Want 16 Tips for Buying Cheap Meds In Thailand?

First, let’s talk about Importing Personal meds into Thailand: Several months ago I had some medical items sent from my home country. They were held up at customs. On my first visit to the airport customs office I learned that unless I got a note from my doctor, the items would be considered commercial and I would have to pay a very hefty fee. I met with my doctor and went back to customs a couple of days later. I found that my note from him was not valid. It had to be issued by a public hospital doctor, not private. Fortunately, the customs officer took pity on me and let it go without the fee, provided I understood that I would need to present a correct note the next time. I recently ordered another shipment of the same product, and was worrying a bit, so I made an appointment with a doctor I had been to before, to ask for a letter. Since he has privileges at both RAM and a public hospital, and since I was told he would be unavailable for two weeks at the public hospital, I foolishly made the appointment at RAM, thinking he could give me a note from CM. After waiting for an hour I saw him, and learned that I would have to set up another appointment at CM hospital, and be careful to do it in the public section. Three hours after that I had my paper from the doctor. He told me there would be no charge. Lester Johnson, President, Chiang Mai Expats Club

I’m buying cheap meds in Thailand but my needs are pretty lightweight, so I turned to a friend, Greg Miller, who was injured when deep sea diving for the US Navy, and I asked him about his wonderful collection of meds and if they are really as cheap as people claim.  In response, he wrote me this:

When I moved to Thailand from the US I found that buying meds here is much more relaxed. Medicines that are out of the reach of many in America because of price, or not available at all because the FDA restricts their distribution, are readily available to the public in Thailand. It’s not perfect in Thailand, but it’s a lot better than in the States. Here are 16 tips for buying cheap meds in Thailand that will save you time and money:

  1. If you’re coming to Thailand from the US you can save a lot of money by stocking up on your meds here. Jjust make sure you have documents when you return. It is also good to have a small supply of the “contingency drugs”, the medicine you are likely to need as things happen in the future. If you can legally buy the meds you need in the US, you can buy them in Thailand easier and much cheaper than back home.
  2. You will usually find both the brand name pharmaceuticals you have in the US (running typically about 10% of the cost in the US) and generic brands (could be as low as 1%). That huge price difference can make a major lifestyle difference for many Americans. Some people even save enough to pay for their trip and holiday.
  3. If while you are in Thailand you want to meet with a doctor to check out everything and get a legitimate local prescription, it won’t be a major investment as it is back home. I recently met with an excellent English speaking doctor at one of the leading Chiang Mai hospitals for annual heavy-duty check-up, giving me updated prescriptions for my blood pressure and thyroid ailments after giving a whole bunch of tests, and my charge for the doctor was 250Baht ($8.36 USD). And if you have a prescription already written by a US doctor, it becomes extremely simple for a Thai doctor to write a new prescription here.
  4. By doing a little internet search on your US medications, you can get the generic or medical name for what you are taking. You should write these down to take to Thailand because they may not be familiar with the brand name used in the US. Often the big pharmas will have a different brand name for the same product for different marketing regions. In the US where they can reap enormous profit margins, they often will have a unique brand name.
  5. To repeat: carrying an actual prescription — whether American or Thai — with you prevents a lot of difficulties if the medicines are discovered crossing national borders.
  6. Many travelers recommend only buying medicines in the pharmacies in big private hospitals. While this can certainly be a bit assuring, it should be realized that this is the most expensive place to cheap meds in Thailand (the same as in other countries as well). You will save much more if you make your purchase through independent pharmacies. They are all pretty much licensed and have licensed, educated pharmacists who are much more helpful than US pharmacists in their recommendations. Senior Thai pharmacists usually speak ‘medical English’. Most travelers have the wherewithal and savvy not to buy from street sellers, I assume.
  7. If you go to a Thai pharmacy and there is no air conditioning and it looks or smells bad, you may want to just make a U turn. Medicines do lose their potency in high heat. Fortunately, poor quality pharmacies are the minority. You have to be a wise consumer in Thailand (in anything you buy). And when you store meds at home, a good place to store them is in the fridge.
  8. Birth control pills are available over the counter in Thailand, starting at a cost of a $1 for a month’s supply. You can buy the same brand as back in the US or a generic.
  9. Male enhancement drugs can be much less than back home. Cialis Viagra and Levitra are available with no prescription and you will save money. There are also plenty of fakes from China (so examine the package carefully and don’t buy from street merchants or border markets).
  10. There are national generics from India and within Thailand. For instance, the Thai equivalent to Viagra, which is called Sidegra, seems to be just as effective (or better) than Viagra and can be purchased in 100mg versions at a fraction of the cost is the US (less than $1 ea.). On a somewhat related note, condoms in Thailand are cheap but most (American) men complain that they tend to be too small.
  11. Many anti-depressants, antibiotics, allergy meds, steroids, Valium and other pharmaceuticals that require an expensive doctor appointment back in the US are available over the counter in Thailand (but not always), so don’t be nervous to ask. If a prescription is required, the pharmacists can usually recommend a medical doctor that can take care of this at a minimal cost.
  12. Or just pop into a private clinic or hospital. You can have an appointment quickly and cheaply.
  13. There are also many medicines not available at all in the US that you can buy in Thailand. This does not mean that these medicines are bad for you. To introduce a new medicine into the US takes many millions of dollars and years of testing, and many companies in the world do not have the resources and inclination to go through the US process Many Chinese herbal medicines fall into this category.
  14. Understand that while medicines are easily and cheaply purchased in Thailand, this does not apply to vitamins and supplements. These are generally imported and taxed heavily, so you will find these to be substantially more expensive than in the US. Whenever we go back to the US we stock up on vitamins to bring back to Thailand.
  15. Not all meds in Thailand are cheap. There are several OTC meds easily available in the US that are considerably more expensive in Thailand. Simple pain relievers like Aleve and plain aspirin (which legally requires a prescription in Thailand) are expensive. Benadryl seems to be impossible to find in Thailand, and good ol’ Tums are very difficult to find. You also will not find Cortisone cream in Thailand, but Thai pharmacies have a generic brand of hydrocortisone cream that is very expensive. It seems that those medicines in the US that do not have a strong FDA and AMA control, the pricing and availability in the US is much better.
  16. Also medicines that in the US might be construed as recreational by some (as in Cannabis) are strictly forbidden in Thailand and have severe penalties in this country and throughout the region. The Drug War was initiated around the world by the US (thanks largely to Dick Nixon), and while sanity is finally starting to be applied in many places in the US, Thailand and other Asian nations have been extremely slow in easing up on this. It is wise to avoid any connection with these drugs in Southeast Asia.

