baggage claim


Laws and Rules About Bringing Prescription Drugs to the U.S.

Personal importation refers to bringing a product into the country that is not going to be used for redistribution. (Learn More) Several governmental organizations oversee the process of bringing goods and other products like prescription drugs into the country. (Learn More)

The FDA is very strict about bringing in medications that are not approved for use in the United States, but there are some situations where you might catch a break. (Learn More) There are also some circumstances where you can almost be certain that you cannot bring in a specific medication. (Learn More)

Regulations for bringing in a medicine your pet takes are the same as they are for any medications you attempt to bring in. (Learn More) Guidelines on bringing in controlled substances from another country are very strict. (Learn More)

You can avoid problems traveling with your own personal prescription medications if you follow some simple rules when you leave the country with them. (Learn More)

Personal Importation

Personal importation refers to bringing a product into the United States that is not going to be used for sale or redistribution. In many cases, it will be illegal for you to import or bring in drugs, particularly prescription drugs, into the United States from other countries, especially if these drugs are purchased in other countries.

Any substance not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is illegal to import into the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has strict rules on bringing in controlled substances from other countries.

Who Oversees the Process?

TSA checkpoint

When you bring medications into the United States, you are subject to the authority of the FDA, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the country’s airports, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

If you are bringing in a prescription medication, you should have a prescription or doctor’s note that is written in English; the medication should be in its original container; and the instructions from the physician should be present on the bottle (in English). You should also have a letter from the prescribing physician explaining the condition the medication is treating and why you acquired this medication.

Normally, you are only allowed to bring a limited amount of medication into the country for personal use. The general rule of thumb is to not bring in more than a 90-day supply.

Products that are not approved for use in the United States by the FDA are subject to very strict guidelines. In most cases, you cannot bring these in.

Circumstances Where You Might Be Able to Bring in an Unimproved Product

The FDA provides guidelines on bringing in medications or medical devices for personal use. Situations where this might be allowed include the following:

  • If the product is not for the treatment of a serious condition and there are no known health risks associated with it, it may be allowed in.
  • In cases where the product is for the treatment of a serious condition, you might be able to bring it in if it has been shown effective in treating the condition and it is not domestically available. It must not be promoted or commercialized in the United States; the quantity you bring in must be equal to or less than a three-month supply; the product must not present an unreasonable risk to people using it; and you must be able to affirm in writing that it is for personal use only.
  • In addition, you typically will have to provide the name and address of the doctor within the U.S. responsible for your treatment or provide evidence that the product is associated with the continuation of a treatment that began in a foreign country.

Although importation of nonapproved substances is often denied, the FDA and other governmental authorities understand that there are circumstances where you may need treatment for some condition with a drug that is not available domestically. The following situations might work in your favor:

  • If the medication is for a serious condition that does not have an effective treatment available in the United States
  • If there is no promotion of the drug to residents of the United States
  • If the drug does not appear to represent an unreasonable risk to your health or the health of others who take it
  • If you can convince the government that you are not importing the drug to sell it to others but you are only going to use it yourself
  • If you have letters from different physicians as listed in the above sections

Instances Where the FDA Would Refuse Personal Importation

You can be certain that you cannot bring in prescription medications from other countries when: 

  • The product is on an FDA import alert as a result of previous violations.
  • The product appears to be a serious risk to the health of anyone taking it.
  • The product you are bringing in is intended to be distributed commercially.
  • The product appears in an FDA-regulated article that indicates it is associated with a scam or health fraud.

Can I Bring in Pet Medications From Other Countries?

The FDA reports that the same restrictions apply to veterinary medications brought in from other countries, except you need a letter from a licensed veterinarian. Remember that if the product has been demonstrated to be unsafe or associated with risks, you most likely will not be able to bring it into the country.

two pills

What About Controlled Substances?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is responsible for restrictions on controlled substances being brought into the country. In most cases, if you got the controlled substance in a foreign country and it is not approved for use in the United States for the treatment of a specific condition, it will be denied.

The DEA website has more information on the personal importation of controlled substances.

Traveling With Prescription Medications

The general rule of thumb in this situation is to have documentation that the prescription medication is for your own personal use, that a physician legally prescribed it to you, that the drug is used for a recognized medical condition, and that you will only use the drug for its prescribed purpose.

The FDA and other sources strongly suggest that you only take enough medication with you to last the duration of your time out of the country. If you attempt to take more than that, authorities might become suspicious.

References

Personal importation. (August 2018). Food and Drug Administration.

Disabilities and Medical Conditions. Transportation Security Administration.

Can I Travel With Medications and Medical Devices, Such as Needles or Oxygen Tanks?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Personal Importation Policy (PIP) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Food and Drug Administration.

Import Alerts. (April 2019). Food and Drug Administration.

Subchapter II — Import and Export. Drug Enforcement Administration.