Traveling with Celiac: Using a Doctor’s Note

Traveling with Celiac DiseaseWhen I went to Singapore two weeks ago, I did something for the very first time. I traveled with a doctor’s note. I had only read about using a note in the past, but figured it was worth a shot. Some might ask why a doctor’s note? For me, it was to ensure that my food was not confiscated during a long weekend of travel. With both Celiac disease and a shellfish allergy, I brought a lot of food with me for my week in Singapore. I wanted to make sure this food would be with me from start to finish. I also hoped I would have some food to eat on my way home.

In my carry-on bag, I had sandwiches, fruit, veggies, and lots of snacks. I also had two frozen ice packs to keep my food cold. In my suitcase, I had more snacks, tuna pouches, jerky, quinoa, and more. I didn’t want anyone to think I was smuggling food, nor did I want to go hungry. I had a doctor’s note in both my carry-on bag and on top of the food in my suitcase in case it was opened at any point in transit.

I am happy to say that I did not have any food removed from my bags nor did I have to use my doctor’s note. I was asked about one item at one of my security checkpoints (I forget which country I was in at the time) but I mentioned my doctor’s note for the food and that was all I had to say. It was a huge relief to have all of my food with me for the 19+ hours of transit.

Here is an example of my note.

To Whom It May Concern:

Erin Smith is a female who suffers from celiac (coeliac) disease and has a shellfish allergy. These conditions make it medically necessary for her to carry gluten-free food with her always. In addition to the gluten-free products, she has ice packs in her bag(s) to keep her food cold for international travel to Singapore.

Ms. Smith is also an asthmatic and requires use of an albuterol inhaler in the event of an asthma attack or allergic reaction. Please allow Erin to carry her albuterol inhaler aboard the plane in her pocketbook.

email address
phone number

The letter was also put on my primary care doctor’s letterhead with her signature. I printed off two copies, one for my carry-on and one for my suitcase, and also kept one in my pocketbook just in case. As I stated above, I never had to physically use my letter but did mention it to one security agent along the way.

Will a letter like this work every time? Probably not. Is it better to have it than to be hungry? You bet!

Looking for more ideas about traveling with a doctor’s note? Check out the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team Sample Doctor/Allergist Letter here.

I think it is important to remember that gluten-free food is our medicine when living with celiac disease and should be treated that way all the time and not just in travel. You can read more about traveling with medication on the TSA website.

Have you ever used a doctor’s note when traveling with gluten-free food? What did it say? Leave your comments below!

About Erin Smith

Living with celiac disease since 1981 and eating gluten-free long before it was "trendy", Erin Smith has a unique perspective of growing up in the gluten-free community; Founded Gluten-Free Fun in 2007; Founded Gluten-Free Globetrotter® in 2011; Founded GlutenFreelancer® in 2014. Erin was the lead organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group, a social community of more than 2,000 members for over a decade. She is the founder of the Santa Cruz Celiac support group. Erin currently resides in New York City and lives 100% gluten-free.
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7 Responses to Traveling with Celiac: Using a Doctor’s Note

  1. Maureen says:

    Do you think it would work in the US for carrying things like peanut butter, yogurt, or applesauce?

    • Erin Smith says:

      It might work. It really depends on the TSA agent. I’ve had yogurt pass through while other times it was confiscated. I have better luck with nut butters in those little pouches rather than a tub or a jar. I never tried applesauce, but again, maybe those pouches like GoGoSqueez. Again, it depends on the airport and the agent.

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  3. Moira says:

    Hi Erin – Thank you for writing this blog! My daughter, who is 16yrs old and was diagnosed with celiac disease just over 13 yrs ago, was just told that she can not attend a missions trip with church to Peru due to her celiac disease, and she is devastated. I have packed bags of food for her for domestic trips but assumed that she could not travel with food internationally… This makes me wonder if she may be able to. The trip is for ten days, and although I am worried about her going so far, since she wants to make this big step I want to support her. Your blog is making me think that I can see if this is an option for her. Thank you for taking the time to blog your experiences.

    • Erin Smith says:

      Hi Moira,

      I am so sorry to hear that your daughter was told she could not go. Was it the organizers of the mission trip? They might just be uninformed and scared on how they can feed her in Peru. I would suggest talking directly to the trip organizers and explaining that she will be coming with food as well as what she can and cannot eat. Next, I would suggest in translation cards. Your daughter can give these to whoever is preparing the meals in Peru. If you can contact that person ahead of time, I would suggest that too! Start the communications early in order to get your message across. Finally, the doctor’s note in both English and Spanish is important. You can outline what celiac disease is, why she is traveling with food, and what she can and cannot eat. I would really hate for your daughter to miss out on an exciting opportunity like this due to celiac disease. Please keep me posted on what happens and feel free to email me any time!


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  5. Chelsea W. says:

    Oh my goodness, thank you for this tip! I’m newly-diagnosed and trying to learn how to travel with Celiac. Thank you for sharing!

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