Travel Health Information Sheets

Travelling with medicines

If you need to take medicines abroad, remember that some drugs that are legal in the UK could be banned in other medicationcountries. For example - codeine-based medicines can currently be bought from UK chemists, but are prohibited in other countries.

International rules for carrying medicines vary. Some countries do not allow certain medicines to be imported, or require official documents, such as a doctor’s letter, to prove drugs have been prescribed by a doctor and obtained legally. It is sensible to contact the relevant embassy or high commission of your destination to check what their drug transportation rules are before you travel.

Ask your doctor for copies of all your prescriptions and an official letter. If you give consent, your doctor can explain why you need these drugs. This is especially important if you have to carry controlled drugs or injections.

Carry the letter and prescription copies, along with your medicines, in your hand luggage. Hold luggage can get lost or delayed.

A doctor’s letter can be very useful if you need treatment abroad, as it should provide essential information about your medical history.


If you are found with illegal drugs in the UK you will be arrested and may go to prison. Other countries are often more strict - punishment can be severe, with some imposing the death penalty for drug offences.


  • Always carry drugs and medical equipment (needles, syringes etc) in their original, correctly labelled packages.
  • Do not put medicines into unmarked bottles or containers.
  • Be prepared to answer questions at airports/borders about medicines you are carrying.
  • Make sure you take enough medicine for your whole trip – think about bringing extra supplies.
  • Check the brand name of your medicine in your destination country, so if necessary, you can get further supplies. syringes
  • Very hot or cold temperatures can affect medicines.
  • Get advice from your doctor or nurse and chemist if you take a medicine, like insulin, that needs to be kept in a fridge. You also need to speak to your airline before flying.
  • Make sure you have appropriate travel health insurance - check it includes cover for medication costs.
  • Try to sort these issues out as soon as possible - some of the processes involved can take time.

Carrying controlled drugs  

You can only take a limited amount supply of controlled medicines (any drug controlled under UK and international law) in and out of the UK.

If you need more than the allowed amount, you will have to contact the Home Office to apply for a personal import/export license.

Controlled drugs covered under this license are classified and listed in the UK Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.  

Examples of controlled drugs include:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Certain anti-anxiety drugs, such as diazepam
  • Painkillers containing morphine

If you are granted this personal license, it only covers UK import and export. Other countries are likely to require their own official documentation. You must check your destination country’s requirements carefully, even when an export license is not required by UK.


All photos courtesy of NHS Photo Library.

Reviewed August 2013