If you are planning a foreign holiday this year and suffer from an illness or medical condition, there is a high probability you will be taking medicine abroad with you. A recent health survey for England showed that 48% of the population are taking some sort of prescription medicine.
Entering into a country with prohibited medicines, has been a hot topic with the media for the last few years, thanks to several high profile cases. There is a growing concern for Brits getting into trouble abroad, as lower cost flights means more people flying further. Increasingly popular long haul routes, are Asian and Middle Eastern countries, where the laws differ wildly to what we are used to at home.
Government concerns are for tourists who unwittingly enter a country, with banned substances that maybe freely available in the UK, and as a result end up in jail.
In 2017 official figures showed that the Foreign Office dealt with 22,000 consular cases. Over 4,000 of which were because of an arrest or detention.
We have read many of the same comments posted in various forums, responding to valid questions about taking medication on holiday. Most replies are along the lines of ” I have been travelling to such and such country for years, its not a problem carrying medicines without a prescription or note from my GP, I have never ever had my bags searched”.
Not having your bags searched means you have been lucky enough to avoid the problem and I am sure this holds true for the majority of travellers. Given that thousands of travellers carry personal medication across borders every day, there appear to be a low number of cases where travellers actually encounter problems.
Don’t end up being one of the unlucky minority, play it safe, follow the recommendations and stay on the right side of the law. The checklist below offers general advice about taking your medicines abroad. For specific rules and regulations scroll down the page and choose the country you are visiting.
If you are leaving the United Kingdom and travelling abroad for more than three months (for example on a gap year or working holiday) and require more than a three months supply of medicine, you will need to apply to the Home Office drugs and Firearms licensing unit, for an export licence.
If your medicine is likely to run out whilst you are abroad, you will need to carry a doctors prescription with you and check with the country you are visiting, that they are able to supply the medicine you need. Sometimes the medicine is known by a different name, so it make sense to find out before you leave.
The application form can be found here and you should apply at least ten days before you travel.
You are allowed to carry more than 100ml of essential medicines (tablets and capsules), syringes, inhalers, cooling gel packs and medical equipment in your hand luggage, out of the UK, provided they are supported by a doctors letter, or copy of your prescription. Check below for the country you are visiting.
You can take liquid containers larger than 100ml in your hand luggage through security, out of the UK, if they are for essential medical purpose, including liquid dietary foodstuffs and inhalers, but you will need supporting documentation from your doctor. Check below for the country you are visiting.
It is recommended that you take all medicines in your carry on luggage in case your checked baggage is lost.
As long as they don’t contain any substances that are banned in the UK or the destination country you are visiting.
DISCLAIMER; Whilst the information in this article has been carefully researched and deemed to be accurate, legislation changes regularly and consumers should carry out their own checks and if unsure contact the embassy of the country direct for specific information.
Understandably, holidaymakers who require prescription medicine, may be concerned about taking controlled drugs abroad. However this needn’t be the case. Our latest guide describes the rules and regulations for taking prescribed medicines out of the United Kingdom and into foreign countries in 2018. Click on your destination country below for more information.
Australia operate a travellers exemption scheme under which most medicines and medical devices (for personal or family use including children) can be brought into the country. Border control have four simple rules that you need to abide by;
There are a few drugs Abortifacients (e.g. mifepristone – RU486), Thalidomide, Yohimbe (Yohimbine), that require specific permission and you can read about those on the Australian Government Department of Health Website.
UPDATE from the 1st February 2018, the Australian government require any medicines containing Codeine be accompanied by a prescription letter from your doctor.
The Canadian Government provide a Prescription Drug List which is a list of ingredients, that if found in a medicine or drug require a prescription. In respect of substances classed as Narcotics and Psychotropics a list can be found here. Canada operates a Section 56 class exemption for travellers whose medicines contain a Narcotic or controlled substance.
According to the website, this exemption is only applicable if the following conditions are met:
This exemption does not apply to products containing substances listed in Annex I , unless they have been approved by Health Canada, for market in Canada, under the FDR, or approved for market in the country from which the product is being imported, by the corresponding regulatory authority of that country.
It is a criminal offense to bring habit forming drugs, opium, morphine, heroin and substances controlled by the Chinese Government into China.
The Government details 118 anesthetic substances and 119 psychotropic substances that they deem illegal. Drugs like Buprenorphine, detox for heroin addicts, Diazepam Valium, Dihydroetophine thebaine, Pethidine Demerol, Triazolam Halcion.
All other medications are acceptable, although the number carried should be a reasonable amount for personal use only. All medicines should be in their original packaging and accompanied by a Prescription letter from your Doctor.
Useful information can be found on the China Highlights website.
Dubai has extremely strict drug laws and are signatory’s to several international conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances.
Over the last ten years, it appears that the United Arab Emirates have come down hard on anyone found with “illegal substances” on their person. There have been several jail sentences for minute quantities of cannabis found on a shoe and even poppy seeds from a bread roll.
Catherine Wolthuizen of Fair Trials International, says visitors may not appreciate that Dubai officials consider them to be in possession of illegal substances, even if they are detected in the urine or bloodstream, or if trace amounts are found on their person.
The UAE ministry of health provides a list of banned medicines and Guidelines for carrying medicines to the United Arab Emirates. The Guide lists those substances that are prohibited and ones which will require a copy of the original prescription or doctors letter.
For example Codeine, widely available in the UK, is considered a controlled drug in Dubai and only allowed into the country for personal use and accompanied by a Doctors Letter.
Holidaymakers have also got into trouble for bringing too many tablets into the country.
The Emirates Ministry of health specify a maximum acceptable limit of no more than 30 days supply of medicine. Other websites state the limit as three months supply. The sensible solution is to carry just enough medication to cover the length of your trip with maybe a few days extra for emergencies.
The Egyptian Consulate informs visitors the only medication not permitted in Egypt is Methadone, or one containing Methadone.
The recent high profile case mentioned at the top of this article, demonstrates that any opiates (Tramadol is an opiate) can cause a visitor problems, if the rules are not strictly adhered to.
The advice from the UK government website is to carry an an official letter from your GP, specifying that the medication you are taking to Egypt is for your personal use only. The letter should also declare, the quantity you will be carrying and details of your condition. Make sure the medication is in the original packaging and that you bring only enough to cover your stay.
If you are planning to bring with you, tablets to combat sickness, diarrhoea, dehydration etc, all of which are common complaints, it makes sense to ask your GP to include them in your Doctors letter.
Travelling from the UK to European and Schengen member countries has been made much easier thanks to current EU legislation.
There are no formal medical passport controls that cover taking medication to Europe. In practical terms this means most travellers walk through the “Nothing to Declare” channel and are not searched. Like all countries, smuggling drugs is illegal.
There are however rules under the Schengen convention, regarding the carrying of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, that are necessary for medical treatment.
Its states; “Travellers who, owing to a medical prescription, need to take narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances during their trip, must obtain a certificate issued by the competent authority, on the basis of a medical prescription. The certificate shall be valid for a maximum period of 30 days.”
Note. Any medicine containing codeine or a derivative of it, is banned in Greece. You can be arrested for possession of codeine, even if you have a prescription for it.
There is no specific information on the India Embassy or Government website. Medicines for personal use can be taken into India.
It is still recommended that you keep the medicines in your hand luggage, in their original packaging together with a doctors letter or prescription and only enough to cover your trip.
If your medicines contain Narcotic or Psychotropic substances, India are signatories to the International Convention of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The guidelines allow a person to maintain such psychotropic substances for personal use, provided that the quantity does not exceed 100 dosage units.
