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Taking medicine on holiday with you

If you have a pre-existing health condition or disability that requires you to take prescribed medication, this will be high on your list of priorities when packing to go on your next holiday abroad.

However, have you considered the fact that your medications may be restricted in your destination of choice? Many countries have different rules on medicines than we do here in the UK, which means that taking certain medications overseas with you can be problematic.

Since approximately half of the UK population take some form of prescribed medication, there are roughly 21 million people who may encounter problems visiting some areas of the world.

We’ve summarised the advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) so that you can take your medications with you on holiday in confidence.

What kind of medicines might be restricted overseas?

In 2017, a British woman travelling to Egypt was detained for four weeks after airport officials found prescription painkillers in her luggage. As an opioid analgesic, the medicine is commonly prescribed in the UK, but in Egypt and many other destinations, it is subject to strict laws. Being unaware of these laws abroad is no defence against the penalties, so preparation is essential.

The list of medications restricted overseas is too long to include in full, but here are a few examples.

  • Not that you will be planning to pick up a cold in Qatar, but if you are travelling there with over-the-counter cold or cough remedies, it’s important to be aware that these are controlled drugs.
  • If you are caught with Lemsip or Sudafed in Japan or any other medicine that contains the decongestant pseudoephedrine, you could be looking at detainment or instant deportation from the country.
  • If you need to take strong painkillers, medication for anxiety or sleeping tablets to Singapore, you will need a licence.
  • Possessing codeine, sleeping tablets or medication for ADHD in Indonesia is illegal and carries heavy penalties for anyone caught by the authorities.

It can seem challenging to know exactly which medicines may be controlled in which countries. Thankfully though, you can ensure you don’t break the rules by taking a few simple precautions ahead of your next holiday.

Taking medicine abroad incontent

How can I ensure I’m not breaking the travel rules on medicines?

The easiest way to find out if any of your prescribed or over-the-counter medications are controlled in the country you want to visit is to speak to your doctor. This is best practice for anyone who has an existing health condition or disability anyway, as they are best-placed to advise you on how to look after your health while you are away.

The FCO recommends going to see your doctor to check whether your medicines are subject to any rules or regulations at least four to six weeks before your departure date. If so, your doctor may need to supply you with a letter or medical certificate proving that the medication has been prescribed to you. This can act as permission to take your medication into the country. You may need to show this to officials when you arrive abroad.

If you will be travelling for three months or more, or you will be carrying a supply of medicine large enough to last this long, you may need to apply for a personal licence in order to take your medication with you.

You can also get in touch with the embassy of the country where you will be travelling to, in order to confirm the latest legalities on entering with medication, although we would still strongly recommend speaking to your doctor in addition to this.

Top medical travel advice for taking medicines abroad

As well as taking the time to check that you have the correct permissions to take your medicines on holiday with you, be sure to follow our other top medication travel tips:

  • It’s good preparation to make sure you have more than enough medicine to cover your trip away, and to split your supply across more than one bag in case any of them were to go missing.
  • Take a list of your medicines with you, including both the brand and medical names of each one, so that you know what to ask for in the event that you need more. Remember to look up what the medicine is known as in your overseas destination of choice, as it may be different from what it is called here in the UK.
  • Make a note of your doctor’s contact details and take this with you too.
  • It’s worth making a second copy of this information and leaving it with someone you trust at home so that they have this to hand in case of an emergency.

Medical travel insurance is another essential holiday preparation

It is important to note that any difficulties, financial penalties or legal expenses resulting from possession of medication while travelling will not normally be covered on any travel insurance policy, including Free Spirit. This makes it even more important to take the correct steps when taking prescription medicines on holiday with you.

In saying that, making sure your existing health conditions and/or disabilities are covered by travel insurance is just as important as getting the necessary permissions to take your medications with you.

You needn’t struggle to find a travel insurance policy that will cover you though, at Free Spirit we aim to offer cover to people of any age who may have a pre-existing medical condition or disability. Use our online application system to receive a quote, or get in touch with us to find out more.

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