Buying medicines in New Zealand

In New Zealand, people visit pharmacies for a variety of reasons – such as ‘filling’ a prescription from the doctor, asking advice from a pharmacist, or buying cosmetics.
Pharmacist helping a customer

Pharmacists are available to give advice to customers.

In New Zealand, people visit pharmacies for a variety of reasons – such as ‘filling’ a prescription from the doctor, asking advice from a pharmacist or buying cosmetics. This article outlines the services and products a pharmacy, sometimes known as a chemist, is able to provide for you and your family.

What to expect

Most New Zealand pharmacies have a general area at the front of the shop and a dispensary at the back. In the front section of the shop it’s normal to find perfumes, haircare products, cosmetics, skincare products, vitamins and minerals and sports remedies – to name a few.

Most pharmacies also have a private consulting room. This can be used for consultation prior to receiving medication such as the emergency contraceptive pill, or for example, to get advice on a rash.

First step for enquiries

Visiting a pharmacist can be a good first step for medical enquiries. Pharmacists are more accessible than doctors and offer free advice. If possible, pharmacists will answer medical questions straight away. Otherwise, customers will be referred to a doctor. All pharmacists are qualified professionals and are registered under the same law as doctors.

A pharmacist’s job is to dispense medicines, explain how they work, what effects it could have, and what special things to do or watch out for. Pharmacy staff may help recommend a specific doctor if the patient has language needs, or would prefer a woman doctor.

It is important for migrants to ask questions, especially if English is not their first language. It can be helpful to bring along a family member or friend who can speak English.

Why visit a pharmacy?

The main reasons most people visit a pharmacy is for medical advice, to buy medicine which cannot be bought elsewhere, or to ‘fill’ a prescription. All medicines which are found in a pharmacy are approved by the Ministry of Health. Medicines or medications bought in a pharmacy can be divided into two categories – over-the-counter medicines, and medicines that require a prescription.

All medicines that require a prescription must be dealt with by the pharmacist. Your family doctor does not dispense medicines directly. However, they provide the written prescription that you take to your pharmacist.

Finding the right medicine

Some medicines prescribed overseas may not be available in New Zealand. Migrants need to be prepared for this. It can be stressful when you have run out of medication or are using the last of it. It is helpful for migrants to register with a doctor in their first few weeks who could prescribe an alternative medicine. It might be necessary to phase out medicines which are not available in New Zealand and phase in new medicines.

Other medication, such as cold and flu tablets, can be bought over the counter without a prescription. For some over-the-counter medicines, known as restricted medicines, a pharmacist will need to have a quick consultation with the customer. This is to check they are not on any other medication which may react with the medicine, or have a medical condition which could be aggravated by it.

Most pharmacies will have a global directory of medicines. Customers can look up their medicines in the directory to see if there is a New Zealand equivalent, and whether a prescription is required.

Paying for medicine or medication

In New Zealand many common medicines and medical products are subsidised by the Government. You will probably be required to pay some of the costs of your medicine. The cost depends on factors such as whether you have a subsidy card, or are a certain age.

People with a Community Services Card (CSC) or a High Use Health Card (HUHC) are charged $3 per item. If you do not have a card fully subsidised prescription medicine will cost between $5 and $15.

For medicine or medication which is fully subsidised by the government, children under six will not be charged.

Your doctor will probably prescribe you the medicine which is subsidised. If you want to find out if another medicine is available you can ask your GP about alternative medicines which are not subsidised. These could be medications you have taken in the past.

The Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) decides which drugs should be subsidised and by how much. If more than one medicine exists with similar effects, PHARMAC may subsidise one but not the other. To see a list of subsidised drugs go to the PHARMAC website: and check the Pharmaceutical Schedule.

More information

Prescription charges and subsidies | Ministry of Health

Bringing prescription medicine into New Zealand | Customs Service

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