You can be reassured that most prescription medicines from your home country are available in China. I’d say that 95% of the time our clinics’ pharmacists can find a safe, joint venture Chinese version of your home medicines. Sometimes the expat pharmacies need to order them, but this usually takes only a few days. Then there is that 5% that may not even be imported here. In that case, we do our best to order, but sometimes patients need to stock up when they return home or have friends at home buy and send over.
So, which pharmacy should you go to?
Each expat clinic has its own in-house pharmacy which stocks major medicines and can also order special medicines when needed. For basic medicines you can choose whichever clinic is most convenient for you, or for insurance reasons you need to go to.
At my clinic, the International Medical Center, anyone is welcome to come in and talk to our pharmacists. We stock all the familiar over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like Panadol or ibuprofen for pain, plus many U.S.-made vitamins. Most of our medicines are either imported or local joint ventures. If you need a prescription medicine, you can easily see one of the doctors immediately to discuss what you need. Don’t forget that antibiotics and some travel medicines like malaria pills and altitude sickness pills always require a physician visit and prescription — in any pharmacy in China.
What about Chinese pharmacies?
As many of you already know, the pharmacy system is very different here (compared to the US, at least). There is no Walgreens-style private chain where you could reliably take your doctor’s Rx and get it filled. Nor could you automatically trust the medicines you get there, compared to the expat clinic medicines — admittedly more expensive but often more reliably purchased from foreign joint-venture suppliers. Yes, the quality control in China is constantly improving, but there are too many recent stories about counterfeit or subtherapeutic medicines for my comfort range.