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TravelCountry-by-country guide to traveling with medicine

Country-by-country guide to traveling with medicine


When traveling, especially internationally, sometimes the pre-travel checklist feels like it’s a mile long.

Not only do you need to do the obvious things like making sure your passport is still valid and verifying whether you need a visa, but you may also need to seek written approval from a country’s government to bring certain medications abroad.

I must admit I didn’t realize this was a thing until one of my TPG colleagues flagged this requirement she discovered when packing for her family’s trip to Japan. Japan is just one country that strongly regulates travel with medicine.

Here’s what you need to know about taking your medications to a variety of popular destinations that regulate travel with medicine.

Japan

Japan requires advance permission to enter with a variety of medications, including many common over-the-counter medicines openly sold in U.S. drugstores.

The Japanese government labels such drugs as “controlled substances,” divided into six categories, including stimulants. Travelers who need these medications must apply for a “Yunyu Kakunin-sho” (or an import certificate), which should be declared and submitted to customs when entering.

Up to two months of approved over-the-counter medicines and four months of vitamins are permitted. Note that disposable contact lenses are also monitored, and those with a two-month supply or greater require an import certificate.

Travelers should also bring a copy of their prescription, along with a note stating the purpose of the medicine, if applicable.

Type of medicine: All medications containing stimulants, including over-the-counter allergy and sinus medications, plus Adderall listed here
How to apply: Apply online for an import certificate through the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Amount of medicine: Up to one month of allowable over-the-counter medication and up to a two-month supply of allowable vitamins
Cost: N/A
Processing time: N/A
More information: Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare; Japan’s Application for Import Confirmation; Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle; Japan Narcotics Control Department

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Other Asian countries

  • Thailand: Certain medications, including those containing codeine and drugs to treat ADHD, require a permit issued by the Ministry of Public Health.
  • Hong Kong: Certain medications — including those with stimulants, such as sleeping pills and anxiety medication — require an import license and import certificate issued by the Department of Health.
  • Singapore: Certain medications, including anxiety medication, sleeping pills and painkillers, require advance approval, per the Singapore Health Sciences Authority.
  • China: Per various tourist organizations, including China Highlights, visitors must “provide written documentation from a medical institution to prove the necessity of the medicine,” including sleeping aids, ADHD medication and painkillers.
  • South Korea: Medicines classified as “narcotics” require advance approval via the Korean Food and Drug Administration.

Australia

BRENDON THORNE/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

Australia has a traveler’s exemption for persons traveling to Australia to enter with certain prescribed medications, including Adderall. The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care directs travelers to either secure a prescription for the medicines they’re carrying or seek a letter from their doctor specifying that the medicines they’ve been prescribed are for their personal use.

“Your doctor’s letter must specify the name of the medicine and dosage. Ensure the medication remains in its original packaging with the dispensing label intact,” per the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. “This will assist with identifying each substance at the border. Be ready to declare all medication to the Australian Border Force upon arrival.”

Type of medicine: Certain prescription medicines, including Adderall
How to apply: N/A
Amount of medicine: Up to three months’ worth of medicine and medical devices
Cost: N/A
Processing time: N/A
More information: Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

United Arab Emirates

Travelers to the UAE must apply for approval to carry controlled medication into the country. All other medication, including prescriptions for uncontrolled medication and over-the-counter medication, does not need prior approval. However, the government urges travelers to carry documentation for all medicine, including documentation explaining medical reasons for taking the medication and any other supporting documents.

To determine if your prescription is considered controlled, check with your doctor.

Type of medicine: Controlled medicine, including narcotics and psychotropics
How to apply: Online through the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health & Prevention
Length of time: Maximum three-month supply for narcotics and controlled medicines; six-month supply for prescriptions
Cost: Free
Processing time: One business day
More information: United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health & Prevention

Europe and Schengen countries

NATHAN LAINE/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

The Schengen Area includes most European Union countries. If you are traveling to this area, a Schengen certification for medicines that fall under the Opium Act, including narcotics, is required. Specific medicines bound by the act include strong painkillers, sleeping pills, anxiety drugs, ADHD medication and medical cannabis.

Since specific requirements vary by each country within the Schengen Area, you should contact the appropriate health agency of the country in question. For example, the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport provides instructions for travelers to the Netherlands to help obtain this certificate, including a link to the application and a list of prohibited medications that fall under the aforementioned Opium Act. Information can also be found via the relevant U.S. Embassy and or Consulate.

Also note that some countries, including Greece, require further authorization for specific medicines, such as codeine without a prescription, via Greece’s National Organization for Medicines.

Bottom line

Regardless of where you are traveling, it’s a good idea to keep medicines in their original prescription packaging; this shows the purpose of the medicine and that it’s for you and only you. As noted, it’s also helpful to pack any accompanying doctor’s note.

Related reading:

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