Bringing Prescription Meds on a Cruise

pills medicationson a cruise ship
Do you need to keep your pills in the original bottles? - Photo by Thinkstock

Patty asks: We are going on a cruise this Sunday, and my husband and I wonder if we need to keep our prescription pills in the original bottles, or can we keep them in our pill counters?

Hi Patty,                 

The “official” advice has always been that prescription meds should be in their original containers, particularly Schedule II narcotics and other “sensitive” drugs. But is that really necessary? Let’s look at each of the scenarios in which legal problems could arise with loose prescription meds:

TSA: If you’re flying, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn't care, though you’ll want to transport the meds in your carry-on bag and follow TSA rules for liquids and gels.

The Cruise Line: This answer may vary by line. Although Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, doesn’t require the original bottles, it does recommend them. You’ll want to check with your cruise line to verify any requirements.

Foreign Ports: You didn’t mention your itinerary, but this is where you’re most likely to encounter a problem. Drug laws vary widely from country to country, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be stopped in port and questioned about your meds, it is a possibility. Proof of prescription will certainly make that situation a lot easier.

Returning to the U.S.: Customs and Border Protection recommend that medication be in original bottles and labeled with the Doctor's name. Again, it’s unlikely that you'll be questioned, but if your baggage is searched upon reentry or a drug-sniffing dog “hits” on your bag, proof of a prescription will make things go much smoother.

Medical Emergency: In case of medical emergency, the doctor on the ship or ashore will need to know what medications you’re taking. Having the original bottles can only help, especially if you’re unable to communicate. Also, in the event of unexpected problems during your trip that cause you to need to replace or refill a prescription, having the prescription details and contact information for the pharmacy and doctor on the bottle will surely speed the process along.   

In short, there doesn’t seem to be a legal reason to carry the original bottles, but in practicality, it’s a good idea.


Join the discussion

Do you keep your prescriptions in the original bottles?


Posted by Jonny417

My wife has been on a lot of meds and most come in large 90 day supply. We went to our pharmacy and asked for small bottles with labels so we could just take the quantity needed plus a couple days worth in case of an extended stay. I think most pharmacies would be happy to accommodate this request.

Posted by SimonTravels

Tomworldwaftage, Thanks for sharing your story. It brings up the point that any meds (or, apparently, supplements) beyond a normal quantity for personal use can raise suspicion. One or two or three bottles wouldn't cause concern, but I can see how they might find 60 bottles out of the ordinary.

Posted by worldwidwaftage

What happened to us getting on board ship mid cruise in Belize on Carnival Liberty in April 2013 it's in 2 parts. Part 1, Part 2,

Posted by TravlinArchitec

We pack ALL our supplements, and prescriptions in pill bags. We TRY to keep copies of all prescriptions we are given the the Dr. (hard in this electronic world). This gives us the "permission" to have the drugs, AND in many countries the ability to actually purchase drugs at a HIGHLY discounted price. ALSO, photography and/or copy the label off the drugs - again this allows us to get more of the drug if needed. One issue: the quantity you take with you. IF you use pill bags, or containers how many "extra" days should you plan for? We ALWAYS plan for three extra days. AND... if your medication is truly life saving, take the full bottle along just in case.

Posted by Txbookworm

I take around 20 rx per day. No way I'm taking all those bottles! I have individual daily pill boxes with the date on them. I can just pull those boxes from the carousel plus a couple extra and grab the printout from my dr's website.

Post a comment