If you take prescription medication, speak with your medical provider. Some medications may not be available in your host country, may only be available in generic form, or may even be illegal to possess. This is especially true of medications for psychological conditions such as depression and ADD/ADHD, as some of those medications commonly prescribed in the U.S. are not legal abroad.
We recommend reviewing the U.S. Department of State’s Health Information for Americans Abroad page, which includes advice about traveling and prescription medication. You can also contact International SOS to determine if the prescription medication you plan to bring abroad is legal in your host country.
If possible, bring enough medication to last the whole time you are abroad. This is a good idea even for travel on domestic Education Abroad programs, where you may not have easy access to your usual medications. Check with your doctor and/or insurance company ahead of time to determine if you can obtain a large supply in advance; if not, there may be alternative options for you to continue your medication while abroad. You should not stop taking any medications or modifying your medications without first consulting your doctor. Prescription medications vary from country to country in name, potency, and purity, and they may NOT be sent to you through international mail. Keep all medication, including prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, in its original container/packaging. Though it might save space in your luggage to pour all pills into one bag, this can cause major issues at customs as the officers will not be able to identify your medication.
Ask your doctor for a letter to present to customs officials and overseas medical providers explaining what you need to take, including a generic breakdown (not just a generic name) of the medication. Additionally, pack copies of all of your prescriptions and health information, especially information about diabetes or any allergies you may have. Remember to have allergy and diabetes notifications as well as any other important medical alerts translated into the local language, if necessary.
If you wear glasses or contacts, bring a typed copy of your prescription and an extra pair of glasses and/or a sufficient supply of contacts and contact solution. In some countries, contact solution is difficult to find or requires a prescription.
Pro Tip: Key Questions to Consider Regarding Medications
- Is my medication legal in my host country?
- Do I have enough medication to last the entire duration of my program?
- Do I have a letter explaining what medications I take and a generic breakdown of these medications?
- Have I translated my allergy and/or diabetes notifications into my host country's language?
- Have I packed all of my medications and prescriptions, as well as their related information in my carry-on luggage?
In some countries, medications that require a prescription in the U.S. are available over-the-counter and for very little cost. It can be tempting to stock up when the opportunity presents itself. However, some FDA-approved medications have the same brand names as medications that are marketed outside the U.S. but contain completely different active ingredients. No international regulatory system exists to ensure that new brand names are sufficiently different from existing ones elsewhere in the world. This could lead to confusion by pharmacists who are filling prescriptions from outside their country.
Be aware that a Colorado medical marijuana card is not valid outside of Colorado. Additionally, laws in the State of Colorado, including the legalization of marijuana, do not apply abroad or in other U.S. states. In many countries, marijuana laws are strictly enforced and can carry serious consequences. Travelers (even with a U.S. prescription for marijuana) can be arrested, prosecuted, and/or deported, if in possession of an illegal substance. Review the Drugs & Alcohol webpage for more information.
Last Updated January 2023
Photo, Scotland by Mikayla Jassem
Photo, Scotland by Mikayla Jassem