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How to Travel With Medications: An Expert Guide

Flying with Medication: Can You Take Prescription and OTC Drugs on the Plane

Joanna Teljeur
Written By Joanna Teljeur
12 minutes read
Last Updated: June 10, 2024

As you pack and prepare for your next trip, you might be wondering what medicines you can take with you on the plane. Seasoned travellers already know that you should always pack medications, especially prescriptions, in your carry-on bag in case your baggage is lost or delayed. But it’s also important to consider the specific rules for the region where you’ll be travelling. 

Each country or region has its own regulations for medications you can travel with, so knowing these rules is vital if you want to be free of issues on your journey. Keep reading as we unpack the details about the medications you can take with you on the plane and how to prepare to travel with them.

Packing Your Medicine

While it’s important to always pack medications in your carry-on bag, you might need to consider what will be allowed into the cabin on commercial flights and what must be stowed in the hold. Most importantly, you’ll want to pay attention to the medication rules at your destination as some countries, including Egypt, Malaysia, and Turkey, impose the death penalty for illegal drug offenses, but more on this later.

In the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, you can basically pack as much medicine as you’ll need for your trip in your hand luggage. This includes gel, liquid, and even aerosol medicines as long as you keep them in what the TSA calls “limited quantities”. 

In fact, unlike other liquids and gels, medicines don’t have to follow the 3-1-1 rule, but they should be in their original bottle. To stay on the safe side, you might also want to have a copy of your doctor’s note explaining what and how the medicines are used just in case you run into trouble. 

Rules for Different Types of Medications

Let’s take a closer look at what different regions require of air passengers when travelling with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Tablets, Capsules, Pills

As we mentioned earlier, there are no restrictions for bringing solid medicines into the cabin with you as part of your carry-on luggage. This includes Nitroglycerine tablets and spray used for treating angina in patients with coronary artery disease. Still, there are a few things to bear in mind if you're travelling in the States.

In the US, all medicine and hand luggage must go through security screening that usually involves the use of an X-Ray machine. So, if you don’t want your pills to be exposed to X-Ray, you can always ask the TSA to do a visual screening instead. Just be sure to tell the agents before you send it through the screening tunnel.

Medically Necessary Liquids, Gels, Aerosols

Air passengers have become accustomed to limiting the amount of liquids and gels they pack in their carry-on bag, but when it comes to medications, these rules don’t always apply. 

United States 

You’re allowed to bring any medically necessary gels, creams, and liquids in your carry-on bag even if they exceed 3.4oz or 100ml. Again, these medicines will have to go through a security screening, so be sure to tell the agents prior to inspection. If, for some reason, these items are flagged, they will go through additional screening, so again, it’s a good idea to keep your medical information, such as a doctor’s note, handy. 

European Union

In the EU, you can also take non-solid medicines with you in your carry-on bag in quantities over 100ml, but you must pack them in transparent plastic bags. Also, you may have to prove the authenticity of these medicines, so be prepared with any relevant documentation.

United Kingdom

The rules in the UK require passengers to keep either a prescription with your name on it and/or a statement from a medical professional that confirms your need for the liquid, gel, or aerosol. On the other hand, if it’s in quantities less than 3.4oz/100ml you don’t have to present these documents. 

Canada

Fortunately, Canadian regulations allow you to travel with non-prescription and prescription liquids, gels and creams in your hand luggage. As with the other areas, you can pack more than 100ml, but as always, it’s a smart idea to bring any relevant documentation provided by your General Practitioner.  

