Refilling a prescription can be tricky when you're abroad. Here's what to do.

By Alison Fox
October 31, 2019

Your medication is one of the most important things to remember to pack when you go on vacation. It’s part of that necessary mental checklist we go through right before jetting out the door: Do I have my passport? Do I have my phone? Do I have my medication?

If you forget something like toothpaste or a bathing suit, you can likely buy a substitute wherever you’re going, even if you're heading overseas. Medication, on the other hand, tends to be much more complicated to replace, and in many situations, it's too risky to simply go without for a few days. 

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Tullia Marcolongo, the executive director of the non-profit International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), told Travel + Leisure that while there are things you can do if you forget or lose your medication while traveling, being ready for this situation is key — and being armed with the knowledge of what you need to do to stay healthy while abroad doesn't hurt, either.

“Our advice is to be prepared before you travel. It’s very important that [travelers] do the research before they go in case they find themselves in an emergency,” Marcolongo said, adding that the most common questions the IAMAT gets are about traveling with medications.

Here are a few of Marcolongo’s tips on how to keep yourself safe and healthy when you travel. 

Before You Travel

Over Pack

The best way to be prepared is to make sure you bring more medication than you’ll actually need for the duration of your trip. But, Marcolongo warns that you should check the restrictions for the country you're heading to, as some have rules against certain controlled substances, including some narcotic and psychotropic medications used for mental health treatment in the U.S.

"Typically, countries allow for a 30-day supply for those controlled substances," she said, suggesting travelers call the embassy to find out the specific country's restrictions.

Check in With Your Pharmacist

Marcolongo said you should connect with your pharmacist before you travel to find out if the medication you take is available in the country you're visiting. The pharmacist will also know if and how that country's version of a medication differs from the one you're on.

Bring the Papers

Bring along a copy of your original prescription as well as a letter from your doctor specifying why you need the treatment, the dosage you are taking, the brand name, and the generic name of the drug. This information will make your medication easier to replace.

Know the Generic Name

Marcolongo said brand names of medications can vary from country to country, but a pharmacist will likely know the generic version of the medication. For example, in the U.S., acetaminophen goes by the brand name Tylenol, but in U.K., the same kind of pain reliever goes by the brand name Paracetamol. If you ask for the generic version, there will be less confusion, and if you follow the step above, you should have this information on-hand anyway.

If You Lose Your Medication Abroad

Find a Doctor

Pharmacists typically will not honor a foreign prescription, so your best bet is to find a doctor where you are. Marcolongo recommends searching for doctors before you travel because, “In an emergency, you’re not thinking straight; you're desperately needing that medication; the last thing you want to do is look for a doctor,” she said.

Ask Your Insurance Company for Recommendations

Ask the insurance company — whether it's your regular health insurance company that happens to cover overseas travel, or a travel health insurance plan you purchased — if there's a doctor in your area. That guidance could make the search a lot easier.

Find a Pharmacy You Trust

Marcolongo recommends filling your prescription at a reputable chain pharmacy or large pharmacy in an urban center to prevent any potential issues, like receiving fake medication, which she said can be very dangerous.

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