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Canada - Prescriptions and Medications

If you are living in an urban area of Canada then you will have no trouble finding a pharmacy. Most neighbourhoods have at least one and many of these are independently owned, although there are one or two pharmacy chains in the country. The Rexall group of pharmacies includes The Medicine Shoppe and Pharmaplus and these are widespread across the more populated southern part of the country. Pharmacies in the rural areas are more likely to be privately owned.

It is common for them to carry all the most regularly prescribed medications and you can usually pick up a prescription fairly quickly. The health departments in Canada regulate the prices of medications in order to keep them cost effective. As with all countries there are some medications that are available over the counter for which you do not require a prescription. These may differ to over the counter remedies in your country of origin, so if you regularly use a certain type of medication you should check in advance if you will need a prescription for it when you get to Canada.

Many drugs which are prescribed in Canada are generic medications. Some insurance companies specify that where a generic product is available it should be given before a branded product. If a customer insists on a branded product the insurance company will only reimburse the cost of the generic item, leaving the customer to pay the difference.

Those who are moving to Canada from Europe will find that the system there is very similar to the way that pharmacies work in Europe as the regulation helps to keep the cost of prescription medications below that in the US. The Medicare scheme does not always cover the cost of prescription medications but you are able to obtain private insurance which will reimburse you any costs. The regulation of costs is intended to keep them low and give benefits to the elderly. If you are given drugs during a stay in hospital then these are provided as part of the health care plan. Private insurance will normally give you cover for a specific drug as soon as it is available on the market, although the public health care plan will only approve it after a short period of time.

All drugs which are on sale, both over the counter and on prescription, are reviewed by the federal government for safety and efficiency. All drug manufacturers must have a ‘Notice of Compliance’ before they are able to sell that product. New drugs can often take a long time to reach the market in Canada, but if they are considered to be ground-breaking then the manufacturer can apply to have the approval process speeded up.

Most pharmacies are open during standard working hours although there may be some variation on this depending upon the area that you are in. For example, The Medicine Shoppe in the centre of Vancouver is open from 9 am to 5.30 pm from Monday to Friday, 11 am to 3 pm on a Saturday and not at all on a Sunday. In contrast the Pharmaplus store which is located close to the centre of Toronto is open from 7.30 am to 6.30 pm from Monday to Friday and not at all at weekends. The Shoppers Drug Mart store in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories is open from 8 am to 10 pm from Monday to Friday and from 9 am to 10 pm on Saturday and Sunday. If there are many other pharmacies in one area then the weekend and evening hours will be done on a rota basis so that medications are available when needed. In rural areas the pharmacy will operate longer opening hours to provide this cover themselves.

There are pharmacies which are located within hospitals, on university campuses and within some GPs clinics and most shopping malls will have at least one pharmacy.

If you are in the French-speaking part of the country then finding a pharmacy is not difficult. The French word for pharmacy is ‘pharmacie’, pronounced in almost exactly the same way.

The pharmacy symbol tends not to be standard across Canada. Some pharmacies use a combination of the green cross which is familiar to Europeans and the Bowl of Hygeia.

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.

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