What medication can I NOT bring into Australia?
In addition to any disallowed natural plant or animal products for biosecurity reasons, some personal prescription medications cannot be brought into Australia (even if accompanied by an official prescription and doctor’s note).
Steroids (technically defined as androgenic and anabolic substances) have some special regulations in Australia.
Steroid advice for regular travellers
If you are carrying prescription drugs containing steroids, whether consciously or not — note that some health supplements which claim to encourage muscle or bone growth commonly contain steroids, so it’s wise to check — you will need to declare them. In some cases you will also need special permission through the Therapeutic Goods Association Special Access Scheme (SAS), which you can apply for in advance via email.
Still, you should be allowed to bring in prescription medication containing steroids, provided you meet the other requirements for the Traveller’s Exemption:
you arrive into Australia as a passenger on a ship or aircraft
you have the medicines in your carry-on rather than checked baggage
you present a valid prescription/doctor’s letter
you have no more than a three-month supply
Like all other medications, you must declare these on your Incoming Passenger Card before presenting to the customs officer.
However, not everybody can bring in steroids:
Steroid advice for athletes and people associated with athletes
Peptides, hormones, and all androgenic or anabolic substances carry regulations especially relevant for athletes or medical staff in Australia.
As a general rule, anybody playing or planning on playing competitive sport while in Australia, whether professional or amateur, cannot bring steroids into Australia. Even if they meet the requirements for the Traveller’s Exemption. This also extends to any people associated with sports competitors (including coaches, managers, family members, et cetera).
To find out whether you can obtain a permit for bringing medication containing steroids into Australia, contact the Special Access Scheme (SAS) directly and seek approval before arrival.
Medicinal marijuana and cannabis products
Although medicinal marijuana and cannabis products can technically be brought into Australia under the Traveller’s Exemption, they fall under ‘controlled substances’ by Australian law. That generally means they cannot be brought in by temporary visitors, but only by licensed importers.
Recreational use of marijuana: special warning for US travellers
While recreational marijuana and cannabis products are legal in some US states, any substance brought into Australia for recreational use will be treated as an illicit drug and fall under Australian narcotic possession laws, which vary from state to state.
It’s not worth the risk bringing them in, even if they have been legally purchased in the US or elsewhere.
Obtaining medicinal cannabis while in Australia
Regulations allowing medicinal marijuana and cannabis-based products have existed in Australia for several years, and the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal research has been allowed in Australia since 2016.
There is also a steady supply of medicinal cannabis products from abroad, thanks to relatively favourable import laws.
However, the process for obtaining a prescription for medicinal cannabis products from an Australian doctor can be tedious — especially for foreign visitors.
By law, in order to be prescribed a cannabis-based medicinal product, patients must make an appointment with a specialist doctor (rather than a General Practitioner or family doctor), and then wait for up to several weeks for government approval. Under the Customs Act 1901, The doctor has to be specifically licensed to prescribe that specific medicinal cannabis product, on behalf of one specific patient, through the Therapeutic Goods Act’s Special Access Schemes A and B. You’ll have to apply by submitting a form through the Office of Drug Control.
In other words — it’s possible to obtain unregistered medicinal cannabis products in Australia, but it will probably take a lot of time and money.
Permitted medications that require special permission
Even under the Traveller’s Exemption and with a valid doctor’s letter or prescription, it is necessary to acquire special permission to bring in certain medications.
The following medications are allowed, but they must be cleared off with the governmental Drug Control Section at DCS@health.gov.au before arrival:
Mifepristone and other abortifacients
Yohimbine and other aphrodisiacs or products to treat erectile dysfunction derived from Yohimbe
Aminophenazone, amidopyrine, and aminopyrine (for treatment of pain, rheumatism and common colds)
Amygdalin (a.k.a. laetrile), which is also referred to as ‘Vitamin B17’
In addition, Clexane, Hizentra, and any other injections containing material derived from humans or animal products must be cleared off with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration before arrival. You can do this through an Australian doctor using the TGA’s Special Access Scheme.
Note that insulin injections for diabetics are allowed without special permission.
Changes in codeine medication regulation
Until 2018, any personal medications containing codeine could be brought into Australia without a prescription.
However, since new legislation came into force in February 2018, travellers arriving in Australia carrying codeine medication — regardless of strength or dosage — need to have a detailed prescription or doctor’s note when they declare it.
So make sure you check the ingredients on your cough medicine before you slip it into your carry-on.