Do you know which pharmaceuticals are banned in Asia?

pharmaceuticals banned Asia

Airport security is tense enough without the added fear of being arrested for carrying medication. Source: Shutterstock

HAVE you ever considered that the spare pack of paracetamol in your handbag could land you in serious trouble?

Taking some prescribed medicines overseas is riskier than smuggling a whole collection of martial arts weapons.

As Australian children’s author Susanna Gervay discovered on a trip to Rome, “they were looking for drugs, and they sure found plenty on me,” she told

None were of the illegal kind though. Gervay’s supply of medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and diabetes was confiscated as they weren’t properly labeled.

And Gervay’s story isn’t isolated.

In 2006, American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was held at Plam Beach airport customs for carrying the libido enhancing medication, Viagra.

While Viagra isn’t illegal in the US, the bottle Limbaugh was carrying had his doctor’s name on it, not his.

These incidences appear as innocent mistakes, but airport staff are bound by strict security protocols, which don’t offer concessions to mistakes caused by traveler ignorance.

So what do you need to know about taking medication into Asia?

United Arab Emirates

UAE has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drugs, including strong painkillers.

Codeine and Tramadol are both banned. Those found bringing them in may face a minimum four-year jail sentence.

The UAE embassy advice page also states that a traveler’s medicine stash should not exceed 30 days’ worth.


Any medication containing pseudoephedrine is banned in Japan.

Pseudoephedrine is typically found in cold and flu medication, including Advil, Sudafed, Vicks, and Claritin-D.


Very few prescription medications are illegal in Singapore, but the following require a license:

  • Medicines of more than three months supply.
  • Medicines containing psychotropic substances or controlled drugs such as anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills, and strong painkillers.
  • Medicines containing more than 21.6-grams of Pseudoephedrine or Ephedrine.
  • More than 20 tablets containing Codeine or Dextromethorphan, or if each tablet contains more than 30-milligrams of Codeine or Dextromethorphan.
  • More than 240-milliliters of liquid medicine containing Codeine or Dextromethorphan, or if the liquid medicine contains more than 15-milligrams per five-milliliters of Codeine or Dextromethorphan.

Anyone can request a license via Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority website. Applications must be made at least 10 days before arrival.

Also, prescribed or otherwise, medicinal gums such as Nicotine gums are illegal.


A doctor’s letter is required alongside any prescribed medicine. It must state the patient’s name, dose, and frequency of dosage with the medication bottle clearly labeled.

However sleeping pills, codeine, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medication are notoriously tricky to get past customs.

Ensure each come with a doctor’s letter and is wrapped in the original packaging.


Much like Japan, cold and cough medicines need to be accompanied by a prescription and doctor’s letter.


China isn’t too strict on prescription drugs, but any medication should be accompanied by a doctor’s letter and be in clearly labeled original bottles.

If you’re unsure what prescribed or over-the-counter medicines are banned from individual countries, search government websites and speak to embassies before your trip.

The likelihood of getting in serious trouble is slim, yet it can happen. So keep that doctor’s note safe and use the original packaging.