Some travelers have pretty specific needs when it comes to leaving home. Namely, they need the right prescriptions, so that they can enjoy their travels and feel safe. But when you’re crossing international borders, what is legal in your country may not be legal three steps over the line and it can cause you a great deal of trouble. Know the laws for carrying medication abroad, so that you know what to take, what identification or paperwork you’ll need, and whether it’s even feasible to travel in the target country.
Who Decides Which Medications are Prohibited?
While each country may have some flexibility, generally the proscribed lists of drugs to travel internationally get chosen by the International Narcotics Control Board. The branch is an independent body which maintains the UN’s international drug control policies and actually goes back to the League of Nations. The idea, of course, is to control the flow of dangerous drugs over borders and in doing so, hope to cut down on crime (whether it does a very good job or not is subject for a whole other debate!).
Travelers who do have to use drugs on the prescribed list are bound by a couple of rules: the traveler can only carry enough for personal use, usually up to a month’s worth and the traveler must have a letter of prescription from a doctor if they need to travel with narcotics.
You may not need this for psychotropic drugs, but it’s still a good idea and always make sure to check with your destination country first. Furthermore, each country has its own sets of regulations, but many of them have submitted nothing publicly and most of them deviate in some way from the INCB regulations. In short, the INCB decides, but ultimately, the country you’re going to will hold the reins, so take care.
Medications that Are Generally a Problem
There are two classes of medicine that will mostly likely cause problems when traveling internationally: narcotics and psychotropic drugs. These medications represent the ones that have an effect on the brain and have the most potential for abuse, illegal sales and causing trouble. Narcotics include drugs such as morphine and codeine while psychotropic drugs include those people use to treat certain mental disorders: schizophrenia, severe anxiety, bipolar disorder and others.
Now, within that range, you have even more ranges. Some countries will allow medications to treat things like epilepsy while others ban these drugs. And some countries, depending on their culture and politics, will ban other medications that don’t impact the brain at all such as birth control (the United Arab Emirates represents one such political body).
Minimizing Your Risk
Don’t allow the medications you’re on to stop you from enjoying your life. Think about some common sense things you should do before traveling to minimize your risk, so you can enjoy your vacation without risking your health. Although figuring out country websites and their policies on medications can prove difficult, so long as you show common sense and care, you should be all right.
Only Japan and the United Arab Emirates have incredibly sticky regulations; other countries have incredibly low incidences of people actually getting into trouble with the law because of their medications.
Before You Leave…
Before you travel over the border, get your vaccinations up to date or pursue alternatives if the regular vaccinations interfere with your medication. Then talk to your doctor about how to adapt your medication regime for different time zones. Also make sure to get a letter of prescription from your doctor in your language and the mother language of the country you’re visiting.
You may never need it, but why risk it?
Make sure that the medication is in its original package and clearly labeled both in English and in the mother tongue of the country you’re visiting. And if you need syringes, get a note from your doctor explaining why you need them and find out from your airline, etc. what their policies are regarding them.
Then check out INCB’s website and make sure you are extra careful with any medications that are potentially abused. Most countries only allow you to carry a 30 day supply and may require a prescription or import licence certificate.
Bring enough of your stuff for your whole trip plus a few extra doses in case of emergency and then pack it with you, not in a checked luggage or by mail. And make sure you safely store your medicine! If it needs to be kept cool for example, use insulated containers. And always keep your paperwork on you and a back-up copy in your bag or the luggage of a travelling companion, just in case.
And when you get back home, make sure you do a follow up with your doctor to make sure your health is still good and to get a new prescription if you need it. Pretty simple stuff.
Traveling with medication can be a nuisance, but don’t let that deter you from seeing more of the world. As long as you do your homework, have the right paperwork and follow the rules, you should pull off your travels without a hitch. Enjoy!
About the Author: Guest contributor, Lena Paul, is a medical school graduate and enthusiastic blogger and holds an editorial position in Prepgenie, a test prep provider that offers exam preparation courses for GAMSAT, PCAT, LNAT, UKCAT and UMAT.
Image credit: ehowcdn dot com, istockphoto dot com