If you’re preparing to go away, use this checklist to safeguard your health and make sure you remember your medicines.
A trip overseas is a time to relax and enjoy yourself, but it can also expose you to diseases and infections not generally found in Australia. Many illnesses caught overseas are avoidable – if you’re vaccinated beforehand.
Dr Philippa Binns, a Clinical Adviser at NPS Medicinewise, recommends a visit to your doctor as soon as you can, but at least six to eight weeks before your departure date — to discuss what vaccinations you will need for the countries you’ll be travelling to.
“Some vaccinations need more than one dose to be given over a period of time, and your body will need time to build up immunity before you leave.”
Adults and children travelling overseas should also make sure their routine vaccinations are up to date, for example the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine as nearly all cases of measles in Australia are caught overseas and brought home.
You may also be required to show written documentation of your immunisations for entry into some countries, so don’t forget to take these with you if required*.
A few medicines used legally in Australia may be illegal in some overseas countries, for example medicines that contain codeine (such as Panadeine , Panadeine Forte and Nurofen Plus) are banned in Greece. Check with the local embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting that it’s legal to take your medicine into that country. Also check your airline’s security regulations about taking medicines and other necessary equipment on your flight.
Once you’re sure you can carry your medicines, get a letter from your doctor itemising each medicine and how much you will be taking with you. It also must clearly state that they’re either for your own personal use or for someone you’re accompanying, as there are restrictions on taking PBS prescription medicines out of Australia otherwise.
No matter where you go or what you have planned, the likelihood is you’ll be breaking your usual routine. Travelling through different time zones, being more or less active, drinking alcohol, or changes in meal times or diet can affect some medicines, including the contraceptive pill, antibiotics and diabetes medicines.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you go to discuss any changes you might need to make while you’re away.
Pack more than you need of your regular medicines and any essential equipment like syringes – enough for your whole holiday, plus extra in case you get delayed. If it looks like you don’t have enough of a prescription medicine or they will expire while you’re away, speak with your GP about another script. Usually only one prescription can be given at a time, but if you’re going away for longer, your GP might be able to give you more.
Pack a first aid kit too. What you’ll need depends on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, but common items include antiseptic and dressings, pain relievers, anti-diarrhoeal tablets and rehydration salts, anti-malarial drugs if prescribed, insect repellent, sunscreen and condoms for both contraception and protection from sexually transmitted infections .
Some medicines may be hard to find or unavailable overseas, so keeping your supplies safe is a high priority. Carrying your medicines in your hand luggage is likely to be safest, but if you’re travelling with large quantities of medicines, separate the quantity between your luggage, in case bags go missing.
Keeping all medication in the original, labelled containers can help to avoid customs problems.
“Jumping on planes and travelling long distances can make it difficult to control the conditions which we store our medicines in. Most medicines need to be stored under 25°C, so if you’re off somewhere particularly warm or cold, or going somewhere without electricity, you might need to use a cooler bag or insulated pouch”, says Dr Philippa Binns.
If you or someone you’re travelling with is unwell, being able to find an English speaking doctor will make communication a lot easier – unless you’re fluent in the local lingo.
Contact your travel insurer to find a doctor that speaks your language or jot down translations of your health needs before you jet off.
Being able to ask the right questions before taking a new medicine will help to avoid any unnecessary medicine mishaps. You can also find some information online as long as you know the active ingredient name and strength.
Ask these questions before you take a new medicine
- What is the medicine for?
- What is the active ingredient? (see don’t double take, below)
- How do I take or use this medicine correctly?
- What are the possible side effects and what can I do about them?
- What should or shouldn’t I do while taking this medicine?
Medicines overseas may have different brand names, packaging and labelling to those available in Australia.
So it’s really important that you have a record of the active ingredient name of your medicines. If you do need to get them overseas, a health professional can correctly identify the medicine you need even if the brand name is different. Also, check the strength of medicines as this can vary from country to country.
Keep track of all the medicines you take, including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines on a medicines list. Always have your medicine details at hand with an NPS Medicines List, which you can keep as a printed copy or download onto your iPhone or iPad.
If you are buying medicines overseas, you need to be extra cautious. Unfortunately not all medicines or brands of medicine available outside Australia will have the same standards as those sold at home.
Medicines which are counterfeit or not stored in proper conditions, for example not refrigerated where necessary, can be dangerous to your health.
Help guard against medicine dangers with 3 simple rules.
- Avoid imitation or counterfeit medications by buying medicines from a reputable pharmacy
- Check the packet they come in for any signs of tampering, excess wear and tear and for expiry dates
- Ensure needles and syringes are sealed and sterile.
*For specific information about vaccinations for travellers, visit the NPS Medicinewise vaccine knowledge hub.
This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.
If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).
Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website www.nps.org.au
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