Medication Abroad: What You Need To Know

Medication Abroad

Do you try think of every possible situation when you’re packing your bags? “Might have a headache”, in goes the Advil. “What if I eat something bad?”, throw in the Pepto Bismol. “Definitely could see myself getting blisters”, add a whole pack of Band-aids. Ok, so that last is one I still do, but that’s because I know I’m getting blisters, there is no ‘if’ about it! But do you really need to pack your entire medicine cabinet each time you leave the country?

Chances are, the place you’re going, they have pharmacies. If you have a headache on your trip, make a quick detour to the pharmacy and pick up something there. The pharmacist can assist you if you don’t know the name of what you want, but it can also be helpful to know some generic names for the common medications you use at home.

Over-the-Counter Medication Names

Here’s a list of some of the over-the-counter medication you might need abroad:

Generic NameDescriptionCommon U.S. Brand
AcetominophenA pain reliever for mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, muscles aches, backache, and toothaches, and fever. Tylenol
IbuprofenA non-steroidal anti inflammatory drug. Treats both pain and spikes in temperature. Motrin, Advil
DiphenylhydramineAn antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergy, hay fever, and the common cold. Benadryl
Calcium CarbonateUsed to treat symptoms caused by too much stomach acid such as heartburn, upset stomach, or indigestion. Tums
Bismuth subsalicylateUsed to treat nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, and other temporary discomforts of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. Pepto Bismol
DextromethorphanUsed to help relieve constant coughing. Robitussin
GuaifenesinUsed to loosen up and thin phlegm (mucus) in your throat and lungs so that coughs are more productive. Robitussin


Now that we have the basics covered, let’s move on and discuss antibiotics. Being American, I don’t have any access to antibiotics without seeing a doctor first. So if I’ve been prescribed something, it will definitely be coming with me, because it means I am currently battling an infection!

But what if I arrive healthy, and then get sick? Every country has a different policy regarding whether antibiotics require prescriptions or can be sold over-the-counter.

I got strep throat in Turkey a few years ago and was lucky to learn that I could ask for amoxicillin at my local pharmacy, skipping a trip to the doctor. This won’t always be the case, so if you are from a country that sells antibiotics over-the-counter, you may want to bring some with you if you are concerned about bacterial infections.

Birth Control Abroad

Last, but certainly not least, is birth control. I will focus on pills since it is the most common form available. This is another case where requiring a prescription varies by country.  This website shows each country’s availability of oral contraception (aka birth control pills).

In the U.S., you can usually get your health insurance to pay for up to 3 months of the pill at a time. If your trip is less than three months, this should be sufficient.

For longer periods of time, you can request to purchase more. It is up to your insurance company and your doctor to approve or deny this request. You can still get more packs if insurance denies the request, but you will have to pay out-of-pocket for them. Some pharmacies will even suggest just coming back the next day to put in another 3-month request, in order to have the insurance company cover it.

What about the blisters?

Oh, I forgot bandages! This is one you will find, without a doubt, in every pharmacy in the world. Americans, take note! Band-aid is a brand, not the name of a product. Weird, right? If you’re not American, you’re sitting there going ‘duh’. But I put ‘band-aid’ into Google Translate one time to show a clerk in a grocery store abroad and he just stared at me. It translates to band-aid. Because…it’s a brand. For all you Americans reading, they are bandages or plasters.

And for anyone visiting the U.S., they are band-aids.

So next time you pack, keep your medicine cabinet where it’s at, and just bring the essentials. You will be well-covered at your destination should you fall sick. Is there anything you think is missing from this list? Also, I would love to know what the over-the-counter drugs listed above are usually branded as in your country!

2 thoughts on “Medication Abroad: What You Need To Know”

  1. I’m German and was therefore used to the same restrictions as you obviously have them in the US before I moved to South America. In Peru, you can buy antibiotics and contraceptives at the pharmacy without a prescription and it’s not expensive, either. I carry Ibuprofen with me because a headache easily happens but that’s all.

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