Taking medicines abroad
There are many things that are helpful for you to consider if you're travelling and taking medicines abroad.
If you’re taking regular medicines, make sure you have enough to last for your whole trip. You should make sure you have enough in case your return is delayed by a couple of days. If you’re going for a long time, check whether you can get the medicines you need in the country you’re going to, as your doctor can normally only prescribe a limited amount.
Because I carry drugs and I worry someone might steal them, I tend to take a batch in my suitcase or rucksack and some in my hand luggage because I’m frightened I’m going to lose my luggage and that’s going to mess up my holiday.
If a course of medication you’re taking is due to end when you’ll be abroad, speak to your GP before you travel. They may be able to increase your prescription, if necessary. If you’re already abroad and run out of supplies, you may be able to register with a local doctor, or buy medicines from a pharmacist. The British embassy or high commission in the country you’re visiting will be able to advise you.
Medicines tend to have at least two names: the name of the drug (its ‘generic’ name) and the name of the brand. For example, the generic drug anastrozole is sold under the brand Arimidex ®. Brand names can vary between countries, so it’s a good idea to keep a record of generic names.
Taking your medicines at the right time
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If you’re travelling across international time zones, this is likely to affect the time you take your regular medicines. If there is only a couple of hours’ difference in time, you may want to continue taking the medicines at the same times you have been (UK time).
If there are several hours’ difference from UK time, you may end up taking your medicines at inconvenient times of the day or night. It may be easier to gradually change the times you take your regular medicines to fit in with the local time. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you plan how to change the times you take your medicines.
Restrictions on some drugs
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Some countries limit the amount of particular drugs that can be taken into the country. It’s important to check with the country’s high commission or embassy about any restrictions they may have on taking certain medicines in or out.
If you need to take some types of medicine (such as painkillers like morphine) in or out of the UK, you’ll need a letter from your doctor. This will also be helpful if you have to take syringes, needles or portable medicine pumps with you. The letter should include:
your name and address
your date of birth
your dates of travel in and out of the country
the country you’re visiting
the medicines you’re taking, the doses and total amounts you’re taking with you.
If you’re travelling for more than three months, you may need a medicines licence from the Home Office so you can take certain drugs out of the country. If you’re not sure whether you need this for your medicines, check with your doctor.
Getting a personal medicines licence
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To get a personal medicines licence, your doctor has to complete a form and send it to the Home Office Drugs Licensing and Compliance Unit. The Home Office will usually need at least two weeks to process your application. You can get information about the maximum amounts of controlled drugs that can be taken out of the UK from the Home Office Drugs Licensing and Compliance Unit.
Travelling with medicines
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You should carry all medicines, covering letters and licences for controlled drugs in your hand luggage, as customs officers will usually need to see them. Make sure you keep medicines in their original packaging. With medicines that are not controlled drugs, it may help to carry one set in your hand luggage and another in your suitcase, so that if one set goes missing you still have the other.
It can also help to keep a list of the medicines you’re taking, along with information about the doses. This will help you get replacements if you lose them. Always use the generic name of the medicine, as brand names can vary from country to country.
Check medication rules in your destination country
Some countries don’t allow certain medication to be brought in. Check any restrictions with the country’s embassy or high commission.
Liquid medicines in hand luggage
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Most non-medicinal liquids in your hand luggage are restricted to a maximum of 100ml. However, liquid medicines and liquid diets that are needed during the flight can be taken on a plane without restriction. You can bring more than 100ml of a liquid medicine, but you’ll need to check this with your airline and departure airport before you travel.
You will also need to bring a supporting document from your doctor or another relevant medical professional. This could be a letter or a signed prescription. There’s more information about carrying liquids in your hand luggage.
Keeping medicines cool
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The shelf life of some medicines can be reduced if they are not kept at the correct temperature, so ask your pharmacist for advice. If you’re travelling with medicines that need to be kept cool, you can get small cool bags from your chemist for the journey. It will help to check with your hotel whether or not there will be a fridge in your room. If not, ask them if there’s somewhere secure where your medicines can be stored and kept cool.
Oxygen for travel in the UK is provided by the NHS or Health Service. You just need to let your usual oxygen provider (if you live in England or Wales) or your GP (if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland) know the details of your holiday. You will need to tell them the dates you are going and returning and where you will be staying, and they will arrange everything for you.
If you think you’ll need oxygen during a flight, you’ll need to contact the airline well before your journey to check their policy on taking oxygen while you’re on the plane. There may be a cost for this.
If you need oxygen for use throughout your holiday, you will need to make arrangements for the oxygen to be provided before you travel. Oxygen suppliers in the UK will only provide oxygen for travel and stays within the UK, although they may have details of overseas oxygen providers that you can contact.
If you are travelling in Europe, oxygen can be arranged through the European Health Insurance Card scheme. You will need to have a valid EHIC and you will have to use the authorised oxygen company for the country you are travelling to.
If you are travelling outside Europe, you will need to contact an oxygen company that supplies the country you will be visiting. To find an oxygen provider, you could contact the British consulate in the country you are travelling to or search the internet.
There is more information on the travel section of the British Lung Foundation website.
Hospice and support services abroad
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The Hospice Information Service can give you information about hospice and palliative care services abroad.