Purchasing Insulin while Abroad

I’ve gotten a few emails lately asking about purchasing insulin abroad. So in case anyone is looking for this information, here’s what I know:

If possible, I’d always recommend getting as much insulin as you can in your home country, before you depart for any travel. Insulin is pretty compact, which means it won’t eat up half your suitcase. And by bringing it, you’re guaranteed to have the most vital part of your diabetes management on hand.

To stock up on your insulin before a trip, you have a few options:

  1. Seek a vacation override, from your pharmacy, which will generally allow you to fill more insulin than your normal allotment.
  2. As soon as you book your trip, start filling your insulin prescription refills as soon as you’re allowed to, and try to create some extra supplies. Most pharmacies allow you to fill a prescription shortly before your previous 30-day or 90-day prescription should be up, allowing you to have a bit more insulin on hand than you need. Look for the prescription refill date on your latest fill, and mark it on your calendar.
  3. Pony up the money and pay for it out of pocket. No fun, but effective.

But I’d rather purchase abroad…

If the above doesn’t appeal to you, or you’d really rather not carry all that precious-but-expensive insulin on you, here’s what I can tell you about purchasing it abroad:

  • Bring a copy of your insulin prescription with you. You may not need it, but if you do, it’ll save you a trip to the doctor’s while overseas.
  • Read up on insulin strength. There is a big difference between U-100 and U-500 insulin–U-500 is 5x as strong, and you’d obviously want to be prepared to change your doses if the strength is different in the country you purchase it in.
  • Don’t expect too much sticker shock. In general, medication abroad is going to be less expensive (at least than the U.S., where I am from). For instance, a pharmacy in Cambodia charges $18 for a 300-unit insulin pen. The same thing would cost about $90 in the U.S.
  • Do a little leg work in advance. Before you leave home, your best route is to actually contact your insulin producer directly, to see where they sell the insulin. That way you’ll know where you can buy it, and potentially how much it costs. I used this route when my insulin pump broke, and I needed a specific meter brand to match my test strips. A good place to start is your insulin producer’s website, which should link to their international sites and their customer support.

If anyone has stories about purchasing insulin abroad, please share in the comments.

Storing Insulin While Traveling

When you have your insulin, it’s important to make sure it stays potent throughout the trip.

If you plan to visit anywhere where it gets above 80 degrees, I’d highly recommend using something to keep your insulin cool. I use a Frio pouch to store mine, which is still going strong 9 months into our trip. After soaking the pouch in water, it retains the moisture and keeps your insulin cool for up to three days.

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