Air Travel with Medications 101

Flying with your meds just got a lot easier. Here are the tips you need to stay on the TSA’s good side. Take our advice to avoid any stress or inconvenience at airport screening or in a foreign country while you’re traveling.

travel medicine

To carry-on or to check. That is the question.
If your medications are in capsule/pill form, there’s no question. You can bring as much as you need in either your checked bags or carry-on. If they’re in liquid form, under 3.4 oz (the size allowed) and will fit in a quart bag, you’re also not required to declare them. While it’s not strictly a requirement, we do recommend keeping medicine in their original packaging so labels, prescriptions and dosages are crystal clear

You are also under no obligation to adhere to the 3.4 oz size rule – you’re allowed to travel with required medications of any required quantity. So if you need to bring larger quantities or just prefer them not to count against your 3.4 oz baggie “allowance,” feel free to let the TSA agent know what you’re carrying. Just allow extra time for clearing security – you will be subject to additional screening if you exercise this right, and don’t get crazy. If you’re traveling for a week but bring a 2-month supply it could raise some eyebrows at screening or even require you to downsize in the moment. With prescription costs being what they are these days, that would be a shame.

In the end, it doesn’t make too much of a difference whether you check or carry-on. But carry-on gets a slight edge in our book, mainly because checked bags don’t always make it where you’re going. The risk of that inconvenience (especially internationally) makes going the carry-on route a bit more of a safe bet.

airport screening

International Travel Requires More Research and Precautions
When you’re returning from an international trip, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol does require that medications be in their original containers, clearly labeled with your M.D.’s name.

In addition, not every country has the same rules for importing medications. Many countries have worked hard to establish consistent screening procedures for medications – countries in the European Union, as well as Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom all have fairly reciprocal processes. Having said that, not every country fits into this tidy model so you should do your due diligence.

A three-pronged approach will assure you won’t run afoul of local authorities or have to relinquish your medications upon entry. First, keep those meds in their original packaging, with the prescription labels, if possible. Next, a doctor’s note that clearly explains the active ingredient of each medication in the local language is a degree of transparency that can help your case. Also, if you need to procure more medicine while abroad (stuff happens), you’ll be armed with a roadmap for pharmacists. Finally, it’s never a bad idea to just contact your local embassy beforehand to find out if there are any restrictions for travel with your particular medicine.

Use All Your Tools: Talk to Your Doctor
Give yourself a good 4-6 week jumpstart on your trip, especially if you have a lot of medications and know you’re traveling to a country with heavy restrictions (Japan and the United Arab Emirates come to mind). Or better yet, just touch base with your doctor or pharmacist regardless – they have the resources to help you determine what the lay of the land is in a foreign country.

Don’t be Afraid to Escalate
If you run into screening difficulties, or a TSA agent doesn’t seem to be understanding your prescriptions, it doesn’t hurt to ask to speak with a supervisor. This shows your commitment to transparency and willingness to undergo additional scrutiny. Sometimes a junior agent might not have necessary experience or is proceeding with a bit of extra caution due to oversight concerns. A supervisor has more latitude.

Ok, so that covers medications pretty comprehensively. What other “medically required” items make the carry-on cut?
You can bring breast milk and baby formula, ice packs or frozen “gels” (to keep your prescriptions cold, if necessary), mastectomy products, and any items that can be considered “liquid nutrition” for a person with a medical condition (this includes water, juices and gels).

For official information about traveling with medications, you can check out the TSA blog for the most up-to-date information. Up next: with so many changing state regulations, what are the rules for traveling with cannabis/marijuana domestically?

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