The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia states: There should be no problem carrying your medication abroad with you to Indonesia, as long as it is clear that the medicines are for personal use only. The procedure is to carry the medication in your hand luggage, complete a customs declaration and hand this to a customers officer, together with a physician’s letter.
The letter should detail the name and amount of medicine you use per day, or a copy of the prescription, to prove that the medicine has been legally prescribed.
If the medicine you wish to bring into the country contains a narcotic substance banned in Indonesia, the same rules apply as above.
The only addition is that your doctors letter should include the reasons the drug needs to be taken. The drugs should be in their original wrapping and the dose should not exceed the amount necessary for the duration of the trip.
Any letters should either be in English or Indonesian.
Taking medicine abroad to Japan is a bit more complicated than some other countries in this guide.You are able to bring prescription medicine into Japan under the following conditions;
Prohibitive drugs are amphetamines or methamphetamines, even in prescription form. Pseudoephedrine (sudafed), Vicks, Adderall and Codeine are also illegal there. Controlled drugs are any Narcotic. Regardless of the prescription, you are not allowed to bring any of these into Japan.
Other non prescription drugs can be taken into Japan, provided there are no more than 24 per item. You are also allowed to bring pre-filled syringes or self injections kits (for example insulin), provided the supply is for no more than one month.
Cosmetics are also regulated and restricted to a maximum of 24 per item (this includes disposable contact lenses)
If you need to bring more than one months supply into Japan, you will need to apply for a “Yakkan Shoumei” (an import certificate). You will need to submit a completed import report, an explanation of the product, a copy of the prescription, and details of your trip, by way of an itinerary or copy of you airline ticket. Submissions can be by post, email or fax and normally take one to two weeks.
You should bring the documentation with you and present them to Japanese customs. This PDF provides more information.
If you need to travel with prescription drugs that are strictly prohibited, you can apply for permission directly to the Japanese Government, but you must have written confirmation before you leave home. Visit the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
Mexico has a long list of prohibitive drugs, including some over the counter drugs commonly used in the United Kingdom, such as inhalers, allergy and sinus medications.
Products that contain stimulants (medicines that contain Pseudoephedrine, such as Actifed, Sudafed, and Vicks inhalers) or codeine are prohibited.
Mexico has recently cracked down on any drug or medicine that included Pseudoephedrine. This drug is used in the production of meth amphetamines, something the Mexican Government has tried hard to prevent. As a result customs officers have been meticulous, carefully searching visitors of all descriptions.
If your medicine or an ingredient of your medicine is on the prohibited list, the general advice is to keep it in the original packaging, with a copy of the prescription, or GP letter. Only carry enough medication for your trip.
Pakistan have worked hard to stem the problems of drugs in their country and Pakistan was declared poppy free in 2001. The Pakistan Government continues its mission to stop the smuggling of Narcotics, synthetic drugs and other illegal substances.
Their policy states that traffickers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but drug users should be treated as victims rather than criminals.
After careful research we have found the rules relating to the import of drugs into Pakistan for personal use
Small quantities of drugs may be taken into Pakistan, including those that are normally prohibited, provided
a. They are part of a passengers bona fide baggage and for personal use only.
b. The quantity of a single drug is no more than one hundred doses.
Saudi Arabia is also extremely strict, about what you can and cannot bring into their country. The Saudi Embassy Consular and Travel services confirms that it is illegal to import drugs or medicines that are banned in Saudi Arabia or Internationally.
The Saudi Food and Drug authority details specific substances which are illegal to import a list of which can be found here.
Drugs that are required for personal use can be cleared for import into the country, providing certain conditions are met.
The medicines must be accompanied by either a medical report that is less than six months old written by the medical provider showing the following information:
or a prescription issued by the patients doctor in their name (less than six months old) with the following information:
The person importing the medicines will be held personally responsible for its lawful use and agrees to limit usage to the intended patient only. The amount of medicine should be restricted to the amount required for the duration of the trip or one month whichever is shorter.
If the medicines are being carried for a family member (e.g. a child) a copy of that persons identity (passport) should accompany the documentation. If the medicines are being carried by someone who is not a relative, then written authorisation allowing that person to handle the medicine should also accompany the documents.
The Singapore Health Sciences Authority Website is very helpful, about the carrying of medicines to their country. Medicines are split into three categories.
You are allowed to bring routine medicines into Singapore, for issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and contraception. These medicines must be for personal medical use only and less than three months’ supply.
You will need to obtain a special licence, if you need to bring into Singapore
A list of controlled drugs can be found here.
You cannot bring any of the following into Singapore under any circumstances
To apply for a licence to carry medicine into Singapore, you must download and complete the application which can be found here. This must be presented together with your doctors prescription, showing name of the medicine, the dosage, and the total quantity.
You must also enclose a copy of your itinerary and flight details and a copy of your passport. You should allow at least ten working days to apply before you leave.
We can find little information on which medication is allowed into Sri Lanka. Narcotics and Psychotropic substances of any kind are banned (including heroine which carries the death penalty).
The Sri Lanka customs website prohibits any medicine for the prevention, cure or relief of venereal disease, unless you have written permission from the Sri Lankan authorities.
All other medicines appear to be acceptable, but we would still recommend carrying a copy of your prescription.
Like other countries Thailand also has strict rules on which medicines and drugs are allowed into their country. Unlike many other countries, however the Royal Thai Embassy have produced a helpful guide on the usage of restricted medicines. Controlled substances are split into two categories, Narcotic and Psychotropic.
a. The name and address of the patient.
b. The identified medical condition.
c. The name of the medications and the reason that those medications were prescribed for the patient’s treatment.
d. The dosage and total amount of medications prescribed.
e. The name, address, and license number of the prescribing physician.
5. You do not need to declare these medicines at customs.
If you are not sure whether a medicine contains prohibited substances you can use their drug check facility here.
The Tunisian National Bureau of Narcotics will allow travellers to enter Tunisia, who are following a medical treatment based on drugs containing Narcotics or Psychotropics, that are prohibited under International Law, under the following circumstances.
There is very little specific information available on the regulations of taking medication with you to Turkey. Turkey has signed up to all the usual international drug conventions, and have very strict laws regarding illegal drugs and banned substances entering their country.
We have been unable to find a specific list, but the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Customs and Trade website states the following:
“Medication brought, as accompanied baggage or one month prior or after their arrivals, by passengers visiting our country for purposes of personal treatment included in Appendix-9 of the Resolution shall be allowed at reasonable amounts, considering the time the passengers will spend in our country and provided that a document (report from healthcare organization, doctor’s report ore prescription, etc.) stating that the passengers must use such medication during their travel is presented to the customs administration.”
Appendix 9 lists medication and medical devices for personal use.
The US Customs and Border Protection have the following advice for taking prescription medication with you into the United States of America. Prescription medicines and medical devices should be in their original packaging, with your prescription details printed on it.
Only enough medicine for personal use should be carried. The website states the maximum acceptable amount as a 90 days supply.
The DEA website provides a list of controlled substances which form part of medicines for personal use and can be carried into the USA under their exemption scheme, provided the following conditions are met.
(a) The controlled substance is in the original container in which it was dispensed to the individual; and
(b) The individual makes a declaration to an appropriate customs officer stating:
(1) That the controlled substance is possessed for his/her personal use, or for an animal accompanying him/her; and
(2) The trade or chemical name and the symbol designating the schedule of the controlled substance if it appears on the container label, or, if such name does not appear on the label, the name and address of the pharmacy or practitioner who dispensed the substance and the prescription number.
As discussed it is essential that you purchase a high quality travel insurance policy, preferably at the same time as you book your holiday or trip abroad. To assist you in your search for travel insurance, here is a list of some of the Travel Insurers, we have recently reviewed.