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A Guide to Traveling With Your Medications

Feb 11, 2021

Traveling, whether for vacation or to connect with family members is easily one of the most pleasurable and favored pastimes. Unfortunately for millions of Americans who rely on prescription medications as part of their health regimens, having to travel with their medications aboard can make things a little more complicated. If you take prescription medications for a certain health condition, you will need to know the rules and regulations regarding traveling with medications. And while it may add some complexity to your travels, it should no way deter you from getting a chance to see the world or visit your loved ones. 

We have put together a guide featuring everything you need to know with helpful tips to safely, legally and comfortably travel with your medications.

Properly Prepare for Your Travels 

1. Keep Your Prescription from Your Doctor On Hand

International health care experts advise that it is always a good idea to travel with your prescription or a letter from your doctor. While countries typically recognize the need for people to transport their prescription medications, and you may not necessarily get stopped by border control, it’s still smart to waver on the side of caution and carry official documentation from your doctor. Having that supportive documentation available will protect you from experiencing any problems at border control. 

Of course, we’re all living in a digital-first world now, so if you feel that it’s inconvenient to carry a physical prescription with you, and don’t like the idea of having to rummage through your things to find your prescription if you're stopped for questioning, try going digital instead. With an electronic form of your prescription ready to go, you can easily pull up the document on your phone to show TSA just in case, and either way, you will always be prepared.

2. Take Your Medications in Their Original Containers

Along with having your prescription from your doctor handy, it is also a smart precaution to keep your prescription medications in their original bottles. And then for an added safety bonus, making sure the pharmacy label with your doctor’s information is still intact on the bottle, will ensure you are extra protected in the event that border control has questions for you about your medications. 

If it's inconvenient to carry your medications in their original containers because of their weight or bulk, then you can ask your doctor for downsized versions to travel with. In that case, it would also be a good idea to have your prescription or letter from your doctor on hand so you have some form of supportive documentation to show border control, if you do not also have the original bottles available to you with the pharmacy and doctor information.

3. Be Extra Mindful of Traveling With Herbal or Narcotic Medications 

While traveling with prescribed medications can be complicated, attempting to safely and legally transport herbal, narcotic medications or supplements adds another layer of complexity. Different countries vary in their rules and regulations in regard to what substances they allow to enter their country. Therefore, it is advised to do your homework and check the laws of the country you are traveling to regarding what substances they allow prior to your trip. You can reach out to local consulates or check out their embassy website to determine which narcotics and herbal medications, etc. are prohibited and which are accepted. 

Again, the general rule of thumb is to exercise extra caution when traveling with herbal remedies, narcotics or supplements. Therefore, making sure that your medications are properly labelled clearly describing the contents inside or having a doctor’s note can help you avoid any trouble at border control.

4. Take Your Medications in Your Carry-On 

Depending on how much medication you are taking with you and how many you need to take everyday for your health regimen, you may feel that it is tempting to pack your prescription medications in your luggage. However, doctors advise that instead you should always carry your medications in your carry-on. That way, you are prepared and still have your medications with you just in case your checked baggage gets lost. Also, keep in mind that aircraft cargo holds are not necessarily temperature controlled to maintain an environment that will preserve your medications while in flight. Some of your medications may be sensitive to temperature. Therefore, having your medications in your carry-on enables you more control to make sure they are properly stored. 

Some medications may require refrigeration to maintain freshness. In this case, you are allowed to carry gel-cooling packs past TSA to keep your medications cool while in flight. For domestic travel, gel-cooling packs are accepted as long as they are kept frozen when presented to border control. 

Liquid medications, either prescription or over-the-counter such as saline solution or eye drops do not have to abide by the 3oz limit typically mandated by TSA regulations. That being said, keep in mind you will be required to declare liquid medications over the 3oz limit to security for inspection.

Other Helpful Tips to Consider: 

  • Pack extra medication than you will need. Why? So you are prepared with medications you need if your flight gets delayed or cancelled, and you end up having to prolong your stay. 

  • Choose your medications to pack with you wisely between the ones that are non-negotiable and the ones you can leave at home. While you may want easy access to Advil or Tylenol, you can find over- the-counter pain relievers everywhere. Your asthma inhaler, diabetes medications or medications to treat high blood pressure? Not so much. 

  • Plan ahead with a doctor’s appointment. If your trip outside of the U.S. is on the lengthier side, it’s always a good idea to plan a doctor visit ahead of time to make sure you and your doctor are on the same page and your health and wellness needs are taken care of prior to traveling.