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Of the many logistical considerations for traveling abroad, what’s in your toiletry bag probably doesn’t top the list. But it should—especially if you have a chronic health condition and/or require prescription medication—because there may be essential documentation you need before you go.

As The Points Guy reports, many common medications that are prescribed for managing everything from sleep and allergies to anxiety and ADHD are considered controlled substances (or illegal) in other countries and require additional documentation if you plan to cross international borders. In some cases, you even need to apply for a permit in advance.

While you could just hope your luggage isn’t inspected by customs officials, you probably shouldn’t risk it. At best, they could seize medication you need and can’t replace while you’re abroad—at worst, you could be fined or even face jail time.

How to travel with prescription medication

At the very least, you should always follow the CDC’s basic guidelines for traveling abroad with medicine. Keep all medication in its original packaging with the label that shows the prescription name, dosage, provider’s name, and your full name, and bring copies of all written prescriptions. If any of your meds are considered controlled substances, or if you carry injectables such as an Epi-Pen or insulin, you should also have a treatment plan or note from your doctor outlining their use.

Some medication types that may have additional restrictions include narcotics, psychotropics, hormones (including birth control pills), nutritional supplements, and those with specific ingredients (including OTC meds) like codeine, pseudoephedrine, and diphenhydramine

Check destination-specific regulations

Depending on the country you’re traveling to or through, a valid prescription may not be enough to avoid legal trouble. In Japan, for example, some medications that are available over the counter in the US or commonly prescribed for pain, allergies, and mental health conditions (including anything containing amphetamines) are illegal. You must obtain a “Yunyu Kakunin-sho,” or importation certificate, for these drugs in advance of arrival from the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan.

There are a handful of other countries that require permits for certain controlled medications:

  • China

  • Hong Kong

  • Singapore

  • South Korea

  • Thailand

  • United Arab Emirates

This list is not exhaustive, and the restrictions vary across countries. In some cases, there are also limits to the quantity or supply you can travel with, which you’ll need to consider if you’re planning to be abroad for an extended time. Other countries, like Australia, may not require a separate permit but are strict about having documentation from your prescribing physician.

If you’re heading to Europe, you may need a Schengen certificate for medication covered by the Opium Act, which includes some painkillers, sleeping pills, medical cannabis, and stimulants, in addition to any country-specific authorizations.

Before you travel, check the US embassy website for your destination, which will have guidelines for importing medication and direct you to any permits required. You can also look up regulations through the International Narcotics Control Board, though this information may not be the most updated.

Make a plan with your provider

Again, if you face restrictions or supply limitations at your destination—which can make traveling with a chronic condition especially challenging—make a detailed plan with your provider to ensure your medical needs are met. Have copies of all documentation with you and in your carry-on.

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