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Common legal medications that could get Aussies fined or jailed abroad

September 19, 2018 Health and Wellness No Comments Email Email

Common over-the-counter medications that are legal in Australia such as cold and flu tablets containing codeine, nicotine gum, children’s pain relief, and even the contraceptive pill, could get Aussies fined or even locked up overseas.

Australia’s leading insurance comparison website,, analysed drug laws across 10 popular travel destinations to reveal which common medications may be illegal, require a prescription, or certified approval from a doctor when travelling overseas.

Last year, the most common country for Australians to be arrested on illegal drug-related charges was the US, closely followed by Thailand, the UAE, China and the Philippines.[1]

Abigail Koch, household savings and travel insurance expert at, said: “Even medications that are legal in Australia can attract heavy fines overseas or, in extreme cases, jail sentences in prison environments that might be much harsher than at home.[2] In these instances, travel insurance may not cover you if you are carrying or using drugs that are classified as illegal overseas.

“If you have a medical condition, it is important to talk to your doctor to see if there are alternative medications you can take, and to get a doctor’s letter or prescription before travelling. It’s also crucial to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions and current medical treatments to your travel insurer, and ensure you’re covered for any health issues that may arise while travelling.” explores the drug-related laws of popular destinations among Aussie travellers.

  1. Prohibited in the United Arab Emirates: Common contraceptive pills, nicotine lozenges and children’s Advil or Panadol. When travelling to the Gulf Countries, be extremely wary of what medications are packed in your suitcase, as possession of any drugs classified as illegal can lead to imprisonment. The UAE does not allow anything that contains codeine, Valium or Ritalin, as well as medicine to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.[3] There is a total of 70 banned medicines, including Diane 35 and 36 (contraceptive pills) some nicotine lozenges and children’s Advil and Panadol.[4] For medication that is necessary for emergency or health reasons, travellers may be allowed to carry 30 days of treatment, if they have prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health, a valid prescription and a valid certificate from the Australian health authority[5].
  1. Prohibited in the United States: addictive narcotics such as sleeping pills and antidepressants without a doctor’s letter. According to the US Customs and Border Protection, medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics need a written statement from a doctor or physician.[6] These drugs, which include sleeping pills and antidepressants, should also be in their original packaging with no more than a 90-day supply.[7]
  1. Prohibited in Thailand: codeine and drugs to treat ADHD. Double check if over-the-counter medication bought in Australia is legal in Thailand, as restrictions apply to some drugs containing codeine. Medication to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is normally prescribed by a doctor in Australia, is also considered a controlled substance in Thailand.[8]
  1. Prohibited in Hong Kong: sleeping tablets and medication to treat anxiety. Never underestimate the power of prescriptions. In Hong Kong, it is illegal to be in possession of sleeping tablets and medications used in treating certain conditions, such as erectile dysfunction or anxiety, without a doctor’s note.[9]
  1. Prohibited in Singapore: nicotine gum, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills and strong painkillers. As a country that has had a chewing gum ban since 1992, Singaporeans consider medicinal chewing gums, like nicotine gums, as a prohibited substance[10]. They also do not allow anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills and strong painkillers without a licence.[11] Common medicines, such as those used to treat diabetes or high cholesterol, are banned if you have more than three months’ supply[12].
  1. Prohibited in Japan: some cold and flu tablets. As Japan has very strict rules on what can be carried in and out of the country, it is vital to know the active ingredients within your medicine. Dexamphetamine (used to treat ADHD) and pseudoephedrine (found in some cold and flu tablets) can be a reason for detainment.[13] Other medicines containing codeine or morphine need a Narcotic Certificate before entering the country.[14]
  1. Prohibited in China: sleeping pills, medication for ADHD, and strong painkillers without a prescription.[15] Before holidaying in China, make sure you have a doctor’s note for every medication that you are carrying. It is better to be safe than sorry, as any amount above a seven-
  2. day supply of medication will need to be verified by a prescription.[16] This note should outline what the drug is being used for and the quantities required. It’s also important to bring a copy, as customs may want to keep a copy of your prescription.[17]
  1. Prohibited in Greece: codeine without a prescription. European countries vary when it comes to their rules surrounding medication, but Greece has special rules around codeine. Codeine is allowed only with a prescription stating what it is, how much is taken and that it is for personal use only.[18]
  1. Prohibited in South Korea: narcotic medications without prior approval and a prescription.[19] Medications that are classified as a controlled substance (narcotic) require approval from the Narcotic Control Division of the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) before arriving in South Korea. And, a letter or a prescription from a doctor is needed.[20]
  1. Prohibited in Russia: codeine without a doctor’s letter. Although Russia bans most drugs that are illegal in Australia, a doctor’s letter is required to confirm the need for medicine containing codeine. Other medications that Aussies can buy over the counter, including cold and flu medication, may also need a prescription.[21]

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