How Americans Can Buy Drugs From Canadian Pharmacies

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Purchasing drugs from outside the United States can provide cost savings as long as you do it carefully. Fotolia - 18 Percent Gray

Brand name prescription drugs in Canada and many other countries typically cost less than in the United States. With Canada in such close proximity, many Americans are tempted to purchase their medications from Canadian pharmacies.

It seems like a great idea, but before you buy prescription drugs from any foreign pharmacy, there are some things you should know. 

Why Drugs Are Less Expensive in Canada

Many foreign countries, including Canada, control the price of drugs that are sold and distributed in their territories.

This is sometimes tied to the fact that they have national and universal healthcare. This often allows the government to negotiate the costs and keeps the prices very low. 

In contrast, in the U.S. there are no price controls and costs are influenced by the marketplace. As we have seen in instances like the EpiPen costs which suddenly spiked in 2016, this allows drug companies to raise and lower prices as they see fit.

Canadian Drugs May Be Costlier Than You Expect

Keep in mind that generic drugs are often less expensive in the United States. If you choose to purchase drugs from a Canadian pharmacy online, the shipping cost alone 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.

It is important that you look at the exchange rate on the day you intend to make a purchase. For example, one day a $20 CAD (Canadian dollar) purchase may cost you just $15 USD (American dollar), but on another day it may be $25 USD. Google's currency converter makes it easy to find out the current exchange rate.

Before You Go to Canada to Buy Prescriptions

In general, it is important to be aware of the illegal nature of what you are doing. However, as long as you stick to the FDA and U.S. Customs parameters, you may be able to purchase drugs from a Canadian drug store.

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

Before You Buy From a Foreign Drugstore Online

Prior to buying your prescriptions, make sure that you are familiar with the general guidelines for purchasing drugs safely online. There are many potential problems, ranging from substandard product delivery to medical identity theft. It's important that you are familiar with these problems so you can avoid them.

Purchasing from an online Canadian pharmacy follows a similar set of recommendations to 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 foreign pharmacies.

  • 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 as well.

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