Many medicines are available from pharmacies without prescription, including some that require a prescription in most western countries, like antibiotics. On the other hand, some medicines that can be bought over the counter in other countries require a prescription in Saudi Arabia. It’s best to check with a pharmacist if you’re not sure. 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 large stores.
Note, however, that Saudi Arabia has banned the import and export of some medications that might be commonplace in western countries. While an exact list of controlled drugs in Saudi Arabia isn’t available online, the UAE controlled substance list has been recommended as a starting point. Most, if not all, of the medication on the UAE list is also banned in Saudi Arabia. If you’re dependent on any of your medicines and carry them with you at all times, you must ensure that you’re also carrying the doctor’s prescription - preferably a letter from your doctor confirming that you need them. Translating and faxing your prescription to your country’s Saudi Arabian embassy is also recommended. Once approved, you will be allowed a finite supply though it could prove difficult to obtain new supplies when in Saudi Arabia. Have enough medication for your requirements, but not so much that you could be suspected of carrying drugs for sale.
If you take a medicine on a regular basis, make sure that you know the generic name and formula, not just the brand name. Many brand names vary from country to country and between manufacturers. You might have to renew your prescription with a local doctor, as many pharmacists aren’t authorised to accept foreign prescriptions.
Pharmacies in Saudi Arabia
Most pharmacies are open from 9.30am to 1pm and from 4.30pm 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 non-prescription 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.
A cost-saving alternative to the overpriced better known brands, is locally made medication. However, be cautious and always check the components before buying it.
In many places, doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. It’s best to ensure you have an international health insurance to cover any medical treatment you may need.