by Warren Heggarty
When you travel away from home, you still need to keep up your medication routine, so it is important to get yourself organised well before you depart. This is especially important if you are going overseas! Four things you may need to consider are supply, legality, documentation and protection.
This one applies no matter where you are going. You need to organise it with your doctor so that you have sufficient supply to cover your whole trip, and make sure your medicine will not exceed the expiry date while you are away. If you run out while away from home, it might not always be a straightforward matter to get a new supply from a strange doctor you’ve never seen before! This is a hassle you do not need on vacation. This applies doubly if you are going overseas.
Keep your medicine in the original packaging wherever possible Most medicines, will remain stable unrefrigerated during the short period of a flight, (Medicare) but check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Some medications are ‘time zone’ sensitive. Insulin dosages, for example, might need to be adjusted to suit the new zone.
The National Prescribing Service in also warns travellers to avoid purchasing medicines in ‘low income’ countries. This is because substandard and even counterfeit medicines are quite common in some parts. (Zwar, 2018)
Complying with the law
There are strict regulations about taking medicines subsidised by the Pharmaceutics Benefits Scheme (PBS) overseas. Medicine must be for personal use, or the use of a person you are accompanying. Generally, a six month supply is OK, but questions may be asked if the supply is for longer. If you need detailed information about this you can check on the Medicare Australia web site. (Medicare)
This site also has information about posting medicines overseas. If you have any doubt about the legality of your medicine in the destination country, check with their embassy before you go.
‘Planning ahead is particularly important for travellers with diabetes’ says Nicholas Zwar writing for NPS Medicinewise. ‘Permission may be needed from the airline to take diabetes equipment (e.g. pen needles, insulin pump consumables, fingerprick devices and lancets) on board the aircraft. In general, all the documentation required by the airline is a doctor’s letter.’
The Office of Drug Control recommends that Australians going overseas carry either a prescription or a doctor’s letter stating that you are under their treatment and that the drugs have been prescribed for your personal use. The doctor’s letter must specify the name and dose of the drugs. Generic drug names are preferable as brand names vary from country to country. There is a helpful pro-forma letter on the Medicare website (above) to help your doctor.
Some destinations have an increased risk of infection and so you will require medicine specifically related to your travel. This category of medicines includes anti-malarials and vaccines. Some doctors might prescribe drugs to combat jet lag, but there is a risk that these might cause confusion or even falls in some people, especially the elderly.
There are plenty of places you can get information about travellers’ sicknesses, such as ‘Bali belly’, also known as ‘Delhi belly’. One of the best ways to minimise this sort of thing is cooking. Avoid uncooked foods, even salads, and never drink or clean your teeth in tap water that has not been boiled! Australians are spoiled because or tap water is among the most pure in the world. Our tummies, however, are not used to the secret ingredients in overseas tap water.
The reason the Ancient Egyptians built a great civilisation is that early on they worked out that if you leave the waters of the Nile for the crocodiles and drink beer instead, you won’t get crook. Or at least, not as crook.
There are various remedies available which claim to protect you from bali belly, however, the most reliable protection might be wash, cook, boil. Wash hands, cook food, boil water.
For the latest information about prescription medicine, including more detailed information about this topic, check the National Prescribing Service web site http://www.nps.org.au
Medicare. (n.d.). Travelling overseas with PBS medicines. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from Australian Department of Human Services:
Zwar, N. (2018, August). Travelling with medicines in 2018. Retrieved from NPS Medicinewise: