Nearly 60 percent of Americans age 20 or older are using at least one type of prescription medication according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the need for, and types of, medications that are used by Americans widely varies, there is no debating that a daily dose has become a mainstay for much of the population.
But what happens when you need to take your pill caddy on vacation? Or out of the country for a business trip?
Travelers can run into a number of hassles when attempting to travel with prescription drugs. From getting it through the airport to having it end up lost or stolen along the way, travelers will need to navigate a minefield of possibilities to ensure that, in some cases, their life-dependent pills make it to their destination along with them.
Sundance Vacations has compiled a list of tips and information that you can use to ensure both you and your medication will arrive safety and keep you both happy and healthy during your vacation or upcoming travel adventure.
Get some proof and do your research
Before you even begin to think about traveling with your prescription drugs, you’ll need to obtain some sort of proof that you are indeed authorized to be using them for what they are prescribed for.
The best way to do this is to hang onto a prescription or obtain a letter, endorsed by your doctor, stating that you have been prescribed medications and what they are being used to treat. Make sure that the doctor lists the generic name of the drug as well as its brand name as some drugs have different brand names in other countries. You may want to also have them add dosing information as that can vary from country to country as well.
While this may seem like a little bit of “too much information” (TMI) for some people, we assure you that this is the single best way to prove that you have the right to carry these medications.
Depending on where you are traveling is what will determine what level of proof you are going to need. A quick plane ride from one domestic destination to another may not require as much as you would need when entering a different country, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for no matter what you encounter.
Be sure to store this paper work in your wallet or on your person as you’ll want it with you in case of emergencies. Do not store it with the prescription drugs you are bringing along as if they are lost or stolen, you’ll lose your information and chance of getting a refill later on.
Also, as a side note for international travel, while drugs for blood pressure or over-the-counter medications can be not that big of a deal in terms of the United States, some counties have strict laws that ban certain drugs completely. For instance, in Japan, any product that contains 10 percent pseudoephedrine — a decongestant drug commonly used in over-the-counter medicines like Sudafed — is illegal and could land you jail time or hefty fines. Other drugs, like Adderall — which is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — is completely banned from the country.
Furthermore, some countries restrict how much medication someone can bring across the border. Generally, only a 30-day supply and under is allowed.
The best way to find out what can be brought along and how much proof you are going to need as a back-up plan can generally be found by either contacting the embassy of the country you are trying to travel to or by checking out their website. You can find a list of all the websites for these embassies on the U.S. Department of State’s web directory here.
Don’t throw out that bottle
This one goes along with the idea of having proof. Experts recommend that all your prescription medications should be kept in their original bottles or packaging. If you use a daily or weekly pill planner, you can bring it along, but just make sure that your prescriptions are not inside.
Again, it’s a good idea to ensure that the generic name of the drug you have with you is also listed on the bottle, just in case the country you travel to has a different name for the medication that you are using.
It’s always better to go over the top in preparation than it is to pay the price of poor planning during your vacation.
Bring your doctor’s information
This one may seem like a no brainer, but bring along the contact information of both your doctor and pharmacist. Whether you write it down or store it in the contacts section of your phone.
This doubles as a way to prove that you are indeed allowed to use the medication, should anyone want to call and confirm, and in case you run into any problems that require your physician’s or pharmacist’s assistance.
Losing your medication, or having it stolen, can be a real hassle, but can be made easier if you communicate what happened directly with your doctor or pharmacy soon after it happens.
Pack it up, properly
While the next step for some may be just tossing their bottles of pills and prescriptions into their luggage, there should be some planning that goes along with it first.
When it comes to packing, it’s best to place your medications in a carry-on bag rather than a checked bag. As prescriptions are generally something that a person needs, on a regimented and scheduled basis, think about how much of a disappointment it would be when you find out your checked bag with all of your medications was lost or sent to a different location.
In addition to the possible lateness or loss of your checked luggage, there have been cases reported where prescription medicine has gone missing while in transit.
The best way to prevent losing or having your prescription drugs stolen is by placing them in your carry on. If possible, it’s also a good idea to split the sum of your medication between two bags. Whether it is another of yours or a travel companions, it’s a good idea in case one of them gets lost along the way.
Travelers should also consider bringing some extra medication with them, should any travel delays occur during their trip. Experts recommend that people bring whatever amount of pills they need for their stay plus an additional week’s worth of them to ensure that they don’t run out due to unforeseen circumstances.
