In this article, you will find everything you need to know about pharmacies in Germany. This includes how to find an emergency pharmacy after regular hours, the cost of medicines, and more. If you are moving to Germany, you should make sure you know how to get the medicines you need when you are in Germany.
The difference between pharmacies and drug stores in Germany
Pharmacy is Apotheke in German. There is always a large, red A sign at a pharmacy. Pharmacies in Germany are operated by pharmacists. Do not confuse pharmacies with drug stores (Drogerie) in Germany. Drug stores like DM and Müller are not selling medicines, even though they are called “drug” stores. They are actually general stores selling toiletries and consumer items like baby products, snacks, decoration, etc. They do sell vitamins, herbal remedies, nasal spray, and so on, but not real medicines. If you want to buy real medicine in Germany, you must buy it from a pharmacy.
What can you buy in a pharmacy in Germany?
You can find both prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs in the pharmacy. In Germany, all medicines are kept behind the counter. So, when you go to a pharmacy, you need to go directly to the counter and ask for what you need, instead of picking up the medicines by yourself.
Besides medicine, you can also find other non-medical health-related products like skincare products in a pharmacy in Germany. Homeopathic products are also very common in Germany.
You can always find a paper in the product package which explains in detail how you should take the medicines, the correct dosages, and other important information. However, in most cases, the information is only in German. The pharmacists will normally explain to you the correct dosages and how you should take the medicines. If you have more questions, you can always ask the pharmacists.
The emphasis of natural cure in Germany
When I visited a doctor in Hong Kong because of a cold, I would be given a few packages of different pills every time. These pills are mostly different types of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
I was shocked that my experience with doctor’s visits was completely different in Germany. I still remember that it was the first year when I moved to Germany. I was at a doctor’s office because of a cold. After a long waiting time (almost two hours), I finally got to see the doctor. I was expecting to get the different types of pills that I used to get in Hong Kong. What happened was that the doctor did not give me anything, except telling me to drink more lemon water.
Excuse me? I have waited for two hours and you tell me to go home and drink lemon water?
And actually the same has happened several times. I got a cold, went to the doctor, the doctor told me to drink lemon water and I left without any medicines. In the beginning, I didn’t really follow the advice and drink lemon water. After a few times, I stopped visiting the doctor as I knew that it wouldn’t help. And somehow I tried with the lemon water. You know what, I was amazed by how good it worked! I kept drinking a lot of hot lemon water during the day and I recovered from my cold very fast!
I couldn’t believe it. It proved to me that all these pills I used to get in Hong Kong were actually not needed!
Now, I really like this way of German treatment. I always try to minimize the use of medicines and cure myself naturally. This way I can also reduce the number of my doctor’s visits.
For example, you can buy common cold tea (Erkältungstee) almost everywhere in Germany. This kind of herbal medication or other holistic cures are widely used. They are considered drugs and you can also buy them from the pharmacies in Germany.
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Pharmacies in Germany: The pharmacists
The pharmacists in Germany are all well-trained healthcare professionals. If you have a minor sickness and do not want to visit a doctor, you can rely on the pharmacists to give you advice about possible treatments. They will ask you about your symptoms and offer advice on non-prescription medicines or other products that might help.
They are experts in medicines and will make sure that you understand the correct dosages. The good thing is that in Germany, you can always seek free advice at a pharmacy and no appointment is needed. You can also consult with a pharmacist to find a similar or better product if needed.
Pharmacies in Germany: Doctor’s prescription
In Hong Kong, I will get the medicines directly at the doctor’s office. In Germany, I will get a prescription (Rezept) after visiting the doctor. Then, the prescription can be filled at any pharmacy in Germany.
In Germany, the laws on prescriptions are very strict. Although you can still get general painkillers like headache tablets, there are many medicines you cannot get without a prescription, e.g. antibiotics.
So, you should be aware that some medication that you can buy in your own country may not be available in Germany without a prescription. For example, in Hong Kong, I can easily buy different brands of birth control pills in drug stores. Only after I came to Germany, I realized that I couldn’t get my pills in the pharmacy without a doctor prescription.
At first, I found it quite inconvenient. But now, I think it is actually a good practice. I had to first visit a gynecologist who did some checkup on me and prescribed a suitable brand of birth control pills for me. This is better than picking up a random brand in Hong Kong by myself.
You should also note that foreign prescription is not accepted in Germany. So, you would need to visit a doctor in Germany if you need to get your medicine.
