I'm travelling to the US next month, and I'd like to take my codeine-based painkillers with me. In the UK these are available without a prescription, over the counter from a pharmacist. (It isn't just available in any old supermarket like some painkillers, but can just be sold in a pharmacy under supervision from the pharmacist, no Doctor involved)

I see from this CBP advice that prescription medication must have a prescription label attached, but presumably this applies to medicines that are only available on prescription in the US. So my question is twofold:

  • Can I bring my codeine-based painkillers to the US without a prescription?
  • More generally, is there a list of medicines that are commonly available in other parts of the world but restricted in the US?
  • 4
    I thing problem here isn't whether it's prescription drug or not, but the fact that codeine is narcotic, and as such by the Controlled Substances Act, your pills are most likely considered Schedule III drugs
    – vartec
    Apr 15, 2014 at 11:29

2 Answers 2


If you really would rather be safe than sorry, you should follow the advice on the page you linked to, as it is advice I've followed in the past:

A valid prescription or doctors note is required on all medication entering the U.S.

Now practically we all know that's not really the case. Bringing in paracetamol/tylenol, or Imodium, or asthma medicines, etc, are generally waved right through. However many countries, including the U.S. as documented, technically require that documentation for all medicines so they have recourse for suspicious circumstances.

In the case of any medicines you're not sure about, it's definitely worth obtaining a doctor's note - it doesn't have to be a prescription, as a letter from your doctor should suffice. If you really must bring in your codeine-based medicines, it seems like a simple and sensible step to take.

The CBP give similar and more extensive advice on another page, which would presumably cover codeine under "potentially addictive drugs/narcotics":

If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants or stimulants), do the following:

  • Declare all drugs, medicinals, and similar products to the appropriate CBP official;

  • Carry such substances in their original containers;

  • Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition (e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry for his/her personal use; and

  • Carry a prescription or written statement from your physician that the substances are being used under a doctor's supervision and that they are necessary for your physical well being while traveling.

  • 1
    Thanks, that's good advice -- on reflection I think I'll leave the codeine at home rather than waste my GP's time, and just take more normal painkillers. Or just buy some when I get there :)
    – Flup
    Apr 16, 2014 at 6:17
  • 5
    @Flup I don't think codeine is available in the US without a prescription so you probably wouldn't be able to buy it while there. Jul 3, 2014 at 16:30

Tylenol with codeine can be brought into the USA without a prescription. The catch is you can only bring in the bottle with 50 pills. You can't bring in the 100 or 159 pill quantity.

How do I know? I brought in a bottle with 100 once and the CBP officer said we could only bring in the 50 quantity bottles.

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