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Here’s Everything to Know About Visiting a Pharmacy Abroad

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What happens if you need Tylenol in France? Can you find Benadryl in Zambia? What do you do if you need antibiotics in Spain?

In the U.S., pharmacies stock mainly prescription medications that are dispensed by licensed pharmacists who have their doctorates. But pharmacies operate differently around the world, in terms of what you need and how you obtain your medication. For example, you may not need a prescription, drugs may have a different name, they make look different, the manufacturers may be different, or you may have to tell your pharmacist what you need instead of the other way around. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting pharmacies while you are traveling.

Medications Like Tylenol May Go by Different Names

In the United States, we know there are two names to medications, either the drug or brand name. Oftentimes we can only remember or recognize one of them. Internationally, the drug could have a completely different name. Tylenol, also known as Acetaminophen in the U.S., goes by Paracetamol in Europe. If you’re traveling abroad, write down both names and have your needed dosage handy for the pharmacist. Most times, they’re able to help you find the equivalent.

Your Foreign Prescription May Not Get Filled

Not all prescriptions are valid and acceptable. If you’re in the United States, pharmacies are not able to dispense any medication with a foreign prescription–the same is true in other countries. If you need to fill a U.S. prescription on vacation, make sure to look up the country you’re traveling to and see if they accept foreign prescriptions.

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Don’t Expect Personalized or Individualized Prescriptions on Your Pill Bottles

In the United States, pharmacies receive large quantities of medications and they count out the amount of medication for each prescription. If you have a prescription that says 30 tablets, most pharmacies will have a bottle of 30, 100, 500, or even 1,000 tablets and they’ll count them out by hand or using a machine. Most pharmacies around the world receive smaller quantities and will sell you the bottle they have or the package size it comes in. You won’t find a label with your information, your prescriber’s information, or anything else.

Not All Drug Manufacturers Are Available in Every Country

You may notice that your medication doesn’t always look the same every time you pick it up, and that’s because different manufacturers make the same drug. If you prefer a specific manufacturer, you have to be aware that it may be unavailable in other countries. Your best bet is to see if you can get an extra supply in your home country so you don’t run into that issue.

Some Medications May Be Banned or Illegal, so Plan Accordingly

Narcotics are drugs that are highly addictive. They usually come with more regulations and they can be difficult to obtain. That can also be an issue you run into while traveling where the medication is entirely unavailable, due to it being highly abused, not approved for use, or certain ingredients may not be deemed safe by the medical authority in the respective country.

Be Wary of Medications With Similar Sounding Names

A study showed that 74 U.S. brand name drugs were similar to 93 brand name drugs in other countries. A slight mispronunciation could find you with a completely different drug. For example, in the Philippines, the drug “Suprex” is pseudoephedrine/dextromethorphan, used commonly for cough and sinus congestion. “Suprax” is a U.S. brand name for cefixime, which is an antibiotic. Although quite similar in name, they are completely different medications for different conditions.

You May Not Need a Prescription

In Mexico, you may get a majority of medications without a prescription. A common medication that people find abroad without a prescription is Viagara, also known as sildenafil. In the United Kingdom, you can purchase Viagara over the counter under the name Viagara Connect. In Spain, you can purchase most medications over the counter. Pharmacist Rocio Berbel says when she was visiting the U.S., she went to the pharmacy because she forgot her dexamethasone eye drops. She was surprised to find that you needed a prescription to purchase those because in Spain you can just buy them over the counter.

Prices of Medications May Vary

The United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan tend to have higher prices for prescription medications. Countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, and France have lower prices according to new research that came out by RAND. Generic medication tends to be the cheapest all across the world and brand drugs will vary, so don’t expect to pay the same as you do in your home country.

Vaccines and COVID-19 Tests Are Less Common

While the role of pharmacists in most countries is community-facing and ideal for public health, not all countries have the infrastructure or authority to implement COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. You’ll likely have to go to a clinic, hospital, or free-standing COVID-19 clinic for testing or vaccinations. In Ecuador, for example, you’ll rarely find COVID testing, vaccinations, or the ability to purchase a test in a pharmacy.

Common Medications May Not Be Available

There are some strict laws on certain medications in certain countries. Definitely check with the embassy before you bring anything with you but also take note of certain drugs that will be unavailable in the country you’re visiting. You may have to ask for an alternative if what you’re looking for is unavailable. For example, Benadryl, a common over-the-counter allergy medication, is banned in Zambia.

 

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