Many people, particularly elderly family members visiting the US have regular medications that they must take in order to manage acute pain or symptoms, a chronic condition, or a pre-existing condition. Therefore, it is essential that they have access to necessary medications while visiting the USA.
However, it can be confusing as to how to go about this. Many visitors are unaware of what medications are legal to bring into the US, how much they can bring, and what paperwork is required. In addition, visiting family members may wonder what they should do if they run out of medication while in the USA. This post aims to answer those questions.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications
If you take a regular nonprescription medication such paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc. for pain management, a nonprescription allergy medication, or are on a daily aspirin regimen or similar nonprescription drug, you can typically bring these medications into the US in personal use quantities with no issues. It’s generally advised that you keep them in their original packaging for easy identification by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.
If you happen to run out of an OTC medication while in the US, you can easily purchase most types at US pharmacies and grocery stores. The available brands may be different than what you’re used to taking in your home country, but you can generally find a medication with the same active ingredients. And since no prescription is required for these medications, purchasing more can be done just as easily as buying groceries or bandages.
When entering the United States, the importation of prescription drugs falls under the purview of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and CBP and Transportation and Security (TSA) agents in airports.
Though the exact rules can differ, you generally should keep prescription medication in its original container with the doctor’s instructions printed on the container. If you’re unable to provide the original container, you must bring a copy of the prescription or a letter from your doctor demonstrating your need for the medication.
It should be noted that the FDA does not allow foreigners to import unapproved versions of FDA-approved drugs into the United States, as the FDA cannot guarantee their safety or effectiveness. You may be required to get a prescription from a US doctor for the FDA-approved version of the drug if this is the case. If you have concerns about whether or not a drug will be allowed into the United States, you are encouraged to call the Division of Drug Information at +1 855-543-DRUG (3784), or email them at [email protected].
Bringing Prescription Drugs into the US – FAQ
What quantity of a prescription drug can I bring into the US?
The FDA advises bringing no more than you need for personal use during the length of your stay, with a maximum allowable 90-day supply.
What if I’m staying in the US for longer than 90 days?
Generally, you would be advised to make an appointment with a USA-based doctor and have them prescribe the appropriate medication for the remaining length of your stay based on their assessment. Some visitors medical insurance plans may offer prescription drug coverage that can assist with this cost.
There are certain situations where you can have additional supply of your prescription delivered to the USA via courier, but this would need to be cleared with an FDA official, and all proper documentation must be provided. The FDA also cautions that this medication could get held up in customs for up to a month so that it can be properly examined. In most cases, it is far easier to get a new prescription from a US-based doctor.
Can the pharmacy just refill the prescription from the doctor in my home country?
Though the answer to this can vary depending upon the US state you are in, most US pharmacies cannot fill foreign prescriptions. Once again, it is best to use your visitors medical insurance to get a new prescription written by a US doctor if necessary. The scope of visitors insurance coverage in this situation will vary depending upon the coverage you have purchased.
What if my prescription drug isn’t available in the USA?
In cases where the visitor must have treatment using a foreign drug that is unavailable in the USA and no alternative in the USA is suitable, you may be able to contact the FDA to make an exception. However, keep in mind that you must provide the following information when doing so:
- Evidence that the drug is for treatment of a serious medical condition and there is no effective treatment available in the US.
- Proof that the drug is not marketed or promoted to US residents.
- Evidence that the drug does not present an unreasonable health risk.
- A letter where you verify in writing that the drug is for your personal use only.
- A letter written in English from your doctor stating that the drug is for the continuation of a treatment plan that began outside the USA, or the name and address of a US-licensed doctor who will supervise your use of the drug. This information must accompany the package and be addressed to a CBP official.
- Importation of no more than a 90-day supply of said drug.
Once again, keep in mind that CBP may detain this drug for up to a month until an FDA inspector can examine it and release it to you, so you must take care to begin this process well before your existing supply runs out if you have no other options.
If you have any questions about this process, please call the Division of Drug Information at +1 855-543-DRUG (3784), or email them at [email protected].