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I am crossing the land border from Canada to USA. I have oral Voltaren (Diclofenac) which are over the counter drugs in Europe where my mother brings them to me from (for migraines which no OTC drug in Canada helps).

It is prescriptions in Canada where I am crossing from and also prescription in USA where I am crossing to (to the best of my knowledge).

Can I bring a personal amount (1/2 a single container) across the Canadian/US land border with me?

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3 Answers 3

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The FDA gives different answers for US citizens and for foreign nationals.

US citizens:

US citizens are generally not allowed to bring "drug and devices" from abroad into the United States (including prescription drugs). However, the FDA has a Personal Importation Policy that may allow it the personal importation of prescription drugs (or OTC drugs or devices, for that matter) under certain circumstances. These exceptions are generally tailored towards situations where a US citizen starts a treatment abroad and needs to bring FDA-regulated products home to complete it, and/or for situations in which an effective drug is not available in the United States.

In most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs or devices into the U.S. for personal use because these products purchased from other countries often have not been approved by the FDA for use and sale in the U.S. ... [S]ituations for which this might be allowed: ...

  • Product is for the treatment of a serious condition (Prescription Drug Products):
    • The product is for a serious condition for which effective treatment may not be available domestically either through commercial or clinical means.
    • There is no known commercialization or promotion of the product to persons residing in the U.S.
    • The product does not represent an unreasonable risk.
    • The consumer affirms in writing that the product is for personal use.
    • The quantity is generally not more than a three month supply and either:
      • Provide the name and address of the doctor licensed in the U.S. responsible for your treatment with the product, or
      • Provide evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.

Foreign nationals:

People who are not citizens or permanent residents of the US may bring up to a 90-day supply with them. Larger supplies (for longer visits, say) should be shipped by mail with supporting documentation.

If you are traveling to the U.S. from a foreign country for vacation, attending university, travel for work, etc… The FDA understands that you will need to bring your personal medication while you are in the U.S.

The FDA will allow foreign nationals to bring or ship a 90-day supply of drug products. If the foreign national is staying longer than 90 days, they may have additional medication sent to them.

If you are having medication sent to you by mail or courier, it is suggested that you include documentation that provides evidence that the medication is being sent for your own use while visiting the U.S. This may include:

  • A copy of the visa/passport
  • Letter from doctor
  • Copy of Prescription (in English)

It should be noted that this advice seems to conflate US citizens with US residents, and if strictly followed would present difficulties to (say) a US citizen living in Canada and visiting the United States. I would hope that the FDA would allow US citizens living abroad to follow the "foreign nationals" rules, but bureaucracy being what it is I wouldn't count on it.

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  • This doesn't cover prescription medication -- mine does. No skin off my back, it's not me who is going to prison for drug smuggling. shrugs
    – chx
    Jun 26 at 22:24
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    Doesn't it? The rules I've quoted for US citizens specifically apply to "prescription drug products" (there are separate rules for OTC, which I omitted since they don't apply to the OP), and the rules for foreign nationals mention that a "copy of a prescription" is needed for foreign nationals to receive drugs by mail. Jun 26 at 22:55
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    @Scorb I think your problem here is that you're already acting 'illegally' in Canada by having & using a prescription-only drug. If you had a prescription for these then you'd have no trouble bringing a personal supply into the USA along with your prescription documentation. Please not that I'm not being 'judgy', but just noting the facts of the situation - I stock up on a couple of boxes of Solpadeine Max (contains 12.8mg codeine) whenever I'm in the UK to bring home to the USA (and I'm aware that there is some risk in doing so).
    – brhans
    Jun 27 at 13:37
  • @brhans: True, though the information above seems to imply that the OP might be able to get away with just bringing a 90-day supply with them if they're not a US citizen. (That said, the information in chx's answer implies that you should have a prescription under any circumstances, so who knows.) Jun 27 at 15:13
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    "because these products purchased from other countries often have not been approved by the FDA" -- BS. It's because if it were allowed, every pharmacy within 50 miles of the border would go bankrupt because everyone would go to Canada or Mexico to buy drugs at 1/3 the price.
    – Andrew Ray
    Jun 27 at 20:32
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https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/5-tips-traveling-us-medications

Q: What if there’s a generic available overseas but not here?

A: FDA does not permit personal importation of unapproved versions of FDA-approved drugs from foreign countries. FDA cannot assure that foreign-made versions of FDA-approved drugs have been properly manufactured, are safe and effective, and are the same formulation as the FDA-approved versions.

To answer some of the comments: if this doesn't relate to our case then

In general, you should have with you a valid prescription or doctor’s note—written in English—to bring medication to the U.S.

will prohibit it unless you can get a doctor's note in English for this purpose.

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    I don't think that this answers the question. A "generic" version of a drug (meaning not a brand-name) might be prescription-only, and a brand-name drug might be available over-the-counter. I think this FAQ entry is referring to the practice of buying inexpensive generic drugs from abroad instead of the same drugs that are still under patent in the US (and therefore brand-name and more expensive). Jun 26 at 20:42
  • OK, answered this comment.
    – chx
    Jun 26 at 20:55
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Although legalities are there, in practical cases, for personal use, it usually doesn't matter.

Source: This is a video from "Two Cents" youtube channel.

https://youtu.be/F0NQDdqlL44

Disclaimer: I have never been to US. I don't know the information first hand. Be warned.

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    This video addresses why drugs are expensive in the US, and only briefly states that a traveler is "unlikely to get in trouble" for carrying a personal supply of prescribed medication." No backup citations are provided. No personal experience is presented. This is a weak presentation, breezy and loud but not persuasive. Downvoted. Jun 27 at 7:37

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