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Where to Buy Medicine in Hong Kong

Purchasing over-the-counter (OTC) medication is incredibly easy in Hong Kong. Most OTC medication can be found in supermarkets and convenience stores scattered across the city. But when it comes to prescription drugs, expats often learn the hard way about the strict regulations in HK.

In this Pacific Prime Hong Kong article, we cover where to buy OTC and prescription medicine in HK and how your insurance will cover them.

Individual Health Insurance Plans

Where Do I Purchase Over-the-counter Medicine?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as paracetamol (Panadol in Hong Kong), cough syrup, antacids, and other drugs that can be sold without a prescription can be found in all chain drug stores, including Mannings and Watsons.

You may need to visit one or two as stock will generally vary depending on the location and demand. Another location popular with many locals is the mom-and-pop pharmacies, which are individually owned operations stocking a wide selection of medication similar to what you will find at the chains.

These stores may not be 100% obvious when you first walk by them, as they also tend to carry non-medical goods such as toothpaste, lotion, toilet paper, and tissues. If you ever need to visit one, just look for the red and white Rx sign above the entrance.

Finally, convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Circle-K usually have a small selection of medications, such as Panadol Cold & Flu and cough syrup.

Where Do I Purchase Prescription Medicine?

While there is a wide selection of over-the-counter medicine (OTC) available in Hong Kong, there are strict regulations around prescription drugs. Overseen by the Department of Health’s Drug Office, medicine in Hong Kong is broken down into the following three categories of classification.

  • Category 1: Drugs that can only be sold with the accompaniment of a prescription from a doctor.
  • Category 2: Drugs that can be sold without a prescription but only at pharmacies. This means you will need to talk to a registered pharmacist to get the drug.
  • Category 3: Drugs that can be sold over the counter without the need to talk to a pharmacist.

Essentially, this means that you can’t just wander into any pharmacy and purchase any medication. Instead, you have a couple of different options for where you can get your prescription drugs.

Where Do I Purchase Drugs in Hong Kong?

Red and white medication capsules in an open yellow pack on a white table

Living in Hong Kong means convenience. You will have a plethora of sources to buy medications from, including clinics, hospitals, chain drug stores, convenience stores, and online pharmacies. Let’s look at each of the major sellers in greater detail.

Clinics or Hospitals

Almost every doctor’s office and hospital in Hong Kong are licensed to dispense drugs, and will usually do so. First, you need to see the doctor, who will subsequently issue a prescription which will be filled in the office. The drugs will be issued once you pay.

If your prescription is ongoing, most doctors will leave a note in your file, allowing you to talk to nurses to get your prescription filled.

Chain Drug Stores (Authorized Sellers)

Registered pharmacies in HK (both chains and individually owned) can dispense prescription medication as long as you have a prescription from your doctor. However, not every single pharmacy will have your drug in stock, so you may need to visit a number of dispensaries.

If you need to fill a prescription, check the Department of Health’s Drug Office List of Authorized Pharmacists. Note that prescriptions in Hong Kong can usually only be filled once unless the doctor issues it with a note saying that it can be issued a certain number of times or at a certain interval.

Convenience Stores (Listed Sellers)

Convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven and Circle-K, are listed sellers of Category 3 drugs. This means you can easily obtain over-the-counter (OTC) medications at these chain stores. Additionally, you can also find common OTC medications in supermarket chains like ParknShop and Wellcome.

It’s important to note that all drugs sold here must be in a closed or original container. Unlike at mom-and-pop stores, no broken bulk is allowed.

Online Pharmacies

Online pharmacies in Hong Kong include Watsons, Mannings, CR Care Pharmacy, and PharmaCity. As long as you have a prescription from your doctor, you can save time and money by buying your medicine online from pharmacies such as these.

However, you must look for a reputable pharmacy to ensure you get precisely what you’ve ordered.

