Prescription meds and other drugs

Please see why you should come and visit Costa Rica

Created: prior to 2018

Travel Warning. While this page is focusing on Costa Rica, I can tell you, having travelled to about 15 countries for business, volunteer work and vacation, that the advice below is good whenever you are traveling out of your home country.

Don’t expect other countries to have the same ‘rules’ as your home country, for example, don’t expect Costa Rica or Canada to respect the US ‘right to bear arms’, and don’t expect Costa Rica or US customs officials to turn a blind eye to illegal (in their country) drugs just because Canada and some parts of the US tolerate marijuana. I’ve never experienced jail, but I imagine it wouldn’t be pleasant to be deported or put in jail because of breaking laws in another country that are legal in my home country. Many American’s are caught off guard when they find out they aren’t allowed to bring their handguns into Canada even if they have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Many Canadians and Americans are surprised when traveling around the world to find out that ‘their’ prescription drugs are ‘illegal’ when traveling. For example, a friend of mine had a prescription for heroin for his once every 8 years flare up of malaria – but he was still not allowed heroin in any quantity when traveling in the US, even when his malaria flared up and he was hospitalized and dying (I won’t publicly document how his life was saved … but I will tell you that he wasn’t allowed to legally use heroin in the USA to save his life.) So before traveling THROUGH the USA or INTO Costa Rica – or really through and into ANY country in the world, make sure before you travel, that YOUR prescription drugs won’t get you deported or put into jail. I understand as a general rule, if a drug is legal in the US, it will almost certainly be allowed in Costa Rica with a prescription from your doctor – but make sure. Note also that some drugs are ‘over the counter’ in one country – like Marijuana and Robaxacet in Canada, but illegal without a prescription in other countries like the USA and Costa Rica – so you should assume you need a prescription for any drugs you want to take with you regardless of whether they are ‘over the counter’ in your country.

I have seen many Americans that disrespect the laws of other countries under the assumption (they told me this) that “the laws of the US are the ones the whole world should obey.” (No wonder the last competition was between Trump and Clinton.) They have either successfully smuggled guns or alcohol into Canada or they had it confiscated. I have been an international speaker, and one funny story was a friend of mine who when, on her very first trip out of the USA, came to Canada (Toronto) and was shocked when Canadian customs officials confiscated her 20 foot whip ‘weapon’. She used it as a prop for one of her lectures, and, in traveling extensively throughout the USA had ‘never had it confiscated’. She vowed to never travel to Canada again.

Canadians, in my experience, tend to be more ‘polite’ in this regards, but I would suggest and warn that almost all Canadians I know simply ‘assume’ that if they have a prescription for drugs, then that would allow them to travel with their drugs – even if those drugs are illegal in the country they are traveling through or their destination.

Note that I keep saying ‘traveling through’. A lot of people forget this point and it can cause problems. Don’t just check the rules of the country you are traveling TO, check the rules of any countries you MIGHT travel THROUGH.

And think about: What happens if I get rerouted?

Now, that may not be entirely practical, one time I got ‘caught’ in New Zealand when there was a sudden airline strike. Qantas was very good to me … the routed me back home via FIJI (I was supposed to be going back through Australia.) I arrived in FIJI, got my complementary lea, went through immigration and customs, then put on a plane back to Canada. Due to storms, I’ve also been routed through Germany, United Arab Emirates and probably others I’ve forgotten, because of weather problems.

But if you NEED prescription drugs, it would be worth thinking about the possibilities, looking on maps, and doing some research before you leave so you know what risks you might run into.

I am lucky, I don’t travel with any drugs other than sometimes Ibuprofen, and if I were ever routed through a country unexpectedly where that was illegal, I assume the customs would ‘understand’ that I didn’t plan to travel through their country and would simply confiscate it. And now I don’t even travel with that drug – just to be safe.

So what should you do? Travel with the bare minimum of essentials – and give very careful thought to every drug that you take with you – can you do without them? Will it kill you if you get caught in a country on your travel that you didn’t plan to and your drugs are confiscated? Can you get it at the destination? Can you survive if you get grounded for a couple days before continuing on to where you can buy it? Are there ANY countries within a 1000 miles of your planned course where the drugs would be a problem?

Also, if you are rerouted and you are carrying anything that might be a problem, try to check before you get on the re-route, and if your items are illegal in the rerouted country, throw them away before you exit the plane (in other words I am thinking it would be wise, if you are allowed, take them on board, and take one last dose before you exit the plane, then discard the drugs, preferably in the airplane, before going through customs.)

None of this is legal advice, but what I would do is see WHETHER I was even going to go through customs (some airports/countries won’t run you through customs if you are coming in on an international flight and leaving immediately on another one without leaving the ‘secure’ section of the airport) – funnily enough, the USA is NOT one of those. If I do end up going through customs, I’d throw the illegal drugs (but NOT the prescription) in the garbage before lining up for customs.