Prescription Drugs From Mexico

Legality and Limits of Bringing Medications Back From Mexico

Old woman reading instructions for a medicine.
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Many seniors travel to Mexico for more than a vacation. For many, especially those who live along the southern border, a trip to Mexico can mean medication cost savings. Even with Medicare Part D prescription plan, many seniors still find medication costs to be a financial burden. They may not yet be old enough to be eligible for Medicare, or they may have hit the "doughnut hole" in the Medicare plan and cannot afford to pay the full retail price.

They may also need medications that are not covered under their Medicare drug plan.

Is Getting Prescription Drugs From Mexico Legal?

You are allowed to bring FDA-approved prescription medications back into the United States for your personal use, with the following stipulations. In general, you may bring no more than 50 dosage units without producing a prescription from an FDA-approved U.S. physician. A prescription from a Mexican doctor is no longer adequate. If you have the proper prescription, you may bring more than 50 dosage units. Often, however, U.S. Customs agents will prohibit a supply that is for more than 60 to 90 days.

These medications must be declared upon arrival and in their original containers. Be aware that drug products not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be acceptable for such importation. It is against the law not to properly declare imported medications with U.S. Customs.

Importing Unapproved New Drugs

The importation of "unapproved new drugs" for the purpose of distribution and sale is prohibited by the FDA. Unapproved new drugs are any drugs, including foreign-made versions of U.S. approved drugs, that have not received FDA approval to demonstrate they meet the federal requirements for safety and effectiveness.

The FDA has guidance policies in place that do allow some discretion in the enforcement of this regulation. The circumstances under which the regulations may be relaxed include:

  1. "The intended use [of the drug] is unapproved and for a serious condition for which effective treatment may not be available domestically either through commercial or clinical means."
  2. "There is no known commercialization or promotion to persons residing in the U.S. by those involved in the distribution of the product at issue."
  3. "The product is considered not to represent an unreasonable risk."
  4. The individual seeking to import the product affirms in writing that it is for the patient's own use (generally not more than a 3-month supply) and provides the name and address of the U.S.-licensed doctor responsible for his or her treatment with the product, or provides evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.

This does not mean that the FDA will always allow individuals to import medications at will. This does, however, provide seniors who cannot obtain or afford medications in the United States some options.

Precautions for Buying Prescription Drugs in Mexico

No one should self-prescribe prescription drugs—all medication should be taken under the advisement and monitoring of a physician.

While some drugs are available over-the-counter in Mexico, they will be treated as prescription medications for the purpose of bringing them into the U.S. for personal use.

Be aware that the laws and guidelines under which U.S. Customs Agents operate change frequently and without notice. Advice may not be entirely applicable when you attempt to bring prescription drugs across the border. If you have questions about current laws, contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Sources:

CFR—Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=1301.26.

Personal Importation. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/forindustry/importprogram/importbasics/ucm432661.htm.

Prohibited and Restricted Items. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items.