Get Yourself and Your Supplies Overseas Safely

Because of recent changes in airline regulations concerning the transportation of medication, diabetics have more to lose than just their lotion or soda. Now more than ever, it is important to know how to notify security and flight personnel of your medical needs, what documentation to bring, and where to find supplies if yours are damaged.

As a diabetic who enjoys traveling to other countries, I wanted to know how the new regulations would affect the transportation of my insulin supplies. After some research, my worries were put to rest. Here are a few tips to make sure you and your supplies get to your destination safely.

Before You Go

Having proper documentation to accompany your medicine is the key to transporting supplies. Before my last trip, I scheduled a visit with my endocrinologist to refill prescriptions and make sure they were up to date.  I had notified my doctor several months before of my upcoming extended trip abroad. This gave me time to have the number of vials on my prescription increased and to have an extra non-refillable prescription written for me as well. It’s a good idea to have your physician write out a short note detailing the amount and use of all of your medications to show to security and customs officials.

At the Airport

New restrictions on transporting food and drinks cause diabetic passengers to fear that they might be at risk of hypoglycemia.  The FAA has amended its regulations to allow five ounces of liquids and requires that all medication be clearly labeled. If you can’t travel without a soft drink, the safest thing to do is to buy food and drinks in the airport and keep the receipt with you.

Prescription medication such as pills, insulin, and other liquid medications have not been as affected by FAA liquid carryon restrictions. “Diabetes related medication, equipment, and supplies,” including glucose tablets, pills, manual and preloaded syringes, and sharps containers fall under the “disability related items” category under FAA transportable items and are permitted through the security checkpoint.   Keep your insulin with your syringes; do not separate the two. If you are traveling with pump supplies, they must be kept with your insulin as well.  This assures officers that the syringes are a medical necessity. There is no limit to the amount of supplies you can bring. Carry all medication in the containers that they came in, so security officials can quickly identify your medication.

Know Your Rights

Moving through security checkpoints, surrounded by people struggling to undo their belts and shoelaces and move quickly through the line, is stressful.  Inform security personnel that you are a diabetic.  Emphasize that it is important that you not be disconnected from your pump unless it is absolutely necessary. Five years ago, I waited nervously in a security checkpoint line at Frankfurt Airport.  It was the first time I had traveled with an insulin pump, and I had been warned of the strict security the airport had. After informing the security official of my diabetes, I was given a wand search and visual inspection and then sent to the waiting area.  Since Frankfurt, I have traveled abroad with an assortment of insulin syringes, glucose meters and tablets, and two different types of insulin pumps.  Reactions from security personnel have ranged from full recognition of the device to latex-gloved poking, complete with metal detector wands.

If a search is required, you can either select a metal detector search or a full-body pat down with a visual inspection, which must be requested before screening begins. When traveling with a pump, I alert the officers that the pump is mostly made of plastic;  this leads to a visual inspection and manual search with the officer lightly touching the outside of the pump with gloved fingers. If the security officer cannot clear the medication through a visual screening, the medication must undergo an x-ray examination, or you will not be allowed to board.   Make sure your carryon has different compartments to make it easy to find your medication. This will make security searches easier.

Where’s My Luggage (and My Insulin)?

If you have traveled before, chances are you’ve felt a growing panic watching the airport luggage carousel spin around and around while you look frantically for your luggage, as well as the feeling of dread that sets in two hours later when your luggage still has not appeared.  It is my worst fear that my luggage will somehow find its way to Thailand while I’m expectantly awaiting it in Morocco.  Both times that I traveled overseas, I was permitted to bring two carryons, one completely stocked with insulin supplies, the other with emergency clothing and toiletries in case I became stranded indefinitely at an airport or my luggage was lost.

Keeping medication at the proper temperature during flights is another major concern for diabetics, including¬“gels and frozen liquids” to keep your medications cool.  If the amount of the liquid medication or medical supplies is greater than three ounces per container, they must be declared to the transportation security officer. Declarations can be made in writing; a traveling companion, family member, caregiver, or translator can make the declaration for you if you are not able to do so yourself. Simply telling the security officer that I was a diabetic traveling with insulin and syringes was enough to guarantee a hassle-free trip to my gate.  I also carried two mini vials of glucose tablets, a syringe, and a vial of insulin in the pockets of my jeans and jacket, as well as in my carryon, so I wouldn’t have  to repeatedly rifle though my bags on eight-hour flights.  In my case, not refrigerating my insulin for the duration of the flights had no effect, but you should check with your health care provider to see if you will need a device to cool your supplies.

If you need a large amount of supplies for a work or study abroad trip, you may not be able to transport everything with you. Look into how long it would take supplies to be shipped to your location. Once, I ordered pump supplies for a study-abroad trip.  Thinking that they would arrive well in advance, I devoted my time to planning other aspects of my trip. When the day that the supplies were supposed to arrive came and went, I became worried. After a few harrowing phone calls, I found out that although I had ordered them in advance, they would not make it to my home in the U.S. until three days after I arrived in Toulouse, France. Unable to leave any later than the date I had scheduled, I took the supplies that I had with me and the phone number and address of the company’s storehouses in France, Germany, and Amsterdam. I was notified of the arrival of my supplies and I made plans to have them shipped overseas to me.  It took a week for me to get them and cost twenty three dollars to ship the thirteen-ounce box. Make sure to get the proper insurance, and label the contents “fragile medical supplies.” Also, specify the type of shipping you would like to have, which may not be the cheapest.  For example, the cheapest rate of shipping to and from Amsterdam is by boat, which takes six to eight weeks for arrival.

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