Many of us are old, need medications, and are far from our accustomed US medical care resources. Often we do not know the best ways to obtain medicines securely, legally, efficiently, and at the best price while living in Mexico. I have researched this matter and have found the answers to our dilemma quite complex. I’d like to share my findings with you.
***** Disclaimer: the info here is limited and not guaranteed to be entirely correct. Please email me corrections and additions you think appropriate!
There are myriad pharmacies (farmacias) from which to purchase drugs in Mexico, the US, and Canada. Unfortunately, drugs and medical devices cannot be mailed to Mexico. Most expats have medical insurance that provides drugs, and often they are free or the cheapest option, despite a copay. Surprisingly, such drugs can occasionally be obtained more cheaply in pharmacies outside their insurance. It pays to check.
First off, the issue of branded drugs vs generic must be addressed since there is much misinformation about it. New drugs have a monopoly (patent) for 12-16 years in order to pay for development costs. Since the price is set solely by the originating drug company, they tend to be quite expensive for this time period. These drugs are called “branded”, and their names are copyrighted. Upon patent expiration, these branded drugs can be manufactured and sold as “generics” at lower costs by other manufacturers.
Many drugs are manufactured abroad under license by the originating company (much like products made in China but sold by America companies in the US). Drug manufacturers abroad package such drugs as either brand-named or generic-named, depending on where and how they are sold. Bottom line: most generic drugs are similar or identical to branded drugs. That said, there are also pills manufactured that purport to be the true drug, but are not. They are packaged, labeled, and sold informally, and are relatively easy to spot. The pharmacies listed below are well-regulated, and their generics are equivalent to branded ones. It generally makes sense to have the prescribing physician indicate “generic where possible”.
Unfortunately, no pharmacy has the best prices for all drugs; therefore the best option is often to use more than one pharmacy. Let’s look at the choices by country:
As you probably know already, prescriptions are NOT required for most medicines. The 3 exceptions are psychotropics (sedatives, stimulants), opiates (morphine, etc), and antibiotics. Only prescriptions from licensed Mexican physicians are valid.
In my limited experience, Farmacias Guadalajara often has the best prices, with most drugs sold at steep discounts. It has many branches throughout Mexico. You can access prices online at www.farmaciasguadalajara.com by simply entering the generic drug name on the “search” line.
Some prices are way higher in Mexico. For instance, doxazocin is $2.70/dose, compared to $0.20/dose at Costplus (see below). Other prices are staggeringly cheaper: a course of nitazoxanide (an anti-parasitic) costs $5.00 in Mexico, $250.00 in the US!!! (Big Pharma at work)
If you wish to obtain US prescription drugs in Mexico, show the Mexican pharmacy your US prescription bottle: usually the Spanish nomenclature is close enough to the English to search successfully. The generic name is best for this purpose. If you need an antibiotic or a controlled drug, Farmacias del Ahorro and Farmacias Similares have a doc-in-the box attached physically to the pharmacy who can write prescriptions at no or trivial charge (tips accepted with a smile).
There are hundreds of different pharmacies to choose from, of course. Many claim to sell drugs at discounts, but few do to any extent. Remember, of course, that a doctor needs to prescribe and write all prescriptions in the US. I have researched only a few pharmacies that are well-known, online, and have wide name-recognition. All of the US and Canadian pharmacies provide mailing to the US (but NOT to Mexico).
Costco pharmacies can be used by non-members, though they will not receive mailing privileges and some discounts. Their prices are consistently lower than most (but not all) pharmacies. Drugs can be priced online, but you’ll be asked for a zip code since prices vary by location.
Costplus, an online pharmacy founded by Mark Cuban, purchases drugs from the cheapest reliable source and adds a 15% mark up to cover administrative costs. Drugs can be priced online; the website is clean, clear, and sensible. Almost all of the common generics are sold. The prices are rock bottom.
Amazon, a relative newcomer to the online pharmacy world, is moving aggressively. Its drug selection is somewhat limited as yet, and its generics’ prices, though competitive, are not generally the lowest. However, if you take some of the commonest generics, are not a Medicare or Medicaid recipient, and not a resident of TX, CA, MN, or NH, membership of Amazon Prime may make you eligible for “Rx Pass.” In this truly revolutionary program, you pay a total of $5/month for any/all of a group of 50 generic drugs. Monthly allotments are sent for each prescription. You might be obtaining 5 or 6 medications for a total of $5/month! Extraordinary!
A battery of online Canadian pharmacies presents opportunities for the greatest savings, especially the expensive branded drugs still under patent protection. Canada has a number of large, quality, well-regulated groups of pharmacies that cater primarily to US citizens. They are listed at www.pharmacychecker.com. Former US regulations that excluded US citizens from their use have been dropped. Even though drugs under patent cannot be manufactured and sold in the US as generics, many can be acquired as generics abroad. How so? The Canadian online pharmacies accept US physician prescriptions, purchase these drugs at the site of their manufacture (frequently India and Turkey), and have them shipped directly to the consumer in the US. These programs are the magical method for obtaining new/necessary branded drugs at huge discounts. All legit, all legal, all above board. For example, branded Jardianz—one of the newest and most effective cardiac/metabolic drugs—costs $2.50/tablet in the US and Mexico, but $0.80/tablet at a Canadian pharmacy. The pharmacychecker website also lists discount coupons available at US pharmacies by zipcode.
Retrieving prescription drugs from addresses in the US and Canada
Note that retrieving prescription drugs from addresses in the US and Canada can be difficult.
Medications cannot be mailed to Mexico from abroad. Period. Especially, don’t attempt FedEx, DHL, etc: packages will almost certainly be intercepted by Mexican customs. They will be hard to retrieve, and fines and/or duties will be levied.
It is permitted to bring your own drugs into Mexico, but only in limited amounts. It is wise to keep a blanket letter in your baggage that describes all the medications that you might be carrying, just to be on the safe side.
Do not attempt to bring into Mexico any psychotropics or scheduled drugs for other persons under any circumstances. If such drugs are for yourself, you must have a physician’s note on their letterhead, describing the reasons for the treatment. Ignoring these rules could result in serious fines, court action, and even imprisonment.
Related MexConnect articles
Published or Updated on: November 21, 2023 by Robert Dailey, MD © 2022