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The medication every Aussie traveller should be wary of

Medication is sometimes a necessity of travel. When there’s a sick child around, or that migraine or back ache is flaring up, and you’ve got a full day of travelling ahead, a little symptom relief can go a long way.


But what we would consider legal medication in Australia, can be banned elsewhere and leave a traveller out-of-pocket or even land them in jail. And the medicine we’re talking about isn’t just your ‘harder’ meds like anti-depressants and painkillers.



In some countries, carrying nicotine gum, cold and flu tablets, and even children’s Panadol can land you in hot water. Even if they’re not illegal, travellers are often asked to provide a prescription note or certified approval from a doctor.


To help travellers steer their way through the mire, comparison site analysed drug laws across some of Aussie travellers’ most popular destinations.


Here’s a round-up of what it found:

  • UAE: Common contraceptive pills, nicotine lozenges and children’s Advil or Panadol are banned. In total, there are 70 illegal medicines in the UAE including anything that contains codeine or Valium
  • USA: Addictive narcotics like sleeping pills and antidepressants require a current doctor’s letter
  • Thailand: Codeine and drugs treating ADHD are prohibited
  • Hong Kong: Doctors’ notes are required for controlled substances such as sleeping tablets and anxiety medication
  • Singapore: Nicotine gum, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills and strong painkillers are all prohibited, while medication for diabetes or high cholesterol is banned if you have more than three months’ supply
  • Japan: Similar to Australia, Japan has strict customs rules. In Japan, some cold and flu tablets are banned while medicines containing codeine or morphine need a Narcotic Certificate before entering the country
  • China: Make sure you have a doctor’s note for every medication you’re carrying in China, especially when travelling for more than seven days, as sleeping pills, medication for ADHD, and strong painkillers are prohibited without a prescription
  • Greece: Codeine is banned without a prescription detailing how much is taken and that it is for personal use only 
  • South Korea: As well as a prescription, travellers will need prior approval from the Narcotic Control Division of the Korean Food and Drug Administration for narcotic medications  
  • Russia: A doctor’s letter is required for any medication that contains codeine, while other medications that Aussies can buy over the counter, including cold and flu medication, may also need a prescription


“Even medications that are legal in Australia can attract heavy fines overseas or, in extreme cases, jail sentences in prison environments that might be much harsher than at home. In these instances, travel insurance may not cover you if you are carrying or using drugs that are classified as illegal overseas,” household savings and travel insurance expert Abigail Koch said.


“If you have a medical condition, it is important to talk to your doctor to see if there are alternative medications you can take, and to get a doctor’s letter or prescription before travelling. It’s also crucial to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions and current medical treatments to your travel insurer, and ensure you’re covered for any health issues that may arise while travelling.”


The countries in which Australians were most frequently arrested on illegal drug-related charges in 2017 were the US, Thailand, UAE, China and The Philippines.  


Written by: Mark Harada
Published: 18 September 2018

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