Taking medication abroad
Before taking some types of medicine in or out of the UK, you need a letter from your doctor. Talk to them as early as possible before your trip.
On this page
- Before your trip
- Check country restrictions
- Have enough medicine for your trip
- Storing and carrying medicines
- Flying with liquid medicines
- If you need to keep medicines cool
- Taking your medicines at the right time
- If you become ill
- Contacting family members or friends
- About our information
- How we can help
Some countries restrict or limit the drugs that can be taken into or out of the country. If you are taking medicines abroad with you, it is important to check with the country’s embassy or high commission.
If you are travelling for more than 3 months, or carrying more than 3 months’ supply of medicines, you may need a personal medicines licence from the Home Office. This allows you to take certain drugs out of the UK. Check with your doctor if you are not sure whether you need a licence for your medicines.
To get a personal medicines licence, you must complete a form and send it to the Home Office Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit. You must also attach a letter from your doctor to the form. This should include:
- your name
- which countries you are visiting and when
- a list of your medicines, including the doses, strength and how much you are taking with you
- the signature of the person who prescribed your medicines.
You can download a form from the GOV.UK website or ask the Home Office Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit to send you a form by calling 020 7035 6330. You should apply for a personal medicines licence at least 10 working days before your travel date.
To find out the maximum amounts of controlled drugs (those with strict legal controls) that you can take out of the UK, contact the Home Office Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit.
If you take regular medicines, make sure you have enough to last for your whole trip. It is important to have enough supplies 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 visiting. Your doctor can normally only prescribe a limited amount.
If a course of medicine you are taking is due to run out when you are abroad, speak to your GP before you travel. They may be able to increase your prescription. 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.
The quality of medicines can vary a lot in other countries. Sometimes, fake medicines (called counterfeit or falsified medicines) are available in normal pharmacies. This is a greater problem in less wealthy countries outside of Europe and North America. Fake medicines are also a problem with poorly regulated online pharmacies.
Fake medicines may have similar or the same packaging to the real ones, but the wrong ingredients or low levels of the active (most important) ingredient.
If you do buy drugs abroad, check that the pharmacy is licensed. You should also ask the pharmacist to confirm that 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 can advise you about local healthcare.
Medicines usually have at least two names:
- the name of the drug (its general or generic name)
- the name of the brand.
For example, the generic drug anastrozole is sometimes sold under the brand Arimidex®. Brand names can vary between countries, so it is useful to keep a record of generic names. Your pharmacist can help you with this.
You should carry all medicines, letters from your doctor and personal medicines licences in your hand luggage. Customs officers usually need to see them. Make sure you keep medicines in their original packaging, as it is important they are clearly labelled. 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
- the doses
- how many times a day you take them.
This will help you get replacements if you lose your medicines. Always use the generic names of the medicines, as brand names can vary from country to country.
Most non-medicinal liquids in your hand luggage are restricted to a maximum of 100ml. But liquid medicines (including liquid diets and inhalers) that are needed during the flight can usually be taken on a plane without restriction. You need to check this with your airline and the airport you are leaving from before you travel.
You also need to bring a supporting document from your doctor or another medical professional. This could be a letter or signed prescription.
Airport staff may need to open the containers to check the liquid medicines when you go through security. For more information about carrying liquids in your hand luggage, visit GOV.UK.
It is best to keep medicines dry, cool and out of direct sunlight. The shelf life of some medicines (the period when they can be safely used) may be reduced if they are not kept at the correct temperature. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
You can buy small cool bags from your chemist or pharmacy if you are taking medicines that must be kept cool.
If you use cool packs, be careful that your medicines do not freeze because this may affect them. You can check with your hotel whether there will be a fridge in your room. If not, ask whether your medicines can be stored somewhere secure and kept cool but not frozen.
You may find it helpful to have a simple fridge thermometer to check the storage temperature. This should be 2˚C (36˚F) to 8˚C (46˚F) for medicines that are stored in the fridge.
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 your medicines at the usual times (UK time).
If there is a time difference of several hours, you could end up taking your medicines at inconvenient times of day or night. It may be easier to change the times you take your medicines gradually to fit in with the local time. Your GP, practice nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic can help you plan how to do this.
You can arrange oxygen for travelling in the UK free of charge through your usual oxygen provider. You need to tell them the details of your holiday, including the dates you are travelling and where you will be staying. Try to give as much notice as you can, and they should arrange everything for you. Check that the place where you will be staying can have oxygen delivered and stored there.
If you plan to fly, you may need a fitness-to-fly test. Your GP can help you complete this. It shows whether you need oxygen during the flight.
You also need to contact your airline. It is best to do this well before your journey, so you can check their policy about taking oxygen on the plane. There may be a cost for this. The European Lung Foundation has information about the oxygen policies of over 100 airlines.
If you need oxygen during your holiday, you must arrange for it to be provided before you travel. Oxygen suppliers in the UK only provide oxygen for travel and stays within this country. They may have details of overseas oxygen providers that you can contact.
If you go on holiday in the European Union, you can currently arrange oxygen through the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) scheme. You must have a valid GHIC and use the authorised oxygen company for the country you are visiting.
If you are travelling outside of the European Union, contact an oxygen company that supplies the country you are visiting. To find an oxygen provider, you could contact the British consulate in the country you are travelling to or search online.
The British Lung Foundation have more information about going on holiday on their website.
If you become ill while staying in a hotel, ask the receptionist to call a doctor. If you need urgent attention, contact the emergency services or go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.
If you have time, try to get advice from a doctor or nurse who speaks the same language as you. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a government department responsible for protecting British interests around the world, and may be able to help with this.
Keep the names and addresses of close family and friends with your passport. British Consular officials (who protect UK citizens in a foreign country) can contact them if you need their help. It is important to check these details are up-to-date each time you travel.
If you need to return to the UK quickly, you should also contact British Consular officials. They can usually arrange this for you, but you may need to pay a fee.
Visit GOV.UK for contact details of British consulates abroad.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our travel and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fit for Travel. fitfortravel.nhs.uk (accessed June 2019).
GOV.UK. Drugs licensing. Available from gov.uk/guidance/controlled-drugs-licences-fees-and-returns (accessed April 2019).
Jane Chiodini, Travel Health Specialist Nurse. www.janechiodini.co.uk (accessed April 2019).
National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC). travelhealthpro.org.uk (accessed June 2019).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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