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Packing prescription medications -- US vs Canada requirements

The question of how to pack prescription meds (original containers vs. pill packs/daily dispensers) comes up a lot.

We live in Vermont and usually depart from US airports. I have always packed prescription meds in daily dose ziplocs, with all the pills for the day mixed together. I bring along a sheet of paper with the original prescription labels attached for all the medications contained in the baggies as well as a letter from the prescribing physician. Never had any trouble with this when traveling from/to/within the US, and the TSA and US Customs websites confirm that this method is OK:

TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.

US Customs website says medications "should" be in original containers, but if they are not, you need doctor documentation:

Prescription medications should be in their original containers with the doctor's prescription printed on the container. It is advised that you travel with no more than personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is no more than a 90 day supply. If your medications or devices are not in their original containers, you must have a copy of your prescription with you or a letter from your doctor. A valid prescription or doctors note is required on all medication entering the U.S.

We have a trip coming up where we will depart from Montreal. I checked with the CATSA website, and it states the following:

Bringing a day-by-day pill separator is not an issue for security; however, there may be other considerations about travelling with medication, especially when travelling outside of Canada. We recommend finding out more at

When I looked at the above-referenced website, the directive is as follows for international travel:

Pack all medications in your carry-on baggage in their original, labelled containers to facilitate airport security and customs screening. Prescription medication is exempted from the liquid restrictions but must be presented to the screening officer separately from your carry-on baggage.
Do not try to save luggage space by combining medications into a single container.

Language further down the page indicates that original packaging/labeling is a requirement to return to Canada.

So, in conclusion, seems as though Canada requires international travelers to package prescription meds in the original containers, no baggies or daily dispensers. The US does not. I will pack accordingly for our upcoming trip.

Hope this helps other travelers.

Posted by
1194 posts

For a small fee, many pharmacies package medications in blister packs.

Posted by
3521 posts

Can't argue with the information provided. And I always carry my drugs in their original pharmacy packages. However, in 50 trips to Europe from the US, 10 of those being through a Canadian airport, I have never had anything in my suitcase looked at by customs anywhere (except for a large box of Mozart chocolate on my return from Austria which was confiscated by US customs, no reason given). Sure, security gave everything a good look on each pass through the line, but since nothing I carry would fall into the restricted area of carry on luggage, no one has had even the slightest interest. YMMV

Posted by
5118 posts

As Mark said, the information given is true, but in practice? All of my travel starts or ends in Canada, since that's where I live. But I have never, even when I had to travel with injectables, had security or Customs search my medication bag. Then again, from a health safety standpoint it wouldn't occur to me to bring my meds in an unlabelled container. When necessary, I've had no problem getting smaller labelled containers from my pharmacist.

Posted by
3428 posts

I can not comprehend why some (especially government agencies) place such importance on 'original' packaging. It is so easy to change which pills are in a pharmacy bottle, and if you are not fully versed in what each pill looks like, how will you know if the 'correct' pills are in the 'correct' bottle! Having a copy of the prescribing information may help somewhat in determining if a person 'needs' the pills and obtained them legally, but again, how do you know for certain that the pills they present are the 'right' ones? You may have a description, or be able to look up what a particular medication should look like, but it is not always easy to match things up correctly.

Follow the government directions when you can (if they are not conflicting each other- which many do) if you are worried about it. Otherwise, pack them in a way that is best for you. You can always claim you were uninformed about the 'requirements'.

Posted by
15675 posts

What they want is that label. It doesn't matter what container it is in as long as you have the pharmacy label with your name, medication name, dosage, doctor's name.
Mine now also has a description of the pill.

Some countries distribute pills in plastic containers, some in blister packs and others in small envelopes. The packaging doesn't matter, the prescription does.

In some countries where they have strict medication rules, like Japan, you might not want to pack all in daily dosage bags. Do that once you get there.

Posted by
118 posts

My husband took a lot of pills (2 day by day containers per week so up to 8 containers). He never took original bottles, and nobody ever so much as glanced at them in 15 international trips from Canada.

Posted by
3236 posts

Living in Canada, I've flown in and out of here a hundred times; and never once has anyone asked about any medications.
Nor in the UK or continental Europe.
Usually I put them into individual tiny Ziploc bags, with labels.
I do not travel to, or fly through the US; so I don't know what they would do.