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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.

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

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 might 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 look at export licenses. You can look at the:

  • Home Office
  • Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

They regulate medicines going in and out of the UK.

The Home Office tells 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. Check with the country’s Embassy or High Commission.

Types of medicines

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

These are often called over-the-counter medicines. You can buy them without needing to go to a pharmacy, 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 shipping 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. This is 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
  • non-medical prescriber

A non-medical prescriber can be a pharmacist, a nurse or other health professionals. Non-medical prescribers have specialised training and can prescribe certain drugs. 

Prescribers can only prescribe drugs if they know the person’s health and medical needs. So it is unlikely they will prescribe for someone who is abroad and not in their care.

Doctors and non-medical prescribers should give information about:

  • the management, monitoring and follow-up of your treatment, and that you understand it
  • your medicines, for example, what it is for, how to use it, possible unwanted effects and how to report them, how long your treatment might last
  • reliable sources of information about your medicines and treatments
  • what to do if you have any concerns about the management of your condition, if it gets worse or does not improve in the expected time frame
  • how to take responsibility for your medicines and how to self-manage your condition

UK pharmacists will only give medications prescribed by a UK registered:

  • doctor
  • non-medical prescriber

Before dispensing a prescription, they’ll need to make sure that:

  • the medication is appropriate for the person – they might contact the prescriber to check this
  • the person receives the medicines safely
  • the person knows how and when to take it

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 recommends that you send medicines in special tamper proof packaging. You also have to send it by Special Delivery or Recorded Delivery.

Find more information about posting restrictions on the Royal Mail website. Or call their customer service number 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 might have an office in the country where you need to send the medicine. They might also be able to help you get hold of the medicine there. A doctor or pharmacist will be able to tell you which company makes the drug.