Traveling to Eastern Europe and Asia: medications

Traveling to Eastern Europe and Asia is a fun experience for most tourists. Making sure that you have your normal medications and health supplements is a smart part of your pre-trip planning experience.

Traveling around this time of year often means that you’ll travel with some medications, prescription or otherwise.Those can range from over-the-counter cold and flu medications to things you take at home by prescription.

While Russia and Ukraine are very modern countries have likely have most of the medications you’ll take along, the problem is that first you don’t know their Russian names and secondly you don’t have a prescription from a local doctor. As with any type of international travel there will be some medications that don’t require a prescription in-country, and vise versa.

фото Антон Балашов primamedia ru
This is a medical centre/clinic. фото Антон Балашов primamedia ru

Most foreign travelers never visit a doctor or pharmacy while in-country but we’ll help you along if you do. In most cases you’ll carry what you need with you. As these are developed nations, they do have drug control laws and with a little foresight and planning, you can avoid most problems.

Rarely is it an issue but if there is, 99.9& of the time the medications you carry will only be a concern at in-coming customs when arriving at your destination. Again, it is hardly an issue but if it is, you need to be prepared. In Russia there is a unit of the police whose work is for the ФСКН (FSKN) which are the narcotic police. These police are called the Наркополиция and the first 4 letters are NARK as in “narc” so you get an idea of what they do.

It is doubtful that this will be a problem but in the rare cases that it is a problem, the issue is serious. So, let’s prepare:

– All pills and medications should be in an original container with the prescription label securely attached.
– In the USA many pharmacies give you a receipt showing the prescription details, how many refills, name of the doctor, etc. When possible, take this too.
– Never combine various pills in one bottle to save space. (You can imagine a customs official trying to make sense of a bottle that has 20 cold/flu red pills, 30 short green pills, 26 white aspirin, 15 brown Ibuprofen, 18 yellow antibiotics, etc. We’ve all done this and never had an issue but are leaving ourselves open for the wrong customs officer who is having a bad hair day.)
– Over the counter medicines and supplement pills should also be in their original packaging if possible.

The US Embassy website contains the following information:

Prescription Medication: Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of medication. Russia prohibits certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs common in the United States. Large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny.
The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens carry a copy of their valid U.S. prescription(s) when entering Russia with prescription medication(s). There have been instances where U.S. citizens have been detained in Russia because they were not able to prove they lawfully obtained their prescription medication in the United States.

Drugs used to control seizures such as sedatives and tranquilizers are illegal to transport into Russia and most other regional countries. If you must travel with these you might wish to have the prescription and a certified Russian translation of the prescription. Never volunteer information on your medicines unless asked.

One of the more frequent causes of drug related arrests of foreign tourists is by picking up hitchhikers. The tourist rents a car and decides to pick up a hitchhiker, perhaps for someone to provide direction, etc. In a traffic stop if the hitchhiker is carrying illegal narcotics, you are an accomplice.

The sign says that this pharmacy is open 24 hours.
The sign says that this pharmacy is open 24 hours.

If you need medications, finding a pharmacy is easy. The Russian term is Аптека (aph-teka) and they’re everywhere from street corners to ground floor shops in apartment buildings.

Hints should you need medications while in Russia or Ukraine:
– Most generics available in Russia are manufactured in India. They do follow the formula, usually. It is that “usually” that makes us recommend that if possible you buy the real thing.
– Many medications in Russia do not need a prescription but you’ll need to ask. We recommend that you print clearly what you need on a piece of paper. That way if the pharmacy tech doesn’t understand your spoken English they can look it up using the English name.

We’ll list some of the more commonly requested medications:

Аспирин = Aspirin.
Аспирин = Aspirin.
Анальгин = Analgin, pain and fever.
Анальгин = Analgin, pain and fever.
Фервекс = Feverex, good for fevers and colds.
Фервекс = Feverex, good for fevers and colds. Made by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Нитроглицерин = Nitroglycerine
Нитроглицерин = Nitroglycerine
Карболен = carbon (charcoal) tablets, great antiacid.
Карболен = carbon (charcoal) tablets, great antacid.
Имодиум = Imodium.
Имодиум = Imodium.


Парацетамол = Paracetamol, an Acetaminophen said to be good for flu/colds.
Парацетамол = Paracetamol, an Acetaminophen said to be good for flu/colds.

Finally, if necessary you can find a local medical clinic often called a медицинская клиника, a polyclinic/doctor’s office. Depending on the area, these can range to very modern to a trip back into another period in time. Don’t forget that most doctors do still make house calls.