No – you won’t get arrested flying with medication (probably)

No – you won’t get arrested flying with medication (probably)

Don’t worry. Flying with medication is an easy thing to manage with a bit of knowledge, prep work, and a plan. Legal prescriptions and medications may still be subject to search and seizure, but understanding the requirements for flying with medication will ensure that you have everything you need for a safe and healthy trip.

Basically, you’re unlikely to have any issues traveling with medication as long as it’s in the original container with the prescription printed on the label. Also, it’s important to make sure any liquid medication is in a container weighing 3.4 ounces or less. Anything more is going to get you sent to a sketchy dark room in the basement for a full body cavity search.

Ok, I’m just kidding about the cavity search. But you will be subject to further screening, which can potentially add a lot of time and hassle when passing through the security checkpoint. Basically, in terms of overall difficultly, it’s about the same as flying with a cat. And maybe slightly less difficult than flying with a large dog.

Are the rules for flying with medication the same in all US states?

It is important to note that approval to fly with medication will always rest on the individual TSA agent or officer at the time of screening. Both people and luggage are subject to additional searches at any time.

The TSA provides updated guidance on specific products through their Twitter account, but know that regulations are subject to change. An Agent’s individual interpretation of those rules can vary.

Although each US state has adopted different medication laws regarding personal use and transport, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. 

Yes, flying with medication can find you in a state where your medication is not allowed, available for purchase, or permitted for use. Even prescription medications may vary between states, and some states allow for products that are still federally banned.

However, nearly any drug or medication you have a legal prescription for will be allowed across state lines. Yes, there are edge cases, but they are so rare that they’re not even worth worrying about.

Unless you have a warrant out against you, that is. Yes, you can fly with a warrant, but being questioned about your medication by the TSA is a good way to get nabbed. Just sayin’.

If you have any concerns at all, it’s important to check ahead of time with that state’s drug enforcement agency or TSA office to determine if your medication could be confiscated or cause a problem.

SANspotter waiting at airport
That feeling of relief when you’ve made it past the security checkpoint without being arrested (and/or body cavity searched) for the medication in your carryon bag.

Do prescription drugs have to be in original containers?

The TSA and other travel authorities recommend keeping your medications in original containers for flying (even though it is not always required). Containers that clearly highlight the prescription details, generic drug name(s), your name as shown on your ID/ Passport, your doctor’s name, and any relevant dosing information will only increase the speed and ease of inspection.

If you prefer to keep your pills or medications organized using a daily dispenser or tray, keep in mind that it may be better to transfer medications to these containers once you have arrived and settled at your final destination.

pill container and airport security
“Well officer, if you must know, these pills help to stop the growth of fungus between my toes. I swear.”

Keeping your medication in it’s original container is vitally important since you will not get back any item that the TSA confiscates from you at the security checkpoint. I’ve written an extensive guide on what the TSA does with confiscated items, and long story short, it behooves you to play by their rules if the medication in your carryon is really important.

Container rules for domestic US Travel

With each state having different legalities around flying with medication, it is wiser to travel with medications in the original containers. Even if your state of origin allows you to travel with medication, the destination may require medications to be in their original containers. Check with your destination’s local authority for more information on how to fly with medication.

Container rules for international Travel

Every country has unique rules and laws for labeling and declaring medications upon arrival and for general use in their jurisdiction. The local authority for medications in your destination country is the best place to refer to for more information.

  • The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol requires that any prescription medication be in their original container with a doctor’s prescription printed on the container.
  • Quantities should be limited to no more than required for personal use during travel, with a reasonable amount of extra doses for unforeseen delays, around a 90-day supply at maximum.
  • Prescription letters are required for any medications or medical devices that are not in their original containers and for all medication entering the United States.

Again, if you have any concerns at all, it’s smart to check ahead of time with medical authorities to make sure that you will not be subject to penalties on arrival or when attempting to return to the United States.

The best place to check for guidance and more information is with the embassy or consulate at the locations you will be visiting.

  • Keep their contact information handy during travel in case of emergency.
  • Make a plan with your medical professional for alternative treatment should your medication be unavailable or confiscated.
carryon bag under seat
Staring at your carryon bag for the entire flight because you’re worried that the medication inside might get you arrested upon arrival is not a fun way to fly. Relax! And order another drink if you must…

Do you have to declare medication when flying?

The TSA only requires that medications be declared to an officer if there are medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces carried on a flight (not in your checked luggage). Materials used to store medications and regulate their temperatures, such as ice or gel packs, are also subject to additional screenings. But they may pass the liquid law requirements if fully frozen or mostly frozen at the checkpoint.

Declaring liquids

Medically necessary quantities of liquid, gel, or aerosol substances may be allowed in reasonable amounts for your trip. Still, anything over the stated limit for carry-on (3.4 ounces) must be declared for carry-on or stored in your checked baggage.

However, authorities recommend that you transport medications in your carry-on if your medication is needed quickly or your luggage gets lost. Any declaration will most likely mean additional inspection steps and time, so plan accordingly.

Declaring pills or Solids

Pills and solid forms of prescribed medications are not subject to the same quantity limits or declaration requirements as liquids. However, it is still recommended to limit the amount of medication you fly with to what is medically necessary for your trip (with reasonable additional doses in the event of delays).

You are not required to declare pills unless an exception needs to be made to a flight rule or regulation.

American Airlines 737-800 ORD airport
I don’t know about you, but I’m still thinking about the fact that it’s possible to get ice through the security checkpoint at airports. I had no idea!

How does the TSA screen medication? (liquids vs. pills)

The TSA typically screens medication by X-ray or through a visual inspection. If a visual inspection is preferred by the traveler, it is the individual’s responsibility to request it with an agent prior to anything being sent through the X-ray tunnel process. Liquids are subject to different rules than solids or pills, and materials used to store or transport your medication are also subject to search and seizure.

In case, you’re wondering, yes – airport scanners can detect drugs (and medication).

A TSA officer may ask for any container with liquids, pills, or solids to be opened and inspected at any time. They may manually swab or use technology to check your containers or test your medications for banned or problematic substances.

If your medication needs to remain sealed or stored securely, carry documentation that supports this fact. Supporting documentation can be in the form of a letterhead from a medical professional or medical provider and storage/handling information about the medication in question. Keep copies in your native languages and for places you may travel to improve or ease of communication.

How they screen liquids

A declaration of liquids, even prescription medications, in excess of 3.4 ounces will most likely be subject to additional testing (like a manual swab of the container or medication previously mentioned). Documentation will support a case to prevent opening a container, but it is up to the TSA agent to make the final call.

How they screen pills or solids

Pills or solids may pass through X-ray alone for approval, but be prepared for additional testing or inspections (and plan for that extra time). Keep your pills in their original container or labeled appropriately to reduce the TSA’s concern or need for additional inspections.

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