Avoid getting into trouble overseas when travelling with prescription and non-prescription medication.
If you need to take medication with you when going overseas, it might be subject to special conditions. Customs officials don’t like it when people come through with unidentified bottles of pills, so taking the right steps is critical.
There are a number of issues to be aware of if you travel with medications or medical devices, whether they are prescription or not.
- Prescription medicine. Your prescription might be illegal in other countries, and customs will not allow you to bring the medication into the country.
- Injection-based medication and medical devices. Hypodermic medication, such as insulin, and other medical devices require special procedures depending on the device.
- Over-the-counter, non-prescription and alternative medicines. These may require a prescription in other countries or may contain controlled substances.
The key to smooth travelling is ensuring you have the right documentation from your doctor and knowing whether your medicines are subject to any restrictions in your destination(s). In all cases, you should generally do the following:
- Carry a prescription or a copy of it
- Carry a note from your doctor
- Leave your medication in its original packaging
- Take enough for your whole trip and some extra just in case
If you need to travel with more than 30 days’ worth of prescription medication, try to make plans for restocking while overseas. Find an Australian embassy that’s on your travel path, and contact them for information on nearby doctors that can help you refill your prescription.
Find out whether your medication is allowed
The Australian Government recommends contacting the relevant consulates but, in reality, they are often unhelpful.
- You can typically expect to wait several weeks for a response and you may not receive one at all.
- Responses from consulate officials are often inaccurate and tend to be a lot stricter than they should be.
Consulate staff will often refer your question to their country’s pharmaceutical boards, and any response you get might arrive too late. If you do contact an embassy for information on travelling with drugs or medical devices, it’s a good idea to do so at least a month in advance.
Since you can’t depend on foreign consulates to provide timely or accurate information, you may want to speak to your doctor, or a travel doctor. They will often be able to tell you whether you can bring certain medications into a specific country.
When travelling to another country, make sure you have all the right documentation.
- Carry a prescription. You should travel with either the original prescription or a copy. The prescription is an internationally recognised legal document which confirms your authority to travel with that specific drug.
- Carry a letter from your doctor. In addition to your prescription, carry a doctor’s note confirming that it’s for your personal use, detailing the strength and dosage of your medicine, and the form it takes.
Make sure that both the prescription and the note are written in English. Between the two of these, you should be able to cross borders and pass through airport security without issue. You should have these accessible at all times while crossing borders.
Taking prescription medicines overseas
With certain medications, special conditions may apply.
Strictly controlled, or narcotic medications
These may be strictly controlled overseas, and even a prescription and doctor’s note won’t guarantee your ability to travel with them. All of the following drugs are subject to international controls, and it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for alternative medications.
If you have no choice but to travel with these, contact the relevant consulate well ahead of time, and try to find out whether there are specific steps you can take to make sure you don’t encounter difficulties.
With other, less strictly controlled medicines, you shouldn’t run into problems as long as you carry a prescription and a doctor’s note. The note should have your name and your doctor’s name as well as the following information:
- The name of the medicine, including the chemical and brand name
- The strength and dosage
- The form and manner of administration
- Written confirmation that you are travelling with this medicine and that it is for your personal use only
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medications
It is illegal to take or send PBS medications outside of Australia unless it’s for your own personal use or the use of someone travelling with you. If you are carrying PBS medications outside of the country, make sure you do the following:
- Carry a prescription and a doctor’s note
- Leave the medicine in its original packaging, with the label showing where it was dispensed, who it was for and how much was paid for it
- Include this form with your PBS medications
For medicines that are accompanied with devices, such as insulin and insulin injectors, you should be able to bring them overseas without trouble by following the same procedures as you would with any other medication and by carrying a relevant prescription and doctor’s note.
The main challenge is making sure your airline can accommodate it. The easiest way to find out is by calling them and asking if you can fly with your specific devices. Make sure you contact your airline well ahead of time and let them know you’ll be flying with medical equipment.
Special requirements will often apply depending on the type of device and not all devices can be brought on all airlines. For example, Qantas provides a list of devices that can be travelled with and the conditions to meet.
- Travel restrictions apply to travelling with aerosols, gels and hypodermic needles. Your doctor’s note should specify the need for them.
- For powered medical devices, check what kind of adaptors are available on the flight and make sure you have back-up battery power.
- Check whether medical equipment will count towards your carry-on baggage limit.
Where applicable, a doctor’s note may help you take your non-prescription medicine through border controls more easily. To improve your chances of being able to travel with your non-prescription or over-the-counter medication, you should include this form and follow these simple tips:
- Where possible, take only the minimum amount needed with you overseas.
- Carry as little as possible in your carry-on baggage, and put the rest in your checked bags.
- If you think the medicine might be subject to controls overseas, you may be able to get a doctor’s note to improve your odds of travelling with it.
- Include a medicine export declaration form with non-prescription medications.
- Limits will apply to liquids, aerosols and gels.
It’s important to realize that just because a specific medication is easily available over the counter in Australia doesn’t mean it’s widely available overseas. You should try to determine if your non-prescription medicine is available and if it’s not, then look for alternative medicines that are available.
What to know about medication and travel insurance
If you are travelling with prescribed medication, then you most likely have a pre-existing condition. If you haven’t declared this condition, there’s a good chance that your policy will not cover the cost of any medications that are lost or stolen or, even worse, will not cover the cost of any overseas medical emergencies that may be connected to the condition. For example, someone who travels with blood thinners, but doesn’t declare a relevant pre-existing condition, may have their medical claim denied in the event of a heart attack.
If you have a pre-existing condition that you need to declare, you should specifically get travel insurance that covers your pre-existing condition to make sure you’re effectively protected overseas.