Updated: Mar 28
Are you traveling with over-the-counter or prescription medications?
If you need to take regular doses of medication, you’ll want to make sure you have everything with you when you travel. A lot of people assume they can simply put everything they need in their suitcase or carry on. But it’s not always that simple.
In fact, there are actually a lot of rules and regulations, from airport security checks to border crossings. Follow these three tips for traveling with medications to ensure you arrive at your destination with everything you need to enjoy your vacation.
1. Keep It in Your Carry-On
Be sure to pack any prescription medications in your carry-on, even if you don’t take them regularly or don’t plan on taking them during your flight. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people break this golden rule for traveling with medications—even yours truly.
While it’s pretty rare, bags do sometimes go missing. It’s a hassle to replace lost medications in an unfamiliar place, especially if you don’t have a copy of your prescription. There’s also the possibility that your medication isn’t readily available in other parts of the world. That could really ruin a holiday.
If you’re asked to check your carry-on at any point in your journey due to overcrowded overhead bins, be sure to remove your medications first. On a recent trip, I thought I’d won the lottery when I found out my flight offered valet service.
For those of you who haven’t experienced the wonders of valet, it’s when the flight crew takes your bag as your board the plane and returns it to you as you exit. Since I knew there was no chance my bag would go missing, I didn’t remove my asthma inhaler. I only use it a few times a week, so I figured the chances of needing it over the next few hours weren’t very good. Wrong…almost as soon as I took my seat, I felt my chest constrict. Don’t make the same mistake.
2. Passing Airport Security Checks
Savvy traveler or not, these days, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know the 3-1-1 rule for packing liquids and gels, like shampoo and perfume, in your carry-on. But the rules are a little less black and white when it comes to traveling with medications.
Generally speaking, there are no restrictions on the amount of medication you can pack in your carry-on bag, even if it’s in liquid form. As long as the amount of medication you’ve packed seems reasonable for the amount of time you’ll be away from home, you should be good to go.
Prescription medication in liquid form does not need to fit in the standard 1-quart bag. That said, you must inform security officers of any liquid medications larger than 3.4 ounces at the start of the checkpoint process so they can do an additional screening.
It’s a good idea to keep all medications—over-the-counter and prescription—in their original containers. Don’t cram them all into one case to save room in your suitcase. You’ll also want to let security offices know about freezer packs, syringes, and other items related to your medications.
It doesn’t hurt to have a letter from your doctor explaining the reason for your medications or medical supplies, especially if they involve injectables. Keep in mind that some airlines will not allow you to take needles onboard for security reasons. Always be sure to check with your airline just in case.
You can find a comprehensive list outlining the rules of thumb for different types of medications on the My TSA mobile site or app. Simply select the type of medication you plan to pack, and the site offers tips about what you need to do to get it through security without any hassle.
3. Getting Across the Border
Just because you’re not flying the friendly skies doesn’t mean the rules for traveling with medications don’t apply to you. It’s a little-known fact that you may not make it across the border in another country if you’re carrying certain kinds of medications.
Be sure to check if there are any restrictions or special requirements when it comes to bringing medications across the border into another country. For example, some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, won’t let you bring codeine into the country without obtaining permission prior to your trip. Always check with the consulate or embassy of the place you plan to visit to see if you can bring your medications into the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website often provides links to the local authorities that can help guide your choices. All you need to do is enter the country you’re visiting to find lots of helpful travel medical information.
If you’re headed out on vacation and are planning on traveling with medications, be sure to follow these three tips to be sure you have a safe and worry-free holiday.