If you use pain relievers or common over-the-counter medications, or if your health depends on regular doses of prescription drugs, this should be at the top of your ‘to do’ list when planning a vacation or trip, along with purchasing adequate travel insurance and checking passport and visa requirements.

These days, security at airports around the world is so tight that you might even have trouble getting over-the-counter (OTC) drugs into another country, let alone the prescription drugs you need. Ask your doctor for a written confirmation to take with you that explains why you need to take the medicines. You will need this document to get your medication or medical equipment through airport security and customs. Diabetics who carry syringes should take special care to have their documentation in order.

Some over-the-counter allergy and sinus medications, cough syrups, products like Vicks inhalers, and codeine-containing pain relievers could cause problems at airport security. Common over-the-counter pain relievers that contain codeine include: Panadol Ultra, Nurofen, and Paracodol Plus. In some countries, airport officials won’t be happy if they find them in your luggage, and pleading ignorance is no excuse! Countries with strict rules regarding medications include Cuba, Japan, Uzbekistan, and the United Arab Emirates. In the United Arab Emirates, many commonly used household medications are considered controlled substances and you must obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Health before bringing them into the country. The rules often differ for visitors and residents.

If you are traveling with prescription drugs, it is important to declare them on the Customs Declaration form, and even more so if you are carrying a large supply that may exceed a country’s legal limit. Failure to do so could result in arrest and even criminal prosecution.

Always pack your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, in your carry-on. Give them the same level of importance as your passport, travel documents, travel money and travel insurance policy. Your medications must be kept in the original container or bottle, with the original label attached (leave the pretty pill box at home).

Although pharmacies in other countries should be able to replace any lost medication, it could be a huge problem unless you are prepared for such an event. For example, the drug may have a different name, be unavailable, or banned, and unless you speak the language, you could be in for a very difficult time.

Talk to your pharmacist or doctor well before you leave and ask them to write down the names by which your prescription and over-the-counter medicines are known in the countries you plan to visit. They should also note the dosage and the name and contact information of the prescribing physician. This will be helpful if your medication supply is lost or stolen.

If you have any medical problems or conditions, always consult your doctor in advance to get an approval that you are fit to travel. You may need shots or a tetanus booster. Some treatment courses take weeks to complete and can cause side effects.

When purchasing travel insurance, it is very important to declare all pre-existing medical conditions. Depending on the condition (or combination of conditions), your travel insurance premium may increase. However, don’t be tempted to under-report any conditions, as failure to do so could invalidate insurance for any related claims. This would be a false economy and could result in a lot of unnecessary spending.

Your doctor should be able to prescribe enough of your medicine to last up to three months. If your travel plans are longer than this, or indefinite, you should check well in advance that your doctor is willing to provide you with enough supplies. If you have any questions about taking your medicines to another country, consult your doctor or pharmacist, or visit the website of the embassy of the country you plan to visit, or contact them for advice. If you need special medical equipment, such as oxygen, you’ll also need to contact your airline for permission.

European Health Insurance Card holders should carry the card with them when visiting a member country, but it should never be used as a substitute for comprehensive travel insurance. The EHIC provides free emergency medical treatment at government facilities (not private hospitals). However, keep in mind that you may need to pay for your prescriptions upfront and request reimbursement when you return home. It is important to allow extra money for medical emergencies in your vacation budget. Remember that the TSE and your travel insurance only cover emergency medical treatment while traveling, without traveling abroad specifically for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment.

If you are going on a cruise, keep in mind that medical care is usually not free on cruise ships. It is important to have adequate travel medical insurance. Bring adequate supplies of your medications, as obtaining them once on board could be troublesome and expensive. If you have to pay in advance for medical services or medications on excursions along the way, check your travel insurance policy to request reimbursement.

We recommend that British citizens check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for the latest government travel advice as part of your excellent Know before you go Campaign. His tips include information on taking prescription drugs to other countries.

No matter where in the world you travel to, it’s important to remember that medical treatment is usually not free, unless there is some kind of reciprocal agreement, and then you may only provide emergency treatment. Your embassy will not bear these costs and without proper comprehensive travel insurance you could have to pay a lot out of pocket. Why take the chance and risk ruining your vacation?