Prescription medication on plane

How to Pack Prescription Medicines for Air Travel

Air travel can be an anxiety-inducing experience for anybody: Are the pilots awake? Is that toddler sitting next to you going to scream through the whole flight? Are the plane’s stocks of wine running low? Can you even bring all your prescription medication on board? That last one, at least, is easy to solve, thanks to reasonably clear rules from the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Check It or Carry On?

The Transportation Security Administration allows unlimited amounts of pills or other solid medication in either your carry-on or checked bags, as long as it goes through their screening process. You don’t need to declare pills or other solids at the security checkpoint. Liquids are also allowed in reasonable quantities, and they’re not subject to the 3.4-ounce limit imposed by the TSA’s liquids rule, as long as you declare any excess amounts of liquid medication before you go through the security checkpoint. If you’ve declared your liquid medications, you don’t need to put them in the zip-close bag that you use for other liquids (e.g., toiletries).


  • Although the TSA allows you to transport unlimited amounts of pills and reasonable quantities of liquid meds, be prepared for extra scrutiny if you’re packing more than 90 days worth of medication, which is considered the standard for a “personal supply.” And if you’re returning from a trip abroad, you may only be allowed to bring that same personal supply – roughly 90 days – back across the border with you.

How to Package Your Medication

This is the only place where guidelines are somewhat ambiguous: The Transportation Security Administration doesn’t require you to have medications in the original prescription bottle, but warns that you should follow each individual state’s rules for labeling prescription medication. It’s simplest – and safest – to abide by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s requirement to keep prescription medications in their original containers with the prescription labels on them.

If this isn’t possible – for example, if your prescription containers are too bulky or you’ve already thrown them away – bring a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining what the medication is and why you need it. If you’re traveling abroad, you’ll need that prescription and/or doctor’s note to bring your medicine back across the U.S. border with you.

Traveling Internationally With Medicine

Speaking of traveling abroad, each country has its own guidelines about which medications are and aren’t allowed to cross the border. There are three things you can do to cover all your bases: First, use the original packaging with a prescription printed on it. Second, bring that doctor’s note explaining which medications you take and why – and have it translated into the language of your destination country. And finally, give that country’s embassy a call ahead of time and ask about any special regulations regarding prescription medication.


Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

About the Author

Lisa is the author of the award-winning “Moon Alaska” guidebook, and has penned hundreds of articles about the joys, adventures and occasional miseries of travel for local and national publications including Via, Northwest Travel & Life, Matador, Roots Rated, The Brand USA and more.

Carry-On Baggage Tips

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The imposition of stricter security measures for commercial airline passengers following the Aug. 10, 2006, arrests of individuals engaged in a terrorist plot to bomb U.S.-bound planes from Britain has left many travelers wondering how to manage their health conditions while traveling. The following tips may help those who are concerned about health issues when traveling by air:

  1. Remember that prescription medications are allowed in carry-on bags, with some restrictions. Prescriptions must be in their original pharmacy container labeled with the name of the passenger. Be sure that the name is the same as on your ticket. Don’t combine your medications into one bottle; take each type of medication in its own labeled bottle. Place all medications in a plastic bag for ease during security screening.
  2. Nonprescription medications are also allowed, but remember to take these in their original containers, too. Take small packages containing the amount of medication you might reasonably expect to need while traveling—family-size bottles containing 500 tablets may be even considered suspicious.
  3. Liquids, gels, and aerosol preparations are allowed as long as these are in 3-ounce or smaller containers. Larger containers that are partially full are not permitted. All liquids, gels, and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Each traveler can use only one plastic bag. These bags must be removed from carry-on baggage and placed in a bin or on the conveyor belt for x-ray screening.
  4. If you have diabetes, you may bring your insulin on board. Inspection will be smoother if you remember to have a copy of your prescription with you. You are also allowed to take treatments for low blood sugar, including gels to treat low blood sugar. Again, any medically necessary products of more than 3 ounces must be kept separate and declared to the security officer at the time of passenger screening.
  5. Infant formula and breast milk are allowed in carry-on luggage if you are traveling with an infant. Canned, jarred, or processed baby food is permitted in your carry-on baggage. Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition are permitted “in the absence of suspicious activity.” You (or your child) will not be required to taste these items at the security checkpoint, but like all carry-on items, these must be screened.
  6. Inhalers to treat asthma or breathing problems are also allowed on board after they have been screened at the security checkpoint.
  7. Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons, such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids, are also allowed.
  8. Contact your airline if you need special assistance with transportation or other medical needs prior to boarding. Airlines are still responsible for offering assistance to passengers with extra needs. The TSA security officer’s job is limited to assistance with security screening. Ask the airline for a gate pass so that your companion or caretaker can accompany you to the gate if necessary.
  9. If you need special help during the security screening, speak up. Explain the situation to the security officer, including telling the officer your level of ability (for example, if you are not able to walk through the metal detector or unable to hold your arms upright). Security officers can examine motility aids such as wheelchairs while you are still seated in them if necessary, and they can help you with shoe removal and putting your shoes back on.
  10. Finally, remain patient and calm. The enhanced security requirements are stressful for everyone, and keeping your frustration in check can make everyone’s experience easier.

