Taking medicines abroad | Cancer Research UK
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Planning your medicine supply

Make sure you have a large enough supply of drugs to last for the whole trip, plus a few extra days in case there are any delays. It is worth taking a doctor's letter with you that lists all the drugs you are taking and the doses. If you lose your medicines for example, this letter will help the doctor in the country you are visiting write a new prescription for you. Remember that some medicines you can buy over the counter in the UK may be controlled in some other countries.

Any special arrangements you need to make will depend on how long you are going for, where you are going and the type of medicines you are taking. Most people going on a 2 week holiday won’t need to do anything special.

If you are taking a strong painkiller, or other controlled drug, you may need a Home Office drug licence to take a large enough supply out of the country. You usually only need this if you are going away for more than 3 months. You also need to check if there are any restrictions on the types of drugs you can take into another country.

In the NHS, your doctor can only prescribe a limited amount of any drug. If you are going away for more than 3 months, you will need to make sure you can get any medicines you need in the country you are going to. Beware that in some countries there is a risk of buying medicines that are of poor quality or do not contain the same ingredients. To reduce this risk, you should only buy medicine from a licensed pharmacy. You can check with the pharmacist that the medicine you are buying has the same active ingredient as the one you were taking.

There is more about restrictions and licences in the section below.


Restrictions on drugs

There are no restrictions about what you can take out of the UK for most medicines that you can buy in a chemist. But some countries have limits on the type and amount of medicines you can take in. The restrictions vary a lot between countries and may include some drugs that you can buy in the UK, for example painkillers containing codeine.

The restrictions are likely to include controlled medicines, for example morphine, and drugs that you need to have by injection. The Home Office recommend you check with the country’s embassy or High Commission about any restrictions they have. You can find a list of foreign embassies in the UK on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.


Taking a doctor’s letter

You should take a letter written by your GP or specialist, listing

  • Your medicines (particularly any drugs that have an effect on the brain such as some painkillers, or any medicines that you have to take as an injection)
  • Your type of cancer
  • The treatment you have had

Having a letter with a list of medicines will make it easier for you in case customs officers question you about them, or you need any treatment when you are away. It can help to list the chemical (generic) name of the drug and not just the brand (trade) name because the brand name may be different in the country you are visiting. Ask your doctor for the letter a couple of weeks before you plan to go, so they have time to write it.

Carry your letter in your hand luggage so that you can show customs officers if you need to.


Licences to take controlled drugs abroad

For some drugs, including all controlled drugs, there are limits on the amount you can take out of, and bring in to, the country. If you need more than the limit, you will need an export licence.

You won’t usually need a licence for a trip which is less than 3 months. But it may depend on the drug you are taking and on the exact dose.

Controlled drugs are mostly painkillers, but others include barbiturates and sedatives. You can find a list of the drugs that are included on the Home Office website. Drugs that are controlled in the UK are generally controlled in other countries. If you need a licence, make sure you apply at least 10 days before you are due to go.


Travelling with medicines

Carry all your medicines in the proper, labelled containers that your pharmacist gave you. If you have unnamed loose tablets, a regular customs officer won't know what they are and you could be suspected of drug smuggling. If you have any controlled medicines, make sure they are in your hand luggage with your doctor’s letter.

If you are travelling by plane, and pack any of your medicines in your suitcase, you need to check whether cold temperatures damage them. Baggage holds in planes are very cold, although many planes have a heated area within the hold.

If you need to keep any of your medicines cool, carry them in a cool bag. And, check that there is somewhere suitable to store them where you are staying.

If you have to take any injections on the plane with you, you will need a doctors letter explaining that it is necessary for you to carry them in your hand luggage.  Remember to ask your doctor in plenty of time to write any letters you may need.

It may be a good idea to carry medicines that are not controlled drugs in both your hand luggage and suitcase, in case one bag goes missing.


If you need oxygen when you are on holiday

If you are breathless and need to take oxygen with you, you can arrange that. We have a seperate page on arranging oxygen while you are abroad.

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Updated: 8 July 2014