Travelling with medication and medical devices overseas can be difficult. You may have trouble finding some things you need overseas. You may also have trouble taking what you need with you on your flight or cruise.
Some medication could be illegal in your destination. Locally bought medication can be poor quality or counterfeit, or some just hard to find, especially if they're not widely accepted in the local culture.
Plan ahead. Get the information you need before you go. When you're informed, you can take steps to reduce the risk of having problems with medication or medical equipment while you're away.
Before you travel, make sure you:
- see your doctor or travel clinic for medical advice
- get travel insurance
- learn about Australian laws
- learn about the local laws around medication
- find out any cultural considerations about your medication or condition
- pack enough medication to stay in good health on your trip
- check whether your airline or cruise ship have restrictions on your medical equipment or mobility aids
- make emergency plans in case things go wrong.
This page is for Australians planning to travel overseas with medication or medical equipment. If you're already overseas and need medical supplies, see our general advice on medical assistance overseas.
1. See your doctor
Consider your physical and mental health before you travel. Especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. You could put your health at risk if you run out of medication while you're away.
See your doctor or travel clinic to:
- have a basic health check-up
- ask if your travel plans may affect your health
- plan any vaccinations you need
- make sure you have enough medication to cover your needs overseas, and a bit more to cover any unforeseen events.
Do this at least 8 weeks before you leave.
Authorities overseas may ask for evidence to prove the medication is yours. Ask your doctor for a letter stating:
- what the medicine is
- how much you'll take
- that it's for personal use.
If you have a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor about how you will manage it while you're away. For more information, see our general advice on vaccinations and preventative health.
2. Get travel insurance
You need insurance to travel overseas. Check if your insurer will cover:
- pre-existing conditions
- replacing a medical device if it's lost, damaged or stolen
- seeing a local doctor
- medical evacuation.
If you want cover for prescription medication you may need a specialised insurance policy. Most insurers won't cover the cost of prescription medication. This includes:
- if your bag is lost or stolen and your medication was inside
- if you are hospitalised and need a prescription medication.
Some countries have a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. This covers essential medical care. It might not cover the cost of medication you need while you're away. You will still need travel insurance to visit these countries.
3. Understand Australian law
You can only take prescription medicine out of Australia if it's for personal use and limits apply. This includes medicines supplied under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Find out if there are laws or restrictions on how much PBS-subsidised medication you can take overseas.
4. Understand the law in your destination
Not all medicine you take in Australia is available in other countries. Some common medicines may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance. Commonly restricted drugs include:
- amphetamines, such as ADHD medications
- medical marijuana/cannabis
- opioid-based painkillers, such as codeine
- medication containing pseudoephedrine, such as cold and flu tablets
- sleeping pills
- anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications.
If you're taking medication with you, confirm it's legal in your destination or if any rules or restrictions apply. Depending on your medication, you may need to apply for a permit to bring it to your destination.
What you can do:
- Contact the consulate or embassy of your destination. Ask their advice.
- Talk to your doctor if your medication is illegal in your destination. Ask if there's an alternative they can prescribe.
- Always carry medication in its original packaging.
5. Learn about local culture and attitudes
Attitudes and beliefs about some illnesses and medication can be negative in other countries. This includes attitudes and beliefs about seizures and mental health episodes.
It also includes attitudes toward reproductive health. Even if contraception is legal there, some doctors and pharmacists may refuse to supply it.
- Find out if your medication is controversial in your destination. You may wish to be discreet about it.
- Find out if your mental illness is generally accepted in your destination. If it isn't, you may have trouble refilling scripts for it.
- Research your destination. Explore online resources for people with your condition or medication. Read the health section in our travel advisory.
It's important you respect your destinations' culture and attitudes, even if you don't agree with them. If you don't, you could find yourself in trouble. The Australian Government is limited in how and when it can help you. See the Consular Service Charter.
6. Pack enough for your trip
You may not be able to refill your script easily in your destination. If possible, pack enough medication to last your whole trip. If you're going for a long time, make sure the quantity you're taking is within the law.
Medication and equipment that are cheap in Australia can cost a lot more overseas, especially if your items are subsidised by the Australian Government. This includes items subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- If it looks like you're taking a lot, local authorities could suspect you plan to sell it. You could be arrested or jailed for carrying or using drugs. Check the law.
- You may need to prove it's for you. Keep a copy of your script or a letter from your doctor with your medication, and if possible keep the medication in its original pharmacy packaging.
- Don't risk losing it all. If you keep all your medication together and your bag is lost or stolen, you could be stuck without any. Keep a quantity of your medication is a separate bag, just in case.
If you do run out while you're overseas, you need to know how to get more. Read our advice about getting medical assistance overseas. See the 'Health' section of your destination's travel advisory for local health care information.
7. Check restrictions on medical equipment
Restrictions often apply to assistance animals, battery-operated devices and sharps. This includes syringes.
Most airlines will require you to check in your wheelchair.
Talk to your airline or cruise about what restrictions may apply. Make sure you can:
- take the equipment you need
- access toilets and other facilities
- get the right support from the crew.
See our advice for travellers with a disability.
8. Make emergency plans
Talk to the people you're travelling with about your and their medical needs. You may need to support each other if one of you gets sick overseas.
Have an action plan. If you carry emergency medication or use any medical or mobility aids, show your travelling companions what to do.
Know local emergency contact numbers. You can find these in our travel advice for your destination.
Consular services and health
You're responsible for managing your health and access to medication and medical equipment while overseas.
The Australian Government is limited as to how and when we can help. Read the Consular Services Charter for more information.
What we can do
- We can provide consular help in a medical emergency.
- We can provide details of local doctors and hospitals.
- We can, in some destinations, provide a list of pharmacies.
- We can contact friends or family on your behalf, if you consent.
- We can transfer you to telephone counselling services.
What we can't do
- We can't give you medical advice.
- We can't guarantee your health and safety.
- We can't pay for your medication and medical expenses overseas.
- We can't recommend local doctors or hospitals to write you a script.
- We can't recommend a local pharmacy to refill your script.
- We can't get you out of jail if local authorities suspect you're carrying or using drugs.
- Read our general advice on vaccinations and preventative health.
- See our advice for mature travellers or those travelling with children.
- Know what happens if you're suspected of carrying or using drugs and arrested or jailed overseas.
- See our advice for people travelling with a disability or a mental health condition.
- Read about about Australia's reciprocal health care agreements.