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How They Vary and Tips for Travel

How They Vary and Tips for Travel

Most medications have standardized generic names that are the same worldwide. But some drugs have different brand names in different countries. When traveling, it’s important to be sure you’re getting the exact medication you expect.

With names like Fallback Solo, Kapspargo Sprinkle, and Lupron Depot, trying to navigate the world of drug names can be interesting. But being sure you get the precise medication you need while traveling the world can be a serious matter.

In this article, we’ll look at drug names and their uses. You’ll also learn tips for traveling with your medication.

There’s an internationally recognized process for naming drugs. The World Health Organization (WHO) assigns an official international nonproprietary name (INN) to a drug following a request from the drugmaker. This INN is the official name of the active ingredient in a drug, which is also the generic name of that drug.

However, various drugmakers can use the same active ingredient to create and market their own version of a drug under a unique brand name. And different countries have different drug manufacturers.

So, while you may be familiar with the various brand names of a drug in your own country, they may be completely different elsewhere. For example:

  • The generic statin drug atorvastatin in known as the brand-name drug Lipitor in the United States and as Atocor in India.
  • The generic drug diphenhydramine is known in the United States and Canada as the brand-name drug Benadryl. In the United Kingdom, it’s available under the brand names Nytol Original and Boots Sleepeaze. And both the United States and the United Kingdom have versions of the drug called Sominex.

To add to the confusion, some drugs contain a combination of active ingredients in a single medication. For instance:

  • Anexsia is the brand-name version of a combination drug that contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone.
  • The antibiotic drug Bactrim contains sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. This combination of active ingredients is also available under other brand names, such as Septra.

It’s also possible for drugs with the same name to contain different active ingredients altogether. For example:

  • In the United States, the antihistamine drug Claritin contains the active ingredient loratadine. But in Korea, Claritin is a diabetes medication that contains the active drug gliclazide.
  • In the United States, the mood disorder drug Luvox contains the active ingredient fluvoxamine. In Bangladesh, Luvox contains ascorbic acid, tocopherol, copper, zinc, and xantofyl and is used to treat eye disease. And in Germany, Luvox is an herbal medicine containing calcium oxide, aluminum oxide, iron, potassium, and silicon dioxide.

Additionally, there are rare cases in which the active ingredient in a drug has a different name depending on where the drug is produced. For example:

  • The generic drug acetaminophen is known as Tylenol in the United States. But in many other places, such as the United Kingdom, India, and Australia, the same active ingredient is called paracetamol and is known by brand names such as Panadol.

Why do some drugs have generics and others don’t?

Years of research and testing are needed to ensure that brand-name drugs are safe and effective. The manufacturer of a brand-name drug can sell the drug exclusively for up to 20 years. (In the case of biologics, which are drugs made from living cells, the manufacturer has exclusive rights for up to 12 years.)

After that, other drugmakers can create generic or biosimilar versions. (Basically, biosimilars are to biologic drugs what generics are to brand-name drugs.)

Because generics contain the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs, they don’t need to be studied again. This, as well as competition in the market due to multiple manufacturers selling the same drug, is why generic drugs tend to cost less.

Despite the issues noted above, you should generally be able to obtain a prescription in other countries based on the drug’s common, generic name. However, taking preventive measures such as these before you leave can help reduce the stress of trying to get medication abroad:

  • Always pack an extra supply of any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs you may need in case your plans change unexpectedly.
  • If you’ll run out of certain prescription drugs while you’re gone, there may be cases when your insurance will allow an early refill. This will allow you to bring enough medication with you on your trip. Talk with your pharmacist or insurance provider to learn more.
  • Fill out a medication list before you leave. This will give you and anyone traveling with you easy access to all your drug information in case of an emergency.
  • Bring along the labels and other paperwork that come with any critical or uncommon drugs you take.
  • Carry all medications with their original labels in a carry-on bag so they’re not subject to temperature extremes and won’t get lost in case of baggage mishaps. And be sure the name on the labels matches the name on your ID and boarding pass.
  • It may be best for some medications, such as Mounjaro, to stay refrigerated during travel. To learn more about how to travel with Mounjaro, see this article.
  • Once you’ve arrived at your destination, keep all medications in a climate-controlled area. They should never be left in direct sunlight or inside a vehicle’s trunk or glove compartment.

If you do need to obtain medication abroad, it’s important to do the following:

  • For OTC meds: Read the label carefully. Check the active ingredients and the strength of the drug to make sure they’re identical to the medication you’re used to taking. You want to be sure you’re taking a dose of the drug that’s right for you. This is especially important if the medication or packaging looks different in any way.
  • For prescription meds: In some cases, you may have to see a doctor in that country to get a prescription. Regardless, always confirm with the pharmacist filling the prescription that the drug you’re receiving is identical to the drug you’re used to taking. The strength and dosage of the drug, as well as all of its active ingredients, should be the same.


Certain drugs that are legal in the United States are not legal in other countries. For example, the ADHD medication Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) is commonly prescribed in the United States but is illegal to take to Japan.

Also, some countries may have a limit on the amount of medication you can bring into the country. For example, in the United Kingdom, you can bring only up to a 3-month supply of your medication.

Be sure to check on any drug restrictions or requirements in the countries you’re visiting as well as whether a drug is currently in short supply or has testing requirements there.

A drug’s brand name often varies by manufacturer and by country. But the generic name of a drug (which is also its active ingredient) is universally standardized in most cases. When traveling, you should be able to obtain a drug you’re prescribed if you know the active ingredient in the medication.

It’s a good idea to travel with a list of the medications you take and to carry the drugs in their original containers. Carefully read the labels of any drugs you purchase over the counter or obtain with a prescription. Check the active ingredient(s), strength, and dosage to be sure they align with your condition and original prescription.

And if you’re unsure whether the drug you’re receiving is different from the one you’re used to taking, always ask the pharmacist who is filling your prescription.

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