Videos About Thai Pharmacies and Buying Cheap Meds in Thailand

And, just in case you’re actually sick and need to talk to a Thai pharmacist, here’s a video that teaches you the basic phrases for buying cheap meds in Thailand! (Though most Thai pharmacists speak English).

 

For most ailments, there’s no need to see a doctor in Thailand so long as you know a good pharmacist and a good Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. Here’s the best pharmacy for Buying Cheap Meds in Thailand right in in Chiang Mai, where I live. Its owner, the pharmacist, is Khun Mum, and she really knows her meds! She’s also an excellent diagnostician and her prescriptions almost always fix the problem.

Reading on Buying Cheap Meds in Thailand

If your drugs are from a ‘controlled’ category, then read this post about Bringing Controlled Pharmaceutical Drugs into Thailand VERY carefully!  If you liked ‘Buying Cheap Meds in Thailand’, you’ll like

22 Responses

  1. Thanks for this useful and interesting article. I have needed different meds and found some curious differences is availability. Some common US meds are hard to find, expensive or just unavailable here. These are the ones that I have looked for and know.
    Benadryl brand is mostly unknown, but the generic, diphenhydramine is common and cheap. It is available as pills and in anti itch creams. For mosquito bites, Cadramine-V lotion has calamine and diphenhydramine and is even is some 7-11.
    Creams with a cortisone are available in different names from the US. Many anti itch creams have a cortisone, Betamethasone, a mid strength cortisone is common. Thai pharmacies seem to like giving shotgun creams for skin problems. These have an antibiotic, antifungal and cortisone.
    Replacement antacids for Tums are common and cheap, 9-12bt for 10. Ask for an antacid, then ask for a cheaper two or three times, until you get under 15bt, that’s it and they work great and taste OK.
    Lisinopril for hypertension is a cheap $4/mo generic in the US, here it is uncommon and expensive, 120bt for 10 pills. A substitute med, enalapril is cheap and common.
    For nausea, travel sickness, vertigo, Dramamine is common. Bonine, meclizine which works the same, but much less drowsy and the prefered med in the US is not available at all.
    Lipitor generic is not available, the brand is expensive as in the US. Simvastatin is cheap and everywhere.
    Plendil and tamsulosin are a little hard to find and expensive. Amlodipine is cheap.
    When a westerner asks for a medicine most pharmacies first off the most expensive, brand name. Often there are much less expensive generics, ask.
    Retin-A cream (Tretinoin) is very cheap in Thailand, 150 bt ($4.60) compared to the US, $80-$100. The cream is licensed by Ortho and made in Thailand, the same stuff.
    Thai doctors give way to many antibiotics, even when unneeded for a virus.
    Private hospitals that cater to tourists can be very expensive thru their own pharmacies, for even cheap meds.
    Large pharmacies in Bangkok can have hard to find meds and sometimes a little better prices.
    These are only the differences that I know of due to the meds I look for. If you really need something bring a supply or check ahead.
    The doctors in Thailand can be OK to very good and much better then the two turkeys I ran into at University of California San Francisco Hospital.

