Consult your HIV doctor and think everything through before you go.
If you are carrying liquid medication exceeding 3 ounces / 100 ml on board of the plane, you must declare it at the security checkpoint for inspection. This would apply to Fuzeon (enfuviritide), the injectable HIV medication, if there were more than 100 doses.
Hypodermic needles are generally prohibited items at most security check points, so if you need to inject during the flight you will need to produce documentation.
It is not usual for searches, or questions about medication to happen at this stage unless the immigration official has suspicions about the validity of your entry into the country or your health status.
Customs regulations require prescription medication carried into most countries to be accompanied by a letter from the prescribing doctor explaining the purposes of the medicine. This requirement applies to all prescription drugs and is not specific to HIV medication.
If you are stopped on entry by customs, they should not cause any fuss about medication that you are carrying if you have this explanatory letter.
People presenting themselves at customs should be searched individually and not in front of others. You may have the right to request a private room or screen.
If the country has restrictions to HIV positive travellers or the carrying of HIV medication, this is the most likely point of discovery, if you are stopped and questioned or searched.
If you have HIV and the country you are entering refuses entry, then you are breaking their immigration rules. If it is found that you have lied (e.g., if your bags are searched on entry and they find letters or medications which make your HIV status clear) you can be refused entry and deported.
Some people carry a letter from their doctor stating that the medicines are for a chronic illness, but not explicitly stating it is HIV. They also ensure that no labels make it clear what the medication is for or that they have HIV. Here you are at the discretion of the immigration officer.
It really is impossible to judge the risk of this happening so it is a decision only the individual traveller can make. Many HIV positive visitors have successfully entered prohibited countries without any problems; but others have not been so lucky.
THT therefore cannot advise anyone to engage in unlawful activity for the purposes of travel.
It’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before you go - if your CD4 count is low or you’re about to change your treatment, the doctor might advise you to postpone your travel – although that’s not very likely if you’re on treatment and doing well.
Don’t forget to ask your doctor for a signed letter explaining that you need your medication for a chronic condition – it doesn’t have to mention HIV at all – in case the customs officers ask you about the pills in your luggage.
Pausing treatment is dangerous and can stop your medication from being effective (this is called ‘drug resistance’). Your general health is also likely to suffer.
Never stop taking your treatment without consulting with your doctor first.
Instead, plan ahead for adjusting your treatment to your holiday routine and prepare for how you’ll deal with:
Taking your treatment regularly can get tricky when you’re travelling – especially if you’re crossing time zones.
The disruption of routine, and the fatigue and memory problems brought on by jet lag can cause you to forget to take your medication.
Make sure you set your alarms and reminders accordingly before you travel. You should stick to the UK times for taking your treatment – if this will be a problem, talk to your doctor about adjusting the time of your treatment by moving it backwards or forwards by about an hour a day, until you arrive at a time that will work for you while you’re away.
You can also keep a treatment diary or cross your medication off a list each day. Try using a Dosette box with partitions for each day of the week.
Make sure that you can store your medication safely while you’re on the road. Some pills have to be shielded from extreme temperatures, humidity or bright lights.
It’s unlikely that your HIV medication will need special storage, but there are exceptions, especially when it comes to older medication and treatment for drug-resistant strains.
Check the labels on all the pills you take and prepare appropriate containers for those that need it – you might have to get cooling packs, desiccant (a drying agent, like silica gel) or light- and humidity-proof boxes.
If you’re not sure about the quality of tap water in the country you’re travelling to, always have a bottle of mineral water with you when it’s time to take your treatment.
If any of your pills have to be taken with a meal, it might be a good idea to take some snacks with you – for example, crackers or cereal bars travel well and don’t need preparation or refrigeration.
Always keep your medication in your carry-on luggage when travelling – don’t check it in, in case your luggage gets lost.
But just in case you do lose track of them, make sure you research local HIV clinics and charities ahead of your trip.
You can call the embassy of the country you’re travelling to – anonymously – to find out if you’ll have access to medication.
Next: Travel health emergencies ››
‹‹ Previous: Preparing to travel
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This article was last reviewed on
by T. Kelaart
Date due for the next review: 31/5/2016
Content Author: B. Smith
Current Owner: Policy
World Health Organization. International Travel and Health. Geneva: WHO Press. 2007.
Important medical information for your journey, British Airways
Freedman, D. The immunocompromised traveler. In Travelers' Health Yellow Book: Health Information for International Travel, 2005-2006. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. 2005. Travelling with medication, NAMLIFE
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