Tips for Traveling With Medication

Traveling when you have a chronic pain condition can be challenging. One of the issues you’ll have to contend with if you are flying and/or traveling to another country is how to transport your medications.

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Traveling when you have a chronic pain condition can be challenging. One of the issues you'll have to contend with if you are flying and/or traveling to another country is how to transport your medications. Since the rules vary depending upon whether you are traveling within the U.S. or abroad, we'll look at both instances.

Air Travel Within the U.S.

If you're traveling within the U.S., it's farily straightforward. All legitimate prescription medications, including opioids, are allowed. The specifics as to exactly how they should be transported are laid out below.

When traveling within the U.S., the following items are permitted in carry-on bags:

  • All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including petroleum jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes

  • Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition

  • Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs

  • Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids

  • Gels or frozen liquids needed to cool disability or medically related items used by persons with disabilities or medical conditions

You are not limited in the amount or volume of these items you may bring in your carry-on baggage; BUT if the medically necessary items exceed 3 ounces or are not contained in a one-quart, zip-top plastic bag, they must be declared to a Transportation Security Officer for further inspection.

It is recommended, but not required that:

  • Medications be labeled to assist with the screening process. Ideally, medication should be kept in its original prescription container.

  • You bring along any supporting documentation (ID cards, letter from doctor, etc.) regarding your medication needs.

  • The label on prescription medications should match the passenger's boarding pass. If the name on prescription medication label does not match the name of the passenger, the passenger should expect to explain why to the security officers.

When it comes to footwear:

  • Passengers with disabilities, medical conditions, and prosthetic devices are not required to remove their shoes; however, those who keep their shoes on will be subjected to additional screening that includes a visual/physical and explosive trace detection sampling of their footwear while the footwear remains on their feet.

  • Gel shoe inserts are not permitted to be worn or packed in carry-ons, but may be placed in checked bags.

  • Shoes constructed with gel heels are allowed and must be removed and screened.

For more information about U.S. air travel with a disability or medical condition, here are two good resources:

Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions

Changes in Allowances for Persons with Disabilities at Airport Security Checkpoints

Traveling Abroad

Traveling to other countries can get a bit trickier, particularly if you take opioid pain medications. Most countries have very strict laws about entering the country with narcotics. It is essential that you learn the requirements of the country or countries you will be visiting before you go. You don't want to find yourself in a foreign country without your pain medication.

Here are some additional important tips you should know before traveling to another country:

  • Register your travel plans with the U.S. State Department so they can be better able to help you if there is a crisis. They have a free and secure online service where you can register here: Travel Registration

  • Carry a letter from your physician, describing your medical condition and any prescription medications you take, including the generic name of prescribed drugs. (In other countries, medications may be sold under a different brand name.)

  • Make sure all medications are in their original containers and clearly labeled.

  • Check with the foreign embassy of the country you are visiting to make sure any required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics. You can find contact information for foreign embassies here: Foreign Embassies in the U.S.

  • Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover emergency expenses in foreign countries. If not, consider purchasing supplemental travel medical insurance. (Note: Medicare does not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S.)

  • Learn key words and phrases in the local language for your condition, medications and how to ask for help in an emergency.

  • Remember that your medications may be a target for thieves and should not be left in a hotel room.

  • Remember to allow for time zone changes when timing the doses of your medications.

Other good health-related overseas travel resources:

Medical Information for Americans Abroad

World Health Organization

Planning ahead can make traveling with chronic pain a little easier and your trip a lot more enjoyable.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.