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I recently Zoomed into Leo Laporte’s nationally syndicated radio show and podcast The Tech Guy, as I always do every Saturday at 12:30pm PT. I usually talk about what’s going on in the travel industry or talk about a website, app or product.

This week, Leo commented on my post about using fare alerts to find the cheapest plane tickets and why your electronic devices should always be charged when going through security.

While talking abut this, I brought up Brittney Griner and what travelers can learn from her horrific situation. The short story where Britney is concerned is that you must know the rules when visiting foreign countries. It doesn’t matter what the laws are at home. When you travel, all that matters is what the laws are of the country you’re traveling to and through.

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Many countries have zero tolerance for even the most minuscule amount of drugs. For example, in 2008, the Daily Mail wrote: “Briton jailed for four years in Dubai after customs find cannabis weighing less than a grain of sugar under his shoe.”

I then mentioned that in Japan: “Many common medications and over-the-counter drugs in the United States are illegal in Japan. It does not matter if you have a valid U.S. prescription for a medicine/drug which is illegal in Japan: if you bring it with you, you risk arrest and detention by the Japanese authorities.”

Also, stimulant drugs (amphetamines, methamphetamines), “including certain medicines for the treatment of ADD/ADHD (such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Dexedrine) are strictly prohibited and illegal to bring into Japan.”

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On the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle website they pose the question: “Are there any non-prescription drugs that I can buy over the counter in the United States but are barred from importation to Japan?” Their answer: “The following over-the-counter medications are prohibited in Japan since they contain narcotic or stimulant ingredients in excess of the Japanese standard:


So even though an over-the-counter drug like Tylenol is part of everyday life in the U.S.,  it might not be in a foreign country. So always check the rules of the country you’re traveling to before packing or shipping stuff. You can usually find what’s legal and what’s not by Googling the local embassy or referencing the official list of embassies from the U.S. Department of State. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you should have just left your cold and sinus medication at home.

4 Comments On "Warning: These Common Over-the-Counter Drugs Are Illegal in Some Countries"
  1. Grace|

    But what about if you have a legal prescription? Reference the Japan list which shows Lomotil as a banned substance in Japan. But Lomotil is not an over-the-counter drug so why is it listed? I am not a physician or pharmacist but have this medication prescribed at a daily rate for a necessary condition. So I cannot travel to Japan or even through Japan even though a medical doctor has prescribed it for me? It would be great if you could clarify this for me. And I am certain there are other such medications that fall into this category as well for different countries. I guess the 64 million dollar question pertains to medications that are legally prescribed. Thanks.


    Your article concerning banned medications in foreign countries lists “TYLENOL COLD”. But then you write, “So even though an over-the-counter drug like Tylenol is part of everyday life in the U.S., it might not be in a foreign country. ”

    First, there is no such thing as “Tylenol Cold”. There are various Tylenol formulations for cold and flu symptoms. One of these as listed on the Tylenol website is “Tylenol Cold + Flu Severe for for Day and Night Time” ( This contains phenylephrine which is likely why it is banned in some countries.

    “Tylenol” does not contain this. It contains acetaminophen. Your article would dissuade travelers from bringing plain Tylenol which is incorrect.

  3. Anthony|

    I think your cautionary info is good even though examples maybe not so good, e.g. as someone else pointed out Tylenol v “Tylenol Cold.” Britney Griner, of course an entirely other story much less in Russia. I would like to add that many Americans seem to think smoking marijuana on streets of Amsterdam is ok – it is not ok. The police will maybe “look the other way” until they choose not to do so. If taking a Rx med might be best to bring in pharmacy packaging and w copy of Rx from doctor prescribing. It might make a very fortunate difference. PS: I’ve bought Acetaminophen in Rome but it comes as paracetamol as it does in rest of Europe.

  4. Marilyn B|

    @Grace, read the 5th paragraph where Johnny brings up Japan. A legal prescription for a drug that is banned will not allow it to be brought in. Period.
    Years ago my husband was taking an ADHD med and we booked a trip to Japan. Many months later I read an article about someone being arrested in another country (not Japan) which prompted me to search Japan’s restrictions. That’s when I found out my husband’s med was not legal. Since he had not found a better legal in Japan drug back then (he has now} we canceled that cruise. We do hope to go to Japan one day.

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