Over-the-counter medicines could land you in jail overseas

Carrying common over-the-counter medicines could land you in jail overseas.

Don’t carry these common medicines

While cold and flu tablets or sleeping pills may be part and parcel of your travel toiletries kit, some over-the-counter drugs freely available in Australia could land you in jail overseas.

Take Codral Original Cold & Flu tablets, for instance. The new formula introduced after Australia’s restrictions on codeine and pseudoephedrine does not contain those two substances. But older packets of Codral Original Cold & Flu tablets do, and they are both substances strictly outlawed in Japan.

Japan is actually one of many countries with strict policies on allowing similar non-prescription medicines into the country. Some countries have hardline attitudes towards these types of drugs, even though they may be legal and freely available in Australia.

“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,” said Abigail Koch, travel insurance expert at comparethemarket.com.au.

Travellers are advised to research in advance any medicines they may need overseas and should obtain doctor’s certificates if the drugs are necessary for comfortable travel. Not doing so could void your travel insurance overseas and, worse, could mean you’re locked up for indefinite periods.

“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,” said Ms Koch.

According to www.comparethemarket.com.au, these are the countries travellers should be wary of when packing any medicines, over-the-counter or otherwise.

United States
Addictive narcotics such as antidepressants or sleeping pills are not allowed without a doctor’s note. Any potentially addictive medicines need to be accompanied by a medical certificate and should remain in a limited supply in their original packaging.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE is one of the toughest countries on medicines. Any drugs included in the 70 banned drugs in the UAE could lead to imprisonment in many Gulf countries. In addition to potentially addictive medicines, nicotine lozenges, Advil, children’s Panadol and contraceptive pills are also on the UAE blacklist. Take note of any medications containing codeine, Valium or Ritalin, or medicine used to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. For medicines deemed absolutely necessary, travellers are allowed to carry enough medication to last 30 days, as long as it is accompanied by a valid certificate.

Restrictions include drugs that contain codeine and medication used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Hong Kong
Possession of sleeping tablets and medications used to treat conditions such as erectile dysfunction or anxiety are illegal without a doctor’s note.

Banned substances include medicinal chewing gum, nicotine gum, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills and strong painkillers, unless accompanied by a valid medical certificate. Medicines used to treat diabetes or high cholesterol are also banned if you have more than 90 days’ supply.

Japan has very strict rules on what’s allowed to pass in and out of the country. ADHD drugs containing dexamphetamine or cold and flu drugs containing pseudoephedrine are strictly banned and could land you in jail. Any medicines containing codeine or morphine also need a medical certificate.

You’ll need a doctor’s note for any medicine you take into China and any amount of medication above a seven-day supply also needs to be verified by a prescription that outlines what the drug is being used for as well as the recommended dosage. You’ll also need a copy of the prescription, as customs may want to keep one for themselves.

Greece takes a particularly hardline stance against medicines containing codeine and you’ll only be able to enter with a prescription outlining the active ingredients of the medicine, its use and its recommended dosage.

South Korea
You’ll need to check any medications with the Narcotic Control Division of the Korean Food and Drug Administration before you pack them. The administration may approve medicines carried into the country by travellers as long as they have a letter or prescription from a doctor.

Over-the-counter medicines such as those containing codeine and pseudoephedrine may need to be accompanied by a doctor’s note or prescription.

Have you ever entered any of these countries with these medications in your bag? Did you go through this process, or were you unaware that they were illegal?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    27th Oct 2018
    Does this mean that if I'm travelling for more than 90 days and transit through Singapore on the way, my extra medication for Diabetes and high cholesterol will be seized? PS I'll be packing my meds and putting them into one of my checked bags, and only having 4 days worth of meds in my carry on.
    27th Oct 2018
    I would check with the your GO. Have a medical letter and the script with you. Check with the airlines Never leaver your medication in checked bags. Luggage could go missing or you may be held up and need your medication
    19th Oct 2019
    KB, I can't have all my meds with me in my carry-on luggage - they'd take up all the space.

    In 2013, I actually had my meds in a separate bag so that they could go on board with me. When I got to check-in, the agent asked for the bag and when I let her know that it was my medications for the trip, she added it to our checked luggage as flying Upper Class (Business with Virgin Atlantic), our luggage was in a secured container and put onto the plane that way.

    BTW what's a GO?

    I always have a medical certificate and the scripts with me.
    27th Oct 2018
    Both my wife and I travel with lots of medication, we both have a certificates from our GP describing all of the medication we take, I would never pack any of my medication in checked luggage, it’s so easy for corrupt baggage handlers to get into your bags and steal anything they are looking for, also if you are in a foreign country and your luggage goes missing you might not get it back within 4 days or not at all. We have travelled through many of the countries mentioned, don’t try to hide your medication, have it in a clear bag and put it in the basket separately, we have never been stopped, I don’t think we have just been lucky.
    27th Oct 2018
    I could not agree more with the articles cautions and those of the two commentators. I recently went to the UK. I extended my stay and needed top up medicine. No problems I contacted colleagues in Bangkok ( I am a PR). They went to my hospital obtained additional meds and an updated prescription. I told them to send by Fed Ex or DHL, no go, it is against Thai law to export medicines - ! . I was able to register in my local NHS because lucky I had document proving my UK address. The lesson is to do exactly as this article advises. I travel frequently and never carried my prescription until the time my checked luggage was lost in Italy and I ended up in Munch sans meds. Carry meds in the original packaging is essential .
    1st Dec 2019
    A lot of older people have their medications packed in webster packs. There is a label on the pack containing a list of medications and when they are taken.
    Warning: there is one country that you can't take blood pressure tablets into but you can get prescription filled by a pharmacy there. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the country. Pretty sure it was an Arabian or Egyptian one.
    1st Dec 2019
    A lot of older people have their medications packed in webster packs. There is a label on the pack containing a list of medications and when they are taken.
    Warning: there is one country that you can't take blood pressure tablets into but you can get prescription filled by a pharmacy there. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the country. Pretty sure it was an Arabian or Egyptian one.

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