Reference: U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site, Accessed 2/1/2008.

For some medication and specialized equipment used to administer them, some countries require documents to be submitted to government officials well in advance of your arrival. Ms. Harmon, for example, was questioned at the Singapore airport once for entering with an EpiPen, but she had prior authorization allowing its transport.

Know the Names and Amounts of Active Ingredients

The documentation you carry should also indicate the generic and chemical names of the active ingredients, which determines permissibility, not brand names.

For example, the active ingredient in Benadryl, diphenhydramine, is banned in Zambia in over-the counter products. In Japan, it is allowed only if the amount in a tablet or injection is limited. However, a typical 25 milligram tablet of Tylenol PM in the United States exceeds the 10 milligram maximum amount in a tablet you can bring into Japan. Some countries restrict the overall total amount of an active ingredient an individual traveler can legally import, which may impact longer stays.

Reduce or Substitute Medication

In countries where a medication is allowed, but its amount is capped, reducing your dosage or switching to another available medication is the best way to stay compliant. Allow enough time beforehand to ensure the smaller dose or new medicine works effectively, and consider making the switch before your trip to give yourself time to adjust.

Some medications can be used for several diagnoses. Hormones used for birth control may also be used to treat excessive menstrual bleeding, Ms. Harmon said. “Doctors need to get creative sometimes. Substitutions can allow authorities to accept the drug as a medical need rather than going against the country’s religious or moral code.”

Reassess Your Travel Plans

Parents with a child doing well on Adderall for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who prefer not to make adjustments on the fly, or a student with bipolar disorder may want to consider vacation or study abroad locations where the medications they rely on for mental health are not banned or restricted.

“Viewpoints on treatment and diagnoses can vary widely,” Ms. Harmon said. “Western Europe and North America understand that brain chemistry is often at the root of these problems. But some countries, like Russia, do not consider mental health challenges as medical problems and often treat them criminally.”

Can you pack your meds in a pill case and more questions answered

One of the more popular questions we get from travelers is: “Can I travel with my medication?” The answer is yes, with some qualifiers. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful.

  • It is not necessary to present your medication to, or notify an officer about any medication you are traveling with unless it is in liquid form (See next bullet).
  • Medication in liquid form is allowed in carry-on bags in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, you must tell the officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subject to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container.
  • You can bring your medication in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts as long as it is screened.
  • You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage. It’s highly recommended you place these items in your carry-on in the event that you need immediate access.
  • TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.
  • Medication is usually screened by X-ray; however, if a passenger does not want a medication X-rayed, he or she may ask for a visual inspection instead. This request must be made before any items are sent through the X-ray tunnel.
  • Nitroglycerin tablets and spray (used to treat episodes of angina in people who have coronary artery disease) are permitted and have never been prohibited.

Can you Bring Pills in Hand on the Plane?

Packing meds: Can you bring pills on the plane?

Whether you need prescription medication for a health condition or you just take vitamins to bolster your overall health, you can pack as many pills as you need for your trip. TSA doesn’t require you to have your pills in original containers, but they will have to undergo X-ray and testing for trace explosives.

Pills in hand luggage

TSA recommends packing medications, vitamins and any other pills you may need in your hand luggage for easy access. Pack your pills in your daily pill box; keep them in their original containers; or put them in baggies or any other convenient container. You’ll need to have them handy at the security checkpoint, and TSA recommends having them clearly labeled to speed things along.

Ibuprofen, vitamins and other OTC items

Over-the-counter pills and vitamins are OK to pack in your carry-on luggage. The pills don’t have to be in their original sealed container, and you can put them in a pill minder or other container. Softgel vitamins and pills such as fish oil capsules fall into the pill category, not liquids, and should be included with your other pills, not your 3-1-1 bag. On the other hand, pourable liquid vitamins that aren’t medically prescribed fall under the 3-1-1 rule and must be in containers less than 3.4 ounces or packed in your checked baggage.

Prescription pills

Your prescription medications can be carried in your carry-on, purse, pocket or other convenient container, but they must be screened. Just inform the TSA officer that you have medications and separate them from your other possessions at the checkpoint. A plastic baggie isn’t required, but it’s a good idea if you don’t want the pill in your pocket to have to ride through a much-used TSA tray unprotected. TSA recommends labeling your medications, but they don’t have to be in their original prescription bottles.

Tip: Ask your pharmacist to print out extra labels to carry with your medications. If you carry them in a plastic bag, you can stick the extra labels on the outside to avoid any hassle. Alternatively, include the leaflet stapled to the outside of the prescription bag when you received it along with your medications. Or order pre-sorted packets of your pills through online pharmacies offering the service. Not only will your pre-packaged meds show when you need to take them, they’ll list the contents of every pill in the package.

The pill you can’t take with you

Even though medical and recreational marijuana is legal in many states, you can’t travel with it in pill form (or any other form) on an airplane. Its legality in each state is irrelevant when it comes to TSA screening, as the substance is still illegal under federal law. And although TSA doesn’t look specifically for marijuana or illegal drugs, as a federal agency, they’ll refer the matter to law enforcement should they discover time-release marijuana pills among your meds or vitamins.

My mom, for example, will consolidate her pills into one bottle and keep photographs of all her prescriptions on her phone.

One caveat: If you’re flying within the U.S. you may want to read up on the state laws of your departure and arrival destination for this one.

Limits to Medications While Flying

There are no limits to the number of pills or the amount of a prescribed medication a traveler brings, so long as they’re labeled and you have proof of prescription. That means you can bring an unlimited amount of pills in your carry on bag.

Liquids & Injectables

Liquid medications and injectables are subject to the same 3.4 oz rule as your toiletries. They too must be labeled and, if prescribed, you’ll need that doctor’s note. For both medications and injectables, your medications may be subject to additional screening.
If you’re using freezer packs, they’ll need to be solid at the time of inspection. Otherwise, more inspections (seems to be a common theme here).

Diabetic Equipment

For diabetic equipment, again, label your items clearly and keep the original pharmaceutical labels on them. However, there’s an additional, yet tricky, rule to note. Peter Greenberg explains it best:

“If you are carrying insulin on the plane, then the vials or preloaded syringes must be labeled clearly with the original pharmacy label. If you carry vials and need syringes, you may carry as many unused syringes as needed, but if you are carrying empty syringes you must have insulin with you.”

For pumps, ask for a private screening.

For more specifics on TSA’s regulations on traveling with medicine, for additional details, read this TSA blog post on it.

Packing Medications

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten the TSA regulations out of the way — how do you pack the darn stuff? Lucky for you, we have a few tips for packing medications:

  • Split up liquid medications into multiple containers if you need more than 3.4 ounces
  • Keep liquids and injectables in their own, leakproof container: Even something as simple as a ziplock will do the trick
  • Keep a digital record of your prescriptions: A photo in your phone is good, but sending the photos as an email to yourself or storing them in the cloud is even better
  • Put medicines in small, travel friendly containers: Personally, I like this no-frills Vitaminder Pill Pocket for short trips. They also have a larger, 60 pill version

Keep them in an outside pocket on your bag. You’ll want to be able to dig ’em out easily for all of these potential extra inspections.

For Longer Trips

Stock up and plan for buffer time. For some prescriptions, you’ll need to do a special doctor’s visit to get prescriptions for more than 3-months at a time. Plan well in advance and consider alternatives.

Personally, this was particularly problematic when I studied abroad in an uber-Catholic country and needed 9 months worth of birth control (I ended up switching to Depo-Provera temporarily).

Traveling With Medical Devices

Now, on to the next question: Can you travel with medical devices in your carry on?

