Tips for Traveling With Prescription Drugs

As air travel becomes increasingly more restrictive, people can sometimes have a tough time traveling with their medications. Even for domestic flights, security has tightened to the point where even liquid medications can be seized from your carry-on if they are over 100 milliliters (ml), and you don't have a prescription. So how can those of us who take daily medications avoid such hassles when traveling?

Airport security line
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There are a few tips that can help.

Before You Leave

The earlier you prepare, the longer you have to get the necessary prescriptions and medical letters from your healthcare provider if needed. Among the things you'll need to do:

  • Pack extra medicine and supplies when traveling in case you are away from home longer than you expect or there are travel delays. It is generally not a good idea to pack all of your HIV drugs in your check-in baggage in the event they are lost or delayed in transit. Either separate them so that you have a two- to three-day supply on you, or pack all of them in your carry-on.
  • Carry a copy of your prescriptions in your carry-on, purse, or wallet when traveling.
  • If taking injectable medications (like Egrifta, insulin, testosterone) you must have the medications physically on you in order to carry empty syringes. You cannot carry syringes without proof of their use. They will most likely be seized and discarded.
  • Do not remove syringes or medicines from the original packaging and be sure to retain the printed labels and manufacturer's information. Keeping them in their original packaging is the best way to help airport security identify your medicines. Opening packages or taking pills out of their bottles can potentially cause delays in security.
  • Certain drugs need to be refrigerated and may require a cooler pack. Norvir (ritonavir) capsules do not require a cooler per se but should be kept at a cooler temperature (ideally below 77F or 25C). Cooler packs are best carried with you rather than in your check-in luggage.
  • If traveling abroad, become familiar with the laws, restrictions, and requirements of the countries you are traveling to. A small handful of countries limit entry if you are HIV-positive, although in many cases they are not actively enforced. Contact the U.S. State Department for information regarding travel restrictions and medication. The U.S. requires all passengers to declare medications and syringes when traveling abroad.

At the Airport

Particularly if you going overseas, arrive extra early if you're carrying a supply of personal medication with you. Allow for extra time (as long as two hours domestically or three hours internationally) to clear security without a rush. There are a few other facts that can help:

  • In most cases, you will probably not be asked for copies of prescriptions if you are carrying your personal medication with you. This generally only becomes a problem if you are carrying a lot of medication (as can sometimes happen) or if you are carrying syringes, liquid formulation, or temperature-controlled drugs in cooler packs.
  • When in doubt, be proactive and present copies of your prescriptions and/or your medication vials when approaching airport security. If you have any problems, ask to see a supervisor.
  • You can ask and are entitled to a private screening to maintain your medical confidentiality. Always know your rights as a person living with HIV, whether at home or abroad, as well as the legal protections governing your medical privacy.

Boarding Your Flight

Once you're on your flight, you'll need to take some extra steps to keep your medications safe and ensure easy access in case you need a dose while in flight.

In some cases, the airline or onboard staff may request that they take and store your syringes for you during a flight. Make life easier for yourself by packing your drugs, syringes, and other medical supplies in one carry-on to minimize the risk of loss as well as the hassle of digging through all your belongings.

If you have any questions pertaining to the transports of drugs from overseas into the U.S., contact the Division of Drug Information at 855-543-DRUG (3784) or email For any questions related to the carrying of prescription medications in your luggage or carry-on, contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

By Mark Cichocki, RN
Mark Cichocki, RN, is an HIV/AIDS nurse educator at the University of Michigan Health System for more than 20 years.