines include anti anxiety medications, strong painkillers and some medicines which contain hormones.

If you're not sure if your medication is controlled or not, speak to your GP.

Can you take medication in your hand luggage?

You can fly with your medication - although it's best to check your airline's regulations before travelling. Bring a copy of your prescription to help avoid any problems at security or customs. 

You're allowed to bring the following in your hand luggage:

  • Over 100ml of essential medicines, including liquid dietary foodstuffs and inhalers.
  • Essential medical equipment, such as syringes and inhalers.
  • You'll need a supporting document from your doctor to prove you need your medicine, and be prepared for airport staff to possibly open containers to screen liquids at security. Any medical equipment will be screened separately.

Travelling with medication

Whether you're travelling to the Isle of Wight or Ibiza, always keep your medication close at hand while you're on holiday.

  • Always carry your medicine and all medical supplies in their original labelled packages.
  • Some medicines need to be kept at room temperature (below 25°C) or stored in the fridge. If you're travelling to a warm country, get advice from your pharmacist about storing and transporting your medicine.
  • To keep medicine cool when you're out and about, keep it in a cool bag. These can keep your medicine cool for up to 30 hours and you can buy them online or high street stores.

Staying well while you're abroad

Just because you're taking medication doesn't mean you have to limit the fun - but bear in mind that you may occasionally need to take it easy.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for more. Us Brits worry about seeming cheeky, but it's worth asking if it means you'll enjoy your holiday better. For example, you could ask your hotel for a ground floor room or one near the lifts. They're usually happy to help if they can.
  • When you first arrive at your hotel, it’s a good idea to find out where you are on a local map. The staff should circle it for you, show you points of interest, and give you some local taxi numbers if you need them.
  • Ask your concierge where the nearest medical facilities are to your hotel. Ask them where the nearest pharmacy is too, and check you've got the local number for emergency services.
  • We know that when you've spent a lot of money on a holiday, you can feel pressure to make the most of it. But you'll enjoy it more if you give yourself time to adapt to your destination and recover from travelling. So go for that that afternoon siesta!
  • Avoid the midday sun and strenuous exercise when it's hot, and drink plenty of water.
  • If you can, travel with a companion who is aware of your needs. If you’d like to explore alone, let your travelling partner know where you’re going, what time you’re due back, and carry all the information about your condition with you.
  • If you head off on a solo day trip, carry a mobile phone and a portable charger.

Why do travel insurers need to know about medical conditions?

If you’re travelling and you become ill due to a condition which you already have, there’s a chance that your policy could be invalidated if you haven’t told your insurer about it.

This is because all policies are calculated on a basis of risk. If your insurer doesn’t know about every ‘risky’ factor, your policy may not cover health problems which come about as a result of pre-existing conditions.

Always declare all of your health issues when you're buying travel insurance - even if they seem minor.

What's a pre-existing condition?

A pre-existing condition is any medical condition for which medication including tablets, advice or treatment has been given within the past 5 years. This could be a disease, an illness, an injury, a set of symptoms that have not been diagnosed or psychological conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

This definition includes longstanding conditions, any surgery you’ve had, and any injuries which may be aggravated by your planned trip.

Pregnancy is not a pre-existing condition, as it’s not an illness - but if there have been previous complications, you will need to declare them.

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