Prescriptions, Medicine


You might come over with a healthy stock of any prescriptions you might be on, but did you know that in France that includes things like birth control?  Can’t get that over here without the ordonnance!  What if you have a really bad headache?  Or come down with a bad cold but don’t want to go to the doctor?


Pharmacies carry everything from Ibuprofen, to acetaminophen, to antihistamines to your prescriptions, as well as cough drops, diapers, tampons…and more and more commercial items.  They are typically open Monday through Saturday, though there is usually one in your hood that remains open on Sundays and public holidays.  Hours vary, but usually range between 9am and 8pm. There is always one pharmacy in each arrondissement that is open 24/7.

Pharmacists are highly respected in France as they hold a diploma that requires six years of university studies.  While they are no replacement for a doctor, they can certainly make a recommendation for a medicine based on your symptoms, and if it is one that can be administered without a prescription, you can take it home with you that very minute.  Otherwise, you will need to see a medical doctor to get a physical prescription.


You will be pleasantly surprised if you’re coming from the USA or even many other European countries because the prices of prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs are often much lower than what you’re paying in your home country.  If you’re lucky enough to be a member of the French social security system, you will be partially reimbursed for the prescriptions via your Carte Vitale.  With this little green card, commissioned when you get a social security number, you can have the pharmacist run it as he totals your bill and a certain amount will be reduced, and then additionally reimbursed (if you link it to your bank account as they suggest, it’s automatic!)  You might otherwise have a mutual through work, or having purchased one independently.  These often cover the additional part which wasn’t covered by Social Security, or at least part of it.

What if you are regularly taking a prescription drug and need a doctor in France to continue to prescribe it to you?

If you are in the French Social Security system, then you will first want to go to a generalist, who can either take care of your prescription or refer you to the necessary specialist. By going through these steps, you pay lower fees for seeing a specialist.

Bring your last prescription with you, or even a note from your doctor (this hasn’t been verified…)  Explain to them your history, what you’ve been taking, and why you’ve been taking such a prescription, and it could be a smooth transition.

Are antiobiotics hard to get?

Yes and no.  For years, France had the highest antibiotic use/abuse in Western Europe, with naturally, some of the highest rates of antibiotic resistance. In the past 10 years, the French government has done a lot to curb over prescription of antibiotics through various public health campaigns.  This said, Sam has been surprised at how easy it is to ask for antibiotics and how reflexively people go on them for mild illness.


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