Taking medication overseas can literally be a matter of life or death, so it’s essential to pay real attention and plan ahead if you require regular medication when you move or travel abroad.
Tips on taking medication overseas when you travel abroad
Travel abroad is an exciting prospect, so it can be easy to get wrapped up in the fun aspects like organizing your sightseeing schedule, and neglect the “boring” but important things, including your health. Taking medication overseas isn’t as simple as most of the items you’ll be packing, and it’s necessary to prepare ahead just in case something goes wrong. You probably won’t have any dire consequences if your bathers or sandals go missing, but if customs confiscates your medication, it can be really stressful and, in some cases, very dangerous. Here are some tips on taking medication out of Australia, and what you can do ahead of time to ensure you can travel with everything you need to stay healthy and comfortable.
1. Find out the rules for your destination
Every country sets its own standards and regulations on what drugs are allowed, and how they can be dispensed. Certain prescriptions medications which are widely available within Australia may be highly controlled or even illegal in other countries. This is especially the case with opiates often present in strong painkillers, such as codeine, due to their high risk of addiction. Sedatives and relaxants are also prone to international controls, including medications for anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Some drugs which are over-the-counter in Australia may require a prescription overseas, so regardless of the strength or chemical makeup of your medication, it’s worth checking the local regulations for the country you’re heading to.
To find out what you can and can’t take with you, contact the consulate relevant to you. This should be done at least a month in advance, to allow for administrative delays. You should also read the appropriate website for the country you are travelling to.
2. Talk to your doctor
Your GP may have information on which medications are likely to be restricted abroad, and be able to advise you on what to do in the case that you’re unable to travel with your usual medicine. If your usual medication is outlawed in your destination country, your doctor will be able to inform you of viable alternatives. This is also a good opportunity to ask your doctor about different brands and generic names for you medications, in case you need to replace them overseas and your usual brand is unavailable.
Before travelling, ask your doctor to give you prescriptions for anything you need to take with you. If you intend to travel with prescriptions medication, you may need to carry a letter from your doctor to prove that you’re entitled to do so
3. Carry the appropriate documentation
Customs officials may ask for proof that you’re entitled to carry any medications, so it’s important to have your documents on hand to prevent confiscation.
If transporting prescription medicine, carry the original or a copy of your prescription with you, as well as a letter from your doctor. The letter should describe the name of the medicine (both the chemical and brand name), the form and method of administration, the strength and dosage, as well as a confirmation that it’s for your personal use during travel.
It’s also a good idea to carry a doctor’s letter if you’re travelling with non-prescription drugs, as you may find that these are actually require a prescription at your destination.
Some countries may require a permit to import certain drugs. If this applies to you, apply well in advance and carry a copy of the permit with you during travel.
4. How much to take
You should also find out what quantities are allowed to be brought in to the country with you. If possible, you should take enough with you to last your whole trip, but if you’re planning an extended stay or moving to the country to live, at least bring enough to last until you get settled and can locate a suitable doctor. It’s usually possible to take a 3 month supply of medicine with you during travel.
Be sure you are only taking medications overseas for your own personal use, or for a dependant.
5. How to transport medicines
When taking medications overseas, keep all medicines in their original packaging, with the original labels intact. Original labels allow customs officials to easily identify what you’re carrying and they will be suspicious of unlabelled medications.
Keep your medicines in your hand luggage. This not only keeps your supply on hand in case your checked luggage gets lost, but it also allows customs officials to check the contents without having to search your luggage. Medications are exempt from the 100ml limit on liquids gels and aerosols while travelling by plane, so they will not be confiscated by airport security – just make sure you carry your doctor’s letter with you.
6. Complementary medicines
You might not think that vitamins and other supplements fall under the category of medications, but these are regulated and different countries treat these substances differently. For example, vitamin D supplements can be either over-the-counter or limited to prescription depending on the dose, just within Australia. Don’t assume that the complementary medicines available from your local health food store are exempt from regulation, especially around the world. If you intend to carry complementary medicine overseas, it can help to get a letter from your doctor explaining how and why you are using it, even if you don’t need a prescription in Australia.
7. Medical devices
Travelling with medical devices such as hypodermic needles are prohibited unless you can prove that you need to carry them. Again, a letter from your doctor is useful here. Hypodermic needles should be kept inside your hand luggage along with the medication used with them.
Battery operated medical devices can be taken onto airplanes, but are subject to regulation. Check with your airline before flying to see what they allow and what they can provide in terms of power and electricity outlets. You may need an electricity adaptor if you existing one isn’t compatible with the outlets aboard. Power on a plane isn’t necessarily guaranteed, so make sure that you have a fully charged battery and a back-up battery pack if possible.
Make sure that your airline is aware of your needs before you travel, and you will find they can they can do more to accommodate you when given time to prepare in advance.
8. Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medications
It’s illegal to be taking medications overseas obtained through the PBS scheme, unless they’re for your own personal use or the use of a person travelling with you. If you need to transport your PBS medications make sure to carry a doctor’s letter stating that they’re for your personal use. If you’re taking PBS medications overseas, fill in this medicine export declaration for your departure.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration, a part of the Department of Health is in charge of drug export and import for Australia. This video provides a detailed description of the best way for taking medications overseas and how to avoid customs issues.
Having your medicines confiscated can not only take the fun out of a trip abroad, but it can also pose a serious rick to your health. Get prepared well in advance and arm yourself with knowledge about the rules at your destination and you should be able to travel abroad without your heath suffering.