Controlled Drugs

Controlled drugs are typically opioids or narcotics that are regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or the MHRA. These medicines include, but are not limited to the following:

Schedule 2 Medicines

Schedule 3 Medicines

Schedule 4 Medicines

Other 

Morphine

Methadone

Oxycodone

Fentanyl

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Dexamfetamine (Dexedrine)

Ketamine

Buprenorphine (Butec)

Pregabalin

Midazolam

Temazepam

Tramadol

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Diazepam (Valium)

Lorazepam (Ativan)

Clonazepam (Klonopin)

Clobazam

Flurazepam

Nitrazepam

Oxazepam

Zolpidem (Ambien)

Codeine

Methylamphetamine

Methaqualone

GHB

Anabolic steroids

United States

You should always travel with a letter from your doctor or the original prescription especially in the case of narcotics or controlled substances.

United Kingdom

Controlled substances are not allowed without a license which means that they are limited to research purposes and the like. Similarly, you cannot use a Schengen Certificate for controlled medications in the UK. Your only recourse if you’ve been prescribed these medicines is to have a UK-based doctor or pharmacist write a prescription for you once you arrive. 

European Union

You can get a Schengen certificate to travel among the EU member states with narcotics or psychotropics. Just remember that you’ll need to get a certificate for each narcotic medication. The good news is that the certificates will be valid for 30 days based on your prescription.

What is a Schengen Certificate?

A Schengen certificate is a legal document that allows you to travel among the 26 European countries that have open borders with narcotics or psychotropics. They show that the given medication is, in fact, necessary for the individual and is issued by authorized pharmacies based on the prescription from your doctor.

Canada 

You’ll need to secure a doctor’s letter or a valid prescription that says the controlled substance is indeed for your treatment. You can travel with either a single treatment supply or a 30-day amount or you can choose a 90-day supply if you’re using certain medicines like benzodiazepines. Be sure these substances are in the original pharmacy containers with the dose, your name, and the instructions for use as you’ll have to declare them upon entry.

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Medical Marajuana

Because more and more countries have legalized cannabis in different forms, the question about where and how to travel with it has become a popular topic in recent years. Let’s take a look at how the different countries and regions deal with this substance and the airline regulations associated with it.

If you’re flying inside or departing from the US, you cannot take medical marajuana with you as it’s still considered to be an illegal substance under US federal law. So, while TSA screeners won’t specifically look for cannabis, they will report you to authorities if they happen to find it.

For flights within the EU, it’s important to remember that each European state maintains their own laws for marajuana, but travelling by plane with it is still strictly prohibited in most countries.

European Country

Regulations

France

You can travel to France with medical cannabis, but you’ll need to bring the proper documentation that outlines the need for the drug as well as the amount you need for therapeutic purposes. If you’re traveling from outside the EU, it’s best to have a copy of your prescription along with a doctor’s note

Germany

Because medical marajuana has been legal in Germany since 2017, you can bring a 30 day supply of it with you as long as you have an authenticated certificate from your doctor, especially if you’re coming from outside the Schengen area.

Italy

Medical cannabis has been legal in Italy since 2007, but passengers still need to have an authenticated certificate from the health department from your home country. This documentation must include your detailed information, why you’re taking the medicine, and your travel plans.

Netherlands

Even though the Netherlands is widely known for allowing medical marajuana, travellers must have a Schengen certificate to travel into the Netherlands with it. If you’re from outside the Schengen area, you’ll have to carry an authenticated certificate from your home country.

Medical cannabis is legal in the UK, but you’ll need to obtain an export license if you’re travelling into or out of  the UK and bringing a 3-month or more supply. You should apply for this license a minimum of 10 days ahead of travel. If you plan to be in the UK for a shorter time period, then a letter from your doctor will suffice.

Cannabis is legal in Canada, so you can fly domestically with recreational or medical cannabis provided you have the correct documentation from your doctor, but you cannot fly internationally with either without the necessary documentation for the country where you plan to travel. Also, you should check the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations for any questions or concerns about the quantity you’re permitted to take.

Medical Devices and Equipment

Medical Devices and Equipment

As anyone with diabetes knows, syringes and glucose monitoring devices are a vital part of their treatment plan, but are these and other medical devices allowed on board the aircraft? 

