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Restrictions on travelling with medicines
  1. James Cave, DTB Editor-in-Chief
  1. GP The Downland Medical Practice
  1. Correspondence to James Cave; jcave{at}

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Key learning points

  • Restrictions on the carriage of medicines (including controlled drugs) vary from country to country.

  • The International Narcotics Control Board and the International Society of Travel Medicine publish details of national regulations on travelling with controlled drugs.

  • A Home Office personal import/export licence is required if a traveller is carrying a supply of controlled drugs (into or out of the UK) that will last more than 3 months or will be travelling with controlled drugs for 3 months or more.

  • Travellers must check the local rules that apply to the transport of medicines for each country they enter and leave.

  • Travellers must check whether airlines or airports have additional requirements for the transport of medicines.


High-profile cases of British tourists arrested for carrying medicines across international borders have highlighted the risks associated with travelling without appropriate authorisation.1,2 With an estimated 1.2 billion international journeys each year and an increase in the number of people with long-term conditions travelling abroad, the potential for mishap is great.3–5 Restrictions on the carriage of drugs, particularly those categorised as controlled, vary from country to country, and travellers need to be aware of the rules that apply to the transport of medicines in and out of each country visited. Nevertheless, clear guidance on the rules for travelling with medicines can be difficult to find. This article provides an overview of the national and international rules that govern the movement of drugs. Although much of the focus will be on controlled drugs, it also includes restrictions on carrying medicines on aeroplanes and highlights areas of uncertainty.

Background to controlled drugs

Prior to 1961 there were no international rules or laws regarding the movement of controlled drugs across the globe. This changed with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that introduced checks on the movement of specific drugs, but was …

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  • Competing interests Please visit the DTB webste to access the competing interests statement:

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Online supplementary material is available online. Please visit the journal website