Many medicines are available from pharmacies without prescription, including some that require a prescription in most western countries (many antibiotics can be bought over the counter as well). On the other hand, some medicines that can be bought without prescription in other countries require one in Dubai and you should check with a doctor. Most pharmacies also carry non-medical items, such as cosmetics and perfumes, but costs are likely to be higher than at other shops. General medicines, such as painkillers, cough medicine and eye drops, are widely available in supermarkets and larger stores.
Note, however, that Health Ministry in Dubai has banned the use of tranquillisers, anti-depressants and in some instances sleeping pills, except for extreme cases associated with certain types of mental illness. (Ministers have seen the problems caused by their overuse in the west.) You can check out a list of controlled medication. Many of the medication listed here might be available in hospitals or large community pharmacies and the government of Dubai prefers that they be imported through hospitals rather than individuals. If you are dependent of any of these medications, speak to your doctor before entering Dubai to see how they can be imported or if you will be able to purchase them with a doctor’s prescription note.
If you are in need of medicine during transit, if you carry a doctor’s note and letter confirming your need, you should have absolutely no problem. It is important that you keep your medications in their original package in case you are selected for a random check.
If you take a medicine on a regular basis, make sure that you know the content name and formula, not just the brand name, as many brand names vary from country to country and between manufacturers. You might have to renew your prescription from a local doctor, as many pharmacists aren’t authorised to accept foreign prescriptions.
Most pharmacies are open from 9.30am to 1pm and from 4.30 to 8.30pm or later, Saturdays to Thursdays. A notice in the local press indicates the duty pharmacy open outside these times. Many hospitals have a 24-hour pharmacy, where you can obtain prescription and nonprescription medicines.
It’s important to obtain a receipt if you want to claim from your insurance. Medicines are quite expensive and there have been cases of over-prescribing in the private health sector, perhaps because of a link between the prescriber and the pharmacy.
For more on pharmacies and medicine in Dubai, visit our website on expatriate healthcare: http://www.expathealth.org.