I have been internationally traveling since March 2000. Surprisingly, I didn’t have prescriptions to worry about until a couple years ago. My first international flight was before 9/11, so security wasn’t nearly as daunting. I was only 15 at the time and hadn’t yet started birth control. By the time I took my next flight, I switched from pill form to implant.
As an international traveler for 18 years, you’d think I’d have the answers to everything regarding flights and travel. Man, do I wish that were true! My life would be a breeze!
Recently, I started some major research on flying with medications. Remember when Nick and I honeymooned at Sandals in Jamaica? Here’s what I didn’t tell you: the Monday I returned to work, I had a massive seizure.
I didn’t know the symptoms of possible seizures, as no one else I grew up around suffered from them. Apparently, I’ve been having them for years. This one just happened to become externally visible. The good news is my neurologist and I have them under control now.
Presently, Nick and I are talking about having another romantic vacation outside the USA. Once we decided that, we started saving money for it. In the excitement of planning our trip, I got to thinking about flights and their prices. Which led to TSA and medications. What if I somehow eff-up with my prescriptions when finally getting to the TSA security check?
TSA has a legitimate purpose, but they have several opportunities for improvement. Despite existence as a federal program, every airport TSA in America embraces different ideas on what’s permitted. Ultimately, that leads to flyers pissed off and taking it out on the hard workers of their chosen airline. Although, flyers bear plenty of reasons to be frustrated with airlines as well.
So How Do You Manage to Fly with Your Prescriptions?
Honestly, there are so many variables determining your luck. Unfortunately, it includes the TSA agent’s mood that day. It feels like an overwhelming process to just travel anywhere when you require prescriptions. Of course, it’s easier with my help.
Prescriptions that May Potentially Delay You
I kept coming across nitroglycerin pills during my research. These pills treat a heart condition called Angina. Lots of angry people had their angina prescriptions confiscated. All because different TSA agents at different airports used a judgment call.
The TSA finally officially announced that nitroglycerin pills are allowed on flights. The announcement happened in 2014. Yet, that still hasn’t stopped ill-trained or uninformed agents from seizing them anyway. I suggest clicking on the link, print it out, and highlighting it to avoid unnecessary confiscation.
Liquid, Cream, and Gel Prescriptions
Currently, I can’t think of any examples of these types of medications. With the exception of insulin. Oh, wait! That pink kid’s medicine they sometimes need when they’re little? Yay! I remembered one!
Before starting the screening process, you must tell the officer that you have these types of medicine. It’s a requirement. The good news is they’re not required to take up space in your 3-1-1 bag. The agent may ask you to open the container for further inspection. I think in this instance, it would be a great time to have this TSA Notification Card ready for presentation at the checkpoint.
Currently, medical marijuana cannot cross any state lines in the US. If the federal government would just sign off on medical marijuana as legal in all 50 states, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Since that’s not the case, you’ll need to discuss your alternatives with your doctor for your trip.
I’m so sorry, but just leave it at home. If you can’t travel through state lines, you sure as hell can’t take it on an international flight. I empathize with your pain. I understand your legitimate need for it, but Big Government hasn’t caught up enough to override state laws on marijuana.
Tips to Help You Through the Process
How do you deal with your prescriptions while flying? It seems as if TSA changes something each day regarding what’s allowed. Continue reading how to be on top of TSA’s requirements and still keep your life-saving medicines.
Stay Away from the Daily Pillboxes!
This seems to be an obvious one, but a lot of, er, older people complain about their prescriptions not allowed in carry-ons. Turns out, tons of people forget that you need your original prescription bottle to bring it with you. Many individual states have laws about traveling with medications, such as existing only in the prescription-labeled bottle you received from your pharmacy. Err on the side of caution here. Even if your home state is fine with it, don’t expect your destination state to be the same. Individual state laws and all that can be very wonky.
If you’re on several medications like my mom, then believe me. I understand it’s so much more convenient in the pillbox. Just bring the empty pillbox to fill up once you arrive at your hotel. Don’t forget to empty your pillbox again before your flight home. Otherwise, you may be refilling all your prescriptions when you get back to your home. Not fun for you or your wallet!
TSA doesn’t have time to thumb through everyone’s pillboxes to see if there are 2 Keppra pills per day slot, what’s really just a daily multivitamin and an extra dose of Omega 3’s. You think the lines are long now, imagine that being the process. Yikes!
Official Medical Forms
Have a medical form from your doctor(s) saying your prescriptions are necessary for survival. If your doctor also prescribed you special equipment, you better get that in writing too. Keep multiple copies of each (1 set in the checked baggage, a set in the carryon, and one more in your personal item (laptop sleeve or purse).
