Buying medication overseas, in person or via the Internet, may present a useful option to those lacking health insurance, but it also carries risks. People who intend to buy medication overseas should come prepared with information and, if buying over the Internet, guard their financial data carefully.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Prepaid debit card (Visa or Mastercard)
- OR a vacation in a foreign country
- Medical advice
Become familiar with the law. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines state that drugs made outside the country that are either unapproved substances or unapproved preparations containing U.S.-approved drugs are generally prohibited but that up to three months of personal-use quantities may be brought in by an individual without provoking legal sanction. In short, bringing in prescription medications from overseas falls into a legal grey area: the FDA has the right under law to seize these materials but has a policy that permits people to carry in this personal supply under normal circumstances. Restricted drugs such as those within a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) schedule are always barred, not by the FDA but by the DEA and by U.S. Customs.
Understand the medical risks of buying medication online. Foreign generics for brand-name medications can be falsified or can contain inaccurate doses, so research the brand before buying. Prescription drugs should never be used without a doctor's supervision if at all possible because they carry their own risks even when the medications are made correctly.
Understand the financial risks. Even the few honest online pharmacies do not always have secure ordering systems. That's where the prepaid debit card comes in: if a third party steals financial information in transit, a prepaid debit card will limit the buyer's loss.
Research the individual pharmacy you plan to use, and know what to look for. Pharmacies claiming to sell DEA-scheduled substances over the Internet usually take the money of attempted buyers and do not supply anything. Even when buying nonrestricted prescription drugs, such as for erectile dysfunction or antidepressants, avoid anyone who claims to sell illegal drugs because this points to a scam. Steer clear of any shop that uses spam e-mail. Search for multiple reviews of the pharmacy written by obviously different people. It's hard to sort through all the spam, so try looking for message board threads.
Make purchases carefully and inspect medication before ingesting anything. Drugs.com has a pill identifier, but it may not have pictures of some international generics.
Generally, going overseas just to buy medication wastes money, given the 90-day importation limit and the high cost of plane fare. However, if a person travelling in a foreign country finds a necessary medication available, it can be purchased according to the laws of that country and brought home within the personal limit. According to Customs and Border Protection, small supplies of controlled substances may be brought in this way as long as they are legal for prescription in the United States.
Be sure of the identity of any medication. U.S. manufacturer packaging is best; if buying a local generic, check for clear labelling and a sealed package. Never buy poorly labelled medication or anything with an unsealed package. Only accept controlled substances from prescribing doctors, either at home or abroad.
Keep all drugs and medicines in their clearly labelled packaging when going through Customs.
Tips and warnings
- This information details the process of buying medication overseas. Conversely, buying from a registered Canadian pharmacy with a local doctor's prescription is an easy and painless way to save money without the risks entailed by shopping in other countries.
- Always try to get medical advice before seeking out treatments independently. Taking prescription medications without a doctor's guidance can have adverse effects that may endanger a patient.
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