Take Your Meds

If you’ve accepted an overseas teaching position & are living with a medical condition, you absolutely must do your due diligence to verify beyond a shadow of a doubt that any required treatments or meds are available in your new location. Simply asking the person interviewing you at a Recruiting Fair is not sufficient research.

   It should go without saying that many prescriptions &/or medications readily available in the West are difficult, if not impossible, to find in other areas of the world. When you move overseas, no matter where in the world you are going, you owe it to yourself to bring at least a few months’ supply of your prescription so you can stay healthy until someone sends you what you need, if it should become necessary. But do be prepared for ridiculous customs duties & maybe even a bribe or two before you actually receive your package.

   ISR hosts a handful of School Reviews that relate absolute horror stories from teachers who failed to bring meds or were unable to find required periodic treatments for themselves or dependents. For some teachers, the only option was to break contract & return home. Don’t become a victim of insufficient research!

Important Medication Facts to Keep in Mind

• It is illegal to send some medications to certain countries by mail. Check with the postal service & customs office.  This regulation will usually apply to controlled substances, but not always. In Japan some common medications are included on the no-mail list. Contact the embassy of the country you will be entering to ensure your medicine is legal there.

• Learn about the process for purchasing your medication in your new host country. Some medications can be in short supply, a different dosage may be the only dosage available, &/or you could be required to get a prescription from a local doctor.

• Before you leave home, get written prescriptions from your doctor in case you need to order meds by mail, assuming they are legal for delivery by mail.

• Research the destination country’s customs regulations regarding medications. Some countries only allow a 90-day supply to be brought in.

• It’s recommended that you bring letter from your doctor which includes the name of the meds you take & in what dosage.  The letter should state that the medicine is for your personal use.

•  You might find the medication you get with a prescription at home is available over-the-counter in your new host country. Unfortunately, the situation can also be reversed & drugs you’ve been buying over-the-counter at home may require a prescription overseas.

What has Your experience been living overseas in regards to medical treatments & medications?  Do you have any Advice to share?

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10 thoughts on “Take Your Meds

  1. I didn’t want to ask HR at my new school in South America if my ADHD meds were available, so I paid out of pocket for a year’s supply and flew there with a note from my doctor. I brought the medication on the plane with me and had no problem. During my second year in SA, I found out that I could obtain a similar ADHD medication for a fraction of the price. I did have to see a doctor monthly and it was a pain to get the medicine, but is WAS available. I’m not sure about getting this medication in Shanghai. Again (for the second year in a row) I paid for a year’s supply and flew to China with them. The medicine is very expensive, but it IS needed so that I can perform my job successfully. That said, to me it’s worth saving money for so that I have my meds. I wish there wasn’t such a stigma attached to ADHD, but unfortunately there is and I’m uncomfortable asking anyone in HR about the medication’s availability here in Shanghai.


  2. We are all responsible for our own health and comfort. Between my husband and I we always have generic anti-biotics (one for each of us) and a box of the strongest pain meds our Dr is prepared to prescribe at the start of each school year. It is our standard practice to visit our Dr in the summer, at the start, 6 weeks before we head back, to discuss our current health (which is good, thankfully) and to give him the heads-up that we are heading back and will visit him again to obtain a detailed script for EVERYTHING – he even makes recommendations. His script is detailed, right down to anti-acid. We live in the Middle East and have not had any airport issues. Being prepared is our responsibility, a no brainer.


  3. When I began the interview process this time around I needed to make sure that my medicine was available where I was interviewing. Its availability was a deal breaker. I found gastroenterologists online in the cities where I was considering relocating. I emailed them and surprisingly, for both locations, I received return emails informing me about the availability of my drug. I’m now in Brazil and although there are still hoops to jump through, can get the medication I need. I recommend others to do this as it really provides peace of mind.


  4. I had this problem in spades. I live and work in Dubai and I have a painful spinal injury that requires pain management in the form of prescription pain meds. I take a long acting, time released narcotic medicine that I have come to find out is extremely hard to get anywhere in the world, except in my home country (the USA) and Europe. In Dubai, such meds are completely unavailable, except in the government hospital’s trauma surgical unit. Even if you just had surgery or a traumatic injury, the doctors here will give you little more than the equivalent of tylenol or panadol. If you’re lucky, a doctor will give you Tramadol/ Ultram, which is just as tightly controlled here as morphine is n the USA. Useless for real pain. A friend of mine’s teenage son had abdominal surgery and was in agony afterward. The doctor couldn’t and wouldn’t give him anything effective for the pain. He was told he would just have to get through it. Another friend of mine’s 8 year old daughter had a compound fracture of her leg that required pins and screws to fix. All they gave her was panadol! The poor child was suffering so bad it was heartbreaking. She laid in her bed screaming and crying, squirming from the pain, and they wouldn’t give her anything else to help.

    I tried to see specialists and doctor’s all over Dubai & the UAE, the Middle East and India, but none of them was able to get my meds. I also tried to get them in Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Oman, but they simply didn’t exist in most of these places. In India you had to be an inpatient at a hospital to get narcotic pain meds. Just having them in your possession was illegal and could get you arrested. So I go home twice a year, my doctor prescribes me a six- month supply and I take them with me back to Dubai. I too have to carry a letter from him with me that shows they are only for me. I also carry copies of my medical records, just in case. One spinal orthopedic surgeon here told me how hard it was for him to get permission to prescribe pain meds for one of his surgical patients. He had to get the signature of the Minister of Health himself, just to prescribe 1mg of Morphine! Can you imagine? Egypt was the same way when I was there. The only difference was that they did have the meds at the national hospital, but only for cancer patients and those with terminal illnesses. So be careful if you want to come live here. It’s not just the pain meds that are hard to get. If you need it, bring it with you.


    1. I had total knee replacement surgery in Oman with Panadol as my pain medication. I would NEVER do that again.


    2. I will not do ANY surgery in the Middle East. I also pray that I never get any severe injuries, because I would have to get on the next plane to the EU or USA to make sure I get proper treatment. I simply don’t understand how doctors can operate in these countries without the ability to control a patient’s pain. That’s supposed to be the first priority of a doctor; to relieve suffering, not increase it. So why do these governments restrict these medications to such a degree. I get the whole abuse issue, but there has to be some middle ground, like in the US.


  5. I worked with a man who showed up the first day of school asking everyone if they had any Saw palmetto – an herb used to treat enlarged prostate and available even in convenience stores in the States. He was panicked. He just assumed that it would be available in Guatemala. I heard he had a friend mail him a few bottles. Customs intercepted the package and really worked him over with all sorts of fees totaling many, many times the value of the pills inside. I can’t agree more with this ISR article. Don’t leave home with out you meds.


  6. Before retiring, my last school was in Tokyo and before flying back there each August, I would get a year’s supply of my diabetic drugs and a letter from my doctor stating that these medications were for me, not for resale. I even carried a year’s supply of insulin in a small cooler with ice packs which the stewards were happy to put in the plane’s refrigerator during the flight.


  7. I think this is a very interesting and relevant point. As a person who has diabetes question it is a concern of mine when traveling .


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