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How Americans Can Buy Drugs from Canadian and Other Foreign Pharmacies

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Updated July 16, 2014

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Purchasing drugs from outside the United States can provide cost savings as long as you do it carefully.

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Brand name, prescription drugs in Canada and many other countries usually cost less than in the United States. Therefore, because Canada is so easily reachable, in close proximity to so many Americans, we are tempted to purchase our drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

However, it pays to be knowledgeable about purchasing drugs from Canada or other countries, including legal considerations for Americans who want to cross the border in person or online. Here are the things you should know before you buy prescription drugs from a foreign pharmacy.
 

Why Drugs Are Less Expensive in Canada

Many foreign countries, including Canada, control the pricing of drugs that are sold and distributed in their territories. This is sometimes tied into the fact that they have national, universal healthcare and therefore can negotiate the cost of the drugs purchased and sold, keeping the prices very low. (In the United States, because we do not have price controls on drugs and are sold at marketplace prices, many believe we therefore subsidize the lower drug pricing enjoyed in most of the rest of the world, making our drugs much more costly.)
 

Why Canadian Drugs May Be More Expensive than You Expect

Generic drugs are often less expensive in the United States. If you choose to purchase drugs from a Canadian pharmacy online, just the cost of shipping may make the drug more expensive. Make sure you account for any additional costs.

When you inquire about pricing for drugs in Canada, you'll be quoted in the Canadian dollar, not the U.S. dollar. The two currencies are not equivalent and the difference fluctuates every day - sometimes more and sometimes less. As I write this article, a drug that costs $20 CAD (Canadian dollar), will cost $20.57 USD (American dollar.) If you are comparing prices, you can figure out the conversion here. (Scroll down - near the bottom right where it says "currency converter.)

If you go to Canada in Person to Make Your Purchase

In general, be aware of the illegal nature of what you are doing. However, as long as you stick to the FDA's and U.S. Customs' parameters, you may be able to purchase drugs at a Canadian drug store and not risk problems. Here is an overview of those parameters.

Be sure to take your doctor's prescription with you. Since you'll be turning that copy over to the Canadian pharmacist, be sure to take along an extra copy of the prescription to show Customs when you return to the United States.

If you Purchase from a Canadian or other Foreign Drugstore Online

Be familiar with the general guidelines for purchasing drugs safely online. There are many potential problems, ranging from substandard product delivery to medical identity theft. You'll want to be familiar with the problems so you can avoid them.

Purchasing from an online Canadian pharmacy follows a similar set of recommendations as purchasing drugs in Canada in person. Be aware of what the FDA and U.S. Customs expect and require.

There are several websites that can help you choose the right online Canadian or other foreign pharmacy.

  • VIPPS, the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site includes verified, licensed Canadian pharmacies.
  • You can verify licensing of a Canadian pharmacy at CIPA, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association's website.
  • Pharmacy Checker reviews Canadian and other foreign online pharmacies, too.

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