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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Travelling with Medicines


Occasionally there are reports in the media about travellers being arrested or imprisoned because they were carrying medicines not permitted in that country. Such occurrences are relatively rare and have in recent years involved the United Arab Emirates which has an extensive list of Restricted MedicinesIcon Newwindow. Many countries have regulations restricting medicines liable to abuse that may be carried by travellers, even if it is legally prescribed or purchased in their country of origin.

These types of medicines generally fall into the category of narcotics (sedatives) or psychotropics (behaviour altering drugs), but would include most medicines that have an effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS). This would include antidepressants, sleeping tablets and medicines to treat/control anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy.

Even if the CNS action is a side effect of the medication, such as for certain antihistamines or pseudoephedrine used in cold preparations, this could still potentially result in restrictions being placed by some countries. Other examples might include anabolic steroids, and some herbal preparations.

The International Narcotics Control BoardIcon Newwindow (INCB) has recommendations regarding the regulations to be imposed by countries in relation to the importation for personal use by travellers of narcotic and psychotropic medicines. In general they recommend that for supplies of less than one month, no special certification be required, though carrying a copy of the prescription would be advisable. They also have requested that countries submit their own specific recommendations on the INCB Web site, though many have not posted any information. It is apparent that countries can deviate quite considerably from the INCB guidance, usually imposing more stringent regulations.

Advice for Travellers

It is strongly advised that travellers in possession of prescribed controlled drugs carry a letter of confirmation from their doctor. Such a letter should include the patient's personal details together with the dates of their departure and return and the drug and amount to be carried. It is also advisable to contact the embassy/consulate/high commission of the destination country to ensure that they have no requirements of their own. A copy of a recent prescription should also be carried for any prescribed psychotropic. For other prescribed medicines, such as for cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, it is unlikely that any restrictions will be imposed though carrying a copy of the prescription is advisable.

General information

  • Take particular care to check fully the requirements for any medication that acts primarily on the CNS as this would encompass the terms 'narcotic' and 'psychotropic' as recognised in most countries.
  • It is also advisable to be alert if carrying any medication of potential abuse such as anabolic steroids.
  • For suspected restricted medication check both the INCB website and the official government sites for the stated requirements. In many cases the regulations would include up to 30 days supply and carrying a prescription or certificate. Carrying greater than 30 days supply may require special importation licences that can be difficult to arrange.
  • Always keep medicines in packaging together with the patient information leaflet.
  • Many countries, including the UK have a limit to the quantity of prescribed narcotic that may be taken out of the country without a special permit.
  • Be aware that some countries such as UAE have specific lists of restricted medicines and can rigorously impose their regulations.

Home Office Requirements

Home Office Requirements if Travelling with Controlled Drugs When Departing from the UK.

Some prescribed medicines contain drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Patients travelling abroad in possession of such medicines must do so in compliance with the Home OfficeIcon Newwindow licensing requirements.

Travelling up to 3 months

Those travelling for a period of up to 3 months are automatically covered under the provisions of a Home Office general or blanket licence irrespective of the amount of drug they have been prescribed to cover such a period. Such travellers therefore do not require anything further from the Home Office. However, the Home Office advises that individuals obtain a letter from their prescribing doctor or drug worker, which should confirm name, travel itinerary, names of prescribed controlled drugs, dosages and total amounts of each to be carried.

Travelling more than 3 months

Those travelling for longer than 3 months need to be in possession of a Personal licenceIcon Newwindow.

The validity of this Home Office general licence is for a period of up to three months. Once again, this will cover any amount of drug that has been prescribed to cover the absence. Any person whose absence from the UK is likely to be longer than three months will in normal circumstances, be expected to make arrangements to have their medication prescribed by a practitioner in the country they are visiting.

Application forms for those whose absence is likely to exceed three months, together with other relevant information, can be downloaded from the GOV.UK websiteIcon Newwindow.


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