Getting a foreign prescription for a prescription drug filled in the US

  • My wife takes a prescription medication that cannot be stopped. Her supply is running out while in the US and we've tried faxing her foreign doctor's prescription to Walmart but they wouldn't accept it. What options do we have for getting a prescription quickly? We've thought of going to a walk-in clinic or urgent care but fear a lengthy diagnosis with costly lab tests.

    Americans just buy drugs from uncontrolled Canadian web sites - perhaps you could do that?

    @JoeBlow: The cross-border shipping would carry the same issues as getting the medication sent from home, as described in mts's answer. There are also risks in that it may not be easy to verify that the drugs you get are genuine and/or safely produced; there are potential legal risks as well. "Canadian pharmacy" websites are not necessarily even Canadian.

    How quickly do you need this medication? Hours, days, weeks?

    In any event, the trivially simple answer is NO, yank pharmacies WILL NOT fill foreign prescriptions, end of story.

    @NateEldredge she has about a week's worth left.

    Not to take away from @mts great answer +1, consulting one of the International Society of Travel Medicine providers might help

    @Bakuriu have you considered that someone's travel dates might change or other circumstance arise? What if a bag was stolen? There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to get a refill on a prescription while travelling, whether at home or abroad.

    @ReedG.Law Is this the case? You didn't mention someone stealing your medication... in any case my comment is valid: the first thing before travelling is to make sure to have enough drug (and not just for the counted days, but a few more just in case).

    Do you have any relatives or friends in the US (hopefully near where you are) that could vouch for you to their doctor? That *might* allow the local doctor to skip the tests and just write the prescription. (We did something similar when outside the US; the doctor was a relative)

    @mkennedy that may work in other countries but it seems things are a lot more strict here in the US. I'm not sure of the legality or liability perspective on that.

    It would be a longshot. The doctor would likely still have to examine your wife.

    Most cities have numerous walk-in "urgent care" clinics. I'd call one of those clinics and tell them your situation -- if they can examine your wife and verify your wife's condition (perhaps consulting with her doctor) and her need for the medicine, they may be willing to write the prescription. You'll have to pay for the visit (if your insurance doesn't).

  • mts

    mts Correct answer

    5 years ago

    First, it is unlikely that you will find any US pharmacy that is willing fill a foreign prescription. I would not count on it. (Apparently this depends on state rules, so you might want to google "[state] pharmacy fill foreign prescription" or try asking your nearest consulate if they know any.)

    From the US Food and Drug Acency (FDA)

    Q: Can a foreign traveler get a prescription filled when visiting the U.S.?
    A: If you’re traveling to the United States from another country and need a prescription filled, you should visit a health care provider. Very few pharmacies can fill a foreign prescription, and this is determined on a state-by-state basis.

    Further unofficial sources that match with your experiences:

    • Source 1: Immihelp
    • Source 2: Forum Post:

      I'm a pharmacist. I can tell you that no pharmacy will fill a foreign prescription in the US, controlled substance or not. It's a legal issue, foreign prescriptions are not recognized in the US. All prescriptions has to be on official prescription forms now with sequence number.

    Second, you could consider have someone at home ship your medication to you in the US, accompanied by a letter from your doctor. From the CBP website (links removed by me):

    I am traveling or living temporarily in the U.S. and I need to have my prescription medicine sent to me. What should I do?

    As a general rule, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow prescription medications to be mailed to the U.S. However, if you are here temporarily and need to be sent your prescription medication, there are a couple of things you should do. Ask your physician to write a letter explaining that you are under their care, and that they have prescribed the drugs for your use. The letter should also explain the circumstances for sending the drugs to you, including that you are a citizen of (whatever) country, that you are temporarily in the U.S. (for travel, study, etc.) and have either run out of your medications, lost them, etc. The letter should accompany the package and be addressed to a CBP Officer or broker.

    We strongly recommend that it be in English. If the medicine is sent through the mail, it could be informally detained by CBP until an FDA Inspector is available to examine it. This can take as long as a month. It is very important that the outside package be marked with a statement that the package contains a physician's letter so that the CBP Officer will be more proactive in bringing it to the FDA's attention. A better option is to send the package by a courier service. Ask the courier service how best to flag the package so that their U.S. Customs broker will be able to tell the FDA about the special circumstances for sending the package. For more information please email the FDA Import/Export Team at [email protected] See the FDA Regulatory Procedures Manual for Importations for more information.

    Finally if none of that works, get a prescription in the US. Contact your travel health insurance provider (and maybe also your health insurance provider at home) for where to go. I imagine that bringing results from tests done at home, diagnosis and other relevant documents might greatly facilitate the process and save you from added costs. The American health system is infamously expensive and I would go as far as getting an estimate for this last step and compare it to the price of airfare to your home country to stock up on the medication there and bringing it personally to the US.

    As to the last sentence, getting an estimate would be a good idea, but unfortunately I don't know any practical way in which that can be accomplished, especially given that it may not be clear what tests, etc, are required until after the initial visit. Do you have any suggestions there?

    @NateEldredge, no I don't, I'd ask at the chosen health center and after the initial visit ask to be presented a rough figure (for tests, visits, ...) before proceeding, but I am not familiar with how such processes work in practice in the US. If you have any more insight than me, please step in.

    @NateEldredge we got an estimate from a local doctor. They wouldn't give an exact figure but said it could cost anywhere from $100 to $600.

    @ReedG.Law If you have a travel health insurance then you should contact them immediately if you have not already, besides paying for fees (or reimbursing) they can also direct you to trusted providers. In any case most insurances state that you must contact them before seeking treatment. All best

    FYI if you use your browsers view source option and scroll past the large block of whitespace the text of the Immihelp article is readily copyable (lines ~530-80 in the html).

    @DanNeely valid point, I had thought of that but then was too lazy and found a better source. I should rather remove the link on them, since the source states (I kid you not, emphasis mine): "**Contents of this webpage can't be seen as they are not meant to be viewed** or copied. " That being said, it would be fine as a quote, and go ahead to suggest an edit if you find it would improve this answer.

    I'd lean toward removing the link. I didn't suggest an edit with an excerpt because I didn't see anything there worth adding beyond what was already present from other sources. I looked mostly out of curiosity wondering if they were just screwing with selection or had done some more clever meddling.

    If you go see a US doctor, bring the prescription bottle with you too, so the doctor can see exactly what you're taking.

    @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος thanks but no need, I know how to select the text if I wanted to but am leaving as is for now, as the text there has not much value. Besides, your link is not working for me.

    @mts It seems I accidentally removed it. Hmm...

    @ReedG.Law Travel insurance generally won't cover this. This would be deemed routine medical care, and travel insurance generally only covers unexpected medical care.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM