How many of us have ever considered whether the medicines we will be packing when going on our holidays are legal in the country we are travelling to, even if they have been prescribed by our GP or purchased over the counter at a pharmacist or even in a supermarket?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) conducted a survey last year and has discovered that only one in three people currently check the rules for taking prescribed medicines overseas, and one in five currently check the rules regarding over the counter medications. The FCO recommends that travellers check the FCO website for details of the medication they are wishing to take abroad. They also recommend contacting the Embassy of the country being visited to check whether that medication could be one of those which may be restricted or banned in that country. Another thing to consider is the maximum quantity of medication which you are allowed to take into the country being visited, as this may be restricted to just 30 days if the medicine is considered a controlled drug.
If you are taking prescribed medication, the NHS website recommends you travel with a copy of your prescription. If the medication is classified as a “controlled drug”, they also recommend you obtain a letter from your GP which contains details of that particular medication (including its generic name, not just the brand name), the name of the health condition the medication is prescribed for and its correct dosage. They further recommend you carry the medication in its original packaging and, if you are flying, that you carry your medication within your hand luggage – but please remember to check your particular airlines’ regulations before travelling. Your GP may charge you for preparing such a letter, as they are not obliged to provide this service under the NHS.
Some of the prescribed medications which may contain ingredients that are classified as “controlled drugs” include anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepine. Others controlled drugs are strong painkillers including diamorphine and codeine and other opioid-based painkillers. Another strain of controlled drug includes medicines which contain hormones, such as anabolic steroids. These drugs may require a personal licence which has to be issued by the Home Office, especially if you are travelling abroad for more than 3 months.
Drugs containing codeine, tramadol and diazepam are considered “controlled drugs” in countries such as Greece, Egypt and the UAE (which includes Dubai, often used as a stop-over destination to those travelling to the far east), and as such you should always check whether you may take them into the country, as failing to comply with their strictly enforced drug laws could result in you being fined or even arrested and imprisoned. For example, in the UAE you are required to have a doctor’s note and permission from the Country’s Ministry of Health to bring stronger painkillers containing opioid ingredients into the country.
Similarly, you are required to obtain a permit in order to take prescription drugs containing codeine, morphine and fentanyl for travel in Thailand, in Singapore, sleeping pills, strong painkillers and anti-anxiety pills require a licence, and in Indonesia treatments for symptoms such as ADHD and sleeping tablets are strictly banned.
Even something as common as an anti-cold or flu tablet, or allergy medication which is purchased over the counter here could put you at risk of either a fine or even imprisonment overseas! For example, Japan strictly enforces anti-stimulant drugs laws. This includes such common items as Vicks inhalers and Sudafed, which contains the drug pseudoephedrine.
Therefore, in order to avoid any potential trouble when travelling overseas with any medication, remember to check the advice on the FCO website and potentially the Embassy or Consulate of your destination.