Is That A Vicks Inhaler? Then You’re Under Arrest

Just arrived in Tokyo with a cold and about to whip out your Vicks inhaler? We’d advise you not to as they are illegal there. You’d get the same treatment from the local police if you reached for your Sudafed too.

It’s a little known fact that some of the medication that we buy over the counter here in the UK is actually banned in other countries and as more and more of us are travelling abroad, the Foreign Office, which has responsibility for this area, is stepping up its efforts to help ensure that we don’t fall on the wrong side of the local law unwittingly.

Clearly falling on the wrong side of the law can have unpleasant consequences wherever you are and can involve arrest, a hefty fine or even imprisonment. In one notable case,  a British woman got three years in an Egyptian slammer after a large quantity of Tramadol tablets were found in her suitcase; legal here but strictly banned in Egypt.

Codeine, which you can easily buy online here, is actually illegal in lots of countries including the United Emirates and Greece.

Some countries that are becoming increasingly popular to visit, including India, Turkey and the United Emirates, actually have quite long lists of banned medicines. For instance, those visiting China (another country now high on our bucket lists) will need to carry a doctor’s letter with any prescribed medication that they’re taking with them.

Here’s what the FCO is now advising to ensure that you stay in those countries’ finest accommodation and not their jails.

Anyone taking prescribed medication should visit their GP four to six weeks ahead of their holiday and ask if the medication contains any ‘controlled drugs’. The same advice should be sought from the pharmacist if you’re taking over-the-counter medication. (The government also has a list of controlled drugs on its website.

If your prescribed medicine does contain a controlled drug then you’ll need a signed letter from the prescriber listing your medicines’ doses, strength and quantity, as well as what countries you’re going to and when.

The FCO  also recommends that you contact the foreign embassy of the country you’re visiting and check whether there are any restrictions on your medication, and what quantity is allowed. They also advise that you take a copy of your prescription or a doctor’s note with you.

Their suggestions include always carry your medicines in their original, correctly labelled packaging in your hand luggage and that you consider packing a spare supply in your hold luggage.

On the face of it, this looks like a lot of hassle (Cornwall anyone?) but we suspect the FCO is only doing their job. Plus it saves them the trouble of trying to get you out of some foreign clink.


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