A chemist or pharmacy ( pharmacie/apotheek) is often the only place you can buy most kinds of medicines and health care products, including vitamins, contact lens solutions, cold remedies and even aspirin, although this is (slowly) changing. You may also be required to describe your symptoms before you’ll be sold these items. Note that, if you purchase non-prescription drugs from a chemist, you’ll pay full price, whereas if your doctor prescribes the same products (even aspirin), your health care insurer will usually reimburse at least a part of the cost.
In many ways, pharmacists have greater responsibility for your health and safety than your doctor in Belgium. If you’re made ill (or worse) by taking a combination of medicines purchased from a chemist, the pharmacist can be held responsible for selling you the conflicting potions, even if they were prescribed by your doctor! Doctors cannot phone prescriptions in to a chemist, but pharmacists can process changes to prescriptions based on a telephone conversation with a doctor.
Both prescription and non-prescription items are sold in their original packaging, and the pharmacist normally writes the instructions for using or taking medicines on the box, so don’t throw it away until you’ve finished taking the medicine. (It’s sensible to keep the box even after you’ve finished the medicine, so that you can show it to a doctor or pharmacist if you need more of the same.) Most pharmacists speak at least some English and should explain to you exactly what a medicine is, how to take it, and any side effects to expect or watch out for.
Chemists are identified by a large green cross sign, often illuminated. Shops are generally small and carry only a limited selection of non-medical products, usually health and beauty care items. Chemists are generally open during normal shopping hours and in some areas only Mondays to Fridays.
Outside these hours, one chemist in a town or region will be on duty and other chemists must display the name and address of the nearest duty chemist whenever they’re closed. Local newspapers publish a list of duty chemists at least once a week and, in an emergency, the medical emergency services (can direct you to a duty chemist at any time of the day or night. There may be a surcharge for medicines you obtain out of hours or from a chemist other than your designated one, and usually only private insurers will reimburse this additional cost.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in in Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg from Survival Books.