Traveling can be stressful enough when you are well but if you have an illness it can obviously be much worse. So if need to take your prescription medication on a plane with you that can add to the stress if you are unsure if you will be able to fly with them.
The good news is that TSA Medication Rules 2022 allows you to carry medication on a plane with you in both a carry on bag or in checked bags. If they are in the form of liquid medications then they will be exempt from the usual liquids rules.
I first thought about writing this article when my brother, who has some health issues, was coming to visit me from the UK and he wasn’t sure if he could bring all of his medication with him. Fortunately for me, as I am very healthy I had no experience of this so I had to do some extensive research. This is the result of that research.
I will go into the rules and regulations in more detail below. If you want to check the official guidelines you will find links at the bottom of the article to assist you.
Flying with prescription medications
Can you take prescription drugs on a plane?
It would be rather dangerous in some circumstances, particularly where the medication is for a life-threatening condition, if prescription drugs were not permitted on a plane. So fortunately the answer is yes, you can take them on a plane with you.
You should read below for any restrictions or special procedures you may need to take into account.
Do you have to declare prescription drugs at the airport?
Within the US, the Transportation Security Administration medication rules 2021 state that you do not normally need to declare to the security agent under the current that you are carrying prescription medications except in the following circumstances:
- If you are carrying medically necessary liquids in original prescription bottles, and the bottles are larger than the normal 3.4oz/100ml liquid limit, then you will be able to take them with you as they are considered medically necessary liquids. Ideally they should be in the original prescription bottles or you should at least have a copy of the prescription to show, just to be on the safe side.
You should tell the security agent you have the liquid medication before it goes through the X-ray machine and it will then be screened separately. You may be asked to open the container for further security screening. The liquid medication does not need to go in your quart sized liquids bag.
- If you have medication in the form of a gel or aerosol spray that are larger that 3.4oz/100ml then you should also bring these to the attention of the security officer before security screening.
- If, for some reason, you do not want your medication x-rayed then you may ask the security agent for it to be checked visually instead. Obviously you need to make this clear before the items go through the security screening machine.
How do I pack medication for a flight?
You are best to keep your medication in your carry on bags, but this of course means that you have to personally take it through the security screening process.
You do not need to keep all of your medications together but it makes sense to, perhaps in a plastic bag. That way you can remove them all to show them to the security officer, without having to rummage for them and ask their advice on what needs to be screened separately, if anything.
Any liquid medication larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) will need to undergo additional screening separately in any case, which could include any gel type medication too.
Should you keep prescription medication in carry on luggage or checked luggage?
I think the most important piece of advice is that you should try to always keep vital prescription medications with you in your carry on bag when traveling, either on a plane or by any other method actually. Do not put pills or liquid medications in your checked bags.
Since flying can be quite stressful, and things like time changes and the lower air pressure can affect certain ailments, you might need immediate access to your medication. If it is in your checked baggage that is of no use to you
Also, it is not that unusual for checked baggage to can go missing, or at least be delayed. If this happened you could be left in the difficult position of arriving at your destination, perhaps overseas, with no medication and then need to find a doctor to prescribe you some replacements urgently. This can be difficult and costly.
Also, your flight itself may be delayed so you may need to take of your medication some due to your medication schedule before you arrive at your destination, so keeping it with you in your carry on bag at all times makes definite sense.
Are needles and syringes allowed on a plane?
You can take your needles and syringes with you when traveling, provided that you require them to inject prescription medications (such as insulin) and that you have the medication with you. For example, you cannot take the needles and syringes on their own.
Naturally you should carry them securely and if your bag is going to be searched after the screening process you should advise the security officer that they are there before they search. It goes without saying that any used needles should be in an approved safe needle holder.
Do you need a doctor’s note to travel with medication?
When traveling within the US it is not a requirement to bring a doctor’s note or your prescriptions with you.
If you are traveling abroad, whilst it may not be a requirement for the country or countries you will be visiting, it may be. So to be on the safe side I would advise taking these with you, if you can, to try and eliminate the possibility of having problems.
Irrespective of whether you will be flying domestically or internationally, it is probably a good thing to take these with you in case you need to replenish your supply for some reason (theft, loss or just running out) while you are away from your own doctor. If you have to visit a local doctor to obtain a prescription for these, to be able to show the doctor your existing prescriptions will make things easier.
Can I carry prescribed medicines on international flights?
Yes, you can carry medications when embarking on international travel in the vast majority of cases. However, it makes absolute sense to have them in their original bottles/containers they were supplied in as well as taking the original prescriptions and doctor’s letters. They don’t take up much space and you may be glad to have them with you if you meet any problems.
