Have Questions About Travelling with Medication? The FDA Has Answers

Tips for traveling with medication issued by US Food and Drug Administration

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

Traveling with medication can be tricky — especially when it comes to bringing any into the US from a different country.

To clear up some questions regarding the legality of various situations, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a few tips for people seeking to bring medication into the country.

If Traveling with Medication

When bringing any medication into the US, a person falls under the authority of three agencies — the FDA, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — all of which have agents stationed at US airports. Because restrictions vary between these agencies, a traveler should check with each individually before attempting to bring any medication into the US.

Generally, people need a valid prescription or doctor’s note written in English.

The medication should also be in its original bottle with the doctor’s instructions printed on the label. If the original bottle is lost, a traveler should bring a copy of the prescription or a note from a doctor explaining why he or she needs the medication.

As a general rule of thumb, the FDA allows no more than a 90-day supply to be brought in at one time.

If Shipping Medication

Most of the time, it’s illegal to ship foreign medication into the country for personal use. That's because it hasn’t been evaluated or approved by the FDA to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

However, the FDA says it understands that there are certain cases in which people need to be treated by a drug that is unavailable in the US.

When reviewing an application from someone who seeks to import a foreign medication, the FDA expects the following:

  • The drug is for a serious condition and is not available in the US
  • The drug is not marketed to US residents
  • The drug does not represent a serious health risk
  • The drug is accompanied by a letter stating that it is for personal use
  • The drug is accompanied by a note from a doctor stating that treatment began outside the US, or the name of a US-licensed physician who will supervise its usage
  • The drug is not more than a 3-month supply

If the medication is sent through the mail, Customs may detain the package until an FDA inspector can approve it. This process could take up to a month. The FDA recommends marking the outside of the package with a message saying that it contains a letter to the CBP officer or broker, or sending it by a courier service.

If Seeking a Foreign Generic, or Entering the US as a Foreign Traveler

The FDA does not approve of importing a generic version of any FDA-approved drug. That's because the agency cannot ensure that the drug is a safe, effective alternative, or that it has been properly manufactured and contains the same formula as the FDA-approved version.

The FDA also notes that a foreign traveler hoping to fill a prescription should visit a US healthcare provider — as most US pharmacies will not fill a foreign prescription.

Anyone with remaining questions about the FDA’s policy for traveling with or importing medication can visit the FDA's website. The FDA also encourages people to call or email its Division of Drug Information with additional questions.

Review Date: 
February 4, 2016