Traveling internationally? It could be illegal to bring these medications

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As summer travel season gears up, 77% of Americans expect to pack a prescription medication for the trip — but nearly half don’t check to see whether it’s even legal to bring those meds into other countries.

Additionally, more than a quarter of Americans have had medications confiscated during international travel, according to a May 2024 survey of 1,048 respondents by SingleCare, a free prescription savings service.

Certain medications that are commonly prescribed in the United States might be illegal or strictly regulated in other countries,” Dr. Jennifer Bourgeois, PharmD, a pharmacy and health expert based in Dallas-Fort Worth, told Fox News Digital.

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Here are some important details on this topic.  

4 types of medications that may be illegal for international travel

“Generally, medications that have a high potential for abuse or dependency are more likely to face strict regulations,” Bourgeois warned.

Jennifer Bourgeois

Jennifer Bourgeois, PharmD, a pharmacy and health expert at SingleCare who is based in Dallas-Fort Worth, shared tips for traveling with prescription drugs during this summer travel season. (Jennifer Bourgeois/SingleCare)

These include controlled substances, which are tightly regulated because of their potential for addiction and misuse, she said.

Stimulants, which are used for conditions such as ADHD and are considered illegal in some countries, are also included in that category.

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Bourgeois shared the following list of prescription drugs that may be illegal to transport across the border.

No. 1: Narcotics and opioids

Medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine are heavily regulated or banned in many countries due to their potential for abuse, according to Bourgeois.

No. 2: Psychotropic drugs

Drugs for mental health conditions, such as amphetamines (Adderall), benzodiazepines (Xanax) and certain antidepressants, may be restricted.

Packing medicine split

As Americans gear up for summer travel this year, 77% expect to pack a prescription medication — but nearly half don’t check to see whether it’s even legal to bring along those meds to other countries, a survey found. (iStock)

No. 3: Medicinal cannabis

“Even if they are legal in some U.S. states, cannabis and cannabis-derived products are illegal in many countries,” Bourgeois cautioned.

No. 4: Strong painkillers

Some countries restrict strong painkillers, such as tramadol, which is an opioid sold under the brand names ConZip and Ultram, to treat moderate to severe pain.

How to check legality before traveling

“Bringing prohibited medications into a foreign country can have the potential for serious consequences, such as confiscation of medications, fines and possible arrest,” Bourgeois warned. 

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“In severe cases, travelers may be detained, prosecuted and even jailed.”

Legal issues can also lead to delays and complications in travel plans, she added.

Medications in toiletry bag

All medications should be kept in your carry-on luggage instead of in checked bags, an expert recommended. That way, if there are unforeseen travel delays, you’ll still be able to access your medications. (iStock)

Before packing your prescriptions when traveling abroad, Bourgeois recommends checking your destination country’s embassy or consulate websites and laws regarding medication. 

“You may also consult with your doctor, pharmacist or travel agent, who may be able to provide advice tailored to your destination,” she added.

If there are specific restrictions for your medication in the country you plan to visit, it’s best to follow the directions from the country’s embassy so you can continue to take your medication while traveling. 

“Bringing prohibited medications into a foreign country can have the potential for serious consequences.”

“For instance, many countries allow only a 30-day supply of certain medicines, and require that you carry a prescription or a medical certificate from your health care provider,” said Bourgeois.

If you know that you’ll need a refill of your prescription while you are away, check with your pharmacy two weeks before you leave.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends making an appointment with your health care provider or a travel health specialist at least one month before you leave, as stated on its website.

Packing with medication

Before packing your prescriptions when traveling abroad, check with your destination country’s embassy or consulate websites for laws regarding medication, an expert recommends.  (iStock)

“The pharmacist may need to request refills or a ‘vacation override’ from your insurance,” Bourgeois noted. 

If your medication is absolutely not allowed in the destination country, Bourgeois suggests consulting with your health care provider to discuss alternatives and potential adjustments to your treatment plan.

What to know before packing prescriptions

Even if your medications are permitted in the country you’re visiting, it’s still important to follow some basic guidelines when traveling internationally, according to Bourgeois.

First, it’s important to always have a copy of your prescription or a medical document signed by your doctor explaining why the medication is essential for you to have.

“Exceeding personal use quantities can raise suspicions.”

On its website, the CDC also recommends leaving a copy of your prescriptions at home with a family member or friend in case you lose your copy or need an emergency refill.

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“Also, keep all medications in their original packaging to clearly display the prescription label,” Bourgeois advised.

Additionally, she said, make sure the name on the prescription matches the name on your passport.

“Carry only the quantity you need for the duration of your trip, plus a small buffer,” Bourgeois said. “Exceeding personal use quantities can raise suspicions.”

Woman holding prescription

Even if your medications are permitted in the country you’re visiting, it’s still important to follow some basic guidelines when traveling internationally. (iStock)

Also, be sure to declare your medications at customs if required by the destination country, she said.

All medications should be kept in your carry-on luggage instead of in checked bags. That way, if there are unforeseen travel delays, you’ll still be able to access the medicine you need.

5 additional medication travel tips

Bourgeois shared the following additional things to consider when bringing medication across the border.

No. 1: Keep time zones in mind

“Taking daily medications for chronic conditions can be confusing when you travel across the world,” she cautioned.

“In severe cases, travelers may be detained, prosecuted and even jailed.”

“Pay attention to time-zone differences and take the medication according to your last dose, not the local time of day.”

No. 2: Check OTC rules

“It is important to check your destination country’s laws for over-the-counter medications, too,” Bourgeois said.

Packing medicines

“Carry only the quantity [of medicine] you need for the duration of your trip, plus a small buffer,” an expert advised. “Exceeding personal use quantities can raise suspicions.” (iStock)

“For example, pseudoephedrine — commonly known as the brand drug Sudafed, which is purchased over the counter in the U.S. — is prohibited in Japan and Mexico.”

No. 3: Don’t buy from non-pharmacy sellers

If you are traveling internationally, don’t buy any medications that are not sold at the pharmacy, Bourgeois said. 

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“Counterfeit drugs are common in many developing countries and quality is not ensured.”

No. 4: Stock up on staples

Before traveling, stock up on over-the-counter medications and travel-sized items from the pharmacy, said Bourgeois. 

Child receives vaccines

“Talk to your pharmacist about vaccine-preventable diseases and request a travel health consultation to ensure you are protected,” an expert recommended. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa)

Common over-the-counter medications for travel include antidiarrheals, motion sickness meds, allergy medicines and medications for pain and fever.

No. 5: Understand disease risks

If you are traveling outside the U.S., it is important to understand the risk of diseases in the countries you plan to visit. 

“Diseases such as Hepatitis A, yellow fever and typhoid can be prevented through vaccinations,” Bourgeois said.  

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“Talk to your pharmacist about vaccine-preventable diseases and request a travel health consultation to ensure you are protected,” she continued. 

“It’s vital that you do not wait until the last minute to get your vaccinations, as it typically takes up to 14 days for antibodies to build.”

Fox News Digital reached out to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for comment.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.