As an American, I HATE the idea of having to basically release private health information to strangers just to fly. I personally believe it’s against our rights to privacy within the US. However, it’s currently the name of the “safety” game.
Remember that heart-wrenching scene in Tom Hanks’ movie, “The Terminal?” You know the one. It’s where a foreign visitor has brought prescriptions necessary for his ill father and the airport security personnel gets Viktor to translate?
That scene where the traveler is nearly punished for not knowing the proper forms to fill out keeps me on edge. I don’t want to experience that in real life at all. So I plan thoroughly for my documents than what is deemed necessary. I won’t take the chance. I personally have little trust in airports having fluent translators on standby for just these types of situations.
Just get that medical form translated to the official language of the country you’re visiting beforehand. If you’re visiting a country without an official language (like the USA), find out what the most popular language is for that region.
Not sure where to start? Call your doctor’s office and ask if they know of a reputable company to translate your prescriptions into another language? See if they can handle that on your behalf. If they can do it, find out the fees.
What if the doctor (nor the hospital she has privileges at) can’t help with the translation process? I suggest contacting other major hospitals. Worst case scenario, you dust off that unused copy of the Yellow Pages.
Once you find your translator, get them to provide a Certification by Translator. The US Department of State has a great example of a Certification by Translator.
Have a Backup Plan
Unfortunately, TSA members have authority to make judgment calls on the medicine you need. It’s mind-blowing how much authority they’re given over the health of others, despite lack of medical backgrounds.
See, a glaring opportunity for improvement found right here. This is where they should hire someone with a medical background, like a nurse to have a higher ranking say on health-related issues during the screening process.
Instead, we’re stuck amidst many agents with massive power trips. Due to their over the top egos, it seems they are the most likely to confiscate your medical necessities. Or quick to question us threateningly with “Do you want to fly today?” when we dare offer insight into our health-related requirements.
In the event of confiscation, have a paper prescription ready. Yes, you should get this translated if you’re going into a country where English isn’t first the language. Yeah, I know. You’re absolutely right. You shouldn’t have to go to these extremes. Do it anyway.
Once you’ve got your prescriptions and proof of necessity translated, you should feel a little bit of relief. Provide both English and the Translated copies for inspection.
Does Your Pharmacy have Stores in the Location You’re Visiting?
Ask about the temporary transfer process before your trip. I currently use CVS here in the states. On their app, I was able to transfer my prescription from Jackson, MS to my new hometown in Georgia easily. It took me a moment or two to figure it out, but it worked out very well for me. In researching for this article, I found out that CVS now has many locations in Brazil. So, if I end up at Carnival, I know they’ll have me covered there.
In the possible event of your regular pharmacy isn’t servicing your destination, chat with your doctor’s office. More than likely, a nurse will give you a call back to discuss your needs and concerns. Don’t expect them to know if your sleep apnea equipment is illegal in Japan. That’s on the patient/traveler to find out.
If your birth control pills or seizure medicine is illegal in your destination, please talk to your doctor about alternative options to keep you healthy abroad. They may be skeptical of your claims, so go in with resources of your findings. Cultural norms for us may be quite taboo elsewhere. #CultureShock
To make this go smoothly with the nurse, have your hotel address ready to find the closest pharmacy. Actually, you’d do them a service by already picking out a pharmacy before you speak with them. Healthcare providers and their staff are busier than they may seem. Let’s be kind and conscientious of that.
What About Prescriptions in Foreign Countries?
According to the USA Today article, “The Rules for Medication on an Airplane,” the US government strongly encourages flyers to contact the US Embassies. You’ll need to contact all embassies of the countries you plan to visit. Are your prescriptions and equipment allowed there? Keep a copy of the correspondence with you during travel.
The author also suggests a doctor’s letter of your medical conditions they treat. Get them to include any prescriptions you use. Make sure they also provide the generic name of your medications. This will help your case to keep your medical necessities when you met foreign security agents. Now, see? I wasn’t crazy for suggesting this earlier!
It also mentions respirators, portable machines, and oxygen. Finally, learn even more about your destination, such as entry and exit requirements, local laws and customs, and any travel advisories.
Lastly, TSA Cares created a quick video on Traveling with Medication. It’s a “broad strokes” kind of thing but can serve as a refresher if you haven’t flown in a while (or at all).
Don’t Let Prescriptions Ruin Your Travel Plans
You have your TSA Notification Card, translated copies of your medications complete with doctor’s approval, and you know to fill that pillbox after you arrive at your destination. Following these steps should help you get through security checkpoints with little worry. That’s what it’s all about right? You get to enjoy your trip with as few hiccups as possible.
Let me know how everything goes for you, especially if I didn’t cover something here. I don’t claim to know everything, so if there’s something others could benefit from, tell us! I’d love to update to include your knowledge!
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