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The Professional’s Guide to Medications

It is likely that some of your students will take medications with them on an exchange program. They may approach you with questions about how they will bring their medications, or how they will obtain them in the host country. They also may not think to ask you, assuming that medications are a personal matter. Either way, it’s important to be proactive in approaching exchange program participants, regardless of whether they have declared a disability or not, about staying healthy while studying abroad by bringing their medications with them or obtaining them in the community.


Understand Controlled Medication Rules

Sometimes, medications used to manage pain or conditions like ADHD are regulated differently abroad than they are in the United States. There are three types of legal regimes that you might see:

  • legal for importation and sale: in this situation, a medication can be brought into a country, and it can be purchased at local pharmacies. 
  • Legal for importation, but illegal for sale: in this situation, medications can be brought to a host country if they have been legally obtained elsewhere, but they cannot be purchased because their sale is illegal. An exchange participant may continue to take their medications abroad if they can bring a sufficient supply with them.
  • Illegal for importation and sale: in this situation, there would be no way for participants to continue taking a medication as it can neither be imported nor purchased. Advise exchange participants to meet with their care provider to discuss treatment alternatives.


Research the Rules

There are a handful of different ways that you or an exchange participant can find out about how a particular medication is regulated in a given country. Options Include:

  • Check with host country consulates.
  • Check with the U.S. mission to that host country.
  • Review the traveler section of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to see if the host country has posted information for travelers about how it regulates medications.
  • Check online forum discussions to learn about other people’s’ experiences traveling to the host country with the medication, or obtaining the medication at local pharmacies.


Traveling with Medications

There are two aspects to traveling with medications, which include importation and flights. Travelers should keep in mind the following rules when traveling with medications:

  • keep medications in their original containers.
  • Avoid checking luggage that contains medical supplies.
  • Travelers are allowed to bring bags containing medical supplies as carry-ons at no extra cost.
  • If it’s necessary to prove that a medication has been legally obtained elsewhere, a copy of a Dr.’s note or prescription should also be at hand.
  • A traveler will most likely have to apply to a health insurer if purchasing a larger than usual supply of a medication. It may be necessary to share documentation such as trip itineraries with the insurer in order to support the request.


Obtain Medications in the Host Country

  • travel health insurance providers may be able to recommend pharmacies or clinics to purchase medications.
  • It may be necessary to meet with a healthcare provider to get a local prescription.


Next Steps

Make sure to share this information with all of your program participants regardless of whether they have disclosed a disability. Advise them to learn the rules for bringing medications to the host country. Also, recommend that they meet with their care provider as soon as possible to make a treatment plan for their time abroad.


This article is part of the International Education Professional Pathway. Next, we cover personal assistance both human and otherwise.

Previous: Health Matters Abroad

Next: Who Can Assist Me When I Go Abroad?

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