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Leave the Vicks at home: Foreign Office warns that medication could land Brits in trouble abroad

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 07/06/2018 By Olivia Rudgard, Social Affairs Correspondent
British search and rescue teams check-in at Heathrow Airport, where they are due to fly out to New Zealand to help in the search for missing people after the earthquake.   (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty British search and rescue teams check-in at Heathrow Airport, where they are due to fly out to New Zealand to help in the search for missing people after the earthquake. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

If you're suffering from a summer cold, Vicks might be an obvious thing to take on holiday. 

But the popular decongestant is among medicines which could land you in jail if you're travelling to certain countries, the Foreign Office has warned. 

The Government has told holidaymakers to be cautious when packing for their summer trip as common medicines are banned in popular destinations such as Japan, Greece and Singapore and could see them deported or detained.

It is concerned that the growing popularity of exotic destinations could land British people in trouble as they travel further afield. 

Figures from the health survey for England show that 48 per cent of the population are taking prescription medication, excluding  contraception and nicotine replacement therapy.

A plane takes off over street lights near Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) © AP A plane takes off over street lights near Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

However the warning also covers medicines which are available over the counter in the UK, such as decongestants made by Vicks and Sudafed. 

It comes amid concern that a growing number of British people are getting into trouble abroad as cheaper direct flights lead to more people flying to Asian and Middle Eastern destinations where laws and customs can be very different to those at home. 

The latest ONS figures show that visits to Sri Lanka have risen by more than a fifth and the UAE up more than a sixth since 2014. 

Visits to countries including Pakistan, Nigeria, Japan and Barbados all rose significantly between 2014 and 2016, the last full year for which figures are available.

Official figures provided to the Daily Telegraph show that the foreign office dealt with 22,157 consular cases in 2017 to 18, a slight drop on the previous year but significantly higher than in 2014 to 15, when the figure was 17,000. 

A plane takes off over a road sign near Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) © AP A plane takes off over a road sign near Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Annual figures for 2017 show that the Bangkok consulate dealt with the most drug-related issues, with 66 consular cases involving arrest or detention due to drugs, with Ibiza dealing with 41 and Alicante dealing with 31. 

Among the countries warned about, Dubai dealt with 29, Tokyo with 17 and Athens with eight. 

However, the majority of Brits getting in trouble abroad were still doing so closer to home, with Alicante, Dubai and Palma experiencing the most Britons locked up for general consular issues, with Malaga and Tenerife not far behind. 

A survey carried out by the FCO shows that one in three people look up the rules for taking their prescribed medication abroad, with just one in five doing so for over-the-counter medicines. 

In some countries a doctor's note is required to bring in certain medication, while in others medicines which are available over the counter here must be accompanied by a prescription. 

Around 25m British people are expected to travel abroad on a summer holiday this year. 

British Airways planes on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport.   (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty British Airways planes on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

Julia Longbottom, FCO Consular Director said, "We can see that British people are more likely to research the weather before their holidays than research the local laws and customs, so while you’re online checking out whether or not to pack sunscreen, we’d strongly encourage you to check whether taking medication into a country is okay or not. 

"You should also read our travel advice. The FCO can’t give legal advice or get people out of prison, so we are urging those heading off on their summer break to join the 16 million people a year who check our Travel Advice, to ensure they are properly prepared for their trip and avoid any potential trouble."

The rules

Medication containing pseudoephedrine, a decongestant used in Sudafed and Vicks, is banned in Japan. 

In many countries, including Greece and the UAE, Diazepam, Tramadol, codeine and a number of other commonly prescribed medicines are "controlled drugs" so you should always check what the requirements are for taking them into the country you wish to visit, as failing to comply may result in arrest, a fine or imprisonment. 

a group of people walking on a city street © Provided by The Telegraph

Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills and strong painkillers all require a licence in Singapore.

In Costa Rica, you should only take in the medication needed the length of your stay, along with a doctor’s note to confirm that this is the right amount.

In Indonesia, many prescription medicines such as codeine, sleeping pills and treatments for ADHD are illegal.

In Qatar, over-the-counter medicines such as cold and cough remedies are controlled substances and must be accompanied by a prescription.

Visitors should always carry a doctor’s note with any personal medicine when visiting China.

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