Traveling domestically doesn’t mean less preparing
While many of you may be thinking, “I’m traveling inside the United States, I won’t need all of that paper work and those precautions.”
Although you may find that the US is a little more laid back than some other countries when it comes to prescriptions, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has rules and regulations that all travelers will need to follow here at home.
The TSA allows travelers to bring both prescription drugs and other medically-required substances, like water or juice, onto their flights. According to the TSA, you may place prescriptions in a 3.4 ounce or smaller container or in a one-quart size plastic bag along with your other personal liquid items. If your prescription medications come in larger containers or bottles, you will need to pack them separately as you will need to declare them. Meaning, if you leave your prescriptions inside of their original bottles, like we suggest in this article, you will have to declare each one to your security screener when you arrive at the airport security checkpoint.
Travelers can tell the security screener that they have prescriptions to declare or they can choose to provide written documentation. As we mentioned above, it may be a good idea to bring along a copy of the prescriptions themselves as well as a written note from your doctor explaining what the drugs are for and that they are prescribed to you. This can help make your screening process go a little bit quicker as there will be far less questions when everything is presented up front.
According to the TSA, the following items are allowed to be brought on an airplane for medical reasons: prescription and over-the-counter medications; water, juice, nutritional beverages and gels that are necessary for a traveler with a medical condition or disability during the flight; frozen gels or liquids, like ice packs, that are required to keep medications cool during travel.
Get on schedule (if necessary)
While some travelers may only be traveling a short distance to their destination, others may be crossing multiple time zones to get to there. If your prescriptions are taken on a schedule, it will be important to translate that schedule over to your new sleep schedule or time zone.
While traveling in the United States can make it easy for travelers to adjust their schedules, international travelers may find it much more difficult as they may not even know the time difference. The Mymedschedule.com website and app is a perfect way for travelers to get scheduling reminders as to when your medications need to be taken, and it’s handy for when you are switching time zones as it will sync to the one that you are in.
You can download the MyMedSchedule App for iPhone on the iTunes store here: “MyMedsSchedule App for iPhone”
Or, if you are using an Android device, you can acquire it from the Google Play Store here: “MyMedSchedule App for Android”
Worst case scenario: your pills are gone, now what?
You’ve taken all the precautions, but somehow you managed to lose your pills, or they were stolen. Now what happens?
If you are in a domestic destination here in the US, it can be far easier to obtain additional medications than when traveling abroad. With many Americans using chain pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens, it can be as easy as heading into one of the local stores and getting a refill. As mentioned above, remember to keep your doctor’s and pharmacist’s phone number with you so that you can reach out to them should you lose a medication and a need to obtain more of it. Keep in mind that this method won’t work while the doctor is out of the office, such as weekends or after hours.
For travelers that lose their medication outside of the US, obtaining a refill on your prescriptions can be a whole lot more difficult. As mentioned above, certain pills may be illegal, names could be different and some prescriptions can come in different dose sizes, which can make it even harder to get the medications you need. Despite all of these roadblocks, however, there are some steps you can take in order to regain the pills you had stolen or lost.
Travel insurance is one of the newest fads in the travel industry. It is designed to cover trip cancellations, lost luggage and other losses that could be incurred while taking a trip. What a lot of people don’t know is that some travel insurance policies also cover medical expenses, including that of replacement prescriptions. You’ll have to shop around to find the best policy for your trip, but consider finding one with medical coverage should you want to be covered in the event of a loss or theft of medications.
Another option in terms of replacing prescriptions in a foreign country is by actually seeing a doctor and getting a new prescription from them. Travelers can call the United States embassy or consulate to obtain information about doctors, and you can always get the number for those locations by checking the U.S. State Department’s website ahead of time. Remember, if you have the letter from your doctor describing what you need and why, as well as the prescriptions themselves, the doctor should be easily able to get you what you need.
Once you’ve visited the doctor, you may find yourself refilling your prescription at a pharmacy that is not part of your health care network, especially if it’s out of the country. When this happens, chances are that you will probably have to foot the bill and pay the full price of the prescription. While this is a tremendous cost upfront, you’ll be able to file an insurance claim when you return home and they should be able to reimburse you for some, if not all, of the costs you put forth. You’ll need the receipts as well as other documentation to submit with your claim.
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