I was just packing for an international flight, and realized that my little plastic bags of protein powder and creatine look an awful lot like the bags of cocain I see on tv. Does the airport have some way to identify drugs, or should I leave it at home?

I make my own mix of BCAAs creatine CLA etc. so I can't just bring it in the original packaging, it's all in carefully measured individual bags which look a lot like what I imagine a drug dealer might be carrying to sell, along with a bunch of vitamin pills.

  • 3
    With all medications, supplements, etc., the best solution is to keep them in the original packaging. For prescription meds, make sure the label identifies the drug and has your name on it. You say can't do this, but it's unclear to me why not. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 14:30
  • 4
    The answer is that they often can't, which is why you can buy drugs in any country despite the prohibition.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 15:48
  • 3
    Take special note of countries where drug possession may be a capital crime. You might decide nothing is worth that risk if you are traveling to such a country. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 23:24
  • 2
    what country are you going to that doesn't sell creatine and vitamins? Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 7:29
  • 2
    @Iwrestledabearonce. You may be surpised how different the prices and quality for common goods are. Some easily available pharmaceuticals are in the US cheap as dirt in contrast to e.g. the German counterparts (the more I pay, the higher the placebo effect? :-/ ). There are also minor quality exports, e.g. there was an uproar because many German firms are selling minor quality products to Eastern Europe...for the same price. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 13:44

7 Answers 7


First, your bags of powders probably don't look like the bags of drugs. Yours are probably designed to be opened and then sealed again, and they are probably not reinforced with a lot of tape, shaped into bricks, etc.

Second, they have on-the-spot tools to test suspicious powders: the swab and the little plastic bag with liquid reagents called a NIK test. The swab is a cloth (possibly pre-dampened with something) that they can rub on your hands, the zippers of your bag, etc and then put in a machine that might beep and say "cocaine" or "explosives" because you had residue on your hands. The little plastic bag they drop in a few grains of the powder, squeeze the bag to break the inner ampoule that holds reagents, and then shake (they hold the top of the bag and flick at the bottom repeatedly) and it changes colour if the powder is a known drug. I believe there are different bags to detect different things, and the agents choose which one to use based on the colour and smell of the powder, as well as the country the bag is coming from.

Almost any episode of Border Security will give you a chance to see these in action. If you are headed to a developed country, they will have this sort of thing and will be able to establish what your powders are very quickly. And of course they don't search every bag: sniffer dogs, xrays, and the like lead them to the bags that need to be looked at. Your protein powders won't smell like drugs and they might not look like drugs on an xray.

If you are headed to a country that you think might not have budget for all the whiz-bang tech, or where officers might be corrupt and use the opportunity of your powders to shake you down, then that's different. Should that be the case, you'll have to balance the possibility of trouble at the airport against not getting your protein during the trip.

  • 21
    It may not be good if they put his powder in those little bags that turn blue - the tests have been know for years to be incredibly unreliable yet are treated like DNA in the court room. nytimes.com/2016/07/10/magazine/… Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 17:56
  • @HannoverFist: Wasn't there a story about how DNA evidence is also unreliable and how there have been cover-ups to that effect...
    – user541686
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 20:15
  • 10
    Arguably, the biggest problem with DNA evidence is not that it's unreliable but that nearly no-one in most courtrooms, including the judge, understands the prosecutor's fallacy.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 20:58
  • @MadHatter, on a related note, there have been people exonerated and released from prison by DNA evidence being brought to bear when their original conviction (decades earlier) was based on saliva tests or hair matches.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 1:04
  • 3
    Conversely, DNA evidence can screw up too.
    – Nelson
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 4:54

I brought some creatine and BCAA powder, along with multivitamin pills on a few flights ( from Italy to Spain and back, from Czech Republic to Italy and back) in some containers, so not in the original packaging. I had it in my hand luggage (backpack) and when they saw it on the x-ray they did a drug test by swiping some kind of paper/plastic stripe on my hands, on the bag and clothes. It of course had negative result, so they were ok and didn't ask anything and I just went on.

I assume you will have a similar experience, you will get tested for drugs but don't worry no crazy situations will happen (this of course if you don't have any traces, so be sure to don't go around with drug users with your bag) and you won't even loose much time. This at least in Europe, not sure about other places with higher drug problems. (in many countries small amounts for personal use are allowed, but I don't think you can bring them on the plane)

  • In many countries small amounts for personal use are allowed. It is not as much as allowed as the drug will be seized but you will not end in jail.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 21:20

It might be no problem, but it might also attract unwanted attention and unwanted delay. Why not keep it in the original packaging and mix it to your recipe at your destination?

  • 4
    Protein powder tends to be sold in very large bulk quantities. If you're only travelling for a short period of time, you only need a fraction of that amount. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 18:45
  • 1
    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas Presumably a person could buy a more modestly-sized package for travel purposes? It would be safer. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 20:49

I once took six 15 oz. packages of the meal supplement Soylent in my carry-on for a domestic US flight. The TSA officers tested the outside of each package with some sort of chemical swabbing test. Two of the packages actually came up positive. They did mention the test tends towards false positives. They discarded those two packages and let me continue. All in all the extra testing took almost half an hour. So I would recommend putting any supplements in your checked luggage if possible to avoid the hassle.

  • 1
    The TSA is looking for explosives in outgoing luggage, not drugs in incoming luggage. These are entirely separate problems. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 0:59
  • 2
    Ok, I didn't mention anything about explosives. I wasn't sure what they were testing for, just that two of them came up "positive" and had to be discarded as a result. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 4:40
  • 1
    As stated, by law TSA cannot explicitly look for or test for drugs since they have no impact on the security or safety of flight. Also, TSA does screen checked luggage for explosives, so it would not solve the problem.
    – user71659
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 6:02

If you're going to a big enough airport in a developed country they generally have an array of methods to test these substances. Chemical or electronic swab test, sniffer dogs. When they find you suspicious they can test your protein on the spot for drugs.

You do need to be careful when traveling to small local airports. They might not have the proper equipment to test your protein and can hold you there for some time while they get in contact with a lab.

If they do find you suspicious the best thing you can do is fully cooperate. Tell them what it is and why is it packaged in this way. Offer them to smell it if they want to. (My protein powder smells like chocolate milk, I have no idea about yours.) If it's not a drug you won't be in any trouble.


While others correctly have answered how any suspicion of carrying traditional illegal drugs will be handled. It should not be a worry to you.

There is something else that you need to take into consideration when carrying supplements across borders and that is the fact that even brand supplements aren't always clean, they can contain substances considered doping.

Carrying doping substances across borders can, depending on juridiction, be a crime, often considered a far bigger crime than being in possesion of the similar amount on the street.

While it is unlikely that traces turn up in a scan, but theoretical it could, and if it does, it could get you denied entrance or similar.

If you buy the same supplement in a shop in the country you visit you will not run the same risk.

  • Very good point you bring up there, +1
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 13:48

I've carried various white powders through security and customs, the only thing that has ever been looked at was a bottle of light salt (half sodium chloride, half potassium chloride) and that was in it's original packaging--and that was TSA, not customs. I have always had at least one original container (which is obviously medical in nature) although I have also carried stuff for which I do not have the original containers (a mixture of many things, to bring all the original packaging would be a suitcase).

I've also gotten various degrees of swabbing when I brought liquids through security, although I've always packed the original containers also--generally one look at the original package and they're obviously just going through the motions.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .