Travelling with HIV medication

Published: 19 August 2010
  • It’s advisable to carry medication in hand luggage and bring a letter from the prescribing doctor.

  • When travelling across time zones, it may be helpful to adjust the timing of doses, but plans should be discussed in advance with a doctor or pharmacist.

If any prescription medication is being taken abroad, it needs to be accompanied by documentation for the medication. This documentation can simply be the medication’s original packet/bottle, which also shows the name of the person carrying the medication and medication details. However, carrying a letter from the prescribing doctor confirming that the medication is necessary during the trip is also advised. This will help to minimise any problems at border control.

Carrying a letter that discusses HIV is not necessary. A letter from a doctor simply needs to state that the medicines are being carried for a chronic medical condition and that they are for personal use.

 If someone is carrying medication, they may be questioned about it at a country’s security or border control. Having answers ready will help to make the process easier. Again, HIV status does not need to be discussed but there may be a requirement to state that the drugs are for a chronic health problem.

If a country has entry restrictions for people with HIV, being found with HIV drugs may result in deportation. At the end of this chapter (see Countries and their restrictions), you will find a detailed list of each country’s policies regarding entry for people with HIV.

If there are definitely no restrictions regarding people with HIV entering a country, it can sometimes help to have a clear letter from an HIV clinic explaining that any medications are for HIV and that the person is fit to travel. This can sometimes help to speed up any questioning process at border control. However, this is a very personal decision based on how an individual feels about disclosing their status. 

Some people try to avoid carrying medications through borders but use strategies to have access to medication in the destination country. This can lead to difficulties. These strategies include posting medication to a friend in a destination country and trying to obtain medication in the destination country. Both of these strategies can cause problems and lead to doses of medication being missed.

Taking a break from HIV medication (missing doses) can stop medications from being effective and can lead to poor health. Treatment breaks should not be attempted without discussion with a doctor.

Posting medication can be problematic because it may result in the medication being lost or delayed. This would leave the person with HIV unable to take their vital medication. It may also be illegal to post the medication and post contents can be inspected by customs. Most countries have restrictions on medicines that you can send or take in. The restrictions vary between countries but can be checked with the country’s embassy, consulate or High Commission. They will have information about their restrictions on imported medicine. Postal companies also have rules about sending medicines through the post which need to be observed.

Obtaining medication in the destination country may also be difficult. The medicine may not be available to buy or to be prescribed. Even if it is available, it could be extremely expensive. Some countries do not have strict controls on how a drug is made, so it is not always possible to know exactly what is being purchased.

It can often be very difficult, or even impossible, to get prescribed HIV medication in a foreign country. People with HIV should carry with them all of the medication that they need to last the full duration of the trip, plus extra to allow for delays.

It’s advisable to carry HIV medication and appropriate documentation in hand luggage. This helps to avoid problems if luggage which is checked in becomes delayed or goes missing. For short trips, it may be sensible to carry double the amount of pills needed, a full dose in hand luggage and another in the checked-in baggage. This will mean medication is available if either bag goes missing.

Carrying a bottle of water with medications will make sure that pills can be taken if there is no access to water. Water may need to be purchased after security checks due to restrictions on carrying liquids. Snacks may also be needed if medicines need to be taken with food.

Storing HIV medicines

Today, the vast majority of HIV treatments do not need special storage. Some exceptions still exist with both anti-HIV drugs and other medications that may be needed. The patient information leaflet inside the medicine should provide details and should be checked before travel. Instructions should be checked to make sure that heat or humidity will not affect the medication. If special storage is required, accommodation in the destination country will need to be found which has appropriate facilities – such as refrigeration.

Time-zone changes

Most medications for HIV and associated illnesses need to be taken at the same time every day. The patient-information leaflet inside the medicine should provide details of dose timings. The prescribing doctor or pharmacist will also be able to give advice on when medicines should be taken.

Taking medication at the same time every day can be difficult when crossing time zones. It is possible to continue taking medications at the same UK time, but these times may be inconvenient in the destination country. If a country is seven hours behind UK time, for example, any pills normally taken at 9am UK time would need to be consumed at 2am in the destination country. Alarms can be set as a reminder (especially if the timing falls during hours of sleep). Doses can be altered to fit with the destination time zone and this can be discussed with a doctor. Preparing for time-zone changes should be done well in advance. This involves gradually changing the time that a medication is taken before travel to fit with the destination time zone. Medication can usually be taken one or two hours later for a number of days until the timing fits with the destination country. The process should be reversed on return.

Any plans for adjusting the timing of medication should be discussed with the prescribing doctor or pharmacist before travel.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.