Dubai: Having medicines in your travel bag is second nature to most people, but if you're not careful, those medicines to relieve a cough or treat painful gastric ulcers can land you in jail.
As signatory to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which enforces two earlier conventions against narcotics and psychotropic substances, the UAE prohibits certain chemicals, and medicines with these chemicals, from entering the country.
Some medicines, which are over-the-counter in other countries, are also considered controlled items in the UAE as they produce effects that contravene local laws.
To bring these medicines in, residents and non-residents alike must have a medical prescription from a UAE-licenced physician. For those who received treatment abroad, they must show a medical report from a doctor detailing their illness and the reason for taking the medicines.
Dr Easa Al Mansouri, director of the Pharmacy and Drug Supply Department at the Ministry of Health, said this was to make sure that the medicines would be used legally. "How can [the customs officer] be sure if [an overseas] prescription is legitimate?" he said.
"If they have a medical report with them, then nobody should stop them," added Humaid Al Shamsi, assistant undersecretary for pharmaceutical supplies at the ministry.
To be on the safe side, both suggested visitors and residents should forego bringing in the 'dodgy' medicine and get a prescription upon arrival in the UAE. However, that might be a problem as many people are unaware of these regulations until they land in trouble.
Although the troublesome medicines are listed in various UAE health websites - there are 365 of them - finding them is a roundabout process.
"There are no warnings posted at the airport. Travel agencies don't tell us," said Dr Mohammad Samir, who recently moved to Dubai.
"My friend's mother was stopped once because she brought in a medicine her doctor prescribed to her in the UK that's not allowed here," said Dr Baher Massoud, medical director at a pharmaceutical company.
"It's very important to know. If we bring a medicine and we don't know it's illegal, it may jeopardise [our stay in the UAE]," added Michael Lopez, who recently moved to Dubai from the Philippines.
Banned: What not to bring
- The UAE has identified a group of drugs with the potential to lead to addiction if not controlled and has prohibited their entry.
- For a full list you can visit the UAE ministry of health website: www.moh.gov.ae
- Many common cold and cough remedies, which you might assume to be harmless, must be accompanied by a prescription. Many of these drugs are available over-the-counter (OTC) in other countries.
- Some sleeping tablets, painkillers, anti-depressants and hormone replacement therapy drugs are banned here.
- Poppy seeds, a common ingredient in dishes in some countries, are illegal her.
- Betel leaves and betel nuts are also banned.
- All kinds of sex stimulants are banned.
- Some controlled drugs according to UAE Federal Law are alfentanil, amphetamine, codeine, fentanyl, ketamine, methadone, methyphenidate and morphine.
- The trade names of some controlled medicines which are registered as medicines in the UAE (i.e. a doctor's prescription is required) Ketalar, Physeptone, Ritalin, Sosegon, Subutex Ultiva, Abilify, Anexate, Arthrotec, Ativan, Barnetil, Buccastem, Clopixol, Cytotec, 123 Cold, Actifed Compound, Actifed DM, Activelle, Adol Cold, Adol Compound, Adumbran, Akineton, Algaphan, Anafranil, Andriol, Artane, Tussifin with codeine, Unified DM, Vesanoid, Virormone and Zoloft.
- Please check with the UAE embassy in your country on prohibited or controlled medicines in the UAE before travelling here.