Decorative image

Taking medicines abroad

When you need to take medicines abroad with you, it’s worth planning ahead. Some drugs are restricted. You may need a doctor’s letter or export licence.

Planning your medicine supply

Make sure you have enough drugs to last for the whole trip, plus a few extra days in case there are any delays.

It’s worth taking a doctor's letter with you, listing all the drugs you're taking and the doses. This will help if you need to see a doctor while you’re away, or if you lose your medicines and need a new prescription.

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're going for
  • where you're going
  • the type of medicine you're taking

Most people going on a 2 week holiday won’t need to do anything special.

In the NHS, your doctor can only prescribe a limited amount of any drug. If you’re going away for more than 3 months, make sure you'll be able to get any medicines you need in the country you’re going to.

Be careful. In some countries there’s a risk of buying medicines that are poor quality or don’t 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 has the same active ingredient as the one you were taking.

Checking restrictions

For most of the medicines you can buy in a chemist, there are no restrictions on what you can take out of the UK. But some countries have restrictions on the type and amount of medicines you can take in.  

The restrictions vary a lot between countries. They might include some drugs that you can buy in the UK, such as painkillers containing codeine. They're also likely to include controlled medicines, such as morphine and drugs that you need to have by injection.

The Home Office recommends that you check with the country’s embassy or High Commission about any restrictions they have.

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 UK.

If you need more than the limit, you might 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. Drugs that are controlled in the UK are generally controlled in other countries. If you do need a licence, make sure you apply at least 10 days before you’re due to go.

Taking a doctor's letter

You should take a letter written by your GP or specialist, with a list of your medicines. This will make it easier if customs officers question you about them, or if you need any treatment when you are away.

Ask your doctor for the letter a couple of weeks before you plan to go, so they have time to write it.The letter should list:

  • 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’ve had

It can help to list the chemical (generic) name of the drug and not just the brand (trade) name. This is because the brand name may be different in the country you are visiting.

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

Travelling with medicines

Carry all your medicines in the proper, labelled containers that your pharmacist gave you. If you carry unnamed loose tablets, a regular customs officer won't know what they are. You could be suspected of drug smuggling.

Make sure any controlled medicines are in your hand luggage with your doctor’s letter.

If you have to take any injections with you on the plane, you’ll need a doctor’s letter explaining that you need to carry them in your hand luggage.

Remember to ask your doctor in plenty of time to write any letters you need.

It might be a good idea to carry medicines that aren’t controlled drugs in both your hand luggage and suitcase, in case one bag goes missing.

Check whether cold temperatures can damage any of your medicines if you’re travelling by plane and packing them in your suitcase. Baggage holds in planes are very cold, although many planes have a heated area within the hold.

Carry any medicines you need to keep cool in a cool bag. And check that there’s somewhere suitable to store them where you’re staying.

Needing oxygen

You can arrange to take oxygen with you if you are breathless. Allow plenty of time to sort it out, because it can take a while.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.