It would be a bitter pill to swallow if you went on holiday to a foreign country and had all your luggage and medicine lost. Would you know what to do? If your wellbeing or your life depends on taking regular doses of your medicine then you can’t afford to take any chances when travelling.
It can be baffling trying to organize taking your prescription medicines abroad with you. One important tip is to always carry the medicines in your hand luggage with your travel documents, money, and other important items (it’s not a good idea to take out the doses you’ll need during the flight and pack the rest in your luggage!) Keep all the medicines in your hand luggage for the duration of the journey in case your checked luggage is lost or misdirected. The medicine should always be kept in its original bottle or package, with the label affixed showing your name, prescribing doctor, and dosage information.
A little preparation before you leave will lessen the need for panic if the worst should happen – and also avoid you missing a dose. Most medicines should be available at pharmacies abroad, but be aware that they may be known by a different name. (The same applies for many over-the-counter medicines, such as allergy pills and pain killers). Before you leave, ask your chemist to provide written instructions about your medicine, the dose, and the name it is called in the country you plan to visit. Visit your GP well in advance of your trip to talk about any necessary vaccinations for your trip – especially if you have a medical condition which might complicate things – as the courses can take weeks or months to complete.
Another tip is to get the go-ahead from your doctor before you book your trip, and make sure that you will be able to obtain travel insurance to cover your pre-existing conditions. There are upper age restrictions on many travel insurance policies, and all pre-existing medical conditions must be declared. If a travel insurance company agrees to cover the risk associated with your condition there may be an additional fee to pay. Some insurers will not accept any pre-existing conditions at all, so the process of finding a suitable policy could take some time and you may need to shop around.
Your GP is permitted to prescribe up to a maximum of three months supply of most medicines for your travels. If you have an extended trip planned check to make sure that your doctor is willing to do this before you book. For all prescription medications you will need to obtain a letter from your doctor to take with you, especially for items such as diabetes equipment – syringes, etc. With the tight security at airports these days, you are likely to encounter problems if you try to get through without back-up documentation to vouch for your medicines and medical equipment.
If you take controlled drugs (such as methadone) check the rules for taking them into foreign countries as there may be restrictions. A letter from your doctor must be obtained, and if you plan to be gone for more than three months you will also need to obtain a personal license to carry the drugs. If in doubt about any medicine or medical equipment, check with your doctor, travel agent or airline or get in touch with the embassy of the country you plan to visit. HM Revenue & Customs provides useful information on their website. The Department of Health is a great resource, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website also contains a lot of useful tips about travel (especially the ‘Know Before You Go’ section).
Although it’s a good idea to apply for your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you should never rely solely on it, but always purchase a private travel insurance policy as well. Some countries do have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, but many do not. In most cases you will be required to pay for prescribed medicines and apply for reimbursement when your return home. Your private insurance may pick up any of the non-reimbursable payments you have to make out of pocket. It is important to remember that the EHIC and your private travel insurance policy will only cover treatment which becomes necessary during your trip abroad due to illness or an accident. It will not cover you if you travel abroad for the specific purpose of receiving medical treatment.
As a last tip, it’s a good idea to print out detailed information of what is and is not covered medically in the countries you plan to visit and take it with you. Always check for up-to-date advice and information before you leave. If you have access to the internet, type in EHIC, or check the Department of Health website for more information. A spoonful of sugar won’t help the medicine go down or improve your mood if it gets lost abroad and you have no idea how to replace it!