Traveling Abroad With Prescription Medications

Traveling with medication

When traveling overseas, it can sometimes be tricky getting a medication refilled or obtain care (especially psychiatric). Many questions can arise, such as: Is it legal to mail medications internationally? Is there a problem having my meds mailed to me? College students studying overseas in particular often run into these problems. The following is a summary of a recent discussion regarding this subject on a local college mental health listserv:

It is generally acceptable to have meds mailed to you overseas, such as parents mailing meds to their children. Some countries, such as Japan, do not permit stimulants to be brought into the country for any reason, although you may be allowed (with permission) to have them mailed to the US embassy.

Providers in the US are allowed to prescribe medications for varying durations, depending whether the meds are controlled or not (i.e., identified by the DEA for abuse potential):

Noncontrolled drugs (e.g., Strattera, Prozac, lithium, etc) can be refilled for up to one year. Controlled drugs that are Schedule III to Schedule V (e.g., Vicodin, Xanax, Ativan, Lyrica, etc) can be refilled for a total of six months.

Traveling with medication

Controlled drugs that are Schedule II (e.g., Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin, etc) can only be filled for a total of 90 days.

How much or how long these meds can be prescribed will depend on the willingness of the individual practitioner. In general, if a patient has been stable on medication for several months or more, the practitioner may be willing to write for multiple refills. A dilemma can occur when a patient is taking a controlled drug (such as Xanax) and increases the dose he typically takes while overseas. If a delay occurs before he can obtain a refill, and the person misses multiple doses, it can put him at risk for having a withdrawal seizure or other dangerous medical complication.

College students are often in a sponsored location when studying abroad and can gain access to good primary care doctors. Sometimes patients think because they’ve seen a psychiatrist in the US, it is necessary to find one abroad. Primary care physicians overseas are often willing to refill the meds if a letter with the diagnosis and treatment is provided. If you work for a large corporation, contacting one of the occupational physicians in the company can help you get good information or increased access to good medical care in another country.

All prescription medications, whether they are being mailed to you or being kept in your suitcase or purse, should remain in the original prescription bottle from the pharmacy. Do not transfer them to a pill case or carry them loosely outside the prescription bottle. Keeping them in the original container will greatly reduce the risk of administrative problems or delays, especially when going through customs.

5 Tips for Travelling with Medications