Taking medicines abroad

If you are taking medicines abroad, these tips may help you prepare:

  • Check any restrictions with the country’s embassy or high commission – some countries do not allow certain medication to be brought in.
  • If you are travelling for more than three months, find out if you need a personal medicines licence from the Home Office.
  • Carry all medicines, covering letters and licences for controlled drugs in your hand luggage – customs officers will usually need to see them.
  • If your medicines need to be kept cool, buy small cool bags from your chemist for the journey.
  • Gradually change the times you take your regular medicines to fit in with the local time.
  • If you need oxygen, contact your airline well before your journey to check their policy for taking oxygen while you are on a plane.

Always make sure you have enough medication for your whole trip. If you are going for a long time, check whether the medicines you need are available at your destination. Keep a record of the generic drug names too – brand names can vary between countries.

Advice from your healthcare team

Your GP, oncology team, practice nurse or pharmacist can advise you about taking medicines abroad. They can tell you if you need to make any special arrangements. Try to speak with them as early as possible before your trip.

Before taking some types of medicine in or out of the UK, you will need a letter from your doctor. This includes some painkillers and morphine. Having a letter from your doctor will also be helpful if you have to take the following with you:

  • syringes
  • needles
  • portable medicine pumps.

The letter from your doctor should include:

  • your name and address
  • your date of birth
  • the country (or countries) you are visiting
  • your dates of travel
  • the medicines you are taking, the doses and total amounts you are taking with you.


Check on country restrictions

Some countries restrict or limit the drugs that can be taken into or out of the country. It is important to check with the country’s high commission or embassy.

If you are 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 UK. If you are not sure whether you need this for your medicines, check with your doctor.

To get a personal medicines licence, you must complete a form and send it to the Home Office Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit. You will also need to attach a brief letter from your doctor to the form, saying that the details you have given are right. You can download a form or ask to be sent one by phoning 020 7035 6330. 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 and Firearms Licensing Unit.


Have enough medicine for your trip

If you are 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. If you are going for a long time, check whether you can get the medicines you need in the country you are going to. Your doctor can normally prescribe only a limited amount.

If a course of medication you are taking is due to end when you will be abroad, speak to your GP before you travel. They may be able to increase your prescription if necessary. If you are already abroad and run out of supplies, you may be able to register with a local doctor, or buy medicines from a pharmacist. Remember that medicine quality may vary in other countries. If you do buy drugs abroad, you should check that the pharmacy is licensed. You should also ask the pharmacist whether the medicine has the same active ingredient as the one you are taking. The British embassy or high commission in the country you are visiting will be able to advise you about local healthcare.

Medicines tend to have at least two names:

  • the name of the drug (its ‘generic’ name)
  • 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 can help to keep a record of generic names. Your pharmacist can help you with this.


Storing and carrying medicines

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. If they are not controlled drugs, it may help to carry one set in your hand luggage and another in your suitcase. That way, if one set goes missing, you still have the other.

It can also help to keep a list of: 

  • the medicines you are taking 
  • information about the doses 
  • the number of times a day you take them. 

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.

Flying with medicines

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 will need to check this with your airline and the airport you are leaving from 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. Find more information about carrying liquids in your hand luggage.

If you need to keep medicines cool

The shelf life of some medicines can be reduced if they are not kept at the correct temperature. Ask your pharmacist for advice. If you are travelling with medicines that need to be kept cool, you can get small cool bags from your chemist for the journey. If you use cool packs, be careful that medicines do not freeze, as this may affect them. It will help to check with your hotel whether there will be a fridge in your room. If not, ask them if there is somewhere secure where your medicines can be stored and kept cool but not frozen. You may find it helpful to travel with a simple fridge thermometer to confirm storage temperatures.

Because I carry drugs when travelling, I put some in my suitcase and some in my hand language just in case. I don’t want anything to mess up my holiday!

Alan


Taking your medicines at the right time

If you are travelling across international time zones, this is likely to affect the time you take your regular medicines. If the time difference is only a couple of hours, you may want to continue taking the medicines at the same times you have been (UK time).

If there is a difference of several hours 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.


Oxygen

Oxygen for travel in the UK is provided by the NHS (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Health Service (Northern Ireland). 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. They will arrange everything for you.

If you think you will need oxygen during a flight, you will need to contact the airline well before your journey to check their policy on taking oxygen while you are 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. They may have details of overseas oxygen providers that you can contact.

If you are going on holiday in Europe, oxygen can be arranged through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) 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 of 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.

For more information, visit the travel section of the British Lung Foundation website.

Back to Travelling abroad

Getting healthcare abroad

The treatment you’re entitled to abroad will depend on whether the country has a healthcare agreement with the UK.

Vaccinations and immunisations

Cancer treatment can affect the vaccinations you’re able to have, or when you can have them. This may affect your choice of holiday location.