According to the Canadian government, there are currently more than 560 Canadians in jail abroad for drug-related offences: that includes alcohol as well as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other mind-altering substances.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to forsake that Mai Tai when travelling to Hawaii or the Planters Punch in Barbados. That would be cruel and unnecessary. But you need to be aware that when travelling out of Canada, drug use can have unexpected consequences.
If, for example, you have a medical emergency that was caused by or related to alcohol or other drugs, you may well find your travel insurer denying your coverage. Every travel insurance policy sold in Canada has some limitation or exclusion for alcohol-related illness or accident, and that could be applied to falling off a balcony while somewhat tipsy, or suffering alcohol poisoning after downing too much booze at a pool party. If alcohol or other drugs were involved in generating a medical claim, you could end up having to pay the hospital bill out of your own pocket. Spring breakers or summer vacationing students, please take note.
You should also research the laws of certain countries that prohibit the use of alcohol—such as Saudi Arabia or Iran—where the importation, possession or use of alcohol is strictly prohibited. The United Arab Emirates, for example, even prohibits the importation of drugs carrying codeine, so you need to do your research if you are planning visits to this part of the world. An excellent source for such information is Travel.gc.ca.
Also be aware that smuggling illegal drugs carries very heavy penalties in most countries including the United States: 20 years imprisonment plus a fine in Tunisia, 30 years in Venezuela, and possibly the death penalty in Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand for serious drug charges. Even the U.S. has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to smuggling illegal drugs.
And be sure you don’t become an unwitting “mule” or drug carrier. Drug traffickers like to prey on younger travellers, especially young woman, and seniors, to carry drugs across borders. Consequently, the Canadian government suggests you pack your luggage yourself and keep a close eye on it, never carry a gift, package or luggage through customs unless you know the contents, and never pick up hitchhikers or cross an international border with someone you don’t know or trust.
Even travelling with prescription drugs requires your attention, particularly if you are a snowbird, as your personal medication may be subject to U.S. drug importation laws. In general, though, personal importation of a three-month supply of medication is allowed.
If you need more information about exclusions for alcohol or other drug use or importation, ask any of the agents representing our travel insurance advertisers to spell out what their policies state in this respect, and definitely check out the Travel.gc.ca site.