Travelling abroad

Having a disability, illness or medical condition should not stop anyone from going on holiday abroad or travelling by air or sea. Planning ahead and letting your travel operators know about any special requirements can make travelling less stressful.

If the person you care for is travelling alone or needs extra assistance, make sure the travel provider and the place of departure can accommodate their needs before you book. Also check with your travel operators about:

  • dietary requirements, especially if they're due to a medical condition,
  • any special equipment needed, such as mobility equipment or oxygen supplies,
  • any medication needed, and 
  • other requirements, such as a having a guide dog. 

If equipment needs recharging, make sure that it's compatible with the electricity supply of the country you're visiting. You may need to take spare batteries with you.

Carer's tip from Netbuddy

"Travelling by plane with medication: always pack half in your hand luggage in case your suitcase goes walkabout. That way, you will have enough with you until your case is relocated or you get some more locally."

Travelling with medicines

If the person you look after is taking a course of medication, check beforehand if the countries you're travelling through have different legal restrictions on medication. Contact the embassy or high commission of the country you're visiting and check the types and quantities of drugs allowed into the country. Rules on medication are subject to change – even if you've travelled through the country before it's best to check. Additional permissions may be needed so that you don't break the law at your destination.

You should speak to either your GP or the GP of who you are caring for about any special travel requirements that may need to be met. For example, the GP may need to write a letter detailing specific medical needs, which can be shown to customs officials. You could also obtain a translation of the letter in the language of the country you're visiting.

Permitted allowances

If you need to take more than a certain amount (the permitted allowance) of some controlled substances or medicines, you'll need a licence from the Home Office. To apply for a licence, you'll need:

  • your personal details (name, address, date of birth),
  • your destination(s),
  • dates of departure and return, and 
  • a letter from the doctor who prescribed the medicines in support of your license application (including the name, form and quantity of the medicine). 

Permitted allowances are based on a 15-day standard dosage of your medicine. If you take the permitted allowance or less, you don't need a Home Office licence, but check with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about restrictions at your destination(s). If you're carrying non-controlled prescription medicines (for example, blood pressure tablets), a letter from your doctor with details of your prescription may avoid any confusion at customs.

Transporting your medicine

If you cannot bring your medicines in your hand luggage and need to put them in the hold, ask a pharmacist what will happen to the medicines in cold temperatures (it can get cold in a cargo hold during a flight). Insulin can be damaged if it's frozen. Check if there are any crystals in insulin after a flight and don't use it if you find any. Take your medicines on the plane with you if you can, but check with the cabin crew first.

If you can, keep your medicines in more than one bag in case one gets lost or stolen.

All medicines should be properly boxed and labelled as they were when they were given to you. Make sure that everything you take, if it's restricted, appears on your doctor’s letter.

You can find more information about travelling with an ill or disabled person in the UK on our transport pages. These include information on:

Click on the bars below to find out more about travelling abroad by air, sea, rail, or with an assistance dog.

Travelling by air

Let your airline know of any requirements you have, preferably before you book, to make sure they can accommodate your needs. Give the company at least 48 hours' notice so they can arrange any provisions for you.

If you're going to a European airport, the airline should be able to offer: 

  • someone to guide you through check-in or arrivals,
  • help around large airports,
  • help boarding the plane and storing luggage,
  • help with any equipment needed, and 
  • assistance to and from the toilet on board.

Check that the cabin crew are aware of your requirements and those of the person you're looking after. For example, people who have sight impairments can request the emergency landing procedure in other formats such as Braille. If you have a hearing impairment, the crew can let you know personally if any important announcements are made.

Cabin crew on flights can’t provide personal care for passengers. If the person you care for needs regular personal care, you may need to travel with them. Depending on a person’s capabilities or condition, airlines may not allow people with illnesses or disabilities to travel alone.

Travelling with equipment by air

It’s vital to speak to the airline in advance about any medical, mobility or care equipment you need to take on board. Keep equipment to the minimum that's safely possible.

Check with the airline about weight restrictions on equipment. They may not be able to carry large or heavy items, such as mobility scooters. Make sure you're not charged for items that the airline has a legal obligation to carry. According to European Union regulations for disabled passengers, it's illegal for an airline to charge for carrying or loading a wheelchair on to a plane.

Some airlines will not let you carry on personal oxygen supplies and may charge for access to their own oxygen supply. Check in advance if this is the case as you'll normally need to pre-book oxygen. If the person you care for requires oxygen for a flight, most airlines will require them to have medical clearance to fly.

The Department for Transport’s code of practice states that airlines must allow disabled passengers two free items of mobility equipment. This generally excludes mobility equipment that is not needed for the air journey and could be hired at the destination. Essential equipment, such as a portable dialysis machine needed for the duration of the stay, is allowed.

Travelling by rail

Before you buy tickets, speak to the train company to ensure that their facilities are suitable for the needs of the person you care for. If they need help to travel by train, you must let the train operator know requirements at least 24 hours before the journey.

It’s best to arrive an hour early and let a member of train staff know that someone with an illness or disability has arrived and what their requirements for the journey are.

Some rail companies offer discounted travel for carers and the people they care for, so check before booking. Most trains also have wheelchair access.

To find out more about rail travel and discounts, contact the national rail enquiry service on 08457 48 49 50.

If the person you care for is disabled, they may be able to get a Disabled Persons Railcard. This usually gives disabled travellers and their adult companion a third off their rail fare.

The train operator should be able to give you information about the trains and railway stations, including:

  • accessibility in stations and carriages,
  • whether you can take an assistance dog or guide dog on the train,
  • whether someone can assist you around the station, and
  • whether someone can assist you when you arrive at your destination or direct you to connecting trains.

Travelling by train with equipment

Before you book your ticket, let the train operator know if you need to take equipment, such as mobility aids or oxygen, on your journey. Planning your travel requirements in advance can make your journey a lot easier.

Many rail services provide carriages suitable for mobility aids and oxygen containers. Check with the train company first.

Travelling by sea

All ferry and cruise liners require you to tell them in advance if you or the person you’re travelling with has any specific requirements. Most new cruise ships have a number of disabled-access cabins, but places may be limited so it’s a good idea to book early.

If the person you care for is travelling alone, they should speak to the travel operator or agent before booking. Some operators require medical clearance that it's safe for them to travel and some require people in wheelchairs to be accompanied by an able-bodied companion.

Discuss in advance any assistance they'll need on excursions and check whether their assistance dog will be allowed on land in all the countries they intend to stop in.

Travelling by sea with equipment

Check your travel provider’s policy on mobility aids, equipment and oxygen supplies, and whether the person you care for will be allowed on board unaccompanied. Although some cruises provide medical personnel, many insist that the person travels with someone that can administer their oxygen for them.

Travelling with an assistance dog

If the person you look after has a guide dog, hearing dog or assistance dog, they may not be able to take them to some countries or with some travel companies. If you're allowed to take a dog with you, you'll need to ensure that the dog is fully vaccinated.

Assistance dogs can travel with the passenger on many international air, sea and rail routes approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Check with the travel company in advance. Sometimes, an assistance dog will be allowed to travel, but may be put in the hold as cargo.

Assistance dogs can travel without having to go through quarantine procedures under the Pet Travel Scheme (known as the pet passport scheme). Before travelling, check that the dog meets the criteria for the scheme.