Health & Insurance
Hong Kong: Prescription Drugs and Import
Generally speaking, drugs which require prescriptions in most other countries are also prescription medicines in Hong Kong. However, there might be cases where you do not need a prescription for a medication although you need it elsewhere, and vice versa. Contraceptive pills are one example. Whereas they are considered prescription medication in numerous other countries, in Hong Kong, you can buy them without having seen a doctor. Most of the prescription drugs you are familiar with at home are also available in Hong Kong, although they might be sold under different names. When you are looking for a specific medication, always look for the chemical generic name of the main ingredient, not a brand name. To double check, have a look at the English list of ingredients on the packaging.
You often receive prescription medicines directly at your doctor’s office or the public clinic. A public clinic only charges you a minimal fee for medication, usually around HK$ 10. A private doctor or a private pharmacy will charge you higher prices. If you have a private Hong Kong health insurance, you can be reimbursed by the insurance afterwards, depending on your personal healthcare plan. All prescription medication you receive from a pharmacy or a doctor is labeled with your name, the name of the pharmacy as well as information on the dosage and possible precautions for taking the medication.
But how can you be sure that the medication you need is definitely available in your new host country? The Pharmaceutical Service has the answer – on their website, you can find a comprehensive list of all registered pharmaceutical products in Hong Kong. If the medication you are looking for is on this list, it means it has been checked and approved by the relevant authorities and is legally sold in Hong Kong. All registered drugs receive a registration number. To check whether a medication has been officially approved by the Hong Kong government, look for a label on the packaging with the letters HK and a 5-digit number. If there is one, you are on the safe side.
As we describe in more detail in our article on doctors in Hong Kong, traditional Chinese medicine is very well-accepted. Chinese medicine products, however, are usually sold in shops specializing on Chinese herbs. It cannot hurt to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong, to understand all the descriptions. To sell Chinese medicine, the owner of the shop does not need to be a registered pharmacist. However, the Hong Kong government runs a separate licensing process for Chinese medicine traders.
Importing Medication into Hong Kong
If you want to import medication to Hong Kong on a larger basis, you need a special import license from the Department of Health. However, as an expat, you are likely to bring only your personal medication, which obviously does not make you a commercial importer. Customs authorities allow you to bring small amounts of medication for your personal use, provided that you keep it in your carry-on baggage. Even though this is not required, take an English prescription from your doctor at home for both your prescription drugs and non-prescription medicines. That way you get to avoid problems or misunderstandings at customs in Hong Kong.