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Planning on taking medication abroad? Drugs that are legitimate in your country may well be illegal in another, and carrying them could mean an extended and unpleasant overstay in a cell. So what is the best advice on taking medication abroad, and what sorts of restrictions could get you into trouble?


Before Flying

The Wise Traveller

Before you travel, research whether your medication is legal beyond the borders of your own nation, even if just transiting through another country.

If you have travel insurance, double check with them and advise of any medical conditions associated with the prescription medication.

Taking basic medicine onboard is not illegal, but keeping it in your hand luggage means it could be screened by security. Carry a medical letter from a doctor to back up your need for medication, as well as carrying the medication in correctly labelled containers.

If you need to pack medication, then think about splitting it between pieces of luggage. And in case you should run out while abroad, Google your medication in the language of your destination country so that you might be able to find a legal replacement at a chemist.




The Wise Traveller

Legally obtained controlled medication, such as codeine, and opiates, such as methadone or Tramadol, routinely used in the likes of the UK and US, may be regarded as banned in other countries, such as Greece.

If you need to take them when travelling abroad, then you may have to apply for a personal licence, which will require a doctor's note with the full details of the drug.

Did you know? A British woman served 13 months in detention in Egypt after she was stopped at Hurghada Airport and found to be carrying 290 Tramadol tablets, which were for her husband who suffers back pain. Egypt has strict rules against any drugs containing Tramadol and codeine.


Over The Counter And Into Trouble?

The Wise Traveller

If you're travelling into the Middle East and Asia, then you'll need to double down on your research. You should even contact the country's embassy to establish the laws concerning the medication you intend to take.

Since October 2018, the UAE has urged foreign travellers to obtain online approval to carry medication for personal use, prior to entering the country. The items include prescribed and over-the-counter medicines that are controlled substances within the UAE.

Medications banned in the UAE include anti-anxiety drugs such as diazepam that are only available on prescription. However some over-the-counter cold remedies are also banned, as well as common acne treatment Roaccutane.

People have been jailed after testing positive for codeine and the sleeping pill temazepan in their urine. Even arriving with poppy seeds in their system from food eaten earlier can land them in deep water.

Did you know?  A UK cancer patient was jailed for five weeks in Dubai in 2017 after a customs official thought he had taken illegal amounts of his anti-anxiety prescription medication into the country. He was carrying his medicine, which is legal in the UAE with a prescription. But officers insisted on testing him anyway, and when they found drugs in his system, they detained him.


CBD Oil and Marijuana

The Wise Traveller

CBD is a nickname for cannabidiol, one of several cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, found in cannabis and hemp plants. Confusingly, cannabis laws in the US vary across the 50 states, while CBD is legal in many European countries, including Spain, Denmark, Italy and the UK. Canada recently legalized cannabis, although, confusingly, products with high concentrations of CBD oil and/or THC are not included in the legislation.

As with CBD oil, the legal status of marijuana can vary on a country-to-country basis, and for personal use only. Advisedly for both, travellers should consult with embassies to ensure they won't fall foul of local laws before travelling.


They've Banned What?

In Japan medication containing pseudoephedrine, such as that found in over-the-counter medicines like Sudafed and Vicks, are banned.

In Qatar, medicines such as cold and cough remedies are considered controlled substances and must be accompanied by a prescription.

As many residents know, in Singapore, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills and strong painkillers require a licence, while visitors are required to bring a doctor's note with their prescribed medication in China. Singapore even has a ban on poppy seeds used in cooking.

Did you know? An American musician was arrested in Abu Dhabi in 2017 for illegal possession of the controlled painkiller, tramadol, without a proper prescription. He was sentenced to two years' jail but that was later reduced to deportation and a fine. He was passing through Abu Dhabi to board a cruise ship when he was arrested.

In Indonesia, many prescription medicines such as codeine and sleeping pills are illegal. Similarly, Thailand has strict laws on the importation of medications. Travellers planning to take strong painkillers, such as codeine, must obtain a permit before travelling and are limited to 30 days of prescribed usage.


16 January 2020
Great article and a truly important read. Thanks for sharing.