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How to find a pharmacy in Germany?
You can find pharmacies near you by using aponet.de. Just type your zip code in the search box and you will see a list of local pharmacies with their address, telephone number, and operating hours.
It happens quite often to me that when I went to a pharmacy with my prescription, I was told that the medicine I needed was out of stock. I would have to reserve it and came back on the next day or so. It can be quite annoying to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for my medicine, or to wait until the next day.
Alternatively, you can order your medicine from online pharmacies. Shop Apotheke offers a wide range of products and with a doctor’s prescription, you can get your medicine with free delivery.
Pharmacies in Germany: Opening time
Pharmacies in Germany have standard shop-opening times, meaning that they are closed in the evenings, Sundays, and on public holidays. Some may only open half a day on Wednesday and Saturday. And some may even close at lunchtime daily for an hour or so. It depends on the pharmacies, so you have to check their opening time individually.
Pharmacies in Germany: Emergency pharmacy
What should you do if you need medicines after regular hours? This happened to me once after living in Germany for ten years now. I had a really bad stomachache in the middle of the night. I was alone at home as my husband was on business travel. The pain was unbearable and I ended up calling the emergency medical services. A doctor visited me at home and gave me a prescription. I went to a pharmacy in the night and got my medicine.
From this experience, I learned two things.
There are emergency medical services
You can call 116 117 if you need medical services after regular hours. You should call this number if you are unwell and cannot wait until the next working day when the doctor’s office is open again. But you should not call this if your life is in danger. In that case, you will have to call the emergency number 112.
There is an emergency pharmacy near you
Most cities have at least one emergency pharmacy that opens 24 hours a day. The pharmacies in Germany actually take turns operating throughout the night. You can use aponet.de to find the local emergency pharmacy near you. Just type your zip code in the search box. You will then see a list of rotating 24-hour pharmacies near you.
If you are at the physical pharmacies, you can usually find a list at the door showing you the details of the emergency pharmacies.
You will have to ring the bell at the entrance of the emergency pharmacy and wait for the pharmacist to come.
Pharmacies in Germany: Cost of the medicines
The cost of medicines in Germany is expensive compared to many other countries in Europe. So, you may want to bring some medicines with you if you are moving to Germany.
For non-prescription medications, you will have to pay the full price as they are not covered by health insurance. For prescription medications, the cost will depend on your health insurance.
If you have public health insurance, you will have to pay 10% of the prescription cost, with a minimum of 5 Euros and a maximum of 10 Euros.
If you have private health insurance, the cost you have to pay will depend on the coverage of your insurance. But you will have to pay upfront and reimburse the cost from your insurance later.
Most health insurance will cover the cost of certain medicines for your kids. Therefore, if you have time, you may save money by visiting a doctor and getting a prescription for those medicines.
It is important to find health insurance which is most suitable for you based on your individual situation. For more details, check out private vs public health insurance – What is better for expats in Germany.
Pharmacies in Germany: The name of the drugs
You should be aware that the same drug can have a different name in different countries. On the other hand, medicines with the same name in two different countries can also be two totally different drugs. Therefore, instead of just go buying your drug in the pharmacies in Germany, it is better to first consult with a doctor in Germany. And that is also why I think it is a good thing to have strict laws on prescriptions in Germany. It can be dangerous if someone buys a wrong drug from the pharmacies due to the name confusion.
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Pharmacies in Germany: Availability of certain drugs
A drug may be available in your home country, but not in Germany. So, if you are planning to move to Germany and you need a particular drug, it is good to check if that drug is available in Germany or not. If not, you may want to bring some supply with you until you get a doctor’s prescription of a similar drug in Germany. You are allowed to bring some medicine with you when you travel to Germany. The best is to keep them in their original package in case they are checked by customs.
One thing you should know is that you are not allowed to ship any drugs to Germany according to German law. I didn’t know this at the beginning. As I have mentioned before, we can buy birth control pills very easily at any drug store in Hong Kong without a doctor’s prescription. Therefore, I asked my friend to ship me some birth control pills from Hong Kong. The parcel got stuck at the customs in the end. When I went to the customs, I was told that all drugs were not allowed. I got the rest of the things in my parcel and unfortunately, all my birth control pills were thrown away.
How are the pharmacies in Germany different than those from your home countries? How do you like the pharmacies here in Germany? Leave a comment below and let us know!