Fortunately, in the US, UK, EU, and Canada, you are allowed to travel with as many needles and syringes as you need in your carry-on or in checked baggage. You can also take your CPAP and portable oxygen with you in the cabin as well. If you have to transport extra cylinders, you’ll have to empty them and check with individual airlines for their specific  regulations.  

Prohibited Medications

Even with authenticated documentation from your physician, there are still some medications that are prohibited. Again, each country and region has different laws pertaining to this, so let’s dig in.

United States

You cannot bring GHB, Rohypnol, or Fen-Phen into the US even if you have a prescription and authenticated documents from a doctor.

European Union

We mentioned controlled substances earlier, but it’s important to be aware that certain medications, while not banned completely, can still cause problems for you as a passenger. 

If you’re taking any medicines for ADHD/ADD including Ritalin, Concerta, or Adderall, make sure you take extra time to prepare the correct documents as these substances are illegal for many EU countries. You’ll also want to be careful about travelling with anxiety medications like Ativan, Valium, and Xanax, as well as prescription painkillers like Demerol, Oxycontin, and Vicodin.

Countries With The Strictest Medication Regulations

If you’re travelling outside the EU, UK, US, and Canada, you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to the medication regulations because some countries impose very harsh punishments for violations.

Japan, for example, has extremely strict laws concerning medications. In fact they have a zero tolerance policy for controlled substances, even in tiny amounts. So if you are taking medicine for ADHD or prescription painkillers, you’ll have to get a permit from the Narcotics Control Department in Japan. Also, be advised that OTC medications that are legalized in other countries, may not be permitted unless you have the correct documentation.

If you have plans to travel to the UAE, be sure to check their banned substance list before you head to the airport. Some of the most commonly used OTC and prescription medications are banned in the UAE including:

  • Cough and cold medicines like Exedrin and Sudafed
  • Vicks inhalers
  • Any topical ointments containing hormones
  • Nicotine replacement medications
  • Some nasal sprays
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Again, be sure to check the most current list of banned substances before you travel. If you’re caught with these substances, you can be heavily fined, face jail time, or get deported.

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to consult the Ministry of Health website for the country where you plan to travel before you make plans. You can also find helpful medication and prescription information at embassies or on travel advisory websites.

Tips for traveling with medication

Many of our clients have complained about not having access to their medicines when they encounter flight delays and cancellations because they packed these items in their checked baggage. 

To avoid this, always carry your meds with you, either in your handbag or in your carry-on luggage. Not only will this give you peace of mind if you have flight disruptions, but doing this will also save you if your checked bags are lost or significantly delayed. 

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So, whether you have OTC or prescription medicines, and no matter if they are in solid or liquid form, always carry them with you in your cabin baggage. 

Flying Worry-Free

As you plan your next trip, just remember to do your homework and review the laws for the areas where you’ll be travelling. And to stay on the safe side, always make sure to bring the proper prescription documents with you, keep your meds in their original bottles, pack extra for the duration of your trip, and pack so that you’ll have an easier time presenting these items for inspection. Bottom line, prepare, document, and safeguard your medicines for a worry free journey.

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FAQ

Can you pack your meds in a pill case when you travel?

It’s always best to keep medicines in their original container. If you have to sort them in a pill container, you should wait to do this until you arrive at your destination. 

How should you pack pills for a flight?

If you’re bringing liquids, pack them in a zip-lock container. Otherwise, keep medications in their original packaging in your carry-on bag. You should also try to keep all your meds together in one container so that you can go through security and other screenings easily. Organization is key. 

Does airport security look for pills?

While airport security won’t look specifically for medications to scrutinize, if they see something suspicious, they will flag it for a more thorough screening. If they cannot resolve the issue or find something that doesn’t comply with their local regulations, they will report you to authorities.

Do I have to declare medication?

It depends on where you’re travelling. Not all countries require passengers to declare medicine, so you should check with the travel or health departments for more detailed information.

 

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