How to Travel with Medications

Three Parts:Traveling by AirTraveling InternationallyTraveling with Safety and Convenience in Mind

We’ve all hurriedly packed for a trip and forgotten something “important” like a favorite pair of shoes or a book to read on the plane. Few things are more truly important than bringing required or helpful medications along when traveling, though. It is therefore essential that you take the time to prepare and pack properly when you travel with medications. Your planning and packing will vary depending upon where you are going, how you are getting there, and how long you will stay. Whatever your travel plans, don’t leave your medication plans for the last minute.

Part 1
Traveling by Air

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    Pack pills and solid medications in your carry-on luggage. According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), any “reasonable quantities” of pills and similar medications can be carried onto a plane, so long as they are screened along with the rest of your carry-on luggage. You can also put medication in your checked baggage, but it usually makes more sense to keep it accessible.[1][2]
    • The TSA does not require that pills be in their original packaging or otherwise labeled, but this is your best option and least likely to cause screening delays. State laws regarding the labeling and transportation of prescription medications may require you to keep them in the original, labeled containers as well.
    • Please note: this article draws from the policies and procedures of the U.S. TSA. Many other nations have the same or similar flight regulations for medications, but check with the relevant authority in your nation of travel.
    • In addition, be aware that the TSA is governed by federal law, and therefore does not take local laws into account when it comes to substances like medicinal marijuana (meaning if marijuana is legal in your state, it is still viewed as an illegal substance to the TSA). The TSA will not search specifically for marijuana, but if it triggers an alarm during screening, a law enforcement officer will handle the matter.[3]
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    Declare liquid medications and medical accessories to the screening officer. If you are carrying liquid, gel, or cream medications in excess of TSA allowances for liquids (3.4 oz or 1000 ml), you should alert the TSA official before your screening begins and have the medications ready to hand over to him or her. Do the same with medical accessories, such as needles for insulin injections.[4]
    • Liquid medications of 3.4 oz (1000 ml) or less should be treated like other liquids in your carry-on luggage — with all liquid containers placed inside one clear, sealed, quart-sized zip-close bag. Remove the clear bag from your carry-on for screening.[5]
    • Again, the TSA recommends but does not require original containers, but this is the way to go, especially with larger amounts of medication.
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    Bring documentation as a precaution. When dealing with medications and flight security, it is always best to go beyond the minimum requirements in your preparation. The more documented information you have regarding the medications you have with you, the more likely you are to have a smoother security screening experience.[6]
    • Consider bringing a printed list of all your medications and doses (especially prescription medications). You may also want to bring along a copy of your actual prescription(s), and any information sheet that came with the medication.
    • If you have an uncommon prescription medication, or an unusually large amount of one, you may want to bring a signed letter from the prescribing doctor that explains the medication and your need for it.[7]
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    Adjust to time zone changes incrementally. If you need to take the same medication right before dinner each day and are crossing multiple time zones, you will need to adjust your schedule. Discuss the issue with your doctor or pharmacist before leaving to determine the best course of action for making adjustments.[8]
    • Generally speaking, you can incrementally adjust the time you take a medication, perhaps beginning on the flight itself. If you take a pill at 8 pm every day but are heading from New York to Los Angeles (where it would be 5 pm) for an extended stay, you may be able to take the pill one hour later each day for three days to remain on the 8 pm schedule.

