Every country, of course, has its own rules that need to be followed. You can’t enter these countries if you’ve had a DUI. You’ll be fined if you try to bring these foods from other countries into the United States. The first country in the world has banned Airbnb.
Different countries also have different rules about certain medications. A medication that’s perfectly fine to prescribe here may be against the law in another country. Similarly, a drug that’s available over the counter in another country may only be available as a prescription here in the U.S., or illegal to be sold here. Reasons can vary from countries that are uncomfortable with drugs that cause certain reactions to sincere questions about the safety of a particular medication.
I remember when we went to Paris in the mid-90s, I wound up with a really bad cough. We went to a pharmacy and the pharmacist recommended an over-the-counter cough suppressant that had codeine in it. She told me to use “big spoon” ;-). It got rid of the cough, for sure. And let me tell you, I nursed that bottle for YEARS after I got it home, LOL! (Alas, medication with codeine went “by prescription only” in France about 5 or 6 years ago, due to a high level of abuse by teenagers).
Medications banned in the U.S.
There are a handful of medications used in other countries that are 100% banned in the U.S.:
- Oxyphenbutazone – non-opioid painkiller used in India, Pakistan and other undeveloped countries. Banned in the U.S. due to side effects of bone marrow depression and reduction of blood cells.
- Nandrolone Decanoate – an injection that was previously used to help build athletes’ muscles. It’s now categorized as a non-medical schedule III controlled substance and is banned in the U.S.
- Nimesulide – non-opioid pain killer. Sometimes used for adults in other countries. Banned in the U.S. due to potential side effect of liver failure.
- Nitrofurazone – painkiller. Potential side effects include issues with heart rhythm and electrical activity of the heart.
- Propoxyphene – painkiller. Potential side effects include issues with heart rhythm and electrical activity of the heart.
Can you bring medications from other countries back to the United States?
Generally speaking, officially, no. According to the FDA, “In most cases, it’s illegal for people to import drugs into the United States for personal use. That’s because drugs available in other countries haven’t been evaluated or approved by FDA for use or sale in the U.S., so [they] can’t ensure that they’re safe and effective. FDA generally considers such drugs unapproved.” So yeah, when I brought that codeine cough syrup home 30ish years ago? Totally illegal. Does it happen every single day? Of course it does. (Heads up that if you are caught bringing something into the country you shouldn’t, and have Global Entry, you can kiss that status goodbye for forever.)
10+ Medications banned in other countries
There are plenty of medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, that are considered to be perfectly safe in the U.S. but are banned in other countries. Some of them are pretty common, too. Like these:
If you rely on medications for attention deficit disorder, you’ll have to forget about going to Japan. The country has a zero-tolerance policy for methamphetamines and amphetamines (those are the active ingredients in many ADD drugs), even if you have your prescription or a note from your doctor. The same holds true in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
If you take anti-anxiety medication (Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax, Valium, etc.) and plan to go to Singapore, make sure to get a license first.
Any prescription medicine
All prescription medication should be accompanied by a doctor’s note if you’re traveling to Costa Rica or China. You should also only bring the amount you’ll need for your stay.
Benadryl is used for allergies (stops a runny nose), and as a medication to help people sleep. It’s also illegal for use in Zambia, and in Japan you’re limited to 10mg capsules, due to the med’s main ingredient, Diphenhydramine.
CBD can be consumed everywhere in the European Union member states, with a few exceptions. But while products containing 0.2% THC or less are legal in most European countries, products containing any traces of THC are banned in countries such as France, Sweden, Norway, and the UK.
Oral Painkillers such as Codeine and/or Tramadol
Certain pain medications like Codeine and Tramadol (two of its common brand names: Ultram and ConZip) are banned in several nations around the world. In countries like Greece, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, for example, simply carrying these “controlled drugs” could result in arrest.
Visitors to Ukraine may bring no more than 10 transdermal systems into the country.
Pepto Bismol & Imodium
France doesn’t sell Pepto Bismol due to a health scare years back in the 1970s. Imodium is only sold with a prescription. Happily, you’re allowed to bring in your own supply.
People who are on psychotropic medications may need to bring a prescription with them in some countries, while other countries may require the visitor to request permission to bring their medicine into the country before visiting. Other countries may only allow a certain amount of the drug into the country. Still other countries may not allow the medication in, period.
Some people can’t sleep without their Ambien or Intermezzo. But sleeping medications that contain zolpidem aren’t allowed in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia or Nigeria. And if you’re going to Singapore, you’ll need to obtain a license to legally bring in your Ambien.
Sudafed, Actifed, Vicks (a.k.a. Pseudoephedrine)
If you’re traveling to Japan and have a cold, don’t bring over-the-counter medications with you. Common cold treatments like Sudafed and Vicks contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine, which is banned in the country (it’s also banned in Lao and several other nations). Meanwhile, In Qatar, over-the-counter medicines such as cold and cough remedies are considered controlled substances and must be accompanied by a prescription.
I take one or more of these medications. What should I do?
It depends on the medication and where you’re going.
This is a case where Google is your friend; go to Google and type Can you bring NAME OF DRUG to NAME OF COUNTRY. i.e:
Can you bring Adderall to Australia
Can you bring CBD oil to the Bahamas
Can you bring Ambien to Italy
Can you bring Zyprexa to South Africa
Can you bring Albuterol to Japan
…and go from there.
- If you’re taking something that’s totally banned, talk with your doctor (for Rx drugs) or pharmacist (for OTC medications) for possible alternatives.
- If alternatives aren’t available or don’t work for you, you may want to consider changing your travel plans. It’s not worth getting thrown into jail in Japan because you got caught bringing your Adderall or codeine with you.
- If you just need to have a prescription and/or a doctor’s note to show upon request, ask your doctor for those (including for OTC meds).
Feature Image (cropped): Marco Verch Professional Photographer / flickr / CC BY 2.0
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