Most people who blog about their life as a digital nomad or world traveler are lucky enough to not have a disability or chronic medical condition that limits their ability to travel. Yet, one of the long term consequences of living abroad can be a chronic mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Common conditions such as ADHD that impact roughly 5% of the US population, according to the CDC, make it difficult to travel abroad. Major nomad hot spots such as Thailand apply strict regulations to transporting medications with you. Common pain medications require travelers to apply for within 14 days of traveling to Thailand for a special authorization. There are also additional regulations that apply when traveling with psychotropic medications used to treat common mental health problems. This can compound the complexity of traveling to countries if you want to medicate your condition or deal with potentially severe legal ramifications for traveling abroad.
ADHD in Chiang Mai
The rules for traveling to Thailand with commonly prescribed medications in the USA are a nightmare given the nature of visa-free travel to the country for most Westerners. Travelers with disabilities from visa-free countries need to be careful because they need to take special precautions to avoid legal consequences for treating their disability. Most medications for panic disorder and ADHD fall in the category of controlled substances in most countries. As a result, if you take one of these types of medication extra precautions are required. Generally, countries in the Middle East or Asia set much more stringent requirements compared to other regions. One thing to note about traveling as an American abroad is that medication is not dispensed in a pill bottle in many countries. Instead, it is dispensed in a pre-packaged and clearly labeled bottle or packet.
One of the best resources I’ve found for information about traveling abroad with medication is the International Narcotics Control Board. This organization maintains a comprehensive list of resources about traveling abroad with medication. It provides standard information on required documentation and lists out qualitative and quantitative restrictions. Most countries appear to have simple procedures, but Thailand stands out given the nearly twenty pages of documentation it provides. Please note that most countries limit you to a 30 day supply of medication and you might not be able to obtain the particular dosage/medication you need locally. http://www.incb.org/incb/en/travellers/country-regulations.html
Spain mentions a requirement to receive prior authorization from the Spanish health ministry if you’re traveling with restricted types of drugs. I lived in Spain for nearly three years and this requirement is really unclear. Guess, it depends on what “funcionario” you talk to. It’s not as if I’ve got a lot of experience with the Spanish immigration system or anything. If you’re an ADHDer visiting Spain for vacation just plan to go without if possible or just stay stateside. There are non-stimulant medications available like Strattera that might work for you.
Continued ADHD Treatment as a Nomad
Most countries only allow you to bring a 30 day supply of medication with you. This means you need to find a local doctor or return home within those 30 days to continue treatment. While healthcare in many countries is excellent, you might find it’s very different when it comes to mental health. The stigma surrounding mental health treatment can be more pronounced than in your home country complicating your ability to receive the right care. Another major problem is that the medication you need might not even be available in that country. Many psychiatric medications require experimentation to find the right course of treatment. Newer psychiatric medications are usually commercialized in the USA or EU first.
The sad truth is that if your dream is to live a digital nomad life and treat your ADHD then paperwork will be an issue. It’s not like people with ADHD are notorious for being bad with paperwork or anything. As a result, if you’re planning to travel/live abroad it might be worth exploring non-stimulant medications such as Strattera( atomoxetine) with your healthcare provider. Based on my research the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t really possible if you take stimulant medication to treat your ADHD and want to live in Chiang Mai.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a lawyer before making any healthcare or travel decisions check with your medical professional or the applicable consult of the country you want to visit.