Medication and pharmacies
As an avid Internet shopper, you would like to buy your medication online as well. Is this possible? What are your rights? More information in our article.
Formalities of the cross-border medical prescription
Have you obtained a prescription for medication abroad? You should be aware that the prescription must include certain mandatory information.
Before leaving to another EU Member state, it is possible to obtain a prescription by a French doctor, in order to secure the dispensing of medication, Directive 2011/24/EU of 19 January 2011 on cross-border healthcare and its implementing directive 2012/52/EU provide for several mandatory information the prescription must contain to enable the foreign pharmacist to assess the authenticity of the prescription as well as the characteristics of the patient.
If you need to travel within the European Union, don’t forget to ask your doctor for a prescription that meets these requirements:
Mandatory information on the prescription :
- Identification of the patient: surname, first name, gender and date of birth, weight and height if necessary for the proper administration of the treatment.
- Identification of the prescribing doctor: surname, first name, position, professional address specifying "France", phone number preceded by the code "+33" and e-mail address.
- Information on the medication: medication must be designated under their international non-proprietary name (INN), i.e. the name of the molecule, in order to avoid any errors. If the doctor does not want generic medication substitution, or if it is an innovative (new) medication, he can note the brand name but must specify the words "not substitutable".
The European Union is developing an e-Health Digital Services Infrastructure (eHDSI) to enable the cross-border exchange of patients' health data - in particular electronic prescriptions and patient records.
This project, deployed in 22 Member States including France, aims to connect national health systems to the European health infrastructure via a dedicated "portal" called the National Contact Point for eHealth (NCPeH).
Since 21 January 2019, the first Finnish patients can use electronic prescriptions in Estonia.
This system should be extended to the other Member States by the end of 2021.
France had announced that it wanted to generalise electronic prescriptions in 2019, but the date of implementation in a cross-border context is still uncertain. Until then, it will be necessary to continue to have a paper version of any electronic prescription.
France has a large network of pharmacies in towns and cities, and although the opening hours are generally similar to those of other shops (9 am - 7/8 pm), there is always an emergency pharmacy open at night, every Sunday, and during the holidays. The address of the nearest emergency pharmacy is usually written on the door of the closed ones; otherwise, ask at the police station.
To obtain certain types of medicines, a prescription provided by a doctor is needed. Other medicines are freely sold and can be then supplied to you over the counter. The pharmacist will be able to give you any further information.
What medication can be sold online?
In France, all medication that can be dispensed without a prescription. Medication which has to be delivered by prescription cannot be sold online.
Questions you should ask yourself before buying medication online:
- Is it the same medication or ageneric? The names may be different from one country to another, so check the composition and especially the concentration of the active ingredient. If you know in advance that you are going to buy your medication abroad, ask your doctor to indicate in the prescription the composition of the medication and the dosages.
- Check the packaging, which may be different from that used in your country.
- Take into account all the incidental expenses (delivery costs, payment methods, etc.) to find out the total price.
- Make sure that the leaflet of your medication is written in your language if you do not master the language of the country of purchase.
- Beware of counterfeits!
Please note: medication must have a marketing authorisation (MA) for France or another EU Member State you may live in. There are so-called community or national MAs. Thus, it is possible that a medicinal product authorised in another Member State may not necessarily be authorized on French territory and vice-versa.
Purchasing medicines from France on a website based in another EU Member State
In order to be able to sell medication to French residents, the seller must also be authorised to sell to the public in its own Member State. Check the seriousness of the website, as it is difficult to assess the competence of its interlocutor from afar (unlike a pharmacy):
- Presence of the official logo published by the European Commission (this does not concern websites based outside the EU or sites not authorised to sell in another Member State).
- Check who owns the URL address of the site in order to avoid companies based outside the European Union indicating a simple P.O. box or even a fictitious address.
- Check the legal notice and terms and conditions of the site. Beware of incomplete, unclear, and "colloquial" language with spelling mistakes.
- Beware of sites dispensing medications that can only be dispensed on prescription (risk of counterfeit medication dangerous to your health).
- Make sure that the seller delivers to France and that the terms and conditions (tracked parcel, pick-up & go to location, etc.) are clearly specified.
Purchase of medicines on a French website
The creation of websites by French pharmacies is subject to various conditions to ensure the safety of products and customers:
- the site can only be opened by a pharmacist who owns a brick and mortar pharmacy;
- the site must be declared and authorised by the competent Regional Health Agency (ARS).
The site must also obligatorily mention:
- the contact details of the Regional Health Agency that gave the authorisation;
- a link to the website of the French national pharmacists association;
- the common and official logo published by the European Commission.
To check whether the website on which you intend to buy medication has been authorised to sell online, the French national pharmacists association has published a list of authorised sites available to the public on its website.
Right of withdrawal
There is no right of withdrawal on online sale of medication, given the perishable nature of this type of product and the monitoring rules when medication batches are delivered. In the event of an error in the delivery of the product (poor condition or wrong product), the pharmacist must indicate how the product will be reimbursed and reshipped.
Please note: information concerning the absence of the right of withdrawal must be clearly indicated to the consumer at the time of purchase.
More information on your withdrawal right in other instances in our article on the cooling off period.
Refusal of delivery
Since the entry into force of the Regulation (EU) 2018/302 (geo-blocking regulation), a European trader may not always refuse to complete the order from a consumer in another Member State. However, the consumer may be requested to collect the order at the trader’s premises or to organise the delivery. More information on the end of unjustified geoblocking in our article.
Refund of costs by the health insurance
Is medication ordered on a foreign website refundable in France? In theory it is, but in practice it is often difficult. In principle, a prescription issued by a doctor established in an EU Member State is valid in all EU Member States. Therefore, if your doctor prescribes medication that is refundable in France, it will be reimbursed according to the regulations and current rates in France.