Medicines & Chemists

How to get medication in Australia

Medicines & Chemists

Medicines ( drugs) are obtained from chemists’ ( pharmacies), which also provide free advice concerning minor ailments and recommend appropriate medicines.

Many medicines in Australia can be prescribed only by a doctor via an official prescription, which is written in a secret language decipherable only by doctors and pharmacists. Some medicines sold freely in other countries require a doctor’s prescription in Australia, while certain medicines that require a prescription in other countries are available over the counter in Australia.

To obtain medicines prescribed by a doctor, simply take your prescription to any chemist. Your prescription may be filled immediately if it’s available off the shelf, or you may be asked to wait or come back later.

At least one chemist’s is open in most towns during the evenings and on Sundays for the emergency dispensing of medicines, and there are 24-hour chemists’ in some cities. A roster is posted on the doors of chemists’ and published in local newspapers and guides. If you require medicine urgently when chemists’ are closed, you should contact your GP or a police station.


Medicare – via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – subsidises the cost of around 1,700 ‘necessary and life-saving’ medicines. In fact, most medicines available on prescription are subsidised under the PBS, so just by having a prescription filled you receive the benefit of the subsidy.

PBS medicines are available to all Australian residents and to visitors from countries with which Australia has a reciprocal healthcare agreement. Proof of residence or nationality may be required. If you’re eligible but unable to provide proof, you may be charged the full price for medicines, although you can obtain a refund at a Medicare customer service centre or by posting your claim (plus the receipt and your Medicare card or proof of eligibility) to Medicare, PO Box 9822 in a state or territory’s capital city. If you’re eligible, you pay a maximum of $28.60 for each PBS medicine; if you qualify for concessions, you pay only $4.60.

It’s possible to buy prescription (and other) medicines by post (post free) at savings of up to 50 per cent from Pharmacy Direct, 3 Coal Street, Silverwater, NSW 2128 (local call rate 1300- 656245 or  02-96488888, ).

Foreign Prescriptions

If you’re visiting Australia, you may bring a maximum of four weeks’ prescription medicines with you. The brand names for the same drugs and medicines vary considerably from country to country so, if you regularly take medication overseas, you should ask your doctor for the generic name. If you wish to match medication prescribed overseas in Australia, you need a current prescription with the chemical name, the dosage, the manufacturer’s name and the medication’s trade name. This must be endorsed by an Australian-registered doctor before you can take it to an Australian chemist. Most foreign medicines have an equivalent in Australia, although particular brands may be difficult or impossible to obtain.

Further reading

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