Taking Prescription Medication Abroad

25/04/2013 -- Mary Simpson
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For most stable, pre-existing medical conditions, your GP can prescribe up to three months’ medication for your holiday.

What’s Allowed?

Different countries have different rules about the types of medicine allowed and how much you can take in and out.

Drugs you can easily buy over the counter in the UK may be controlled in other countries and vice versa.

Here in the UK a 'controlled drug' is any drug listed under the Misuse of Drugs legislation. Examples of controlled medicines are benzodiazepine, morphine, pethidine, temazepam and methadone.

If you need 3 months’ supply or more, you must apply in writing to the Home Office for a personal export licence.

Also check the rules for ‘controlled drugs’ in countries you’re going to/passing through.

Ask your doctor or contact the embassy for the country you’re visiting for advice. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website has a full list of foreign embassies in the UK.

Travelling with Medicines

  • Always carry medication in the original labelled container from your pharmacist.
  • Carry medicines in hand luggage (airline regulations permitting), with a copy of your prescription. 
  • Pack a spare supply in your suitcase or hold luggage, in case of holiday delays or you lose your hand luggage.
  • Some medicines need to be kept below 25C. If going to a hot country, ask your pharmacist for advice on storage (thermos flask, ice pack, cool bag, insulated pouch).

At Customs

To avoid problems, travel with a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP with details of your condition and medication with generic names not just brand names.

If you use needles/syringes (eg insulin for diabetes) the letter should confirm this.

The letter will be useful if you do need medical treatment on holiday.Think about getting it translated into the language of the country/countries that you're visiting.

Air Travel

You’re allowed to carry essential medicines, including inhalers and liquid dietary foodstuffs over 100ml in your hand luggage. You must get prior approval from the airline and departure airport as well as a doctor’s letter/copy of your prescription.

You can take medical equipment on board with you only if essential for your journey - syringes, CPAP machine (for obstructive sleep apnoea), TENS machine (for pain relief, eg arthritis).

For cooling gel packs in hand luggage you usually need prior approval from the airline/airport.  If you need an oxygen cylinder, contact the airline.

Medicines and equipment are screened separately and you must show a letter from your doctor.

Missing or Lost Medicine

If medication goes missing, don't panic. You can buy most medicines in pharmacies abroad.  If you have comprehensive travel insurance, the 24-hour emergency assistance helpline service can help track down specialist medicines.

Use your EHIC card in Europe to obtain healthcare/discounted prescriptions. Over 65s should declare they are senior citizens for even bigger reductions on prescriptions.  

NHS Choices: Holiday medication & Taking controlled medicines abroad

Controlled Drugs List

For current list please see source https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/Controlled-Drugs-List (opens in new window) and https://www.gov.uk/Travelling-Controlled-Drugs

Brand name of medicine containing controlled drug Name of controlled drug Allowance in milligrams
Amytal Barbiturate, Amylobarbitone 9000 mgs
Cyclimorph Morphine Tartrate 1200 mgs
Dexedrine Dexamphetamine Sulphate 900 mgs
Diconal Dipipanone 600 mgs
Dihydrocodeine injection Dihydrocodeine Tartrate 3600 mgs
Durogesic Fentanyl 45 mgs
Duromine Phentermine 450 mgs
Equagesic Meprobamate 3600 mgs
Equanil Meprobamate 3600 mgs
Fortagesic Pentazocine Hydrochloride 9000 mgs
Fortral suppositories Pentazocine Lactate 5400 mgs
Fortral Pentazocine Lactate 5400 mgs
Fortral Pentazocine Hydrochloride 9000 mgs
Fortral injection Pentazocine Lactate 5400 mgs
Ionamin Phentermine as resin complex 450 mgs
MST Continus Morphine Sulphate 1200 mgs
Narphen Phenazocine 450 mgs
Oramorph Morphine Sulphate 1200 mgs
Oramorph Concentration Morphine Sulphate 1200 mgs
Oramorph Unit Dose Morphine Sulphate 1200 mgs
Palfium Dextromoramide (as Tartrate) 900 mgs
Palfium Suppositories Dextromoramide (as Tartrate) 900 mgs
Palladone Hydromorphone 360 mgs
Pamergan P100 Pethidine Hydrochloride 2250 mgs
Pentazocine injection Pentazocine Lactate 5400 mgs
Pentazocine Pentazocine Hydrochloride 9000 mgs
Pentazocine suppositories Pentazocine Lactate 5400 mgs
Pethidine Pethidine Hydrochloride 2250 mgs
Pethidine injection Pethidine Hydrochloride 2250 mgs
Phenobarbitone Barbiturate, Phenobarbitone 2700 mgs
Physeptone Methadone Hydrochloride 500 mgs
Physeptone injection Methadone Hydrochloride 500 mgs
Prominal Methylphenobarbitone 9000 mgs
Ritalin Methylphenidate Hydrochloride 900 mgs
Rohypnol Flunitrazepam 30 mgs
Seconal Sodium Quinalbarbitone Sodium 3000 mgs
Sevredol Morphine Sulphate 1200 mgs
Sodium Amytal Amylobarbitone Sodium 9000 mgs
Sodium Amytal injection Amylobarbitone Sodium 9000 mgs
Soneryl Butobarbitone 4500 mgs
Sublimaze Narcotic Analgesic, Fentanyl 45 mgs
Temazepam Temazepam 900 mgs
Temgesic Buprenorphine 24 mgs
Temgesic injection Buprenorphine 24 mgs
Tuinal Quinal Barbitone Sodium 3000 mgs