Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 27th Jul 2023

Travelling With Medication

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as asthmadiabeteshigh blood pressure or heart problems, it is likely you will take prescription medication when you go abroad.

Having a medical condition and carrying prescription medication shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a holiday abroad. However, it does mean you might have to take some extra steps to ensure your medication is kept safe and that you are allowed to carry it with you.

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Before You Go

Order your medication well in advance and take enough to last the whole holiday and a week or two more, in case of delays, loss, or damage.

Always keep it in its original name-labelled packaging, along with the patient information leaflet that comes with it. Keep a copy of your repeat prescription or, if needed, a letter from your doctor, to hand at security.

Can You Take Medication in Your Hand Luggage?

The answer is yes – as long as you have the proper paperwork for your medication. If your underwear goes astray in your checked-in luggage, it’s a bore. If your medication goes astray, it could be a disaster. That’s why it’s always best to carry your medication with you in your hand luggage.

Ideally, split it with someone you’re travelling with (although do make sure you go through airport security together in case one of you is stopped). That way, even if one of you leaves your hand luggage at a coffee shop in the airport, you’ll still have some to take until you can make other arrangements.

In addition, some medications (particularly liquids) can be affected by temperature and could stop working effectively if they’re in a freezing aircraft hold.

Am I Allowed To Take Liquid Medication or Syringes On Board an Aeroplane?

The government states you are permitted to take medication of more than 100ml in your hand luggage. However, you should check with your airline first.

Tablets, capsules, essential liquid medicines, hypodermic syringes, inhalers, cooling gel packs, special food, and liquids needed for medical reasons can all be carried in hand luggage - this includes liquid dietary foodstuffs. Medical equipment such as TENS machines can also be taken on board if it’s essential for your journey. It may be possible to take an oxygen cylinder, but you need to arrange this with your airline.

If you’re in any doubt about whether you’ll be allowed to take your medication or medical equipment with you into the cabin, check the government guide on hand luggage restrictions for medical equipment.

Daily Medication Dispencer

Do You Need a Doctor’s Note to Take Medication Abroad?

You might be concerned that enhanced airport security measures concerning the quantities of liquids you carry aboard an aircraft will prevent you from taking your medication on flights.

For liquids of over 100ml, injectable medications, and controlled drugs, it’s essential to carry a letter from your doctor with your name, countries you’re visiting, and the details of all the medication you’re taking along with your medicines.

Regardless of what medication you’re taking (including tablets and inhalers), you should take a copy of your prescription and consider getting a note from your hospital team or GP detailing your medication. This can be helpful for border control checks if you need medical help while you’re away or if your medicines need to be replaced. Remember your doctor may charge for this letter.

Are You Taking a Controlled Drug?

Many strong painkillers, sleeping tablets, anxiety medicines, ADHD tablets, and some other medicines are classed as ‘controlled drugs’ – these are listed as Schedule 1, 2, 3, and 4. If you’re taking regular medicines, check with your pharmacist or on the controlled drugs list if any of them are controlled drugs.

There are also Schedule 5 drugs - these include very log strength preparations of certain Controlled Drugs (such as codeine, pholcodine, or morphine). These are exempt from almost all Controlled Drug requirements – however, you should still always check with the foreign embassy in the UK of the country you’re travelling to.

Schedule 1 drugs include drugs that are rarely (if ever) used medicinally – e.g. hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, raw opium, and cannabis (not including cannabis-based medicines available on prescription). You are not allowed to travel with Schedule 1 controlled drugs – only people using them for registered research can do so.

However, you can travel to some but not all countries with schedule 2, 3, and 4 drugs you’ve been prescribed. However, you must have a letter from the person who prescribed your medicine, which includes:

    • Your name and address

    • A list of the countries you’re visiting

    • Details of your medicines, including doses, strengths, and quantities

    • The signature of the prescriber.

What Are the Rules of the Countries You’re Visiting?

Different countries have different regulations for which medications they allow into the country and the maximum amount you can carry.

This applies to controlled drugs, but also to some medicines which aren’t controlled and even some medicines available without prescription in the UK. For instance, India, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are very strict about medications that you are allowed to bring into the country – and there are serious legal penalties for breaking the rules.

If you’re transiting through another country, you’ll need to obey the rules of that country even if you don’t go outside the airport.

Rules for different countries can be checked with the foreign embassy in the UK.

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Top Tips for Taking Prescription Medication Abroad

  1. Be prepared – check with your pharmacist to find out if you’re taking controlled drugs and order your repeat prescription well in advance.

  2. Remember some drugs, including non-prescription medicines, are forbidden in certain countries (for instance, all codeine products are illegal in Hong Kong, Greece, and Indonesia and some decongestants are banned in Japan). Always check the website of the country’s foreign embassy in the UK.

  3. Always keep your medication in its proper packaging and keep a separate note of the name in case yours is lost or stolen and you need to purchase more while away.

  4. Keep a copy of your prescription, along with a letter from your doctor with your name, the countries you’re visiting, and the details of all the medication you’re taking, with your passport and ticket.

  5. Keep your medication in your hand luggage and if possible, keep a spare supply of medication with a travelling companion in their hand luggage in case you lose your hand luggage.

  6. Be prepared to be questioned at airport security about the medication you are carrying and to show your doctor’s letter.

  7. Take enough medication with you to last for your whole trip and more – medication bought abroad can be counterfeit. However, it’s worth checking the generic (non-brand) name of your medicines with your pharmacist before you go, so you can obtain supplies in an emergency.

  8. Check the expiry dates of your medicines to make sure they’ll still be in date by the end of your trip.

  9. Some medicines need to be kept below 25°c or stored in a fridge. Check with your pharmacist, especially if you’re travelling to a hot country.

  10. If you have diabetes and use insulin, take a cool bag to store your insulin if you are visiting a hot country. If you don’t have a cool bag, you could also store your medicine in a thermos flask, insulated pouch, or wrapped in an ice pack. Check in advance with your pharmacist about how to store insulin.

  11. Buy travel insurance that covers the loss of prescription medication, so you can make a claim to recoup the cost if you must buy replacement medication.


Your medication is an important part of your daily life at home, and it's equally important when on holiday, so it’s important to do some research and be prepared so your holiday goes smoothly.

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Yes. Any changes to your health or medication that occurs before your departure need to be declared to your insurer.

A pre-existing condition is a diagnosed medical condition that existed before taking out a policy. We'll ask a series of questions about the medical history for you and any travellers on your quote. If you answer yes to any of these, you will need to tell us about the traveller's conditions. This could be a condition that a traveller has now or has had in the past. If you are not sure what conditions you need to declare, we have online support available to help you 24/7!

Medical expenses abroad and repatriation can be very expensive. Having travel insurance that includes cover for existing medical conditions is the best way to ensure you are protected from financial loss in the event of having to cancel the holiday or receive emergency medical treatment abroad.
When applying for travel insurance online, you will be able to use our medical screening tool to declare all of your medical conditions. If applying over the telephone, a medical screening support assistant will guide you through the process.
Most policies will include medical cover - just ensure there is enough to keep you protected in case you end up making a claim.
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