Yes; like medications, you’re allowed to bring a personal medical electronic device (PMED) on the plane, but with a few stipulations:

  • Carry proof that it’s necessary: In the form of a medical device/notification card
  • Expect extra screening (but you knew that already
  • Consider a battery-operated portable version: Most airlines cannot provide an electric source to plug in. If they do, you’ll need a DC adaptor; check the airlines’ website for specific regulations.

My two big tips for traveling with medical devices would be to look up the specific regulations for medical devices your airline has and to allow yourself plenty of time to go through security. MiFlight is a handy app that will tell you the average line wait time in any airport worldwide, but you should still budget more time than the average passenger.

What is a Medical Notification Card?

How to Travel on Airlines With Prescription Drugs and Vitamins

While vitamins and prescriptions might be high on your travel-packing checklist, getting them ready for airport security screenings should also be a priority. Prescription medications and other things you rely on daily belong in carry-on bags, in case checked bags don’t show up at the destination when you do. Vitamins and pills aren’t usually a concern at security checkpoints, but liquid vitamins and over-the-counter liquid meds require special packaging.

Vitamins and Prescription Pills

The Transportation Security Administration allows solid or gummy vitamins and prescription pills through security checkpoints without question, as long as the amount seems reasonable. Pack what you’ll need for the trip, plus a little extra in case of extended stays or flight cancellations. While agents probably won’t question huge bottles of vitamins, bringing mass quantities of prescriptions through the checkpoint may result in additional questioning and screening. Keeping prescription pills in their original containers is recommended, although not necessary, so the TSA knows what’s inside the packages.

Liquid Rules

While the Transportation Security Administration limits most liquids to containers that hold 3.4 ounces or less, the same ruling doesn’t apply to prescription medications. Prescription creams, gels, lotions and liquids are allowed in carry-on bags in larger amounts, as long as quantity seems “reasonable” for the excursion. In other words, take along enough medication to last the duration of the trip, or one container of each prescription.

Liquid over-the-counter vitamins such as liquid B12 energy boosters aren’t considered medically necessary by the TSA, so they’re limited to bottles holding 3.4 ounces or less. All liquid containers, other than those filled with prescription medication, must fit into one 1-quart-sized clear plastic bag. Take this plastic bag out of your carry-on luggage and place it in a bin separately at the security checkpoint. This helps speed up the screening process.

Prescription liquid containers don’t have to be placed in plastic bags, but it’s good idea to do so anyway, in case one leaks. Inform the TSA screening agent about prescription liquids, as these are subject to extra screenings.

International Snags

While you may have no problem traveling to Canada with prescription pain medications, in some countries, this could be a major issue. Japan and some Middle Eastern countries allow foreign travelers to bring minimal amount of narcotics and even some over-the-counter drugs into the country. Each country has its own regulations. If traveling internationally, call the country’s embassy in the United States before your trip to find out if your specific drug is prohibited abroad. If you do travel with prescriptions, keep them in their original bottles and make sure the name on the bottle matches the name in your passport. If possible, take a picture of or otherwise carry proof of the original prescription, or ask for a note from your doctor explaining why the medicine is necessary.

Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.

The Rules for Medication on an Airplane

Most travelers probably wouldn’t think twice before chucking a bottle of prescribed antibiotics into their luggage, but packing medication for a flight requires a little more thought than that. Generally speaking, it’s OK to travel with medicine, but only within parameters set forth by the Transportation Security Administration. Know the regulations on your medication before hitting security at the airport.

Tips for Packing Medication

According to the TSA, travelers can bring medications in pill or solid forms onto airplanes in unlimited amounts as long as they’re screened. If your medication is liquid, you don’t have to follow the rules that apply to other liquids in carry-ons. For example, you’re permitted to pack medically necessary liquids in carry-on containers larger than 3.4 ounces as long as the medication is in a “reasonable quantity” for your flight. You also don’t have to place liquid medications in a zip-close bag. However, if you do have a medically necessary liquid in your carry-on, you have to give your TSA agent a heads-up about it at the beginning of the security screening process.

The TSA recommends packing medication in a carry-on in the event that you should need it on the flight, but travelers are permitted to pack their medicines in either their carry-ons or checked luggage. Medication is usually screened by an X-ray at security, but you can request to have yours inspected rather than X-rayed if you want. Make sure to make this request before sending any of your items through the X-ray tunnel.

