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A Giant Plus: Pharmacies in France

Have you caught a cold, or are you dealing with an upset stomach? For minor ailments, the nearest pharmacy is the place to go. Our expat guide to life in France covers everything you need to know — from opening hours to online shopping for meds to paying for your prescriptions. Feel better soon!

At a Glance:

  • Medications — even over-the-counter drugs — are only available from a pharmacy.
  • Costs of prescriptions will be covered by the state and your insurance. However, you may have to pay upfront and be reimbursed later, so keep all receipts!
  • Pharmacies will be shut on Sundays and after 19:00, although there are late-night services in case of emergency.


France is home to over 22,000 pharmacies. With studies suggesting that the average French citizen takes around 47 boxes of medication per year, it’s unlikely they will go out of business any time soon.

All this pill-popping means you shouldn’t have to go far from your front door to find a pharmacy. If you are trying to locate the nearest local pharmacy, Allo Medicins has compiled a full list online, or you can just look out for the iconic neon-green cross on your high street.

French Pharmacists: Experts and Independent Business Owners 

On entering a French pharmacy, you can expect a far more personal service than you may receive in other parts of the world. For one thing, there are no pharmacy chains, with limits being placed on the number of enterprises an individual person can own.

The pharmacists themselves are also able to provide a more thorough service, as they are highly trained in their field. Pharmacists must study in France for around six years:  thus they are able to make up prescriptions and have a certain degree of medical training themselves. So, if you have any minor ailments, it may be worth asking your pharmacist for advice before seeking a doctor’s assistance.

Closed Shop: What You Can and Can’t Get in a Pharmacy

If you are short on shampoo or need to buy some chewing gum, a French pharmacy will not help you out. While pharmacies in other countries may have diversified to offer anything from photo development to meal deals, the French pharmacy is still reserved for filling up your medicine cabinet.

However, this exclusivity goes two ways: if you are in need of medication in France, the pharmacy is your only port of call. They hold a monopoly over sales of medicine, so if you need anything from painkillers to prescription drugs, you have to look for a flashing green cross outside the door. There have been attempts to break this monopoly, but they have ultimately failed to gain traction.

The Loi Macron, or the Macron Law, was introduced by the then Minister for Finance Emmanuel Macron in 2015, as an attempt to jump-start the flagging French economy. It loosened legislation and cut through red tape in order to increase competition in monopolized sectors.

The Loi Macron also included an attempt to allow supermarkets to stock over-the-counter drugs, but this amendment fell victim to lobbying from French pharmacies and failed to pass. So far the pharmacy has survived as the sole purveyor of medicine; but with the economically liberal Macron now heading up the country as President of France, this monopoly may still falter in the years to come. 

Online Shopping for Your Over-The-Counter Meds

There has been some liberalization in France’s pharmaceutical industry in recent years: in particular, reforms have successfully legalized the sale of certain medications online, resulting in the creation of online pharmacies. This has enabled customers to buy over-the-counter drugs (sans ordonnance) from the comfort of their own home.

Online pharmacies are still subject to some restrictions:  they are limited to selling non-prescription drugs and can only be operated by organizations that already have a license to run a physical shop. If you have no pressing need for medication and simply need to stock up on some over-the-counter basics, searching for “pharmacie en ligne” will give you multiple online pharmacies based in France. 

Paying for Your Pills

The French healthcare system is financed by nationwide insurance. To read more about the insurance system, take a look at our article covering this topic in greater depth.

For prescription medicine (sur ordonnance), the state covers a percentage of the overall costs. You can claim the rest back from your medical insurer so you will not be left with out-of-pocket expenses. It is, however, important to keep any receipts you receive when buying your medication, as you need these to be reimbursed.

Some pharmacists do not operate on a computerized system, so they will not be able to automatically subtract the subsidies from the cost of your medicine right away. In this case, you have to pay all of the costs upfront and then claim the money back from both your insurer and the state, at your local Caisse (public healthcare provider). 

Late-Night Prescriptions

The strict French trading laws have loosened in recent years, but it is still easy enough to find yourself in need of medicine when the pharmacies are closed. Classic French trading hours are between 9:00 and 19:00, with a two-hour lunchbreak in villages and small towns, and pharmacies stay shut entirely on Sunday.

If you need an out-of-hours prescription or urgently require medicine, you can go to a pharmacie de garde (on-call pharmacy). In Paris, there are several pharmacies which are open at night and throughout the weekend. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau provides a list of night pharmacies in English.

Outside of the capital things are a little trickier. In any given area, pharmacies take turns at operating as the pharmacie de garde for a while, with staff being on call for this period. You may have to pay a small fee of a few euros for using these out-of-hours pharmacies, and they are not simply open 24/7 as they are in Paris. Instead, if you need their services, you can call a regional contact number, where you will be directed to the current late-night pharmacy. Contact numbers for each region can be found on the Allo Pharmacie Garde website.

If you are still struggling to locate the current on-call pharmacist, the surefire way to find out which shop is working late is to look at the green cross on the shop front: if it’s still flashing, the pharmacy is open. 

Your Prescription, but Not as You Know It

They may not be as widespread as some clichés suggests, but be warned, suppositories are still used in France. Whereas squeamish patients in other parts of the world might turn up their noses up at suppositories, you may well be prescribed some while you are in France.

Suppositories have their advantages, bypassing your stomach and reaching your bloodstream far faster, but nowadays they are mostly used for children’s medicine where they are considered an easier method of administration. If you’d still rather pass up on the suppository, it’s worth noting down the French words for a tablet (un cachet) and liquid medicine (un sirop), so you can make sure you are given something you can swallow.


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