What to Know When Traveling to the US with Medications and Specific Health Problems

Hospital concept

What to Know When Traveling to the US with Medications and Specific Health Problems

Medicine concept

Traveling to the USA is an exciting time but if you have to bring medication with you or medical devices you will have to take special steps to ensure that you do not experience any delays before you can enter the country. The US has very tight regulations and security requirements when it comes to medications and medical devices. Following these simple guidelines will save you a great deal of stress.

When you travel to the US with medications there are three agencies that handle the regulations that you will have to comply with. The TSA (transportation security agency) the FDA (food and drug administration) and Border Patrol and Customs.

Each agency has very specific rules in place and you have to comply with them all. We are going to take a look at the various items that are considered “medications” and “medical devices” and what you have to do to be able to bring them with you to the US.


Prescription Medications

If your doctor has prescribed a medication that you will need during your visit to the US, you will need a letter from your doctor (written in English) confirming that you will need this medication during your visit. The medication should be in the original container with dosing information and your name on the label.

Do not bring more medication then you need for your stay, typically 90-day supply is the maximum allowable.

Speaking with doctor

Be sure that you have the proper documentation from your physician and it is in English.

A lot of travellers inquire as to whether or not they can just have their prescriptions refilled or filled at a local pharmacy in the US, while the rules vary from state to state the majority of the time the answer is NO you will not be able to fill your prescription in the US so you do have to be sure that you bring enough medication with you for the duration of your stay.

The FDA may also have some issue with you bringing drugs in the US that are not approved for use in the US but typically if you have the proper paperwork you will be fine. As long as you are traveling with small quantities you will not likely run into problems, you can read more about the FDA regulations right here!


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When you have your doctor write the letter be sure that they include the following statement as part of the letter:

YOUR NAME has been a patient under my care and began taking (the name of the drug here) on (date here) and is required to continue the treatment protocol while they travel”

Speaking with doctor

To help with the screening process during your arrival separate medication by keeping it in a zippered bag. Pills and other solids will have to be screened through the machine.

Liquids do not have to be kept in a zippered plastic bag they can be stored in your carryon luggage but you should have them separate and ready to be screened through the machine.

Let the TSA officer know that you have the medications or liquids/creams with you and what they are for. The TSA officer may need to open liquids, test some and might even dispose of some if the liquid cannot be proven safe.

It is best when traveling with liquids to travel with new unopened bottles to help facilitate the inspection process.

Medical Devices

To ensure everyone’s safety when traveling with medical devices such as oxygen tanks, wheel chairs and other assistive devices you will have to go through the screening process.

In some cases, like when you have an ostomy bag that you will not be required to go through the high imaging machines but will be required to pat yourself down and have your hands tested for evidence of explosives.

Other devices that may require special treatment include:

broke human leg


Insulin pumps

Insulin pumps

Medication pumps

Medication pumps



In some cases, when the device can be removed it will have to be removed. You will be able to sit off to the side in a specially designated area for the screening.

Portable oxygen machines, nebulizers and CPAP machines all have to undergo screening. Before you board for your trip be sure that your portable oxygen tank is approved for in flight travel.

If you are diabetic and are insulin dependent and have to travel with a cooler, needles and other supplies it is very important that you have the “medical necessity” letter with you at all times during your travels or you risk having your goods confiscated.

In most all cases when you are using medically assistive technology the best step you can take to ensure that you do not have to deal with long delays is to have a note from your doctor about the device written in English!

In all cases unless you have explicit instructions from your doctor that the oxygen machine CANNOT be removed for inspection you will have to remove it

Medical tools concept

Diseases, Illnesses and Conditions

Traveling to the US when you are ill and NOT under a doctor’s care with clearly outlined diagnosis does not bode too well. The US custom agents are trained to look for people that are a potential threat due to health issues.

It is important to have documentation with you that shows that you are not contagious, that you do not have anything communicable and that you are under treatment if you are obviously sick.

If you are:

  • Vision impaired/blind
  • Hearing impaired/wearing hearing aids
  • Have other conditions

You will want to notify the TSA officer so special provisions can be made for your screening.

If you are traveling with someone that has dementia, mental illness, learning disabilities or retardation you will want to let the screener know so that special steps can be taken for the screening process.

Doctor consultation

If you show up at the entry point with a fever that has not been diagnosed, you can be refused entry. Most times you are not but it depends on what country you are coming from, how high your fever is, if there are other signs of illness and whether or not you are currently under a doctor’s care.

In most cases your word is considered good enough but if you can have documentation to substantiate the condition it is always best.

Traveling with medical devices, medication or being disabled does not mean that you cannot travel to the US it just means that you will have to ensure that you have the proper documents to make things go smoothly.

It may seem like a great deal of stress to have to deal with but ultimately keep in mind that we are not living in a very safe world and taking these steps keeps all travellers safe!

Just remember-document, your illness, condition and/or needs for medication with your doctor on your doctors letterhead and you will be fine!



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