    1. Thanks heaps for that information! It’s exactly the kind of detail that people appreciate, and I’ll publish it in the September newsletter to make sure that everyone gets it.

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for reading it and replying.

        If you could proofread it before publishing, that would be appreciated.

        Example: differences is availability —> differences in availliability

        Thanks,

        Gary

      2. The information is great. I am thinking about going to Thailand to be with my son . I take several different meds for heart & blood pressure. So I really need to know if I can get them over there. Thanks

      3. Hi, I have a prescription from a UK doctor for Dihydrocodeine.
        How can I go about getting the meds when I am in Thailand (now).

        1. Take your prescription to a HOSPITAL pharmacy, NOT a street pharmacy, and ask them if they can fill it. Then follow Thai law very, very carefully:

          “The traveler is allowed to carry for his personal treatment medications which contain substance classified in Category II, III, IV, provided, however, that the quantity of which shall not exceed 30 days of usage. The traveler is required to obtain a permit “Form IC-2” issued by the Food and Drug Administration.The traveler is also required to do the following:

          Submit the application form (see the links below this list).
          Carry a medical prescription issued by a Doctor identifying the medical condition of the patient as well as the necessity of the medical treatment, the total amount of the dosage and the name, address, license number of the doctor.
          Carry a certificate issued by the competent authority that the patient has authority to carry the medication.
          The traveler is required to declare the medication he is carrying into or out of Thailand. He is also required to present the document or medical certificate upon entry to the Red Channel and upon exit to the Custom VAT Refund.
          The medical certificate should be kept by the traveler all through his stay in the country.
          The medication is required to be kept in the original prescription bottle with the contents clearly marked.
          The traveler is not allowed to sell nor supply medications to another.
          The guidelines are ever-evolving, and therefore it is necessary stay on top of new developments to Thai drug laws concerning prescriptions and the use of drugs inside the country”.

