Meds. Everybody’s got ’em. The problem is, every country regulates them differently. This creates the need for some serious planning and strategizing, which is why I thought the topic needed it’s own post aside from the references in My First Aid Kit and Travel Documents posts.
How you plan greatly varies based on the duration and location of your visit. Being that my personal experience is primarily with Germany, I will focus more on the duration aspect of variables. That said, short trips should stay fairly consistent regardless of what country you’re going to. I had a really hard time finding current information when I did my own research so hopefully my advice will help someone.
Legally, a short trip for a US citizen entering the European Union is any stay under 90 days. This is the time you are allowed to remain without a visa. For prescription purposes, the definition of a short trip can probably be extended to 6 months. This is because many insurance companies are willing to do what is called a “vacation override” and give you 6 months of your medication at once. Obviously all insurance companies are different so be sure to verify well in advance that 1.) they are willing/able to do this, 2.) their time allowance fits your needs for the trip and 3.) your medications are not restricted by either the insurance company or from entry into the destination country.
As a result of vacation overrides, short trips are fairly simple. I was instructed to call my insurance about two weeks before I planned on picking up my six month supply so that it had plenty of time to process. Other than that, be sure to leave enough room in your carry-on to bring it on your person, and be sure to ask your doctor for a written prescription of the medication you’re carrying in case customs wants to throw a fit.
Trips longer than your allotted vacation override period is where things get tricky. There are a few strategies that will work depending on a variety of factors. First, I will go in depth with what all I have planned my two years in Germany, then I will outline a few other strategies that may work depending on your unique situation.
Germany is, by my understanding, one of the most conservative countries when it comes to medication restrictions. Many drugs that are over the counter in America are prescriptions drugs there. In addition, it is illegal to mail prescription drugs into the country. According to my research, many if not most pharmacists will not accept prescriptions unless they are written by a German professional. Finally, a doctors appointment to get a German prescription shouldn’t be TOO costly or difficult to arrange although they will likely require payment up front.
With that said, my strategy is to take my 6 months of “vacation” pills with me to buy time in Germany. I have asked for (and my doctor was happy to provide) a written prescription of my medication to try and take to a pharmacist. Important to note is that this letter must include the actual chemicals and measurements because pharmaceuticals are not named the same thing in every country. So, plan one is to try and get a pharmacist to fill my American prescription. Plan two is to see a german doctor for a prescription using my German insurance plan that I am required by my school to join.
Either way, a very helpful insurance representative gave me some advice that is going to save me hundreds of dollars so be sure to call your insurance company and see if you can do the same thing. She told me to keep all of my prescription receipts and write that days exchange rate on them. I have 365 days to file a claim using those receipts to get a refund for the cost of the pills. The cheapest any prescription in Germany will be is roughly 10 € and my prescriptions in America are free. Over the course of two years, mailing my receipts back to my mother to file a claim could save me upwards of $240! I’m also going to call my medical insurance to see if the same can be done for doctors visits or if I can run them as a secondary insurance provider when abroad.
Now, if you are not going to go to such a strict country as Germany, the easiest strategy would just be to have someone from home mail you a couple months of pills at a time. Make sure your doctors know that you will be out of the country so that when your prescription expires, they don’t throw a fit about having you come in to reevaluate for a new prescription.
If you are going to a country that has laid back pharmacists (not likely to be very common), you could probably just bring an American prescription and pick up your pills there every month like normal. Finally, if you are going to a country with free/cheep healthcare to foreigners or if your insurance covers it, just go to a doctor in that country for a prescription. Everywhere I researched seemed to have zero problems with this approach aside from cost.
The last thing to mention is to plan ahead if you will be traveling to multiple countries, long term. For example, if you know that you will be in Germany about the same time your medications expire, get them in whatever country you’re in before that. Likewise, if you know that you will be in a country that it will be easy to get your pills, stock up. Planning ahead certainly takes time but when it comes to medications, it’s worth it. Don’t put your body at risk for lack of planning. Hopefully this post has at least given you a starting point for developing your own prescription strategy.
As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions that are too personal to leave as a comment… if not, comment below! I am happy to help if I can.