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Managing Meds: Travelling With Controlled Substances

Holiday, booked. Lift to the airport, sorted. Bags, ready to be packed. You’ve just got to work out how to deal with your meds. Do you pack them in your hand luggage or suitcase? Should you take extra? How much can you actually take? Are you even allowed to take tramadol to Spain? It’s probably time to do a spot of research.

Firstly yes, you can take tramadol to Spain as long as you’ve got a prescription for it. A quick Google search will answer that question. But medications are controlled differently all over the world - ADHD meds are banned in Indonesia, sleeping pills in India, even Sudafed and Vicks are banned in Japan. If you’re looking to travel with prescription medication, you’re responsible for checking whether it’s a controlled substance in the UK or abroad, and what laws and regulations there are surrounding it. If you’re taking medicine outside of the United Kingdom, it’s worth checking with your GP or a pharmacist whether it’s a controlled drug, or if it contains ingredients which might affect whether you can lawfully take it out of the country.

It’s really important to know your stuff when it comes to your prescription and where you’re going. A good rule of thumb is to have the means to prove that the medication and/or equipment is yours. Sometimes this means just taking your prescription, other times you’ll need a letter on headed paper from your doctor, and in specific cases you might need to fill out a customs declaration or source documentation from your destination’s embassy. Controlled substances in the UK include amphetamines, diazepam, gabapentin, and codeine among many others, and are prescribed to treat hundreds of different conditions of varying severity. However, if you’re planning to travel to Singapore for a couple of weeks with your daily ADHD meds, you’ll have to apply to do so online ten days before you travel via the Singapore Government. Amphetamines like Adderall can land you with a fine or even a prison sentence if you’ve not followed the rules. What we’re trying to say is, do your research!
‘Normal’ here might mean ‘illegal’ there.

And you don’t want to get caught out at the first hurdle - the airport. Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row authorisation-wise, make sure you know how to pack them. Check your airline’s regulations and pack a majority of your medical supplies in your hand luggage (you might even be allowed extra carry-on for your medical stuff), and make sure your documentation is easily accessible at the same time. Meds should be kept in their prescribed packaging too, no matter how much space you’ll save using a couple of those pill organisers. Check the visible information on the box: drug name, your name, dosage, expiry date - and store what you’ll need appropriately. You can read more about packing your medication and supplies here.

So here are the key things to remember:

Your health

Any concerns about your fitness to travel should be discussed with your GP or consultant. You’ll need to chat to them about medication or courses of treatment which can be taken with you or rearranged for when you get back. Consider taking out travel insurance too, for any unexpected medical expenses or circumstances relating to your pre-existing medical conditions.

Your journey

Check your airline’s regulations around medical supplies. See if you have to declare your medication, and make sure you’ve packed them in the right bags and followed all the rules. Pack enough for your trip - in line with your doctor’s advice - and your documents should all be easily accessible if you’ve had to make special arrangements for your controlled prescription drug(s).

Your holiday

When you’re on holiday, keep your prescription handy. You might even benefit from having your basic medical notes translated to your destination’s language, in the event you need medical assistance abroad. Remember, if you’re carrying medication which is considered illegal where you are, without the proper permits you’re subject to the laws and regulations of that country.

Travelling with medicine containing controlled drugs - GOV.UK (
The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 (
Can I take my medicine abroad? - NHS (
NaTHNaC - Medicines and travel (
Hand luggage restrictions at UK airports: Medicines, medical equipment and dietary requirements - GOV.UK (
List of most commonly encountered drugs currently controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation - GOV.UK (

15th January 2024