Prescription medication tips for travellers 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. Medication that you can buy in the front of pharmacies vary in price
- Be aware that medication that 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
- Get your doctor 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 type of products are called “over the counter medication” 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.Usually at the back of the store under 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 over 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 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. You will have a consultation with the doctor to see if you need a prescription, then they will give you a prescription on a piece of paper to use at the pharmacy.
How much does a prescription cost in New Zealand?
Paying for your doctor’s consultation
When getting a prescription, the first and most significant cost will 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 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 prescribed mediation. 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.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 Medical and Travel Insurance for New Zealand and 14 questions to ask before buying medical travel insurance.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 in 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).