Travelling with HIV medication

Image: Steve Buissinne / Pixabay

Key points

  • It’s safest to carry your medication in a carry-on bag, as this is less likely to get lost.
  • Keep medicines in their original packaging with labels and bring a letter from the prescribing doctor.
  • When travelling to a country with entry restrictions for people with HIV, being found with HIV drugs could create problems at border control.

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

The letter does not need to mention HIV. The doctor’s letter simply needs to state that the medicines are being carried for a chronic medical condition and that they are for personal use.

Alternatively, if you are comfortable discussing your HIV status and there are no restrictions regarding people with HIV entering the country you are travelling to (or travelling through), it may help to have a clear letter from your doctor which says that the medications are for HIV. This can sometimes help to speed up any questioning by customs or border officials.

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

If a country has entry restrictions for people with HIV, being found with HIV drugs may result in deportation. A few countries ban all foreign HIV-positive people from entering a country, while some others have no entry restrictions for tourists but require individuals to be HIV negative in order to apply for a work or residence permit. There’s more information on travel restrictions on another page.

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.

Posting medication to a friend in the destination country can be problematic because it may result in the medication being lost or delayed. Most countries have restrictions on medicines that you can send or take in – check with the country’s embassy, consulate or High Commission. Postal companies also have rules about sending medicines and the contents be inspected by customs.

Obtaining medication in the destination country may also be difficult. The medicine may not be available or could be extremely expensive. It can often be very difficult, or even impossible, to get prescribed HIV medication in a foreign country.

Treatment breaks are not recommended. If you are thinking of taking a break from your HIV treatment to travel, then you should discuss the possible risks of this with your doctor. These risks include developing resistance to your drugs, being more vulnerable to health problems in the future and – if you have a low CD4 cell count – of becoming ill while you are not taking treatment.

You should take all the medication that you need to last the full duration of the trip, plus extra to allow for delays.

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