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Medications When Traveling Internationally

African health clinic
African health clinic

Check out issues related to: availability, legality, coverage of costs, back-up supply, time zone changes, interaction with other medications.

You know your own medication dosages and medical history the best. So, it’s up to you to research how to manage your medications when traveling outside your country. Talk with your home doctor and insurance company who can answer questions. In some cases, you may have an international travel clinic or travel insurance provider to consult.

International program staff 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.

10 Things You Should Know

  1. You may need documentation from your doctor and/or international program advisor that details the dates and duration of the program to give your insurance provider in order to have sufficient medication to cover the entire period.
  2. Medication should be brought abroad in carry-on luggage. Protect your supply by not keeping 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.
  3. 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 as it may be delayed, damaged or lost, so have a back-up plan.
  4. Before you leave, find out the process for getting the medication in the host country in case you need more. For some medications, it may be in short supply, different dosages, or require tests or prescription from a local specialist. Bring translated documentation and the generic name of your prescription from your home doctor.
  5. You may find your medication is illegal to either bring into or purchase in the host country. This can apply to medications that are controlled substances and in some countries like Japan it includes other common medications. Transport in their original, labeled containers along with documentation of the prescription. Only buy medication from reputable sources and be wary of counterfeit products once in the host country.
  6. Check before receiving vaccinations or common medications that are given to travelers (e.g. anti-malarial or anti-diarrheal medications) to make sure that they can safely be taken simultaneously with your current medications. Check with your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control.
  7. You can adjust to time zone changes by gradually changing your medication schedule while in transit, or change to a new schedule after in the new time zone. Your doctor and experienced travelers with similar conditions can provide guidance on making these adjustments.
  8. If you are feeling better, do not stop taking or change the dosage of a regular medication without the consultation and supervision of a professional. Embassies and travel assistance providers can help find appropriate medical professionals that can provide medication support in the location(s) you will be staying.
  9. Insurance may exclude coverage of medications or certain conditions for which you seek medical attention within a certain time period before traveling. The Affordable Care Act does not regulate accident and sickness travel supplemental insurance plans. Make any changes to your medication at least 6 months before departure, so you can have time to consult with your doctor on any resulting complications and have stability of your condition for travel.
  10. Many different online resources will provide advice for travel with medications and be a good consumer of this information to glean what is appropriate for your situation and check the facts. You can find some online resources in the Related Links.

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