Traveling with medication that falls under the Opium Act
Disclaimer: please note this article is not intended as medical advise. Everything that is written here is based on personal experience. I am by no means a professional and circumstances can vary per country and per case. If you have any concerns over any and all health related issues in regards to traveling you should consult a registered health care professional at all times!
What to do when you need to bring prescription drugs on your travels?
Some of us need to bring prescription drugs with us while traveling. In that case it’s essential to do some research beforehand. You can’t just book a flight last minute and bring this medication along. If your meds fall under the Opium Act (aka Opium Law) you’ve got some paperwork to do. You simply can’t take these kind of meds abroad without some sort of medical declaration. And in some cases the meds you use on a frequent basis in your own country are strictly forbidden in others. So before booking a flight, renting a car or hopping on a train, do some research. Hopefully this blog post will help you, so you know what steps you’ll need to take next.
Let’s start digging. We all bring medication along. The most popular ones being paracetamol and melatonine. You can easily take those abroad and customs won’t even blink. Unfortunately some of us (or our travel companions) have to take medication on a daily basis and that means taking it with you while traveling. In most cases it’s enough to go to your general practitioner or pharmacy and ask for a medication passport.
In our family two of us take Concerta, another one takes Ritalin and one of us also takes Risperidon. So we have a lot of experience with filling in the right forms and getting those forms legalized before we go on a trip. Now keep in mind that we live in the Netherlands, so the things I write about are only applicable to you if you live in and travel to a Schengen-country. Later on in this post I will also write about what we have to do when we travel outside of the Schengen-area.
Please keep in mind, that if you are in doubt if what I write here is applicable to your situation, please consult your country’s ministry of General Affairs and the embassy of the country or countries you will be visiting. Always double check your resources, to be sure you are taking the right and necessary steps.
Check if your medication falls under the Opium Act
First check if the medication that you and/or a family member takes is listed on the consult lists I and II of the Opium Act. You can google that easily. In our case we know that Concerta and Ritalin fall under the Opium Act and Risperidon doesn’t. The only action we have to take to bring Risperidon with us is to get a medication passport and bring it along. This passport will state the type of medication, why you have to take it and the dose prescribed to the patient. That’s it, easy peasy!
It does require some action to take Concerta and Ritalin with us and I will let you know what we have to do in case of a visit to Schengen countries or non-Schengen countries.
Packing 3 passports
While traveling we always bring along our ID, in most cases a passport. You can’t travel to another country without it. But we also take along two other passports on our trip.
This is not a legalized passport. It’s a document you can get from your general practitioner or your local pharmacy. If you lose your meds while traveling you can show the pharmacy in the country you’re visiting what you need and if you’ve got a prescription with you or if it’s available without a prescription you’re hooked up in minutes.
Please note that if you’ve lost medication that falls under the Opium Act, it depends on the country if they’ll help you or not. So take extra good care of those while traveling.
We also always bring our vaccination passport. Some countries want proof of the vaccinations you’ve gotten. And if you suddenly get sick and have to visit a hospital, they’ll want to know if you’re vaccinated, so they can rule out certain viruses. Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, the vaccination passport is even more relevant. It’s highly likely that more and more countries will refuse visitors that haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccination.
Lastly, while we still bring along our hardcopies, there are lots of medication and vaccination apps you can download on your phone. In both cases it’s important to check if the apps are official and accepted worldwide as proof.
A visit to one or more Schengen countries
The first thing you need to do is fill in a Schengen certificate, which is a type of medical declaration. If you live in The Netherlands download the latest copy of this certificate from the website of the CAK. If you live in another Schengen country google the words Schengen certificate in your own language and you will surely find it. If available you should download the English version rather than one in your own language. One in your own language will work though. The back of the form (see pic below) usually translates all the lines, but it could take you a bit longer at customs. The next step is that you fill in your own personal info and info about your medication and dose and then get your general practitioner to fill in the rest, sign and stamp the form. If you’ve done this then you should send the original document or email a copy to the institution that you’ve downloaded the form from, in my case the CAK. They will check if everything is filled out ok and legalize the document. They will send the form back to you with a stamp, date of legalization and a signature.
This next step is not particularly necessary but you better be safe than sorry. I always call the embassy of the country I’m visiting to check if this is enough. I never had to take an extra step, but I will keep on calling with every trip to a Schengen country because if it turns out that you’ve missed a step than in the best case you have to sit in a separate room at the airport getting briefed by customs while they check if everything is fine and in the worst case they take you in because they think you’re trying to import drugs into their country. And that’s a situation that no one wants to be in.
- take your medication and medical declarations with you in your carry-on so you can show both to customs;
- keep your pills in their original package so customs can easily see what you’re bringing.
- keep any loose pills in your carry-on or checked-in bags. If found they will have to perform a drug test and it will be positive which will cost you precious time explaining that these are the pills that are prescribed legally to you;
- make jokes to customs about bringing drugs with you (for the same reasons you can’t joke about bringing bombs on board).
Other things you should know is that a certificate is only valid for 30 days and for a maximum of four Schengen countries. If you want to stay longer (between 31 and 90 days) you should use multiple Schengen certificates and if you want to stay for over 90 days, well then you need a Medical Declaration in English. Which is the form you also need to use if you live in a Schengen country and you will travel to an non-Schengen country.
In The Netherlands I start filling in the forms 8 weeks in advance. Filling in the form myself and getting the general practitioner to take action for us takes up around a week. Sending the form to CAK will take a maximum of two weeks (but I’ve always received them within a week). So I’m all done 4 to 5 weeks before the trip and if I ever have to go to an embassy (only at their request) I have enough time to get over there for a stamp. By the way, that will set you back a penny, they never legalize any document for free.
A visit to one or more non-Schengen countries
As I mentioned above you need a Medical Declaration in English to visit countries outside of the Schengen area. You have to take more steps than with a Schengen certificate so start as soon as you can. Ideally a few months in advance. First you call the embassy of the country, or countries, you will visit. And ask them what border control needs to let you safely enter their country. I always get the same answer. They want you to visit their embassy or consulate, so they can legalize your Medical Declaration after you’ve taken all other steps first.
First go to the International Narcotics Control Board and find your destination to double check the rules regarding import of your meds. After that download an empty medical certificate from the institute that your government assigned the duty of taken care of consular issues. Fill it in and again go to your general practitioner for his/her signature and stamp. After that go to the institute that handles consular issues in your country to get your form legalized by them. It might be a possibility to arrange this via mail, but I don’t want the form to get lost and want to get this step handled as fast as I can, so I always go and get the stamp (or in the case of The Netherlands: a sticker) myself. In The Netherlands I have to pay a fee for this step (10 euro per document). You need to bring an ID with you or else you’ll get send home without a legalized document.
After that visit the consulate(s) or embassy(ies) of the country or countries you’re traveling to and get a stamp there. Again: bring your passport. The cost for this step depends on the country you are going to. Every country asks for a different fee.
That’s it! You’re done and you’ve ended up with a document with multiple stickers and/or stamps.
These are the must things to check and do when traveling with medication that falls under the Opium Act. Now all you have to do is get on that plane, bus, car or train, bring your meds and last but not least: don’t forget your documents!
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