Millions of travelers enter into the United States of America each year, and many of them take some form of medication. While most of these may be generic, over-the-counter medicines, other travelers are more reliant on prescription medications. The rules and regulations of international travel with medications vary with every port of entry. Correspondingly, if you are traveling to the USA and have to carry medicines, you should be well versed with these regulations.
Traveling with medicines in your baggage, be it for yourself or on behalf of someone else, requires you to be educated and vigilant about the rules instituted by the Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of USA.
Rules for Traveling With Medicines Into The US
- The medications should always be packed in the carry-on baggage, not the checked in baggage.
- The medicines should in their original packaging/container that has the doctors’ instructions printed on it.
- It should be packed neatly in a transparent ziplock bag along with a valid and latest copy of the doctor’s prescription. The prescription should be in English.
- The prescription should clearly explain the medical condition and the cause of taking these medicines.
- You can only get medicines for your personal use during your stay in the US.
- Carry no more than a 90-day’s supply of medication. Anymore and you should have them shipped to you separately.
- Medications that also include medical equipment, apparatuses, oxygen tanks needles, etc. should be approved by the TSA beforehand.
- Medications that contain ingredients involving narcotics of any nature should be especially packed with a doctor’s note explaining their nature, intended use and need for consumption. This include cough medicines, sleeping pills, antidepressants, & stimulants. These should be meant only for the individual traveler and not be carried for anyone else.
- Some US states have specific restrictions on certain medical drugs. Always confirm the individual regulations for your final destination before traveling with medications that are not regular, over-the-counter medicines.
Traveling to the US for over 90 days and may need medication?
Consider getting travel medical insurance for peace of mind
Alternative To Carrying Medicines On Flight – For Yourself Or On Behalf Of Someone Else
Firstly, the FDA restricts international travelers from carrying medications for more than a 90-day’s supply.
Secondly, official guidance from CBP, FDA and TSA point out that any medicine carried in a travelers’ baggage should be for personal use/ consumption only. Hence, carrying medications for anyone other than oneself is not encouraged.
Here is how you can get medicines for yourself (beyond 90 days) or a family member:
- Mail or Courier Services: USPS, UPS or FedEx can help import prescription medicines into the US.
- Certain websites like AARP might help with the import of genuine, original prescriptions drugs that has a doctor’s note explaining the need.
- Include documentation with doctor’s prescription (in English), Copy of traveler’s visa & passport, invoice for the purchase of the medicines and other supporting documentation to justify the need for the medication, as needed.
- The documents should state that the medicine was given by your doctor as a continuation of treatment that was started when you were outside of US.
- The medication should be for personal, medical used to treat a serious condition only and not involve in any form or promotion.
- Medications for self can be imported only for an additional 90-day supply.
- You should be able to provide the contact details of a local doctor who will monitor your use of these medicines.
Questions Asked At A US Port Of Entry & How To Answer Them
At the US port of entry, you are expected to declare certain items as part of customs clearance: soil, plants, fruits, vegetables and narcotic prescription medication. If the Customs officer inspects your baggage and asks questions, you should respond truthfully and with complete declaration. The following questions may be asked at customs declaration at a US port of entry:
Does everything in these bags belong to you and did you pack it yourself?
Are there any agricultural products like plants, soil, etc in here?
Are you carrying any prescription drugs including narcotics, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, etc.?
Can you please show the prescription for them?
Traveler shows valid prescription.
(If you do not have a prescription) I am sorry I am not carrying a prescription with me. These are medicines I take on a regular basis to control my blood sugar and hypertension. I get these refilled regularly with my local pharmacy and forgot to bring along a prescription for them when traveling.
The CBP officer will make a determination at his discretion according to his findings on the spot – either discard the medication or allow you to proceed with a stern warning.
Are these all meant for your consumption/personal use? Or are you carrying any medicines for someone else?
No, they are for my personal use while I stay in the US.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Traveling With Medicines To the USA
- Can I travel with my medicines when flying to the US?
Yes, you can carry as long as you have a valid prescription for it. The prescription should be in English.
- Can I carry my medicines in my check-in baggage?
No, you should carry all your medicines in your carry-on baggage to avoid delays and complications.
- Are there any prohibited medicines that cannot be carried on flight?
Yes, FDA does not allow the import of narcotics or controlled substances. Some states in the US also disallow carrying unapproved medications, even if it may be for personal consumption and prescribed by a medical professional. It is always better to check with the FDA/TSA website to confirm that the medicines you are carrying with you is permissible or not. For a complete list visit ICE HSC/ US CBP Medications List
- Can I carry medicines for a friend/family member?
No, TSA regulations state that you can only carry medicines for your own personal use. This should be accompanied by prescription by a medical professional and the medicines should be in its original container/packaging. Carrying medicines for anyone else is not advisable
- What if I am carrying over-the-counter medicines? And I do not have a prescription for it for the flight to the US
If you are carrying over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, always carry the invoice/receipt of purchase along with it as a supporting document.
- For how long can I carry medicines to the US?
You are only allowed to carry a 90-day supply of medicines. Anymore, and you should have it shipped to you. This should have a copy of your visa, prescription and I-94 dates.
- I may stay over 3 months in the US but I cannot carry more than a 90-day supply of medicines, what do I do?
For a prescription of more than 90 days, you can get it shipped to your local US address through mail or courier services like FedEx or UPS.
- Can I carry my pills in a ziplock bag?
All medications should be carried in their original container with the doctor’s instructions on them. If you have more than one packet, you may collect all your original containers and place it one ziplock for easy access.