How to,  Preparing

How Can I get all of my Prescriptions Filled Before Leaving for Spain?

Dear Emma,

As the countdown to your adventure in Spain gets lower and lower I’m sure your excitement is starting to build…but also your stress level as you start to think of all the many everyday needs you hadn’t considered before. For many of us, pain-free access to our prescription medications fall into that category and the thought of having to figure out setting that up in a foreign country and foreign language when we move abroad for a short time can be daunting. Before you completely freak out- stop, breathe, and find out if the below trick can save you the hassle.

Now, please keep in mind that it’s been a few years since I’ve been dealing with prescriptions in the US so things may have changed a bit. Additionally, every insurance provider is going to have its own set of rules and procedures to follow and so my advice may not serve you exactly. Still, being aware of the options I was able to utilize can put you on the right track to figuring out a similar (or better!) option that’s available with your coverage. I find that sometimes half the battle is simply realizing that you can ask for adjustments due to your special circumstances.


To find the answers you’ll need, follow these simple steps:

If prescription medications are part of your daily routine, you're going to want to prepare yourself before you leave!

1.) Ask Your Insurance Provider: First and foremost you’re going to want to contact your insurance company about getting a “vacation override.” Pharmacies generally have rules about how much of a prescription can be filled at once (for safety reasons and to safeguard against people selling their prescriptions in bulk). However, a “vacation override” is an approval to get more of your prescription filled than would normally be allowed due to the extenuating circumstances that you will not be in the country to get it filled at the regular intervals. With the vacation override (and proof of your admission to a study abroad program, teach abroad program, etc + proof of plane tickets), your insurance should allow you to get a few extra months without any problem. Of course, the effectiveness of this option will vary depending on how many extra months you need. For birth control, for example, many insurance companies will let you get a second refill without any issue or added cost (which could mean 6 months, if you have the prescription written for three months at a time). Often a third refill is only possible if you pay for it (but this may be worth the hassle of leaving for Spain with what you need in tow).


2.) Consult Your Doctor: Speaking of having enough of your prescription to last you through your entire time in Spain, I definitely recommend visiting your doctor directly before leaving for Spain. This is a good idea for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly, many programs and visa applications will require you to have a recent physical examination but even if yours doesn’t you should do it anyways for your own peace of mind in knowing that you are leaving for a foreign country in the best condition possible (or at least fully aware of any pre-existing conditions you may have).
  • If you’re going to be abroad at the time at which your annual prescription is due to expire it’s especially important you visit the doctor to check if they can renew a year’s worth sooner so that you won’t run out (and essentially so that you can make use of the “vacation override”- it’s fine and dandy if your insurance company can approve your override for however many months you need, but if you don’t have that many months left on your prescription, the pharmacy will not be able to grant it.
  • Thirdly, you might need to exercise some creativity when it comes to coordinating this all. For example, one override or even two will likely be allowed by your insurance provider. However, if your doctor writes your prescription to be filled on a monthly basis that’s not going to get you very far. Asking your doctor to prescribe three months at a time (or more if that’s possible) will be much more useful. Communicate your situation and your doctor will likely be happy to accommodate to the best of their ability!


Going in for a routine check-up isn't a bad idea anyways.3.) Alternatively, you can just wait: If, for whatever reason, it’s not going to possible for you to get all of your prescriptions before you leave, don’t panic. There’s always the option to get your prescriptions filled here. For this reason, it’s also important to ask your doctor for as much information as possible. Be sure to get their advice on international options that are similar (they may know the equivalent or easily be able to find it in their database) and/or to have them write down in clear, legible handwriting the exact medicine you are taking, dosage, etc. Either have your doctor write this down separately or make a photocopy of the prescription for yourself to take with to Spain. (This will not serve as a prescription at a Spanish farmacia but it will allow you to explain what you need to your pharmacist and they will be able to advise you on whether you need to get a Spanish prescription or if there is actually a non-prescription option. You may be surprised by some of the things that are available over the counter here, like birth control.)


4.) I am not condoning this BUT: Worst-case scenario is that you can have mom or dad pick up your prescriptions at the regular intervals and send them to you. This is technically illegal, but many people get away with it without any problems. Likewise, if you know you will have friends or family visiting you at some point, you can also ask them to bring them along for you. Simply keep in mind that people should technically only be traveling with medications that are prescribed to them so you do run the risk of it getting confiscated (but again, probably unlikely). And of course, if you plan to go home at some point during your living abroad experience then you obviously only have to worry about having enough to get you to that point.

Even though you can get some meds over-the-counter in Spain it's best to get a doctor's approval and professional opinion on what you should be taking so as to avoid any unnecessary issues.So that’s the bulk of my advice when it comes to getting your prescriptions before leaving for Spain. As mentioned above, you may need to prove to a customs agent that your prescriptions are indeed yours (especially if you are traveling with a large quantity of meds) so be sure to plan for this possibility and carry all medications in their original packaging with a copy of your doctor’s prescription (which should have your name on it). As with so many things, this is simply a precaution and I don’t personally know anyone who has been questioned but I would hate for it to happen to you and for you not to be prepared!

Have any other last minute questions for preparing yourself before heading to Spain? Please don’t hesitate to reach out!

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