Medications and International Travel
What to consider when traveling internationally with medications
- Where do I start?
- Can I bring my medication with me?
- Are there regulations to how I can transport my medication?
- Can I buy my medication when I arrive at my program?
- Should I have someone mail me medications if I need more?
- I have been feeling better lately and I am thinking about stopping my medication. What should I know about doing this?
- How can I find local medical professionals abroad that can provide medication support and prescriptions, if necessary?
- What immunizations or vaccinations, if any, will I need to obtain a visa into the host country?
- Are there any medications that I will need to take while abroad that could interfere with my current medication?
- I need to keep my medication cool. What do I need to consider?
- How do I adjust my medications across time zones?
- Will my insurance cover my medications while abroad?
- Travel Health Information and Resources
It is important for participants to do research on this topic themselves because they know their own medication dosages and medical history the best. They also have direct contact with their home doctor and insurance company who can answer questions. The program staff/faculty can be helpful in connecting with facilities and resources in the host country, and in considering additional questions that have come up for exchange participants over past years. Begin researching early in case you need to resolve insurance issues, research the availability of specialists abroad or have other unexpected issues.
For those who use insulin, please see Diabetes and International Exchange for more information. For people who are living with HIV/AIDS, another tipsheet HIV/AIDS and International Exchange Planning provides additional considerations. For those who use oxygen, review Oxygen and International Travel.
“My parents arranged a three-month supply of the medication for the first semester, then I came home at Christmas. Before I left [for my second semester abroad] we reordered more prescriptions,” says Allegra Johnson. Read other experiences in the AWAY's Difference Place, Different Accommodations
Many exchange organizations suggest that participants bring enough medication with them to cover the entire time they will be out of the country. In order to get this amount you may need documentation from your doctor and/or study abroad advisor that details the dates and duration of the program and the need to have sufficient medication to cover the entire period, and possibly extra, in case of delays or other unexpected occurrences. However, if the amount of medication you are able to have prescribed at one time is limited, or if you will be abroad for a long amount of time, you may not have the option of bringing the medication with you.
Even if you can bring enough medication with you it is a good idea to have an idea of ways to obtain more, in case your medication is lost or stolen. One way to protect your supply is to not keep all your medication in one place, so that if part is lost or becomes unusable you will have some to get you through until you can find more.
If you use equipment such as syringes, make sure to pack your own sterile supply.
The answer to this question varies greatly. All medications should be transported in their original, labeled containers along with documentation of the prescription. For Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines on traveling with prescription and over-the-counter medications please see Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions.
It would be a good idea to check on the laws of the destination country to see if there are any restrictions on importing medications. Some countries require special permissions or licenses in advance. Others, like Japan, don't allow for importation of certain medication classifications under any circumstances.
See if the medications are controlled and other names for it at the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Agency website. Then see Guidelines for Patients Traveling with Controlled Substances and contact the consulate/embassy of the destination country or your travel insurance company for more information. For information about dosages and the letter format to bring with the medications, read the Annex section of this International Narcotics Control Board website.
“The British refrigerator froze, and so the insulin turned solid – I couldn’t inject it if I tried. I had to go into a pharmacy, with no prescription and no doctor, and ask them for what they had. They had to figure out what to give me because they have different suspensions and ratios in England.” Chris Opsal
One option if you are not able to bring enough medication with you is to bring enough for the first month, and then obtain it in the country. If you choose this option it is important to make sure the medication, in the dosage you need, is available. Note that it may be under a different name in the host country, so know the generic name. If your medication is not available, check with your home doctor for other comparable medications – it is advisable to make changes to your medication at least 3-6 months before departure so you can have time to consult with your doctor on any resulting complications.
You will also need to find out, before you leave, the process for getting the medication in the host country. For some medications you may need to have certain tests done, or to visit a local specialist. Also bring documentation and a prescription from your home doctor. Once you have a prescription abroad only buy medication from reputable sources and be wary of counterfeit products.
Some medications purchased abroad, such as those not approved by the FDA, will be confiscated upon return to the United States. Read more information in the "Regulations for International Travel by U.S. Residents" booklet, published by US Customs and Border Protection. Travel insurance companies can also help to research these questions.
It may be illegal to send some prescription medications to certain countries through the mail. Check with the postal service and customs office before doing so. Even if mailing a medication is technically permitted be wary of using this method. It is common for packages to be delayed, damaged or lost when going through customs. Have a back-up plan for obtaining the medication you need if you choose this option.
I have been feeling better lately and I am thinking about stopping my medication. What should I know about doing this?
