Carry On: Vacationing with Medications Made Easy

Have a trip coming up? Get the latest on traveling with your meds – from TSA guidelines to early refills and what to do if your meds are lost or stolen.

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Carry On: Vacationing with Medications Made Easy

Traveling is one of summertime’s perks. With warm weather flooding the forecasts, there is no shortage of fun to be had. There are trails to be hiked, waterways to be explored, and vacation time to be used, so naturally people are on the move. For many travelers, vacations are never long enough. For those struggling to adhere to a medication schedule, what was supposed to be a relaxing break can turn into a stressful health-altering situation.

Packing Medications

For those with travel plans that include getting on an airplane, the first step to ensuring that medication makes it to its final destination, is packing with an understanding of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s guidelines.

While travelers don’t need to declare all of their medications, they do need to be cognizant of TSA’s liquid limitations. While most liquids are required to be under the 3.4 oz threshold, liquid medication can exceed that limit, as long as the quantities are deemed reasonable for the flight. It is not necessary to put medically required liquids in a zip-top bag, but communication is still important. Travelers need to tell the TSA officer that they have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subject to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container.

A few other items to note (as found on TSA’s website) are:

  • You can bring your medication in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts as long as it is screened.
  • You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage. It’s highly recommended you place these items in your carry-on in the event that you need immediate access.
  • Medication is usually screened by X-ray; however, if a passenger does not want a medication X-rayed, he or she may ask for a visual inspection instead. This request must be made before any items are sent through the X-ray tunnel.
  • TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.


While TSA does not require medications to be in their original packaging, any travelers crossing international borders will want to keep medications in their original containers. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) mandates prescriptions should be in their original containers with the prescribing doctor’s printed information on the container. Additionally, CBP recommends traveling with no more than personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is no more than a 90-day supply.

If for some reason medications need to be taken out of their original containers, travelers should plan to have a copy of the prescription or a letter from their doctor ready for review. A valid prescription or doctors note is required on all medication entering the United States.

Lost or Stolen Medication

If medications are damaged or stolen, it’s time to head to a nearby pharmacy for a refill. Some medications will be easier to refill than others. Controlled substances might require a trip to the doctor for a new prescription, and if it was stolen, a police report might be in order. It is important to note that depending upon the person’s individual plan design, the short-term fill may or may not be covered by insurance.

Refills Made Easy

IPM doesn’t charge additional fees for vacation fills or lost/stolen medications, and most plans cover a limited number of early refills needed for travel. The member or the pharmacy simply needs to call IPM to find out if early refills are available. If they are, our U.S.-based member support team can approve the early refill request. Our customer service team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that no member has to wait for office hours in order to receive help.

When it comes to vacation overrides, IPM recommends that plans allow two overrides per medication per year. Stolen medication replacements are generally handled on a case-by-case basis, and the plan sponsor typically decides whether a replacement will be covered by the plan. IPM recommends additional requirements for approving stolen controlled substances, such requiring a police report to confirm that the medications were stolen.

Making the Most of Medication

The efficacy of medication is directly tied to its utilization, and as U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” Even the most dedicated of patients can get tripped up during a vacation. Whether medication is improperly packed, lost, or just plain forgotten, it is important for patients to understand what their options are in order to properly maintain adherence and good health.