5 tips for traveling with prescription drugs

Joni Sweet Headshot By | April 15, 2019
Medically reviewed by Karen Berger, Pharm.D.

Running into a problem with your prescriptions can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare. But with some preparation, you can bring your medicines almost anywhere without a hitch. Here are some tips on flying with medication. 

1. Stock up

A few weeks before your trip, check to make sure you have enough medication (plus extra in case your return flight is delayed). Some insurance plans only allow you to pick up one month’s supply of medicine at a time. If you’re going on a long trip, you may need to get an insurance override to stock up on your medicine.

“You may need to call your insurance company or work with your local pharmacy to get an advance refill of your medication,” says Warren Licht, MD, director of medical affairs at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, who has experience in international travel medicine. If your insurance does not allow a vacation override, use a SingleCare card instead!

2. Pack properly

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has no rules on the quantity of pills and other “solid form” medicine travelers can bring. According to the TSA medication policy, you are allowed to bring a “reasonable” amount of liquid medication, but you need to declare prescription drugs to the TSA officer when you go through security at the airport.

If you’re going abroad, keep your prescriptions in their original bottles with the pharmacy label intact.

“One of the biggest mistakes is putting medicine in pill organizers,” Dr. Licht says. “When you pass through customs in another country, there’s no proof that those medicines are prescribed to you and they could be confiscated.”

You might be wondering where to pack your medication when flying. When traveling with prescriptions, always keep your medicine on you throughout your journey, says Anna Ransom, RN, owner of travel agency Destination Yours Travel.

“If your drugs are lost with your checked luggage, you may not be able to get them replaced,” she says. “Keep them in your purse or carry-on.”

RELATED: How to travel with refrigerated medications

3. Account for time zones

Got a medicine that needs to be taken at the same time every day? Plan to adjust if you change time zones, explains Dr. Licht.

“One day of missed timing, like on the day of a flight, usually isn’t a big deal, but figure out what time you should be taking the medicine to match the time you take it at home,” Dr. Licht says.

4. Check for side effects

Travelers can experience different side effects from their regular prescriptions when they’re away from home. Review potential side effects and plan ahead, suggests Dr. Licht.

“Many drugs make your skin more sensitive to the sun,” he says. “If you’re going close to the equator, you may burn more easily.” You’ll need to pack extra sunscreen and stay out of the sun as much as possible in this case.

If you come down with a travel-related illness, talk to your doctor about how that might affect your medications.

“If you take a blood pressure medication and you have an acute bout of travelers’ diarrhea, for example, you may not want to continue taking the medicine,” Dr. Licht says. “Have a pre-travel consultation with a physician so you know what to do.” (Low blood pressure plus severe diarrhea can cause dehydration, for example.) 

RELATED: How to prepare for an in-flight allergic reaction

5. Document your medications

Before you jet off, Ransom recommends jotting down the details about everything you’re taking, including:

  • Full name of the medicine, including strength (for example: venlafaxine ER 75 mg)
  • Instructions/frequency for taking it (for example: take 1 capsule by mouth daily)
  • Full name and phone number of the prescribing physician
  • Pharmacy prescription number
  • Pharmacy phone number
  • Pharmacy insurance information: BIN number, PCN, ID number, and group

“Keep this information in your wallet or purse at all times,” she says. “It will help any medical professional or pharmacy assisting in replacing lost or stolen medication.” Be sure to keep the list current by updating the information any time you start a new medication, discontinue a medication, or if the dose is adjusted.