Travelling with medications can be a complex process due to varying regulations across countries. It’s essential to understand that while certain medications are legally accessible in the UK, they might be restricted or prohibited in other countries. Failing to comply with these regulations could lead to intense scrutiny from customs officials, possible confiscation of medication, and even imprisonment for carrying an excess amount without the appropriate documentation.
Navigating Medication Restrictions Around the Globe
The Travel Medicine Certificate can be a lifesaver for travellers, especially when it comes to medications that might be restricted or banned in various countries. This certificate acts as a safeguard, providing travellers the necessary documentation and peace of mind when journeying internationally.
To ensure a hassle-free journey, it’s vital to be aware of these restrictions. Here’s a guide to help you navigate medication regulations in various countries
Common medications restricted in certain countries
Restricted in Japan
In Japan, over-the-counter medicines like Sudafed and Vicks, common in the UK, are strictly prohibited1. This also extends to decongestant products containing pseudoephedrine such as Vicks, Zyrtec, Advil, and Tylenol. Travellers are also only allowed a maximum of 3 months supply of these controlled medications. See the case of Carrie Russel an American woman who was detained in Japan for 18 days for ADHD medication2.
Common medications that can lead to legal complications in Japan
- Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, such as Vicks, Zyrtec, Advil and Tylenol
- Adderall and other amphetamines/methamphetamines
- ADHD drugs like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine
- Medications containing codeine or morphine
- CBD Oil
Restricted in UAE
The UAE has a strict classification of controlled substances. Travellers should familiarise themselves with this list or use DocHQ’s free travel medicine checker tool to ensure compliance.
Some controlled Medications in the UAE
- Strong painkillers containing codeine, valium or Ritalin3.
- Common contraceptive pills
- Some nicotine lozenges, such as Niquitin Mint Lozenges
- Otrivin Nasal Spray
- Some sleeping and anti- anxiety pills
- HIV/AIDS antiretroviral medication for personal use4
Restricted in China
China requests that visitors bring a doctor’s note for every medication they carry. Any amount above a seven-day supply of medication is also restricted, and a doctor’s note clarifying why more than a seven-day supply is needed would be requested.
List of common medications restricted in China
- Sleeping pills
- Medication for ADHD such as Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin5
- Strong painkillers without a prescription
Restricted in Europe
European countries like Greece and Italy have particular rules regarding narcotics, necessitating specific documentation for entry. Travellers are urged to review these regulations using DocHQ’s Travel Medicine Checker tool and purchase a Travel Medicine Certificate if needed.
List of common controlled Medications in Europe
- ADHD/ADD medications (Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin)6
- Pain medications (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Demerol)
- Anxiety medications (Xanax, Ativan, Valium)
Restricted in the United States
While the United States permits a wide range of medications, certain substances containing potentially addictive components require proper documentation for travellers.
Restricted Medications in the US
- Medicines containing potentially addictive substances or narcotics (antidepressants, sleeping pills) without a doctor’s note7.
Restricted in Eygpt
Egypt maintains strict restrictions against tramadol or codeine due to its use as a common heroin substitute8. Travellers are only allowed a restricted amount see the case of Laura Plummer, a British woman who was jailed in 2017 after she was found with 290 tramadol tablets whilst on vacation in Egypt.
Restricted in Singapore
Singapore has strict regulations concerning specific medications, requiring a license or doctor’s note for certain types.
Restricted Medications in Singapore:
- Anti-anxiety pills
- Sleeping pills
- Strong painkillers
- Common medication used to treat high cholesterol and diabetes9
Restricted in South Korea
Narcotic medications containing codeine, and morphine often used as pain killers are restricted in South Korea if carried without a prescription letter from a doctor or any prior approval from the Narcotic Control Division of the Korean Food and Drug Administration before arriving in South Korea10.
Restrictions from other countries
Qatar: Qatar regulates over-the-counter medicines such as cold and cough remedies, requiring travellers to carry a doctor’s note for compliance.
Indonesia: Many prescription medicines such as codeine, sleeping pills and treatments for ADHD are illegal.
Hong Kong: Sleeping tablets and medication to treat anxiety and medications used in treating certain conditions, such as erectile dysfunction are banned without a doctor’s note. If you intend on taking sleeping tablets during your flight you are advised to carry a doctor’s note.
Saudi Arabia and Nigeria: Ambien, a widely used prescription sleep aid, is prohibited in both Saudi Arabia and Nigeria11.
General Guidance for Traveling with Medication
- Medications should be in their original packaging and containers.
- Avoid travelling with more than a 90-day supply unless necessary.
- Plan ahead, request a Travel Medicine Certificate at least 6 weeks before travellng.
- Declare all drugs and medicinal products to the appropriate officials.
- Carry a prescription or a written statement from your GP, stating the necessity of the substances for your physical well-being during travel.
Concerned about medication restrictions during your travels? Use DocHQ’s free Travel Medicine Checker to ensure your medicines are safe for your destination. If needed, opt for our Travel Medicine Certificate service. Our GPs review your prescriptions and provide necessary documents, including a Travel Guidance Letter outlining destination-specific restrictions and how to obtain additional required documents. Travel confidently with DocHQ.
- 5 Things for Travellers To Know About Drug Enforcement in Japan https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-263B-4968 ↩︎
- Japan releases American held for 18 days over prescription https://apnews.com/general-news-c4ba8f7e6d9d44f3ac904776b7d11739 ↩︎
- Taking these prescription drugs into Dubai could get you arrested (2018) The Independent.https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-africa-middle-east/uae/dubai/dubai-prescription-drugs-rules-uae-medication-tourists-can-you-take-law-illegal-customs-a8143916.html ↩︎
- Canada, G. A. (2023). Travel advice and advisories for United Arab Emirates. Retrieved from https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/united-arab-emirates ↩︎
- In China, People Are Risking Everything for a Box of Ritalin. Retrieved from https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1008993
- How to Transport Your Medicine to Europe: SAI Study Abroad (no date) How to Transport Your Medicine to Europe | SAI Study Abroad. Retrieved from https://www.saiprograms.com/transport-medicine-europe/ ↩︎
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection.Prohibited and Restricted Items Available at: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items ↩︎
- The everyday medicines that could get you jailed in a foreign country (2017) The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/drugs-medicine-egypt-laura-plummer-tramadol-painkillers-illegal-uae-dubai-abu-dhabi-which-countries-hurghada-a8038286.html ↩︎
- Common medications that can get you jailed overseas. Retrieved from https://www.thesenior.com.au/story/5666975/common-medications-that-can-get-you-jailed-overseas/ ↩︎
- 10 common medications you didn’t know could be illegal to take abroad. https://www.countryliving.com/uk/news/a21589936/over-counter-medicines-banned-countries-abroad-drugs/ ↩︎
- 4 Popular Medications That Are Banned in Other Countries. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://rb.gy/sik5o ↩︎