Prescription Medication on Planes

If you’re taking prescription medicine with you on a flight, the TSA doesn’t require that it be stored in its prescription bottle. However, each U.S. state has its own individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication, so if you’re traveling domestically within the United States, educate yourself on the state laws you need to know before traveling with your medications.

Travelers flying internationally with prescription medication should keep in mind that their medicines could be considered illegal substances under local laws in other countries. If this is a concern, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit to make sure your medications are OK to take abroad. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides traveler health information, including information on drug regulations in specific destinations.

Additionally, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has guidelines for people traveling with internationally-controlled drugs. If your treatment falls under this category, check the UNODC website to see how your medications are regulated on an international basis.

Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She covers topics including environment, education, agriculture and travel. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor’s in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. Swanston is an avid traveler and loves jazz, yoga and craft beer.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

Securing Medications for Your Trip

Some of us remember a time when planning for air travel meant packing your bag, driving to the airport, and boarding the plane. No security lines, no restrictions on liquids, no hassles.

Today, it’s a new world, and you need to know the new rules of air travel. Not only will this help you avoid hang-ups at the airport but it will also help you make sure that nothing you need gets confiscated by airport security. If you take daily medications, it’s especially important that you stay informed about what the regulations currently are for taking prescription drugs on an airplane. Obviously, you can’t leave the gate without them.

Packing Prescription Drugs

If you’re packing prescription drugs or other medications in a carry-on bag, follow some expert recommendations to get them safely through security. “Keep your medications in their original containers, regardless of the urge to save space,” says Greg T. Snider, MD, of Redpoint Medical PSC, a medical group in Lexington, Kentucky, that specializes in travel medicine. That means don’t put your prescription drugs in those convenient daily medication dispensers you might normally use, at least until you get to your destination. You can always organize your medications in the way you like once you get off the plane.

Another travel expert agrees: If you try to consolidate, you might not make it through security with the medications you will need for the duration of your trip. “You also shouldn’t try and save space by putting more than one prescription in one bottle,” says David Lytle, former editor for Frommers. ” can and will confiscate the bottle.”

Passengers are allowed to take all their medications (including liquids, pills, and other supplies) on the plane, but they must be screened and checked at a security checkpoint. If you’re taking medications that aren’t essential for you to take during your flight, you can check them in your luggage or mail them to your destination ahead of time.

Lytle recommends sending liquid medications to your destination ahead of your trip. As a backup, you can also pack small amounts (3 ounces or less) in individual bottles. You must place the bottles in a carry-on, quart-size plastic bag. If you need to bring more than that one bag, you may do so, but you will need to notify the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before going through the security check.

It might also be a good idea to bring along a note from your doctor that explains why you take these medications, especially if syringes or other medical supplies are involved.

Be Prepared

To make sure that you have enough medication to last you while you’re away, plan ahead. “We recommend that people get their prescriptions refilled before they travel — that’s the rule,” says Lytle. “The trick to traveling, wherever you’re going, is look ahead and plan. For some prescriptions, you have to go to the doctor because they won’t re-up them over the phone.”

If you do run out of your medication while you’re away, getting a refill is not always a big deal if you’re traveling in the United States. If you usually use a national pharmacy chain, for instance, there may be a local branch nearby that you can phone. If you use an independent pharmacy, you can phone them and then have them call in your prescription to a pharmacy that’s in the area you’re visiting.

Staying on Schedule

Exactly how you need to change the dosage instructions when traveling across time zones will depend on the medication that you take and your doctor’s recommendations. You need to be sure to continue to take enough of your medication, but be careful not to take too much as you attempt to switch to a new time zone. Ask your doctor about how your particular medication should be handled.

If you aren’t sure what to do about your medication or how to go about getting it onboard the airplane, visit the , which is a good resource for travelers. With some forward planning and smart packing, you and your medication can both arrive safely at your destination.


If you’re heading out on a long trip—or moving abroad—and you rely on prescriptions, it’s vital to your health to know the rules about traveling with medication. “Millions of Americans are dependent on medicines and with the globalization of travel, access to prescription medicine is even more crucial,” explains Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice-president and regional medical director at International SOS.

From how to get more than a 30-day supply of pills to what you’ll need from your stateside doctor to get a prescription abroad, here’s advice from international healthcare experts about traveling with medication.

