How to Get Prescription Medication in New Zealand
Being in a different country for an extended period might mean that you will need to pick up a prescription at some point, whether it’s to get more of the medication you usually take or when unforeseen circumstances happen. Either way, it can be pretty scary stuff juggling your medication in a new country. Nevertheless, we are here to guide you through the process of getting a medical prescription in New Zealand.
Before arriving in New Zealand, make sure that you are well stocked with your prescribed medication from home (you can bring up to three months of prescribed medication into the country due to biosecurity laws). Make sure you see a doctor much before your medication runs out to give you time to have a consultation and visit the pharmacy. New Zealand doctors will not give you medication during the consultation.
4 Tips for Getting Prescription Medication as a Visitor (or Non-Resident) in New Zealand
Before we get started, here are a few tips for getting a medical prescription in New Zealand:
- You can legally bring three months’ worth of prescribed medication into New Zealand. Any more and you will need a note from your doctor to show at Biosecurity. Find out more in Arrival Advice: Biosecurity and Customs in New Zealand
- Prescription medication is the same price in all pharmacies in New Zealand. Medications that you can buy “over the counter” at pharmacies vary in price
- Be aware that medication you might be able to buy at the front of a drug store in your own country might have to be prescribed in New Zealand and vice versa
- If you see a doctor in New Zealand, get them to write you a prescription for other medication you might need for travelling like paracetamol and ibuprofen, for instance. It is cheaper to get these prescribed than to buy “over the counter”.
How Pharmacies Work in New Zealand
Pharmacies, commonly known as chemists in New Zealand, are the “drug stores” of New Zealand. At the front of the store, they sell medication for less serious illnesses and injuries, as well as cosmetics and beauty products. These types of products are called “over-the-counter” medications and have all been approved by the Ministry of Health. Pharmacists also offer free consultations for minor injuries and illnesses. They often have a passport photo-taking service too, just so you know.
What to Do with a Paper Prescription
Usually, at the back of the store, a sign for “prescriptions” is where you can pick up and pay for prescribed medication. Here, you hand over your paper prescription that has been given to you by a New Zealand doctor to the pharmacist and they will give you your prescription. You usually have to wait a few minutes while they find you the right medication.
Once you have your prescription, you pay for it at the counter.
What to Do with an Electronic Prescription
In some cases, your doctor will send an electronic prescription to your nominated pharmacy (which is usually the closest one to the medical centre). In this instance, you simply need to give your name and perhaps your address at the “prescriptions” counter at the pharmacy and the pharmacist should have your prescription ready for you.
Once you have your prescription, you pay for it at the counter.
Should You See a Doctor or a Pharmacist?
If you have a minor illness or injury, it may be easier to see a pharmacist. They offer free consultations in New Zealand and tend to be more readily available. Pharmacists are all qualified and are registered under the same laws as doctors. They will either be able to give you advice, recommend some over-the-counter medication, or will refer you to a doctor.
For more serious illnesses or if you are certain that you need a written prescription for medication, then you will need to see a doctor or General Practitioner (GP). They can be found in medical centres and hospitals in New Zealand, as well as through telehealth services which we explain in our full guide to CareHQ. You will have a consultation with the doctor to see if you need a prescription, and then they will either give you a prescription on a piece of paper to use at the pharmacy or will send the prescription to the nearest pharmacy electronically.
For more advice on seeing a GP, check out our guide, Things to Know Before Seeing a Doctor in New Zealand.
How Much Does a Prescription Cost in New Zealand?
There are two costs to take into consideration for buying a prescription in New Zealand: the doctor’s consultation and the medication cost.
Paying for Your Doctor’s Consultation
When getting a prescription, the first and most significant cost will be the consultation with a New Zealand doctor. For overseas visitors or those on a work visa that is valid for less than two years, you will need to pay the overseas visitors (or non-resident) charge. This is usually around NZ$80.
Depending on how “straightforward” the doctor consultation is (as well as how “kind” the doctors are feeling) they may charge you half of that. They are likely to do this, for example, if you just need a prescription for a contraceptive pill.
Paying for Your Prescription
Next, you will need to pay for the prescription medication at the pharmacy. Although most commonly prescribed medications are subsidised by the government (which is automatically applied to the medication), you will still need to pay the rest of the price of the prescribed medication.
Subsidised medication will cost between NZ$5 and NZ$15. Most of the time, the doctor will prescribe you medication that is subsidised. However, if you want to ask about other medications, you can ask your doctor, but these may not be subsidised.
Medication bought over the counter varies in price between pharmacies. Some over-the-counter medication in New Zealand is cheaper in supermarkets, so it’s worth comparing prices.
To find out more about the cost of healthcare, check out How to Pay for Healthcare Services in New Zealand.
Travel Insurance and ACC
Doctor’s consultation and medication costs may be covered by your travel insurance. If you have travel insurance, then you may be able to claim the cost back of your consultation and medication. Policies vary between travel insurance providers, so be sure to check with your chosen travel insurer. For more information on getting travel insurance, check out How to Choose the BEST Travel Insurance for New Zealand. Alternatively, if you’re an international student or are on a Working Holiday Visa, check out the New Zealand Working Holiday & Student Insurance: FULL Guide.
If you need a prescription and consultation due to an accidental injury, then you may be covered by ACC which is the “Accident Compensation Corporation”. They provide no-fault cover to both residents and visitors in New Zealand, which means they may provide cover, no matter whose fault the accident was. For more information, check out What is ACC and Employee Accident Cover?
Prescriptions for Eyewear and Contact Lenses
Eyecare is under a different entity in New Zealand, therefore you will not pick up prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses from pharmacists nor will you see a doctor. You will see an optician.
There are many brands of opticians around New Zealand, all with their own pricing in terms of sight tests, contact lens consultations and the price of glasses and contact lenses themselves.
Even if you are aware of your prescription for glasses and contact lenses, New Zealand opticians will want you to take a sight test with them to determine a new prescription before selling you glasses or contact lenses.
A way around this is to buy glasses and contact lenses online where you can choose your own prescription (corrections).
More About Medical Prescriptions in New Zealand
That’s it for our guide on how to get a medical prescription in New Zealand. For more tips regarding health while in New Zealand, check out the following:
- Health Tips For Travelling in New Zealand
- Is New Zealand Safe?
- How to Pay for Healthcare Services in New Zealand
Finally, you might want to have travel insurance to pay for your medical bills, so check out How to Choose the BEST Travel Insurance for New Zealand too.