Part 2
Traveling Internationally

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    Gather detailed information on your medication(s). To save yourself from potential inconveniences or even health hazards while abroad, it is a good idea to compile information on each and every medication you bring and/or use, particularly prescription medications. Ideally, you should print out several copies of a single document (in the primary language of the nation you’re visiting, if possible) that lists all your medications (brand and generic names), uses, dosages, and prescription information.[9]
    • Almost all of the time, you will have no problem transporting and using your medications internationally, especially if you keep them in the original packaging and have documentation for your prescriptions. Having additional documentation at the ready can help you in the uncommon instance when there is a problem.
    • If your medication includes a controlled substance in your home country and/or an injectable medication, you should bring a signed letter from the prescribing physician (on his or her letterhead) that describes the medication and its usage in your case.[10]
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    Take special care with narcotics and psychotropics. Prescription medications in these classes, which include painkillers such as morphine and codeine and common drugs for depression, anxiety, and various psychoses, are governed under international law by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). According to INCB policy, you should be able to transport at least a thirty day supply of medications in these classes so long as you have a copy of the prescription document.[11]
    • In practice, however, some nations have stricter requirements; Japan and the UAE, for instance, are known for being quite stringent. You may be required to provide extensive documentation, and even then may not be permitted to bring certain medications into the country. The more documentation you have, the better your odds.
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    Check for restrictions in your destination country. Unfortunately, it can be a real challenge to sort out the official (and unofficial) travel policies regarding medications for individual nations. You can try consulting official websites, but you may be best served by contacting your destination nation’s embassy or consulate in your home nation.[12]
    • The INCB does maintain an extensive list of general medication information and medication entry standards by nation at It is probably best to use this as a starting point, then try to gather the most up-to-date information directly from your destination country.
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    Keep sufficient quantities of your medication in your possession. While not always feasible to do so, it is always easier to avoid having to obtain additional quantities of a medication (especially a prescription) in a foreign nation. You will likely have to visit a local physician and get a new prescription, among other challenges. Work ahead of time with your home physician and health insurer to stock up adequate supplies of your prescriptions before leaving.[13]
    • Keep in mind the possible restrictions on how much medication you can bring into a country. Do your homework first.
    • Keep your medication in your carry-on luggage when flying internationally, just as you should when flying domestically. Keep it in your possession and accessible as much as you can.

Part 3
Traveling with Safety and Convenience in Mind

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    Keep important medications in more than one location. Whether you are driving out of town for a couple of days or heading abroad for a few weeks, losing your entire supply of a necessary medication can be a real headache. When possible, divide up your supply to prepare against theft, destruction, misplacement, etc.[14]
    • As mentioned in the sections of this article dealing with flying and/or traveling internationally, taking medications (especially prescriptions) out of their original packaging can add layers of hassle to the process. If possible, obtain multiple original packages of the medication(s) and place them in different locations (for instance, your carry-on and in your checked luggage). If not possible, place the secondary supply in a clearly marked container with identifying documentation handy.
    • Don’t put all your important pills in your purse or backpack while out and about, or even in a single place in your hotel. Make sure you have a couple of days’ worth of medications available even if you are a victim of theft.
    • You may wish to keep your daily medication (or enough for a few days) on your person while traveling, then put the rest in the hotel safe.
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    Prepare a “travel health kit.” Especially if you are headed on a “road trip” and don’t have to worry about security checkpoints or international law, it can be smart, convenient, and safe to pack a compact but diverse supply of medications and related items.[15]
    • No matter where you’re headed, make your prescription medications the first priority. Keep them easy to access and hard to lose. If you have medication for allergic reactions (such as epinephrine, as in an Epi-Pen), be extra sure to have a dose handy when you are away from home.
    • Keep a printed list of all prescription and other medications you take regularly, with dosages and indications, in your possession when traveling. This way, if you are somehow incapacitated, medical personnel will have this important information more quickly.
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    Bring over-the-counter (OTC) medications you use regularly. More often than not, you are probably traveling somewhere where you could easily pick up some antacids or anti-itch cream if you need it. However, having a small supply ready to go in your “travel health kit” will make things that much easier — such as, for instance, if you need an anti-diarrheal right away.[16]
    • Base your list on the medications you are most likely to use, but consider including travel-size amounts from among the following: anti-diarrheals, antihistamines, decongestants, motion sickness pills, pain relievers, laxatives, cough suppressants/drops, antacids, antifungals, and anti-itch creams.
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    Supplement your kit with first aid supplies and optional items. Your needs are likely to vary depending upon whether you are headed to New York City or on a camping trip for the week. Take time to jot down a list of medical supplies and accessories that may be useful to bring along, and add them as space allows to your “travel health kit.”[17]
    • Based on your destination, consider bringing, for instance: insect repellent; sunscreen; hand-sanitizer or antibacterial wipes; lubricating eye drops; basic first aid supplies (first aid reference card, bandages, gauze, ace bandage, antiseptic, tweezers, scissors, cotton-tipped applicators); moleskin for blisters; aloe gel; digital thermometer; oral rehydration solution packets; sleep aids; and water purification tablets.

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Categories: Taking Pills and Medicine | Travel