There are some exceptions as some medications may be allowed in the US but not in other countries. An obvious example is marijuana, whether prescribed or not, which are considered controlled substances and completely illegal in some countries.
If you are traveling abroad from the UK then this advice is available from the NHS – Can I take my medicine abroad?
You may wish to read the IAMAT’s (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers) advice on traveling with medications written by Professor Larry Goodyer.
Do you have to declare prescription drugs at customs?
Obviously this rather depends on which country you are entering. Customs rules vary from country to country.
The FDA website says “You should have with you a valid prescription or doctor’s note—written in English—to bring medication to the U.S. The medication should be in its original container with the doctor’s instructions printed on the bottle. This applies whether the medications are in pill or solid form or they are liquid medications.
If you don’t have the original prescription bottles, bring a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor explaining your condition and why you need this medication. Travel with no more than you need for your personal use during your stay.
A rule of thumb: Bring no more than a 90-day supply of medication.
This article on the UK government website gives advice about Traveling with medicine containing a controlled drug.
This article cannot go into the regulations relating to taking prescribed medication into every country in the world, obviously. If you have any doubt you should contact the relevant countries Embassy in your home country. You can find the contact details of Embassies here.
Do prescription drugs have to be in original containers?
If you are traveling within the US then generally your medications do not need to be in their original containers although some states can have slightly different rules.
If you are traveling overseas this may be different, depending on which country or countries you are traveling to. To be on the safe side I would always advise taking them in their original containers and take whatever prescriptions and doctor’s letter you may have too. It is better to be safe than sorry.
How can I take medication that needs to be kept cool?
There are certain types of prescribed medication that need to be kept cool, usually in a refrigerator, in order that they do not start to break down and become unusable. This includes things such as Insulin, some eye and ear drops, certain antibiotics etc.
You are permitted to bring ice packs with you to keep medications and any other form of liquid medical items cold. But you must declare the ice packs to the security officer before they travel through the X-ray machine.
Can you bring medical oxygen on board?
You are not permitted to take your own oxygen cylinder on board an aircraft, either in the cabin in carry on bags or in your checked bags. However, you are allowed to take a Portable Oxygen Concentrator with you, provided it is FAA approved.
If you need oxygen I would recommend that you contact the airline you are flying with to ask for their advice and their particular policy.
Do tablets have to go in clear plastic bag?
Tablets, along with all forms of prescribed medication, do not have to be placed in a clear bag along with your liquids.
As stated above, medication in liquid form, including gels, should be shown to the security officer before being put onto the conveyor belt for X-ray screening so it can be screened separately.
Non-prescribed over the counter medication
Can I take non-prescription pills on a plane?
Within the US this is not normally a problem in reasonable quantities, unless there are local laws in place in the state you are traveling to or from which means you cannot.
If traveling internationally then just make sure you take them in their original packaging rather than just loose in your bag.
Can I bring Ibuprofen on a plane?
Yes, as these are my preferred pain remedy, I have taken them with me in my carry on bags all over the world without the slightest problem. I usually leave them in the box they come in to make sure they are more easily identifiable but that has never actually been an issue.
Can I take medical marijuana on a plane?
Although marijuana may be allowable with a prescription in some countries of the world, it certainly isn’t in many others where cannabis based products are controlled substances. The UK is an example where it is not legal in any form.
The TSA advice regarding medical marijuana states that marijuana and certain cannabis-infused products, including some Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, remain illegal under federal law.
Airport security officers’ roles are primarily to ensure that nothing dangerous to a flight, or the passengers on a flight, are taken on board. They are not Customs officers so do not look specifically for this kind of illegal substance. However, if it is found during the normal screening process then they will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.
If you live in a state which allows the use of medical marijuana and you are flying to another then I would thoroughly research the law in the state you are traveling to before risking taking it with you. Don’t forget, due to weather etc your flight may be diverted and you may find yourself in a state where it is not allowed.
Can you take non-prescribed Viagra on a plane?
The jury seems to be out on this question. While many people take them without problem it seems there have been a number of incidents where they have been confiscated. It is probably another example of the only safe way is to either not take it at all or obtain it on prescription from your doctor, in which case it will be allowed.
Also, the general rule applies here that you should only be taking a quantity consistent with the length of your stay. If you are going away for a weekend and have 50 Viagra tablets with you that is likely to raise eyebrows – unless perhaps you can demonstrate that you work in the adult movie industry perhaps!
TSA video about traveling with medication
Official information sources
You can check the latest rules regarding taking medication in hand luggage on the relevant government websites.
Other airport security articles
If you found this article on Traveling with medication on a plane useful you may wish to read some of my others: