Taking Medication on a Plane – TSA Medication Rules 2021

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 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 2021 allow you to take your medication on a plane with you. But there are certain restrictions and things you need to do in order to ensure that you do not have problems with airport security or customs.

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 I am very healthy so 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 details below. If you want to check the official guidelines you will find links at the bottom of the article to assist you.

Should you keep medication in hand luggage or checked luggage?
Taking Medication on a Plane - TSA Medication Rules 2021 1

Should you keep medication in hand luggage or checked luggage?

I think the most important piece of advice is that you should try to always keep vital prescribed medication with you when traveling, either on a plane or by any other method actually. When traveling by air then keep them in your hand luggage (or in your pocket or purse), rather than putting them in your checked bags.

It is not that unusual for checked bags 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, or you may need to take some of your medication unexpectedly before you arrive at your destination, so keeping it with you at all times makes definite sense.

How do I pack medication for a flight?

As stated above, you are best to keep your medication in your carry on, but this of course means that you have to personally take it through the security inspection.

You do not need to keep all if 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 and ask their advice on what needs to be screened separately, if anything.

Any liquid medication larger than 3.4oz/100ml needs to be screened separately in any case, which could include any gel type medication too.

Flying with prescribed medication

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, TSA medication rules 2021 state that you do not normally need to declare to the security agent under the current that you are carrying prescribed medication except in the following circumstances:

  • If you are carrying medicine in liquid form, in a container that is larger than the normal 3.4oz/100ml liquid limit, then you will be able to take it with you but you should ideally have a prescription label on it or 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 screening. The liquid medicine 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 screening.
  • If, for some reason, you do not want your medication (in any form) to be screened by X-ray 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 screening machine.

Can you take tablets in your hand luggage?

Yes, carrying tablets and pills in your carry on is unrestricted.

The tablets do not have to be in the correct bottles with the prescription details on either. You can take one of those daily travel pill boxes with your supply already sorted out if you wish.

Taking Medication on a Plane - TSA Medication Rules 2021 2

Actually that is probably a very good idea when you are traveling as it can be easy to forget to take some of your medication due to the upset of your usual routine or changes in time-zones.

Are needles and syringes allowed on a plane?

Yes you can take your needles and syringes with you when traveling, provided that you require them to inject prescribed medication (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 screening you should advise the security officer that they are there. 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?

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 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 is 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?

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.

US Customs

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. If you don’t have the original container, 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.”

UK Customs

This article on the UK government website gives advice about Traveling with medicine containing a controlled drug.

Other countries

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?

Traveling with medication on a plane

There are certain types of prescribed medication which 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 take 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 baggage 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.

Can you bring recreational boost oxygen in airline baggage?

The TSA state that “Non-medically required, flavored or canned oxygen containers are prohibited.”

This means that currently recreational oxygen (boost oxygen) is not allowed on commercial flights and this applies both to carry on and checked baggage.

It seems that using recreational oxygen is becoming popular as a way of recovering from jet lag and the general effects of traveling by air. You could of course keep some at home to use when you return fro your trip but you would need to find a local supplier at your destination to use it while you are away.

Do tablets have to go in clear bag?

Do tablets have to go in clear 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, unless there are local laws in place in the state you are traveling to or from which mean 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 hand luggage 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 you take over the counter medicine overseas?

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. 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 role is 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 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:

Can you bring lithium batteries on a plane?

Can you bring bottled water in carry on?

Can you bring a razor in hand luggage?