Advice for preparing to travel abroad
1. Discuss your travel plans with your GP or healthcare professional
You might want to start talking about your travel plans with your GP or practice nurse at least 2 months before your travel date. They will be able to give you advice about your medicines, travel vaccinations and travelling safely depending on your individual situation.
2. If you are travelling to Europe, apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)
Since the UK left the European Union, the GHIC has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for most people. If you have a UK EHIC it will be valid until the expiry date on the card. You will then need to apply for a GHIC.
This card allows you to access state-provided healthcare in European Union countries. There are different rules in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, so check the government or NHS websites for information.
The GHIC does not cover everything, so it is important that you also have travel insurance.
3. Take out travel insurance
The cost of medical care and treatment can be very expensive outside the UK. Make sure that your insurance policy would cover any incidents that are related to your epilepsy. It is also important to tell your insurer if your medical condition changes after you take out the policy.
Policies vary, so do shop around to find the best deal for your personal needs. Price comparison sites or an insurance broker can be helpful to compare different policies. We are unable to recommend a particular insurer, but some specialise in policies for people with medical conditions.
4. Check if you can take your medicine abroad
Different countries have their own rules about which medicines you can take into the country and how much you are allowed to take. Some medicines that you get on prescription or over the counter in the UK may not be allowed in other countries. Or you might need to carry paperwork to show why you need them.
The government provides a useful general summary for many countries: Foreign travel advice including links to healthcare information specific to each country. If you need more help to check the rules for your medicine we recommend that you contact the embassy for the country you’re visiting. The government website has a list of foreign embassies.
It’s a good idea to travel with a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP that confirms the generic name (not just the brand name) of your medicine and the health condition that you need the medicine for. This can help avoid any problems at customs, and may be useful if you need medical help while you’re away. Your GP practice may charge you for this service.
It may be worth getting the information translated into the language of the country you’re visiting.
The NHS website also has information about taking medicine abroad.
5. Check if your medicine is a controlled drug
Some prescribed medicines contain drugs that are controlled by law. When leaving the UK with a controlled drug, you may need to prove it’s yours by showing your prescription or a letter from your doctor. You should also check if there are any extra rules for taking it into the country you are visiting. See our information above about how to check this.
You can ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine contains a controlled drug in the UK. You can also check the drugs listed on the packaging of your medicine and search for them on the controlled drugs list.
At the time of writing, the following epilepsy medicines are controlled in the UK:
- Buccal midazolam
6. Check if you need vaccinations or anti-malaria medicine
Most vaccines are safe for people with epilepsy, but some anti-malaria medicines should be avoided. Public Health England has published the following advice on anti-malaria medicine for people with epilepsy:
- Chloroquine: unsuitable for people with epilepsy
- Mefloquine: unsuitable for people with epilepsy
- Atovaquone/proguanil: can be used by people with epilepsy
- Doxycycline: Can be used, but the way this medicine works may be affected by phenytoin, carbamazepine and barbiturates. If you take one of these medicines your doctor might recommend a different anti-malaria medicine, or they might increase the dose of doxycycline.
7. Check if you need medical clearance
If you are flying or going on a cruise it’s a good idea to check the individual policy of the airline or cruise operator in advance, to see if you need medical clearance.
Many airlines follow the International Air Travel Association (IATA) medical guidelines. The IATA guidelines say that if you have had a tonic-clonic seizure less than 24 hours before your flight, you will need medical clearance to be allowed to fly. If your seizures are generally well controlled, you should not usually need medical clearance.
As far as we’re aware, there are no international medical guidelines for cruise travel. So individual cruise operators may set their own rules about medical clearance.
If you feel a travel company, airline or insurance provider has treated you unfairly due to your epilepsy, you may find our page epilepsy and your rights helpful.
8. Check if there is a time difference where you are going
You might find that your usual time for taking your epilepsy medicine would fall at a difficult time, such as the middle of the night. In this case, you may be able to gradually change the times that you take your medicine, in the weeks before you travel. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to give you more advice about this.
Travel advice for during your journey
1. Carry your medicine in your hand luggage
Carry your medicine in your hand luggage with a copy of your prescription (and your letter from the doctor if you have one). Keep the medicine in its original packaging. It’s also a good idea to pack a spare supply in your hold luggage, along with another copy of your prescription, in case you lose your hand luggage.
At the time of writing, UK airport hand luggage restrictions allow you to carry essential medicine in your hand luggage, including liquid medicine. You will need to show airport staff evidence that the medicine has been prescribed for you, such as a copy of your prescription.
2. Keep your medicine cool if needed
Some epilepsy medicines need to be kept in a cool dry place. You could use a thermos flask, an insulated pouch or cool bag with an ice pack. Your pharmacist can also give you advice about storing your medicine while you are travelling and while you are away.
3. Consider wearing identity jewellery or carrying an epilepsy ID card
Wearing identity jewellery or carrying an epilepsy ID card will let people know what is happening if you have a seizure while you are away. Epilepsy Action has details of companies that supply identity jewellery. You can order an epilepsy ID card free of charge by contacting Epilepsy Action.
4. If you often have seizures and are travelling by plane, consider telling the airline about your epilepsy
If you think you might have a seizure on the plane, it can be helpful to tell the airline about your epilepsy. That way, they will know what is happening if you have a seizure, and will be able to help you.
Each airline will have different ways to get in touch in advance, or you may prefer to mention it to the cabin staff when you board the plane. You might want to download our first aid information to help with this.
5. Tell airport security staff if you have a vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device
Airport security scanners and metal detectors should not cause problems with your VNS. However, the makers of VNS say that to be safe, you should walk through airport scanners at a steady pace, not linger in the area and try to stay at least 40 centimetres away from the equipment. If this is not possible, you could tell the security staff about your VNS and ask for a pat down check instead. Airport staff should avoid using a handheld metal detector directly over your VNS.
6. Set a reminder to take your epilepsy medicines at your usual time
If you forget to take your epilepsy medicine, this could make you more likely to have a seizure.
Planning ahead for while you are abroad
1. How can I get more of my medicine while abroad?
If you run out of your prescription medicine while you’re away, contact your travel insurance company. They may be able to help get your prescription replaced. If they cannot help, speak to a pharmacist in the country you’re visiting.
You may need to pay for a prescription from a local doctor. If you have a GHIC or EHIC, and are in one of the countries where it is valid, you should pay the same as people who live there. Make sure your prescription is from a state-approved doctor.
Travel Health Pro have more information on medicines and traveling.
2. Try to get your usual amount of sleep
Lack of sleep or feeling tired can increase some people’s risk of having a seizure. If you are travelling across several time zones you could be affected by jet lag. The NHS website has more information about dealing with jet lag.
First aid for seizures in different languages
The International Bureau for Epilepsy has published The Traveller’s Handbook for people with epilepsy. This handbook was last updated in 2017, and some sections are not current, such as information about the EHIC.
However, the first aid information may still be helpful, particularly as it has key phrases translated into many languages.
Travel health information
Other sources of information
Travel Health Pro contains travel health resources for UK travellers, commissioned by the UK Health Security Agency.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) provide information for passengers.
The Association of British Insurers include pages on travel insurance.
The Money & Pensions Service have a travel insurance directory including specialist providers that cover medical conditions.
Download info on travel and epilepsy
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