Imagine the scene. You’re looking forward to a holiday. You’ve been saving for months and looking forward to it for an age. You’ve spoken to your doctor, got the right medical travel insurance and made sure you’ve got enough medication to last your entire trip.
But when you land, things go wrong. The customs officials find your medication in your suitcase. They want to know what it is. And why you have brought it into their county? Imagine the horror when you realise that your medication, which is perfectly legal back home, is on the banned list.
You face arrest and, possibly, prison.
How carrying medication can put you in hot water
It might seem like a far-fetched set of events, but it can happen. Recently a British holidaymaker was arrested in Egypt for carrying a prescription painkiller in her suitcase. The medication was banned in Egypt in 2015. The woman could face jail and, possibly, if it is proven that she was ‘smuggling’ the drugs when her case goes to trial, could face the death penalty.
While it might be an extreme case it does raise the issue of carrying medication abroad. Some medicines that we can buy over the counter in the UK are illegal in other countries. For example, in Japan, Vick’s inhalers are illegal because they contain pseudoephedrine, a controlled substance. In Zambia Benylin cough syrup is illegal as it contains a sedative called diphenhydramide. Similarly, in the UAE, diazepam, tramadol and codeine are also banned substances.
In some countries you will need a special permit to bring controlled substances with you when you travel. Codeine, morphine and fentanyl require a special permit to take into Thailand, for example, with the likelihood of prison if you don’t have one.
How to travel with medication
While the rules from country to country vary greatly, the first thing to do if you are travelling anywhere with medication would be to ensure you have a copy of your prescription with you when you travel. You should also talk to your GP well in advance, not only so they can ensure you have enough to last for your trip, but also so they can check if you need to make special arrangements.
You should also check with the embassy of the countries you are travelling to that the drugs you take are legal. They will tell you if you need to make special arrangements, if you need a letter from your GP or if there are any restrictions you might need to be wary of. Some countries will only let you bring in enough to last your trip, for example.
Taking controlled medicines abroad
Some prescribed medicines are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs legislation, which means your ability to import or export them is controlled. These medicines include some anti-anxiety medicines, some strong painkillers and some medicines that contain hormones. If you take controlled drugs and want to take them out of the UK then you’ll need to get a personal licence from the Home Office. For more information on controlled drugs, follow the link below.
Always make sure they can read the label
All medicines and medical equipment should be carried in the original, correctly labelled packaging, in your hand luggage, with copy of your prescription, if you airline will allow it. If your hold luggage goes astray you’ll be sure to have one supply. Similarly, take a spare supply in your suitcase, along with a copy of your prescription, in case you lose your hand luggage.
Also, check that your meds won’t expire before you return home and that you have the name of the drug to hand, rather than the brand name on your packaging (because drugs can have different brand names in some countries), as well as the name of your health condition for which you are being treated with those drugs. In short, it’s vital to ensure you have as much information as possible so you can prove that the drugs are for treating you with your condition. It goes without saying that you should never carry drugs for another person or take drugs to another person in another country, unless in very special circumstances, and with the right and legal approval.
How your travel cover protects your meds
Not all travel insurance policies cover the cost of replacing lost or stolen medication. However, all World First Economy, Standard and Superior policies, as well as the Longstay Max policy offer cover of up to £300 to replace meds. This means that you’ll be covered if you lose your meds and have to replace them when you are away.