How to travel with medicines: healthy, legally and safely
Travelling with medicines
‘How do I travel with medicines - and still travel light?’
I get asked that question a lot - so I researched what the airlines and other authorities advise. This is what I found out.
The Australian Prescriber provides an excellent overview of travellers’ medical obligations and expectations, particularly for contraception, diabetes, travellers’ diarrhoea, taking medical kits and purchasing (or not) medicines overseas. In addition to these, the Prescriber provides essential tips when travelling with medicines:
take prescribed drugs in their original containers
carry medicines in your hand luggage for easy access
be aware that airlines will not provide refrigeration for any medicines
you will need a doctor’s letter of proof stating that you are under treatment
in general, a six-month supply of medicines is not questioned
I sourced Qantas medical clearance guidelines to read what Australia’s national carrier advises. If you are concerned whether you’d be able to travel, these comprehensive guidelines cover the following conditions - and the clearance required:
ear, nose and throat
pregnancy and newborn
contagious and infectious
Qantas does not provide any advice about carrying extra weight (for medicines) as part of your carry on luggage. Their assumption is that you will always travel with hold luggage.
I emailed Qantas to ask whether passengers could take their medications in a separate small bag as part of their carry on (and whether the weight of that bag would be taken into consideration). This is what their representative said:
“The 7kg limit is per carry on item and carry on item is based on Cabin and tier level.
“The passenger could be directed to the link on QF.com re cabin luggage.
“The information on QF.com states that a second bag eg small handbag, laptop bag etc can also be taken onboard therefore so long as the medication conforms to that principle a second item can be taken onboard.” https://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/carry-on-baggage/global/en#carry-on-baggage-allowances
The Qantas representative confirmed my understanding that passengers could take their medications as part of their carry on luggage in an extra small bag in lieu of a handbag (or any of those other items mentioned). This is good news as long as you can manage to fit all of your medications into that small bag.
Most major airlines provide medical clearance information. For example, British Airways provides advice for medical conditions and pregnancy. In addition to this, British Airways also provides information for carrying additional medical equipment:
“If you need to take any essential medical supplies with you on your journey that will exceed your hold baggage allowance, up to two extra bags (of 23kg each) can be authorised at the airport when you check your bags in. Please ensure that you provide an official medical letter signed and dated by your personal doctor/medical practitioner stating the following:
a) Your name and flight information including booking reference details.
b) List of medical supplies/medication to be carried and what their purpose is.
c) Approximate weight/number of the items to be carried.
d) Name and contact phone number/email of your physician or medical practitioner.” https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/travel-assistance/medical-conditions-and-pregnancy
I could not find any advice for carrying medicines as part of travellers’ carry on luggage. As always, I advise you to get in touch with the airlines to establish their specific guidelines.
If you are unsure whether your medicines are legal in all countries, it might be useful to read the International Narcotics Board advice in their Guidelines for national regulations concerning travellers under treatment with internationally controlled drugs. Travelling and clearing customs can be stressful and it’s helpful to know that you are not contravening any laws.
In summary for light travellers
While Planepack cannot provide any medical advice, it does seem to me that travellers may travel with medications - providing they have clearance - as part of their carry on luggage. The advice from Qantas - and hopefully other airlines - is that travellers may take their approved medications in a separate small personal bag in lieu of one of the following:
“In addition to your carry-on baggage allowance, you may also carry onboard one small personal item such as a handbag, laptop computer, overcoat, small camera, a reasonable amount of reading material or a small amount of duty free goods (where permitted).” https://www.qantas.com/au/en/travel-info/baggage/carry-on-baggage.html
About the author
I’m Slobodanka Graham, content entrepreneur and extreme light traveller.
If you like to listen to Planepack radio, you can hear this article - and more - via the audio link below: