Birgitta posted the following question on the Facebook page for Travel with Aging Parents: What do I do in the unlikely event my parents’ medication (or even mine) is lost or stolen during a trip overseas? How do I go about getting prescription medications refilled quickly?

Thank you for the question, Birgitta! Losing any belongings during a trip is stressful—and losing medication is especially scary. No one wants to be in an unfamiliar place without medicine needed for health or comfort. The best way to handle this situation is by preparing for the worst-case scenario. Here’s how.

I’ll start with some general tips for traveling with medication:

  • Keep your medications (prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and even vitamins) in their original, labeled bottles. A bag of unidentified pills in your luggage doesn’t look good to a customs agent, and some countries have strict policies on medications they allow.
  • Pack your medication in your carry-on bag. If that’s not possible, carry with you the amount of medication you’ll need (plus a little extra, to cover unexpected delays) for the in-transit part of your trip and put the rest (in its original containers) in your checked luggage.
  • Take contact information for your doctor and your pharmacist in case you need to call them with questions or emergencies during your trip.

Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, before you start your trip have a conversation with your doctor (or your parent’s doctor, if your aging parent is going with you). Let him or her know where you’re going and ask for an emergency prescription in case you lose your medication. Request a letter that documents the medication you’re taking as well as the medical condition that requires it. Make sure both the letter and the prescription include the medication’s generic name (not brand name) so it can be recognized in other parts of the world.

Even if you follow all the best advice, you still might lose your medication while traveling. If this happens to you, the first and easiest thing to do is to contact your doctor and ask him or her to call in a new prescription at a pharmacy in your destination. This should be easy if you’re traveling domestically; in fact, many domestic pharmacies have locations across the country, so you may be able to find a local branch of your pharmacy and order a refill there.

pharmacy-symbol-shutterstock_170432138If your medication gets lost or stolen on an international trip, take your emergency prescription form (assuming it didn’t get lost or stolen as well) to a local pharmacy. You might have to visit a few pharmacies to find one that will fill your prescription.

If you don’t have a paper prescription, ask a local pharmacist to call your doctor and get over-the-phone approval for a new prescription. If that doesn’t work, you may need to visit a local doctor and request a new prescription. Both the American Board of Medical Specialists and the U.S. State Department maintain lists of physicians and hospitals throughout the world, often specifying those that speak English. (To avoid having to find this information during an emergency, you may want to compile a list of English-speaking doctors at your destination before you leave home and pack it in your luggage.)

Unfortunately, Social Security and Medicare don’t provide coverage outside the USA—and your health insurance provider might not, either, so you may end up paying full price for any prescriptions you need filled during your trip. Before leaving home, ask your insurance company if you’re covered overseas; if you aren’t, look into purchasing a short-term policy that offers international coverage.

I hope you never have to deal with losing medication during a trip. But if you do, it’s easier to handle (and resolve) if you’ve put in the time and energy to plan for this possibility before your trip. Following the tips I’ve provided here should take care of most of those preparations.

Have you lost medications during a trip? Do you have any advice for how to handle this situation when it happens—or for pre-trip preparations that can make this sort of emergency easier to resolve? Please share your stories and suggestions in the comments!