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Buying medicines in the UK to send abroad

Sending medicines abroad depends on the type of medicine and where you want to send it. Find out about regulations and postal services. 

You can buy and export some medicines but not others. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to be able to buy and send cancer medicines. 

Regulations in the UK and other countries

In the UK, there are strict controls on how we buy medicines. This is to make sure people take them safely and for the right medical conditions. You may find that UK regulations won’t allow you to buy the type of medicine you want to send.

If you can buy the medicine, you need to find out about export licenses from the Home Office or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They regulate medicines going in and out of the UK.

The Home Office tell us that you can’t get a license to send controlled drugs by post. Controlled drugs include strong painkillers such as morphine.

Most countries have restrictions on medicines you can send or take in. The restrictions vary a lot between countries. So you need to check with the country’s embassy or High Commission about their restrictions on imported medicine.

Types of medicines

Whether you will be able to get hold of the medicine you want to send will depend on its type. In the UK, there are 3 groups of medicines.

These are over the counter medicines, that you can buy freely, for example from a local supermarket. The amount and type of drug you can send abroad may still be restricted by the:

  • postal service
  • laws in the country you are sending to
  • HM Revenue and Customs in the UK (formerly HM Customs and Excise)

These are medicines you can only buy in a pharmacy. In the UK, the pharmacist who sells you the medicine has to make sure that:

  • the medicines are safe for the person to take
  • the medicines are suitable for the person taking them
  • the person knows how to take the medicine

UK pharmacists are unlikely to give out medicines for a person abroad, because they can’t check whether it is safe and suitable for the person taking it.

In the UK, prescription only medicines need to be prescribed by a doctor who is registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).

The GMC regulations say that doctors can only prescribe drugs or treatment if they have enough knowledge about the person’s health and medical needs.

This is to make sure that you take medicines safely. 

Doctors should also give patients information about:

  • possible side effects of the medicine
  • the dose they should take
  • possible interactions (reactions) with other medicines

So doctors are very unlikely to write a prescription for someone who is not in their care.

UK pharmacists can only give out prescription medications if the prescription is written by a doctor or dentist registered in the UK. The pharmacist must also be satisfied that it is appropriate for the doctor to prescribe a medicine. The pharmacist may contact the doctor to check this before dispensing a prescription for someone abroad.

If a pharmacist does dispense the prescription, they’ll need to make sure that:

  • the person receives the medicines safely
  • the person knows how and when to take it

It is unlikely that a pharmacist would be happy to do this without knowledge about the person receiving the medicine.

Sending medicines by post

Postal services have restrictions about what you can send. It is best to check with the service before you post anything.

The Royal Mail recommend that medicines are sent in special tamper proof packaging and by Special Delivery or Recorded Delivery.

You can get detailed information about posting restrictions for prescription and over the counter medicines on the Royal Mail website.

Alternatively, you can contact their customer service line on 08457 740 740.

Contacting drug companies

Companies that make medicines don’t sell them to individual people. But it may be worth contacting the company that makes the medicine you need to send abroad.

They may have an office in the country where you need to send the medicine and they might be able to help you get hold of the medicine there. A doctor or pharmacist will be able to tell you who makes the drug.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.