A Guide for Taking Medication Abroad on Holiday


We all want to holiday in the prime of life, but there are occasions when we need a little bit of help to feel our best. Taking medication abroad is a matter of careful planning prior to departure, ensuring you aren’t in contravention of any rules and regulations surrounding the contents of your luggage, as well as keeping your healthcare properly organised while away from home.

In this guide, we give you the lowdown on how to take medication abroad on holiday, answering the frequently asked questions we get on this often-forgotten aspect of holiday prep.

Am I allowed to travel over international waters with my medication?

Yes, depending on the type and quantity of medication you need. Check with your flight operator or cruise line prior to boarding, as certain ingredients may be restricted by your final destination. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

What is the law regarding taking medication abroad?

The law varies from country to country, but the most stringent legislation surrounding banned substances tends to be in Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Codeine, for example, is prohibited in Dubai, and anyone found in possession of it can be severely penalised. We recommend that you study up before you go – or call the travel operator to find out if your medication is on the controlled substances list.

Am I permitted to take medication abroad on board an aircraft?

The Government states that there are no limits to the amount of prescription and non-prescription liquids, aerosols and gels you can take in your carry-on baggage for a domestic flight, but that medication packed for international travel must be limited to a ‘reasonable quantity’. This is defined as an amount that will cover you for the duration of your flight and any instance where you may be delayed.

Taking medication abroad | Cruise1st UK

Am I permitted to take medication abroad on board a ship?

The rules around medication on board a cruise ship tend to be more lenient than those for air travel, since your journey takes place over a longer period. All gels, liquids, tablets and aerosols are permitted, and you are generally advised to bring as much as you need for the duration of your time aboard.

Which medications could cause issues at border control?

The two classes of drugs that authorities tend to flag are psychotropics and narcotics, which contain mind-altering and pain-relieving properties. However, in some countries, even birth control pills and antihistamines are classed as controlled substances, so must be approached with caution. It is always best to check the regulations in each country ahead of time, so you know you won’t be bringing contraband through customs.

What do the major cruise lines say about bringing aboard medicine?

We’ve looked through a fair few policy pages and compiled the key details on taking medication abroad onboard a cruise ship, so you can travel with complete peace of mind.

Royal Caribbean “Bring all the medicines you need for your trip, as once you’re on board, you won’t be able to stock up.”
P&O Cruises “Anyone travelling with medications, including syringes, should bring their prescription with them. All medications need to be kept in their labelled dispensing bottles or packages. If the medications are considered to be controlled or injectable drugs, it is also advisable to carry a doctors’ note.”
Carnival Cruises “Bring enough medication and medical supplies to last the duration of their cruise. The medical facilities on board will not be able to refill prescriptions or provide the use of medical equipment. If your medication is a prescribed narcotic, you must hand carry the original container and prescription. Please hand-carry your medications and medical supplies rather than placing them in your checked luggage.”


How should I pack my medicines?

In their original containers, with labels affixed to ensure they are easily identifiable. Plastic is preferable in case of damage in transit. You may wish to bring along a pill organiser for your cabin, so you can keep track of where you’re up to. Make sure you put all medication in your hand luggage to prevent loss should your hold luggage go missing.

Taking medication abroad | Cruise1st UK

Where can I store medication that needs to be refrigerated?

Most cruise lines equip their cabins with a small refrigerator, and you can store any perishable medicines in here at your convenience. If you can’t fit everything in your fridge, contact the cruise line to see if they can arrange further cold storage. They should try to accommodate you in any way possible, as the health of a passenger is top priority.

Other things to consider

Safe and properly administered medication is only one part of maintaining your health while onboard a ship. You also need to think about the kinds of climates you will enter, as different temperatures and air qualities can have a profound effect on your general wellbeing. Colder temperatures tend to push the blood flow into the body’s core, which can make your blood pressure rise, while hotter temperatures can induce sunburn, heat stroke, oedema and exhaustion. These symptoms may cause a contraindication with your medicine, so take care to plan accordingly for the weather and temperatures you will experience during your trip.

And another thing – do you get seasick? If so, you will need to factor in anti-motion-sickness tablets and take them before your other medications. Most cruise line stores carry this readily available remedy, so even if you run out, you should be able to restock.

What to do if you don’t have the medicine you need

It may be a simple case of losing your medicine, your supplies running out, or accidentally bringing a restricted substance into the country. In either case, having no access to the medicine you require can be problematic at best. Depending on what you take your medicine for, this could have serious repercussions for your wellbeing, so it’s wise to have a contingency plan in case things turn pear-shaped.

If your medicines have been lost or stolen, the first thing to do is contact someone back home for help. Your travel insurance policy may be a good place to start, as the representatives will be able to contact your doctor and advise on a solution.

It’s also wise to pack a note from your doctor which explains the types of medicines you need and the active ingredients in them. It may be best to carry a copy of this letter on your person and separate to your medicine, so you have some semblance of what you need to replace if one goes missing. If you do manage to find a medical centre that can assist you in repurchasing some or all of your remedies, make sure you show them your letter. Just bear in mind that dosages and brand names could be different, so always read the label before administering your medication.

Nobody wants to feel unwell on holiday, and for some of us, maintaining that equilibrium is down to the medicine we take. Health is important at the best of times, but even more so when you’re not on home turf, as your options can become limited. Some sage piece of advice before your holiday – organise your medications rigorously, prepare for potential losses, and have a back-up plan in case you run into difficulty. Safe sailing!

Cruise1st UK is a leading provider of cruise holidays aboard the world’s greatest liners. For a full range of deals, head over to our homepage or give our friendly customer care team a call on 0808 2746 777.


About Author

Avatar photo

Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

Comments are closed.