Travel Smarter: Managing Medications Abroad

Photo by Stephen Frink

You’ve been out on the boat all day and have seen some of the exotic marine animals you have been chasing since you got certified to dive. After removing your gear, however, you feel the excitement fading; creeping in its place are the first tendrils of a pounding headache. Searching through your dive bag, you realize you forgot to restock your ibuprofen before you left the U.S. On your way back to the resort, you wander the pharmacy aisles looking for a familiar box — Motrin, Tylenol, anything to stop the headache in its tracks. You find some medication labeled Panadol (paracetamol) tablets. Having done your research, you grab it and know that relief is on the way.

A little preparation goes a long way when traveling to an unfamiliar country where medicine names and the availability of prescription medications may not be the same as in the U.S. Use the internet to learn about the variations in generic and brand names for familiar medications at your destination. Note any over-the-counter medications you often take for common issues such as pain relief, gastrointestinal distress or allergies and the medications’ variations in the country where you are traveling to make it easier if you need to purchase some while abroad.

Medication laws vary across the world, so before you travel determine what you are allowed to bring across borders. Knowing the laws of the country you are visiting can prevent serious consequences such as imprisonment or drug trafficking charges. The U.S. Department of State recommends contacting the foreign embassy of any country where you will be traveling to ensure that your medications are permitted. Find contact information for foreign embassies and consulates at

If you carry prescription medications with you while traveling out of the country, follow a few basic rules to ensure you don’t get in an uncomfortable or life-threatening situation. Ask your prescribing physician for a letter describing your medical condition and any prescription medication, including generic drug names. Depending on the languages spoken where you are traveling, consider getting a translated copy of the letter as well. If your medication is banned at your destination, discuss with your physician possible legal alternatives. Leave a copy of your prescription at home with someone you can contact if your copy gets lost.

Make sure to bring with you enough doses for the duration of your trip along with some extra in case of travel delays or unforeseen circumstances. Consider packing medications in several different places to mitigate the loss of any one piece of luggage, or put them in your carry-on bag. Keep medications in their original, labeled containers to avoid any complications. The packaging should be clearly labeled with your full name, prescriber’s name, the full drug name and dosage.

Some countries allow only 30-day supplies of certain drugs, and insurance companies may cover only a limited amount. In either of these cases, it is important to discuss with your doctor how to arrange medications for a longer trip. If you need to travel with a controlled substance, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has information about regulations for many countries at

Despite careful planning, unexpected things sometime happen. If you find yourself without the prescription you need, you can call DAN® for help. Individual and family DAN members are automatically enrolled in TravelAssist, which has a prescription coverage benefit. If your prescription medication or eyeglasses are not available where you are, you can access TravelAssist by calling the DAN Emergency Hotline at +1-919-684-9111. We will accept international collect calls and cover the fees for you if that is your only way to reach us. DAN staff will consult with your prescribing doctor; after you have paid for your medication, we will send it to you at your location if it is both legal and possible to do so.

If you need help with your prescription, DAN is only a phone call away.

© Alert Diver — Q1 2019