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How to Pack Medications for Air Travel

By Kathryn Walsh ; Updated June 13, 2017

From headache-fighting pain relievers to life-saving insulin, it's the rare traveler who leaves home without some kind of medication. Some of the Transportation Security Administration's rules seem complicated or strict, but the TSA won't prevent you from traveling with all the medication you need for a flight. Packing these substances requires two considerations: keeping them safe and undamaged, and packaging them in a way that TSA agents will approve. Most travelers will find that packing medications correctly doesn't take more than a few minutes.

  1. Store prescription and over-the-counter pills in their original containers when possible. Do not combine multiple types of pills into one bottle to save space; carry each original bottle. If you don't have the original bottles, package each type of pill in its own container.

  2. Label any containers of pills yourself if you no longer have the original packaging. Use masking tape and a permanent marker, or type up a label and tape it to the packaging. Include your name, your doctor's name, the name of the medication and the recommended dosage information. The TSA doesn't require medications to be labeled but it's in your best interest to do so anyway, both to ensure you're using them safely and because officials in your destination city might require medications to be labelled.

  3. Place all medications that aren't in liquid, gel or aerosol form in your carry-on bag. If they take up too much room, you might pack a two- or three-day supply of necessary medications in separate containers to place in your carry-on, and pack the rest in your checked luggage. These substances won't have to be removed from your carry-on when you send it through the X-ray machine.

  4. Gather up all your necessary liquid, gel or aerosol medications. If the containers are smaller than 3.4 ounces each and all the containers fit in a single 1-ounce plastic bag, pack this bag in your carry-on. You'll need to take it out so it can be scanned separately from the rest of your carry-on bag; if you wish, you may also ask that these containers be screened by hand. Pack bottles larger than 3.4 ounces in your checked baggage, or place them all in a plastic bag inside your carry-on. When you arrive at security, take out this bag and tell an agent you're carrying liquid, gel or aerosol medications that need to be screened by hand.

  5. Keep refrigerated medications cold until it's time to leave for the airport. Place completely frozen gel ice packs in an insulated cooler bag and add your medications. These packs can be any size as long as they're frozen solid when you pass through security -- otherwise, the TSA treats them as liquids. Present refrigerated medications to an agent for screening by hand.

  6. Store any supplies that you need to use your medications, like syringes or IV bags, in their original packaging or in hard cases to be sure they won't be crushed during flight. Stow at least a few days' worth of these supplies in your carry-on, again being sure to remove these items from your bag and telling an agent that you're carrying them.

  7. Tip

    Talk to your doctor before traveling with any medications that have to be kept cool. He can tell you how to check if your medication has stayed cold enough throughout your trip to be safe, and he might offer specific packing tips based on the medications you require.

    Ask your doctor for copies of the prescriptions for any medications or supplies you're traveling with before your flight to an international country, suggests U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    If your medication supply is more complicated than a few pill bottles, it doesn't hurt to ask your doctor for a letter stating why each medication and extra supplies are necessary and what they're used to treat. This is especially wise if you're carrying syringes.

    Warnings

    Some medications that are legal in the United States are banned in foreign countries. For instance, inhalers and some allergy medicines aren't allowed to be brought into Japan, and travelers flying with syringes have to apply for an import certificate before a trip. When you're traveling abroad, contact the country's embassy as soon as possible to ask whether you'll encounter any problems traveling with the medical equipment you require.

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