Uzbekistan+: medical kits - WARNING
Apologies this is rather fierce and formal, but it’s important.
1. Don’t travel to Uzbekistan with codeine phosphate pills, and . . .
2. Don’t travel with prescription drugs without the original prescription and, ideally, a rubber-stamped letter from your doctor explaining why you need them
3. Pre-departure, check with the Uzbekistan embassy what the maximum quantity of any prescribed drug is, because on RESTRICTED DRUGS there are limits – if you exceed them, even by just one pill, you can be charged with smuggling narcotics and threatened with 10yrs jail (I kid you not)
4. Declare them on the customs form
5. The above may even apply to some over-the-counter drugs – I don’t know, but check – though standard antibiotics are fine
6. Some Paracetamol contain codeine phosphate – don’t bring them. Standard Paracetamol or Asprin are fine.
There has been much fruitful talk of the importance of declaring all your cash and electronics when entering Uzbekistan: what is not declared coming in, though is discovered on exiting, can be confiscated by customs officers. (Note: this obviously restricts any use of the black market for forex, the difference equivalent to around a third.)
The subject of medical kits, however, is even more important. What you might think as a perfectly innocent set of medicines could in fact be illegal and get you in a very, very serious pickle. So check it.
This is your responsibility, since doctor’s often don’t realise you’re taking the medicine travelling and so don’t warn you, or simply don’t know the risks of doing so. Neither does the Uzbekistan embassy or anyone else warn you.
If you have not brought along a prescription for a medicine you need and are already heading for Uzbekistan, get a friend back home to dig it out, or have a new doctor’s note written up: the precise quantity prescribed and why prescribed; signed and rubber-stamped (rubber stamps are very important in this part of the world – without one, the document is worthless). Have it scanned and emailed to you before you arrive at the border. Print it out, preferably in colour. A copy is better than nothing. If possible, have the original sent on to a place where you can collect it. DHL if necessary - it will save you money in the not-so-long run.
This is especially important with pills. For example: CODEINE PHOSPHATE. My downfall. This is a painkiller used to treat mild to moderate pain, though is more powerful than Paracetamol and is something that would be perfectly reasonable for a motorcyclist to carry in the event of an accident in a remote area. It requires a prescription to obtain in the UK and is legal, as it is in most countries.
In Uzbekistan, however, codeine phosphate is effectively illegal. They have 1-3 ranks of drug, 1 being prohibited, 2 and 3 restricted, with codeine phosphate falling into category 2. So Don’t Bring It. While you’re unlikely to find the word clearly stated even in the instruction leaflet, it contains morphine. Morphine derives from opium, as does heroin, and Uzbekistan is neighbour to the world’s largest supplier. Thus, in Uzbekistan, codeine phosphate is defined as a narcotic, regardless of how small the percentage of morphine might be.
Note: some Paracetamol contain codeine phosphate, so check them. If they contain it, I suggest you leave them behind.
CUSTOMS DECLARATION FORM
If you do bring it and do not declare it in the rather fearsome-sounding box related to drugs on the customs form when entering Uzbekistan (because you assume it to be harmless) and/or don’t have a prescription and/or have over the permitted amount (apparently equivalent to 7 days worth the recommend dosage in the case of codeine phosphate, but double-check this) . . . and it’s then discovered by Uzbekistan customs, you will probably be detained in the nearest town until the issue is resolved (1-4 weeks).
This to customs is very black and white. One pill over the limit and you could be smuggling. The worse case outcome is 10 years in jail, though this is unlikely in the case of a foreigner. More likely is deportation, a stiff fine and your bike being permanently confiscated as party to the perceived crime. A major, major, boo-hoo. If you’re lucky, you may get away with a minor breach of customs regulations (though not before being threatened with jail) along with a fine, legal fees and your beloved bike returned . . . not to mention a decidedly strong and interesting experience. Which is why we travel, but anyway, let's keep to the point.
Last year a British girl was detained in Nukus (nearest city to the Xo’Jayli customs post, just over the border from Konye Urgench, Turkmenistan) for a whole month for carrying two sleeping pills over the permitted limit After going to court, she was fined and deported. Deportation means a filthy-looking stamp in your passport, which will not endear you to customs officers in any future country you visit and you will be forever haunted by the prospect of rubber gloves. At least until you get a new passport. An Italian couple suffered a similar fate just two weeks ago regarding another prescription drug.
The Uzbekistan Customs Declaration form is not a complicated form. On the first side, in addition to name etc, you detail the currencies you have, and below this are nine boxes to mark either Yes or No, including declaration of means of transport. The first relates to Weapons, ammunition, explosives, radioactive materials, and which lulls you into the wrong mindset – that everything that follows must be bad. The next is relates to Drugs, psycho tropic substances, poisonous, drastic and medicines. This is the precise wording. It is poorly worded and seems to suggest only illegal drugs. So, if you have anything on prescription, especially pills, it is advisable to ask the customs officers if you should check the Yes box. Show them your medical kit in the process and be totally open. He will probably say that you should declare it, along with providing details of the medicine in the appropriate space on the reverse side of the form – the same space in which you provide details of any electronic items you may be carrying.
That’s my understanding of it. But check everything. Take your time filling out the customs declaration form and resist the usual urge to race through things in order to be on your way and have the cool air flowing about your baking body. Be firm but patient with the customs officer if he/she is not giving you full attention. Alas, there’s also a cynical interpretation to any apparent lack of co-operation on their part, no matter how respectful your manner: that a border guard might reasonably wish for promotion back to the city and how else are they to be measured in how efficiently they’re doing their job if not catching dastardly smugglers?
Many motorcyclists, however, are waved through Uzbekistan customs without having any kit checked: as ever, it depends on the humour of customs on any given day, at any given hour, and if you travel long enough, sooner or later you meet a stinker. But you must be prepared for a full check, all kit out and scattered across the yard. Especially if crossing at the Xo’Jali post between Konye Urgench, Turkmenistan and Nukus, Uzbekistan . . . which is the post the cheery Turkmen insurance men at the Bajgiran border seem to want to direct tourists with vehicles, rather than the Dashoguz post a little further East (the latter being more convenient if heading on to Khiva). It’s the line they mark in biro on a map of Turkmenistan on the back of your insurance document which determines your route and especially your exit point.
Re. medical kits in general, I think this is a good discipline wherever you might be travelling to. Stay on top of your medical kit. Keep it simple. Keep it up to date.
Finally – if approaching Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan from Iran, beware of jinn (aka djinn or genies) in the desert between Yazd and Shahrud, because I’m sure that’s where I caught the eye of the little devil who’s been giving me merry hell at the last two borders . . . though yesterday it must have been napping, since Sariosiyo (Uzbekistan to Tajikistan) was thankfully a breeze.
Still, odd though it may sound, I’m grateful to it; for without the rough there is no smooth and oh how sweet is freedom now I have my bike once more. What has become a rather expensive bike, despite all the rattles and leaks.