Where Do I Purchase Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is home to thousands of licensed Chinese medicine retail shops. Much like the East-meets-West city-state, you can find a mix of Chinese and Western medicines at some retail stores, if they are part of a pharmacy.

You can also buy certain Chinese medicines at the aforementioned convenience stores and supermarkets. However, you may need a prescription for some medicines. Prescriptions can be obtained from your Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, who usually provides pharmaceutical services as well.

Medical professional standing at a drug store counter

Regulation of Chinese Medicines

In Hong Kong, the licensing and regulation system is separate from Western drugs for Chinese medicines. It ensures that they are qualified and safe to administer/ingest. You can check out the Chinese Medicine Council’s website for a full list of medicines classified under this system.

All Chinese medicines in Hong Kong are classified into two categories:

  • Schedule 1 medicines: These traditional medicines are sold by prescriptions issued by a registered Chinese medicine practitioner. Note that they contain toxic ingredients.
  • Schedule 2 medicines: You don’t need a prescription to buy these medicines in Hong Kong since they are relatively safe.

Further reading: Exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong

Can I Bring My Prescription from My Home Country?

Hong Kong, like many other countries, does not accept prescriptions issued by doctors in other countries. This means that if you are thinking of moving here and getting a prescription from your home country, you will not be able to buy the drugs in Hong Kong.

While, by law, you do need a license to bring pharmaceuticals from another country into Hong Kong, the Drug Office notes that:

“Pharmaceutical products and medicines imported in the personal baggage of a person entering Hong Kong and which are accompanied by him and in a reasonable quantity for his personal use may be exempted from licensing requirement.”

Additionally, even though Hong Kong is well-known for having a wide variety of medicine, there is always a chance that the drug you take in your home country may not be obtainable in the SAR. Be sure to check the Drug Office’s database for a list of all medicines available in the city.

What about Unregistered Pharmacies?

Despite the government’s efforts to ensure that all pharmacies in Hong Kong are not selling Category 1 and 2 drugs over the counter, some smaller stores may act as unregistered pharmacies and be willing to sell drugs without a prescription.

While the government is working to reduce the illegal sale of pharmaceutical drugs, potential issues from buying these include fines and fake drugs – such as sugar pills, or something else entirely.

Some health insurance plans have clauses in their terms and conditions that allow them to deny claims that stem from taking prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to you. This means you will end up paying for any related medical care out of pocket.

Will My Insurance Cover Prescription Medicine?

Virtually every plan sold by Pacific Prime Hong Kong will cover medications prescribed for medical conditions that arise after buying a plan. The key thing to be aware of is whether your plan excludes pre-existing or ongoing chronic conditions, this includes all medication directly related to them.

For example, let’s say your child has asthma and requires an inhaler like Symbicort (a category 1 medicine in Hong Kong used for long-term asthma management). If your child has this pre-existing condition before you buy a health insurance plan, the provider may not cover the cost of the inhaler.

Luckily, different insurers consider pre-existing conditions differently. With individual plans, some will exclude all conditions, while others will attach a loading or moratorium (also known as a waiting period) on claims.

If you are moving to Hong Kong, we recommend talking to a health insurance expert beforehand to answer any questions you may have. At Pacific Prime Hong Kong, we can help you compare plans for existing prescriptions and provide professional advice on a plan that will best cover your medical needs.

Contact us today to get a free quote!

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Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jantra Jacobs is a Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She writes and edits a diverse variety of online and offline copy, including sales and marketing materials ranging from articles and advertising copy to reports, guides, RFPs, and more.

Jantra curates and reports on the results of Pacific Prime’s monthly newsletters, as well as manages Pacific Prime’s Deputy Global CEO’s LinkedIn posts. Complemented by her background in business writing, Jantra’s passion for health, insurance, and employee benefits helps her create engaging content - no matter how complex the subject is.

Growing up as a third-culture kid has given her a multicultural perspective that helps her relate to expats and their families while 8 years of working remotely have given her unique insight into hybrid work arrangements and enthusiasm for employee benefits.
Jantra Jacobs