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The German Pharmacy

Generally speaking, the German healthcare system is very good. In Germany, pharmacies and medicine are widely available. However, there are a few common but critical pitfalls, such as confusion about a drug’s name or prescriptions requirements mandated by your German pharmacy.
Pharmacies ("Apotheke") can be found in virtually every street or neighborhood in Germany.

One specific feature of almost every German pharmacy is the widespread use of herbal medication, which is mostly regarded as safe to use. A great number of patients combine “natural” medication with chemical pharmaceuticals. Many doctors prescribe herbal medicine e.g. when treating minor respiratory illnesses like the common cold. You can buy herbal teas and essences in health food shops, drugstores and any German pharmacy.

Visiting a German Pharmacy: Classification of Medicine

However, some types of medicine are only available in pharmacies. According to the respective ingredients, there are different classifications for drugs. These classifications then influence the availability of a certain medicine in Germany. Herbal medicine and drugs with very few pharmaceutical agents are sold over the counter in any German pharmacy or drugstore. Other non-prescription medications as well as all prescription drugs are only sold by pharmacies. For example, if you need aspirin, you do not need a prescription, but you can only get it from a pharmacy. Antibiotics, however, always require a prescription.

Every medicine you can buy at a Germany pharmacy includes a package insert (mostly in German, but sometimes in other languages as well) listing the ingredients and warning against possible side effects.  

The Ubiquitous German Pharmacy

The characteristic German pharmacy sign can be seen in every neighborhood in the country. If you think of Germany’s aging population, this should come as no surprise, though. However, it’s often not that easy to buy medication, because opening hours at your average Germany pharmacy are rather short. On regular working days, pharmacies usually close at 6pm and around 3pm on Saturday. On Sunday and on public holidays, they will not open at all.

Of course, you can find a German pharmacy which has emergency opening hours, particularly in major cities. There, it’s not difficult to find a pharmacy for emergencies relatively close to your home which allows you to buy medication at night, on the weekend and on public holidays. Do not hesitate to ring the doorbell, even in the middle of the night.

Buying Medication at a German Pharmacy

In Germany, only a doctor can fill a prescription, and medical staff takes this regulation very seriously. There is no chance whatsoever that the staff at a German pharmacy will hand out a prescription drug without a valid prescription. Nor is it possible to get medication with a foreign prescription. However, your German doctor might simply issue a valid prescription without an additional examination if you bring along your prescription from abroad.

According to German health insurance regulations, most medications require a co-payment of five to ten Euros – make sure to bring some cash when you go to a German pharmacy. A private health insurance might cover the co-payment as well. But if you do have private health insurance, you need to pay the full price of the product in advance, regardless of whether or not you have a prescription from your doctor. Keep the receipt for reimbursement from your insurance company.

What to Do If You Need Regular Medication

Don’t take it for granted that your drug will be available just any German pharmacy. But don’t be discouraged if it seems to be unavailable. Pharmacies might simply sell it under a different name. Therefore, compare the actual ingredients and active agents.

Moreover, you should always double check whether the ingredients of pharmaceuticals with a similar name are in fact the same as those of your medication. Sometimes, drugs with completely different active ingredients are sold under the same name in various countries, occasionally even by the same company. If you’re not able to find your drug at a German pharmacy, take the package insert with you and show it to your German doctor. They can give you competent advice about similar drugs available in Germany.

Importing Medication

We strongly recommend bringing a supply that will last for a few weeks. For reasonable amounts of pharmaceuticals obviously intended for private use, the German Customs Administration usually is no trouble whatsoever.

However, you should also take into account that drugs are classified according to national law, the rather strict German Medicines Act. For example, herbal medicines or vitamin pills that are sold over the counter everywhere in your home country could be regarded as pharmaceuticals by German Customs. Moreover, if you are taking a relatively new or experimental drug, you should also ask the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices whether it is already licensed and available in the German pharmacy market.

Make sure that you have your official prescription with you, and keep the drug in its original container, including the package insert. If it is an ointment or liquid, please ask your airline whether you are allowed to take it on board. Shipping prescription drugs from non-EU member states to Germany by mail is strictly prohibited.


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