It is not advisable to stop taking or change the dosage of a medication without the consultation and supervision of a medical professional. There is much anecdotal evidence pointing to unintended (and often negative) effects of ceasing or changing medications without medical support.
How can I find local medical professionals abroad that can provide medication support and prescriptions, if necessary?
Marta Lukjan, who spent an academic year at a university in Australia, found it helpful to pre-pay for sessions with her home therapist in case she needed to call and have a session over the telephone when abroad.
Before you leave for the program it is a good idea to have researched the availability of appropriate medical professionals that can provide medication support in the location(s) you will be staying.
Program staff at the location are the best people to help with this research as they will know how best to find the information. Professionals that speak your native language would be best, but it is also an option to bring a program staff person along to help with translation. U.S. embassies in the destination may also maintain a list of English-speaking doctors and specialists on their website. Also check with international chapters of associations related to your medical condition as they may be able to provide referrals.
Also research where and how to fill a prescription. In some places you may be able to fill a prescription from your home doctor, but others require that the prescribing doctor be licensed in that country before a prescription can be filled. If you are able to use a prescription/letter from your home doctor, obtain a letter (written in generic medical terms) translated into the local language(s).
Visit the CDC website or contact the consulate/embassy of the destination country to find out what vaccinations may be required or useful. Before receiving vaccinations make sure that they are compatible with any medications you are taking.
Are there any medications that I will need to take while abroad that could interfere with my current medication?
Common medications that are given to travelers (e.g. anti-malarial or anti-diarrheal medications) may interact with medications you take regularly. When you visit a travel clinic before you leave check what medications you may need to take and ask the doctor at the clinic (or your home doctor) if those can safely be taken simultaneously with your current medications.
If you need to refrigerate your medication, or if you are going to a place with extreme temperatures, check on facilities for keeping your medicine climate controlled during all aspects of the program. This may include refrigeration available on the airplane, at your living accommodations and at the host site. You may also need to find a short-term means of keeping your medication cool, for example while on a bus excursion.
Some travelers start to adjust their schedules gradually while in transit, while others change to a new schedule after adjusting to the new time zone. Your doctor and experienced travelers with similar conditions can provide guidance on making these adjustments.
Check with your insurance company to find out if you will be covered in the event that you need to obtain medications while abroad, and if your daily medications will be covered while abroad. If the program provides health insurance find out if there is a waiver for preexisting conditions or a clause for treatment for unforeseen changes in conditions that will cover medications. See more on our tipsheet Insurance Considerations for People with Disabilities.
The CDC website includes travel health information for over 200 international destinations, including tips on vaccinations, disease outbreaks, illness and injury abroad, and preparing for international travel. Click on Travelers with Special Needs for resources for international travelers with mobility or sensory disabilities, travelers with chronic medical conditions, Immunocompromised travelers, and others.
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
Tel: 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
TTY: (888) 232-6348
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
IAMAT provides travel health advice, coordinates an international network of doctors and clinics, and seeks to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The IAMAT website includes a directory of full licensed, English-speaking doctors in 350 cities in 90 countries.
1623 Military Road, #279
Nigara Falls, NY 14304
Tel: (716) 754-4883
MedicAlert Foundation TravelPlus Program
MedicAlert Foundation is a nonprofit membership organization providing personalized medical identification bracelets and necklaces with a 24-hour emergency response and medical information service. MedicAlert members have access to TravelPlus, a travel assistance program that offers an array of medical, personal, and information services specifically designed to provide protection and care for all travelers, regardless of pre-existing medical condition or age. TravelPlus includes coverage for evacuation to a medical facility, assistance in locating a doctor overseas, and 24-hour access to information services including language translation, exchange rates, and visa, passport and immunization requirements for your travel destination.
2323 Colorado Avenue
Turlock, CA 95382
Toll Free: 1-888-633-4298
Tel: (209)-668-3333 (from outside the U.S.)
Shoreland's Travel Health Online
Shoreland’s Travel Health Online offers health and safety information in more than 220 countries, including information about travel-related ailments, immunization recommendations, how illnesses are transmitted and prevented, treatment guidelines and preparing for emergencies. The website also includes contact information for providers of pretravel health services in the United States and abroad, and links for information for travelers with disabilities and selected medical conditions, such as heart disease, pulmonary disease, stomach disorders, and HIV/AIDS.
Although efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, MIUSA/NCDE cannot be held liable for inaccuracy, misinterpretation or complaints arising from these listings. Mention of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement by MIUSA/NCDE. Please advise NCDE of any inaccuracies you may find.