Bring a Note from Your Doctor


Dr. Christopher C. Hollingsworth, MD, a general and endovascular surgeon who has practiced in Europe and the United States, says it’s unlikely you’ll get stopped at customs or border control because you’re carrying more than a month’s supply of medicine. However, having an official prescription on hand is never a bad idea.

“In general, countries honor the rights of travelers to transport their prescribed medications with them,” Dr. Hollingsworth explains. As long as you have supporting documentation about your medical condition (ID cards or a letter from a physician), you are unlikely to have a problem.

Dr. Brendan Anzalone, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and the president and chief medical officer at AeroMD Air Ambulance, suggests going digital with these forms, as they can get lost or creased throughout your travels. This will ensure you won’t have to go digging if you’re questioned.

Keep Medicines in Their Original Bottles

Again, while it’s unlikely you will face any sort of issue when you’re flying with medication, Dr. Anzalone still recommends keeping your pills in the original bottle—complete with the sticker on the front with your name and doctor’s name—as an extra safety precaution. “Carrying your medication in original prescription bottle with a label on it from the pharmacy is helpful, if there are any questions in the security line,” he explains.

If you don’t have room in your luggage for the full-size bottles and must downsize, you can pack a small day-of-the-week pill organizer rather than several bulky bottles. Ensure you have documentation from your physician to avoid any potential issues. Paul Tanenbaum, R.Ph., a retired pharmacist, offers this tip if your original prescription bottle is too large: “Make friends with your pharmacist and see if he or she could make you a smaller travel size bottle for you to fill up.”

Learn the Laws Around Traveling Internationally with Medications

The recommendations for domestic trips also apply to traveling with medication overseas. The U.S. Department of State recommends storing medications in their original labeled containers and bringing a copy of a doctor’s letter to show customs officers and other officials if necessary. The prescription should note the brand and generic name of the drug.

If you’re taking an unusual drug or one that contains narcotics such as sedatives, carry a note from your doctor explaining what the medication is and why you need it.

Note that some over-the-counter drugs legal in the U.S. may be illegal elsewhere. For example, painkillers containing codeine are prohibited in the United Arab Emirates. Always double-check before you fly.

Exercise Caution with Herbal Medicines

Iryna Imago/

Flying with herbal medicines or supplements to international destinations can be tricky since each country has its own laws about what’s allowed in. To find out what may be restricted in the countries you’ll be visiting or transiting through, refer to the embassy website or contact local consulates.

Make sure herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicines are in clearly labeled, well-sealed containers, preferably in original bottles. Although the TSA doesn’t require it, it may be helpful to bring a doctor’s note explaining your remedies’ intended use. Keep up to date with any changes in TSA rules by downloading its free MyTSA app (iOS | Android).

Always Pack Medicine in Your Carry-On

Now that you have the prescriptions you need and the note from your doc to prove your case, it’s time to pack. Depending on how much medicine you need each day, you may be tempted to shove your pill pack into your checked bag, but Dr. Anzalone warns against it: “It is best to keep medications in your carry-on baggage. If your checked baggage gets lost, you will still have your prescription medications with you. Remember some aircraft cargo holds are not temperature controlled, which may affect temperature-sensitive medications.”

If you’re worried about bringing medication that must be refrigerated (like insulin, for example) on a plane, Dr. Hollingsworth offers the TSA regulations on cool packs that are allowed through the gates. “Domestically, gel-cooling packs are allowed if frozen at time of presentation to security,” he notes.

Liquid medications (prescription or over-the-counter, like saline solution or eye drops) aren’t subject to the TSA’s three-ounce limits. However, you are required to declare anything over that amount to security officers and present it for inspection.

You may also travel with accompanying items, such as IV bags, pumps, and syringes, as long as they’re declared before you begin the screening process. All of these items will be X-rayed unless you request a manual inspection.

Bring Extra Medication

Dr. Hollingsworth’s rule of thumb is to bring twice the amount of medicine you need and to separate the bottles between your carry-on and your personal item. Why? Two words: flight troubles. “Changes or delays can have a butterfly effect than can have repercussions for the rest of your trip. Plan for the unexpected and pack extra medication you might need for an unplanned longer stay,” he says.

Exercise Caution When Flying with Narcotics


If you’re traveling with any type of prescribed narcotic used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, or codeine, you might want to bring your prescription documentation, as well as a doctor’s note. Though this is not required by the TSA, it may prove helpful when getting through security. Since these types of drugs are widely abused, security screeners may be suspicious if they are unaccompanied by the proper paperwork. Having the original prescription will prove the pills’ necessity, and avoid any further delays or additional questioning.

