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Your guide to pharmacies abroad
It’s easy to think that everything will be totally different when you move to a new country, and this can be a cause of stress. For example, what should you do if you need to visit a pharmacy?
Actually, you will find that pharmacies in established expat destinations tend to be pretty similar to those in any other developed city around the world. They are likely to be readily available and often identifiable by the same green cross signs.
There are, however, some key differences that it’s worth being aware of.
It’s important to be careful when buying over-the-counter drugs in pharmacies.
You may find that pharmacists in other countries offer a wider variety of medication than at home. You must always ask yourself if these options are right for you.
Dr Jace Clarke, Chief Medical Officer with William Russell, says: “You have to be careful of counterfeit medicines which can be common when travelling abroad. Is the drug from a reputable brand, or is it from a forged brand? It can be difficult to distinguish.”
Drugs in Hong Kong, for example, are categorised and many will be unavailable over the counter.
However, there have been reports of a willingness in some less-reputable pharmacies to sell certain drugs over the counter that would not normally be available. This leaves you at risk of buying counterfeit and potentially dangerous medication, as well as being held to ransom over the cost.
The importance of health insurance cover
It is vital to be aware of the local drug laws. For example, in Hong Kong, you are unable to use a prescription written by a doctor in another country.
“This can be a real issue in many countries,” explains Dr Clarke. “Also, you may find that a drug you need isn’t available. Sometimes the pharmacist will be willing to get it for you, but the charge will be considerable.”
“Some of the more sophisticated anti-cancer drugs may not be licensed in some countries,” says Dr Clarke, “and that can cause real problems for someone who needs them, especially if they’re not covered by a comprehensive health insurance plan.”
How do I stay safe?
The first thing to remember is that preparation is key.
“The overarching advice is to do your research wherever you’re going,” says Dr Clarke. “Research local drug laws and research which drugs you will need access to. Can you get them all over the counter there?”
It’s important to speak with your employer and colleagues to find out which pharmacists in the area they use and trust. That way, you can have more confidence that your pharmacist will be reliable and trustworthy.