How To Get Emergency Contraception If You're Traveling Abroad

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Some people are just really bad at packing for vacations, and usually that just means having to buy toothpaste at an unfamiliar drug store. But, if you forget to bring your birth control and need emergency contraception in a foreign country, that's a whole different story. One minute, you're having incredible vacation sex; and the next, you're barking "pillola del giorno dopo" ("morning-after pill") at an Italian farmacista. The good news is that getting your hands on emergency contraception abroad can be just as easy as it is in the U.S. — sometimes.
"You can't be sure, because in some countries they aren't available at all," says James Trussell, PhD, senior research demographer in the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, who studies emergency contraception. "In contrast, other countries, like some in Europe, you can get not only Plan B but also ella from pharmacists; you can just walk in and buy it." The most effective emergency contraceptive goes by the brand name "ella" or "ellaOne," and that's the one you're more likely to find abroad, since Plan B isn't as prevalent, Dr. Trussell says.
Currently, 19 countries allow emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter, and 76 countries require a prescription from a pharmacist, according to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC). But, OTC doesn't always mean you can grab the medication off the shelf (like you can in the U.S.); and in some countries (like Italy and Iceland), you have to get emergency contraception through a pharmacist who's been trained to council you at the time you get it, Dr. Trussell says. These pharmacists might also be required to follow up and call you the day after you take it to see how you're feeling.
Your best bet, no matter where you're traveling to, would be to pack an emergency contraceptive with you before going on vacation if you think there's a chance you'll need it, Dr. Trussell says. That said, if you're traveling outside the country and curious how to get emergency contraception abroad, here's how to get it in a few popular destinations, according to the ICEC. If the country you're looking for isn't on this list, the ICEC has an in-depth database with the status and availability of emergency contraceptives on their website.

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