Traveling with Medications
This page provides guidance on a variety of issues associated with taking medications abroad. For more detailed advice, read the U.S. Department of State report on Traveling with Medications.
- If flying outbound from the United States, be sure to check the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) rules for on traveling with medications. Watch their brief video below for more information.
- Keep any medications in their original containers. Pack all toiletries to be carried-on in a small, zip-lock plastic bag. Liquids cannot exceed 3.4 ounces. Read the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines for carrying on toiletries and other liquids.
- Place all prescriptions in their original packaging and remember to pack them in your carry-on luggage, with copies of the prescription. Consider carrying a doctor’s note explaining a need for the prescription drugs you have packed - in English and, if possible, in the language of your destination(s).
- It is illegal to send prescription drugs through domestic and international mail within and from the United States. Only approved pharmaceuticals and license-holding distributors and receivers may ship and receive approved drugs. Similar restrictions apply even for over-the-counter medication, and comparable laws exist in most other countries. (21 U.S.C. 801, 21 CFR 1300 and 18 U.S.C. 1716.)
- Suggested reading: "How to Make Sure You Travel with Medication Legally"
Transporting medication abroad
Taking Medications and Travel Hiccups
Prior to departure review potential side effects of your medications with your provider, as your body may react differently because of adjustment to new sleep habits, time zones, activities, and diet.
Maintain your usual dosage and pattern of taking your medication while you're abroad. Consult with your physician about any necessary adjustments to your dosage due to significant changes in time zones.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) medications
While it is advisable to take a variety of over-the-counter medications with you abroad for symptoms such as pain (Tylenol, Advil, etc.) or stomach distress (Pepto-Bismol, Tums, etc.), some U.S.-based cold medications contain restricted ingredients. For example, Japan has restrictions the import of certain OTC medications, such as Nyquil and Sudafed.
Sufficient quantities for travel
Be sure to take enough of your prescription medication to last the duration of travel. If an insurance provider will not fill a prescription that will last as long as the trip, travelers can try to re-submit the request with a letter of explanation along with, if applicable, a copy of a study abroad acceptance letter or any other documentation noting the duration of travel as well as a flight itinerary. Travelers who will need to renew a prescription abroad, should contact GeoBlue prior to departure to ensure that the medication is available locally. Travelers will also need to schedule an appointment with a local physician abroad to receive a new prescription. Overseas pharmacies cannot refill U.S.-based prescriptions.
New treatments or therapies
Many common conditions in the U.S. are being treated with the latest advances in science, and sometimes these are not available abroad. Travelers with chronic conditions such as Crohn’s disease, hemophilia or diabetes, who are on a newer treatment program, please contact GeoBlue to discuss care options abroad.
Certain prescribed medications to control psychosis, attention-deficit disorder or chronic/severe pain may not be available in some foreign countries. In some locations, these medications may even be illegal. Customs agents will confiscate medications that are illegal, if discovered. Contact GeoBlue to determine whether or not such medications are available in the destination country, if not, travelers will be strongly encouraged to work with their treating physicians to seek alternatives treatment. Talk with a physician far enough in advance of travel to arrange appropriate dosage as well as manage potential side effects.
Learn more about Northwestern’s GeoBlue plan.