If you’re fortunate, you will find a pharmacy that keeps a bilingual medical directory or has some staff that speak a few words of English (but not any medical terms). Fortunately many Chinese medications have the drug’s generic name in English on their box, but the directions and precautions will be all in Chinese. When you do find the medication you need, make sure to take the box with you the next time you visit the pharmacy in order to make the process easier for yourself.
You can also pick up medications at hospitals and foreign clinics, although these charge more. Foreign clinics will often carry imported medications that you are used to from home, but you’ll pay much more for these than you would at home. On the other hand, many common Chinese medications sell for just a few dollars.
Over the counter drugs
Chinese pharmacies carry over-the-counter drugs that are similar to those in most Western countries, but they probably won’t have a specific brand that you’re used to from home. Previously, many drugs requiring prescriptions in other countries were freely available in China, but this has changed due to tighter regulations. However, some pharmacies might sell you a prescription-drug without a prescription if you sign a statement releasing the pharmacy from any responsibility of potential harms you do to yourself.
Prescriptions in China
Getting a prescription works pretty much the same in China as in any other country. You need to get a prescription paper from your doctor and take it to the pharmacy to purchase you medication. Chinese pharmacies will not recognize any prescriptions from abroad. If you have a prescription from you home country, you need to take it to a Chinese doctor and get a new Chinese prescription.
Some prescriptions that you may have been taking at home might not be available in China, so bring a stock of your needed drug with you and make sure that you keep the original prescription paper in case you are stopped by customs. If you urgently need a particular medication in China but can’t get it in the mainland, you might be able to obtain it in Hong Kong.
For the latest news regarding pharmacies and medicine in China, visit our website on expatriate health: http://www.expathealth.org.