          Guidance for Travellers to Thailand under Treatment Carrying Personal Medications Containing Narcotic Drugs/Psychotropic Substances into Thailand This guidance issued by the Narcotics Control Division, Food and Drug Administration, provides travellers to Thailand under medical treatment with current regulations concerning the transport of personal medications containing narcotic drugs of Category 2, or psychotropic substances of Categories 2, 3, and 4. The transport of any medications into/out of Thailand for personal use may be subject to a range of stringent import and export controls. The import and export of narcotics and/or psychotropic substances into/out of Thailand are general prohibited. Those travellers to Thailand under treatment who need to carry medications containing narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances into/out of Thailand must follow the applicable regulations strictly. With the exception of medications containing narcotic drugs of Category 2 under the Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979), or psychotropic substances of Categories 2, 3, and 4 under the Psychotropic Substances Act B.E. 2518 (1975), the importation/exportation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances into/out of Thailand is prohibited. 1. Carrying Personal Medications into Thailand A. Medications containing narcotic drugs of category 2 The Ministry of Public Health issued the Ministerial Regulation B.E. 2552 (2009) under the Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979), amended by the Narcotics Act B.E. 2545 (2002). It became effective on September 29, 2009. According to the new regulation, travellers to Thailand under medical treatment are allowed to carry medications containing narcotic drugs of Category 2 for personal treatment in a quantity not exceeding 30 days of prescribed usage and must follow the applicable regulations strictly. Travellers to Thailand under treatment of these medications are required to obtain a permit (Form IC-2) issued by the Food and Drug Administration before travelling to Thailand.
          The quantity of the medication transported into Thailand must not exceed 30 days of prescribed usage. To request for the permit, please apply using online service on http://permitfortraveler.fda.moph.go.th/ at least two weeks before the arrival date. The original copies of the documents must still be sent by post – airmail if possible The following documents must be submitted: 1.1 Application form (Form IC-1) 1.2 Copy of passport 1.3 Medical prescription written by the physician who provided the medical treatment, which must contain the following:  the name and address of the patient  the identified medical condition  the name of the medications and the reason that those medications were prescribed for the patient’s treatment  the posology and total amount of medications prescribed  the name, address, and license number of the prescribing physician and/or 1.4 Certificate issued by a competent authority of the country of departure to confirm the patient’s legal authorization to carry those medications for personal use. [see Appendix A. Model Form of the Certificate for the Carrying by Travellers under Treatment of Medications Containing Narcotic Drugs and/or Psychotropic Substances] The category of substances can be searched from http://permitfortraveler.fda.moph.go.th/ Examples of narcotic drugs in Category 2 according to The Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979),: Codeine, Dextropropoxyphene, Dihydrocodeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Methadone, Morphine, Oxycodone and, Pethidine. B. Medications containing psychotropic substances of categories 2, 3, and 4 According to the Psychotropic Substances Act B.E. 2518 (1975), Travellers to Thailand under treatment are allowed to transport medications containing psychotropic substances of Categories 2, 3, and 4 for personal treatment in a
          quantity not exceeding 30 days of prescribed usage when accompanied by a certificate/medical prescription from the prescribing physician. The certificate/medical prescription from the prescribing physician must indicate:  the name and address of the patient  the identified medical condition  the name of the medications and the reason that those medications were prescribed for the patient’s treatment  the posology and total amount of medications prescribed  the name, address, and license number of the prescribing physician The quantity of the medications carried into Thailand must not exceed 30 days of prescribed usage. The permit from Thai FDA is not required. Examples of psychotropic substances in Categories 2, 3, and 4 according to the Psychotropic Substances Act B.E. 2518 (1975): Category 2: Buprenorphine, Methylphenidate, Midazolam, Nitrazepam, Phentermine, Temazepam, Triazolam, Zolpidem. Category 3: Pentazocine. Category 4: Bromazepam, Chlordiazepoxide, Clonazepam, Clorazepate, Diazepam, Oxazepam, Lorazepam, Phenobarbital. 2. Prohibited Medications Containing Narcotic Drugs/ Psychotropic Substances in Thailand With the exception of medications containing narcotic drugs of Category 2 under the Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979) or psychotropic substances of Categories 2, 3, and 4 under the Psychotropic Substances Act B.E. 2518 (1975) described above, the importation/exportation of medications containing narcotic drugs/psychotropic substances into/out of Thailand is prohibited. Examples of the medications that Travellers to Thailand are forbidden from transporting into/out of Thailand: Narcotic drugs: Narcotic drugs of Category 1 and 5 under The Narcotics Act B.E. 2522 (1979), e.g. Amphetamine, Dexamphetamine, Cannabis, etc. These substances are prohibited and have been determined to have no medical use in Thailand. Psychotropic substances: Psychotropic substances of Category 1 under The Psychotropic Substances Act
          B.E. 2518 (1975) e.g. Cathinone, Dronabinol, GHB. These substances are prohibited and have been determined to have no medical use in Thailand. 4. Advice for Travellers to Thailand carrying Medications  Those travellers carrying medications containing narcotics of category 2 are required to declare the medications they are carrying into/out of Thailand. Please have all medications and documents prepared and available for inspection: – Entry into Thailand: you must present the medications/documents at the Customs Dept. Red Channel – Exit from Thailand: you must present the medications/documents at the Customs Dept. official upon request All related documents should be kept with the traveller throughout their stay in Thailand.  Those travellers carrying all other medications into Thailand (including medications containing psychotropic substances of Categories 2, 3, and 4) do not have to declare their medications at the Customs Dept. Red Channel if the medication is for personal treatment in a quantity not exceeding 30 days of prescribed usage and accompanied by a certificate/medical prescription from the prescribing physician. Those medications are then considered personal belongings. The prescription/certificate should be kept with the traveller throughout their stay in Thailand.  The medications must be kept in the original prescription bottles with the contents clearly marked.  Travellers to Thailand are forbidden to sell or supply their medications to others.  Travellers must not assume that medications which are legal in foreign countries are also approved for use in Thailand. Those products may be illegal in Thailand. In the case that a traveller’s medications are prohibited from import into Thailand, the traveller should consult their doctor to determine alternate medications.  As requirements concerning medications may change, travellers should check the requirements on http://permitfortraveler.fda.moph.go.th/ for the importation/exportation of medications prior to each visit. 5.) For more information The information here provides general guidance for Travellers to Thailand carrying personal medications containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances. The travellers can find more information from the website below. http://permitfortraveler.fda.moph.go.th/
          If you have any questions, please email your inquiry to the Narcotics Control Division, Food and Drug Administration, or contact us as follows: Email: [email protected] Fax: (66) 2591 8471 Telephone: (66) 2590 7346
          Appendix A: Model Form of a Certificate for the Carrying by Travellers under Treatment of Medical Preparations Containing Narcotic Drugs and/or Psychotropic Substances [according to International guidelines for national regulations concerning travellers under treatment with internationally controlled drugs] A. Country and place of Issue Country: Place of issue: Date of issue: Period of validity: [A three month period of validity from the date of issue is recommended.] B. Prescribing physician Last name, first name: Address: Phone: country code, local code, number Number of license: C. Patient Last name, first name: Sex: Place of birth: Date of birth: Home address: Number of passport or of identity card: Intended country of destination: D. Prescribed medical preparation Trade name of drug (or its composition): Dosage form: Number of units (tablets, ampoules etc.): International name of the active substance: Concentration of active substance: Total quantity of active substance: Instructions for use: Duration of prescription in days: Remarks: E. Issuing authority Official designation (name) of the authority: Address: Phone: country code, local code, number Official seal of the authority: Signature of responsible officer:

          1. What about insulin? And transplant drugs
            Prograf(tacrolimus) cellcept(mycophenolate ) and diabetic supplies, i have doctors perscription for all

  2. Where is Greg Miller? Strange finding an article by a US Navy diver when searching for medical information if moving to Thailand…

  3. Hi! I’ve been searching online and looking for someone to see if I can get trihexyphenidyl ( artane) 2mg or 5 mg in Thailand.. If so, I was hoping if a pharmacy there does shipping to the philippines

  4. Great article, nice to find a newer result in google – everything on this topic seems to be from 2007/8!

    Ive just arrived for a month long work trip, before I left the doc prescribed me a new pain med for my back (gabapentin), changing from codeine and before that, tramadol (at my request, was sick of the lousy feeling being on long term). I didn’t think it through at first but basically the new med does not work for my pain, reading up it seems that it is a completely different type of pain it is meant for and despite knowing my issue, having scans to ensure we known what the issue is – they just changed it without thinking it through and I did not think a pain killer would not work. They did say that I can get pain meds if needed in Thailand over the counter as “he had been” so I thought nothing of it.

    So now I’m stuck in Pattaya, trying to work but in agonising pain only to research I cannot get any Codeine, Tramadol.

    Does anyone know if you can visit the hospital/docs here for a prescription of this? Would it be easier to contact my home docs to arrange it or just drop in, explain and pass my docs info if they need the MRI scans?

    Thanks for any advice people can give!

    1. James, I don’t use meds but I’ll run your request in this month’s newsletter and send you any useful replies.

    2. You can get tramadol, you jyst have to ask.Most do not have it but the ones that do will sell it without a prescription if your nice and accept their council. I dont know of any pharmacies in Pattaya that have tramadol but my odds have been about 50/50 in Buri Ram and Bangkok. They usually only want to give me 3-5 cards of 10 pills, but last time in Bangkok they sold me a box of 10 cards (100pills). If they don’t sell it it’s because they dont have the proper certification. They will usually say you cannot get it in Thailand. The hospital will work to and the independant pharmacies like to see a prescription but I quit bringing mine. Good luck.

  5. Hi, i have scripts from my doctor and i can get them here but its going to cost me 160 because i would have to check luggage in. In stead of carry.grrrr. i take quetiapine/seroquel and valium. I get anxiety when travelling mainly the lead up and first few days. And at the moment i taking duromine. I know i will need to see a doctor for these things. Im staying patong. What pharmacy chain should look out. How do i find a good doctor 😕

    1. Generic Viagra is sold legally in some pharmacies as Suhagra, 4 x 100 mg for 180 bt, 4 x 50 mg for 100 bt.
      You need to sign your name on a list.(need not be legible). No Rx needed.
      It seems that the pharmacies have to register or something with the government.
      Most pharmacies do not have, so you have to look around.
      Some big chain pharmacies have the brand and are very expensive, the generic is the same med, same dose.
      Kamagra is sold on the street, Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke. The past two years it has been fine. A box of 50 x 100 mg can be had for as low as 700-800 with some friendly bargaining. The cialis and levitra sold has been inactive garbage.

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