The trouble of traveling with only a doctor’s note is that unless it was written in the previous month, it may lose validity. Prescriptions are clearly dated and include the signature of your doctor. Simply make a photocopy of each prescription before you have it filled. The photocopied version will be null and void, but this does not alter it as a valid document.

To take extra precaution, you may also want to travel with phone numbers for your pharmacy and prescribing doctor. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it could prevent delays and problems at the airport.

Be Strategic About Your Meds

If your carry-on is just too heavy to meet those puddle-jumper restrictions, Dr. Hollingsworth challenges you to be strategic. While you might want to take your mini-sized bottle of Advil, those sorts of medications are available everywhere.

“Give priority to any medications that are vital to your functioning or survival. Asthma inhalers, diabetic medications, anti-seizure medications, and blood pressure medications come to mind. Make sure to bring medications that have rebound or withdrawal symptoms if you run out,” he says. “A trip is not a good time to see how you function without your arthritis or anti-anxiety medications.”

Consider Travel Insurance

Many factors influence whether you should purchase travel insurance. How long will you be traveling? Where are you going? Will you be lounging by a beach for a week or undertaking adventure activities in a rainforest? Do you have ongoing medical conditions that might need care?

If you’ll need health insurance for your trip, Dr. Quigley recommends exploring your options before heading overseas to determine what policy and plan are best for you. You can also work with assistance companies—like International SOS—to help you if you’re struggling with a health situation overseas.

Make a Date with Your Doctors

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If you’re leaving the U.S. for an extended time, in addition to getting foreign currency and shedding tears at your farewell party, you should schedule pre-departure appointments with your doctors. During these visits, get a full physical and begin a discussion about your wellness needs while traveling. Work with your physician to plan for the medications you’ll need. Medical professionals can help you secure more than a 30-day supply of any medicines along with the necessary paperwork. They can also offer advice about what you need to bring to keep your health top-notch.

Find the Loopholes for Refilling Prescriptions Overseas

Dr. Quigley explains that prescriptions cannot be filled abroad, nor can your primary care doctor call in a prescription for you. But there is a way around it: Know the generic forms and other names of the same medicine. Depending on the country, you may be able to get the medicine without a prescription.

As an example, Dr. Hollingsworth was able to walk into a pharmacy in Paris and receive antibiotics for a pal with a serious ear infection—no note required. Even so, packing a few “just in case” prescriptions before you leave will help ease your worries. Your primary care doctor or a travel clinic can help you navigate the options.

Tanenbaum recommends caution: “If you must obtain your meds from somewhere other than your U.S. pharmacy, beware that there is a major problem of counterfeit drugs out there.” He also notes that brand and generic drug names may differ from one country to another: “The same name may be for a totally different medication; if you have to get some while overseas, it may not be what you usually take so that it does not treat your medical condition, and may actually be dangerous for you to take.” Make sure you’re visiting a reputable pharmacist (ask for a recommendation from your hotel or the local tourist board) and that you double-check whether the drug you’re requesting actually treats your condition.

Most Importantly, Plan Ahead

Plan ahead, especially if you’re switching time zones and have to take medicine at a certain time of day. “Have a medical itinerary run parallel to your day-to-day travel itinerary. Plan out the nearest towns where you’re going to be and identify the best providers for you based on your specific medical needs. Don’t let it be a fire drill when you get there,” recommends Dr. Hollingsworth. “If you know in 30 days you need to have a prescription refilled, and you know where you will be within that time frame, then research which medical professional will be best for you. Do your homework.” It just may save your trip—or even your life.

More from SmarterTravel:

  • Must-Pack Medications for Travel
  • 15 Tiny Travel Products to Help You Stay Healthy on Vacation
  • 9 Over-the-Counter Medications You Should Pack for Every Trip

Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle writer with a constant thirst for adventure and exploring new lands. You can find Lindsay globetrotting when the mood strikes, making sure to find time to explore both the wine and fitness scene in countries across the globe. Her work has appeared across dozens of outlets; learn more at

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Molly Feltner, Jessica Labrencis, Patricia Magaña, and Michele Sponagle contributed to this story. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling of Paul Tanenbaum’s name. It has been corrected.

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