By: Jean Andrews
If you use common over-the-counter painkillers or medicines, or your health depends on regular doses of prescription medicine, this matter should be at the top of your ‘to do’ list when planning a holiday or trip – along with purchasing adequate travel insurance and checking passport and visa requirements.
These days security at airports around the world is so strict that you could even have problems taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to another country – let alone your needed prescription medicines. Ask your doctor to provide written confirmation to carry with you to explain why you need to take the medicines. You will need this document to take your medicine or medical equipment through airport security and customs. Diabetics carrying syringes should be especially careful to have their documentation in order.
Some OTC allergy and sinus medicines, cough syrups, products like Vicks inhalers, and painkillers containing codeine could cause problems at airport security. Common OTC painkillers containing codeine include: Panadol Ultra, Nurofen and Paracodol Plus. In some countries airport officials will not be amused if they find these in your luggage – and claiming ignorance is no excuse! Countries with strict rules regarding medicines include Cuba, Japan, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates. In the UAE many drugs commonly used at home are considered controlled substances and you must obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Health before taking them into the country. The rules often differ for visitors and residents.
If you are travelling with prescription medicines it is important to declare them on the Customs Declaration form – and even more so if you are carrying a large supply that may exceed a country’s legal limit. Failing to do so could lead to detention and even criminal proceedings.
Always pack your medicines, both prescription and OTC, in your hand luggage. Give them the same level of importance as your passport, travel documents, travel money, and travel insurance policy. Your medicines must be kept in the original packaging or bottle, with the original label attached (leave the pretty pillbox at home).
Although pharmacies in other countries should be able to replace any lost medicines, it could be an enormous problem unless you are prepared for such an event. For example, the medicine may be called something different, not available, or banned, and unless you speak the language you could be in for a very difficult time.
Talk to your pharmacist or doctor well before your departure and ask them to write down the names that your prescribed and OTC medicines are known by in the countries you plan to visit. They should also write down the dosage and the name and contact information of the prescribing doctor. This will be useful if your supply of medicine is lost or stolen.
If you have medical problems or conditions always see your doctor well in advance to obtain a thumbs up that you are fit to travel. You may need to have vaccinations or a tetanus booster. Some courses of treatment take weeks to complete and may cause side effects.
When purchasing travel insurance it is very important to declare all pre-existing medical conditions. Depending on the condition (or combination of conditions) the premium for your travel insurance may increase. However, do not be tempted to neglect to declare any conditions as failing to do so could invalidate the insurance for any related claims. This would be false economy and could result in a lot of unnecessary expense.
Your doctor should be able to prescribe enough of your medication to last for up to three months. If your travel plans are for longer than this, or open-ended, you should check well in advance that your doctor is willing to provide ample supplies. If you have any doubts about carrying your medicines to another country check with your doctor or pharmacist, or visit the website of the embassy of the country you plan to visit, or contact them for advice. If you need special medical equipment, such as oxygen, you will also need to contact your airline for permission.
European Health Insurance Card holders should carry the card when visiting a member country, but this should never be used as a substitute for comprehensive travel insurance. The EHIC provides free emergency medical treatment in state-run facilities (not private hospitals). However, be aware that you may have to pay for prescription medicines upfront and apply for reimbursement when you return home. It is important to allow extra money for medical emergencies in your holiday budget. Remember that the EHIC and your travel insurance only cover emergency medical treatment while travelling, not travelling abroad specifically for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment.
If you are going on a cruise be aware that medical care is not normally free on cruise ships. It is important to have adequate medical travel insurance. Take adequate supplies of your medicines as obtaining them once onboard could prove problematic and expensive. If you have to pay upfront for medical services or medicines on excursions along the way, check your travel insurance policy regarding applying for a refund.
We recommend that British citizens check with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for the latest government travel advice as part of their excellent Know Before You Go campaign. Their advice includes information on taking prescription medicines to other countries.
No matter where in the world you travel it is important to remember that medical treatment is not normally free, unless there is some type of reciprocal agreement – and then it may only provide for emergency treatment. Your embassy will not pick up these costs and without adequate comprehensive travel insurance you could be left seriously out-of-pocket. Why take a chance and risk ruining your holiday!