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Prescriptions and Medications

Hong Kong - Prescriptions and Medications

Expats will find that most of the prescription and over the counter medicines that they use at home are available for purchase in Hong Kong pharmacies. There are many pharmacies located throughout Hong Kong, but Mannings and Watsons are the biggest and these also carry such items as cosmetics and general health care supplies.

Drugs in Hong Kong are classified into three systems: category 1, category 2, and category 3. Drugs in category 1 can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription at registered pharmacies. Some types of these medications include antibiotics, tranquilizers, and other drugs that could be used to treat serious medical conditions. Those in category 2 must still be sold in registered pharmacies but a doctor’s prescription is not needed to purchase them. These might still be labeled “poison”, though, as per the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance. The word is used as a cautionary measure to warn users that the medicine must be taken properly and not abused. Category 3 medicines can be sold in medicine stores or pharmacies that do not have a resident pharmacist onsite. Some of these types of medicines include those that are used to treat minor illnesses such as sore throats.

All hospitals have pharmacies on sites that are open 24 hours. In private hospitals, expats should also find pharmacies that have English speaking staff on hand to assist them. Even if language is an issue, however, a written prescription should be enough to get you the medicine that you need. When you visit the doctor, a prescription should be given to you before you leave the office.

At some stores, including Watsons and Mannings, you can also find traditional Chinese medicine and herbal remedies. These are particularly popular with the local population. Traditional Chinese Medicine is also increasingly being offered in clinics at several public hospitals. Some of these treatments include herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, and moxibustion. There are some drugs, like ephedra, that are legal in Hong Kong but prohibited in other parts of the world. You do not need a prescription for a lot of the traditional Chinese medicines. Even in the larger stores, though, you will need a prescription from a local doctor to you the medicines that are controlled. Prescriptions that were written by doctors in your native country are not valid.

There are other local pharmacies available in addition to Mannings and Watsons. Pharmacies in areas such as the Mid-Levels, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Causeway Bay should have English speaking staff on hand since they are popular with expats and located in largely touristy areas.

Registered pharmacists must oversee the pharmacies in Hong Kong. The pharmacist must obtain a pharmacy degree and pass a written examination from the Department of Health to become registered. On the Pharmaceutical Service of the Department of Health’s website, there is a list of registered pharmacies in Hong Kong. It is largely considered unsafe to purchase medicine from non-licensed pharmacies since the drugs might contain other substances. The official pharmacies have an “Rx” symbol in front.

Pharmacies are usually open from 10 am-7 pm 7 days a week. Every district has at least one clinic that has a 24 hour pharmacy in case there is an emergency. You might also find some pharmacies that have longer opening hours, too.

Some expats might find that medicines they take at home that are only available by prescription can be found in Hong Kong without one. For instance, codeine can be sold by licensed pharmacists without a prescription in doses up to 0.1% (5 mg/5ml). Anything higher than that, however, must have a prescription from a physician.

Drug Office
Email: pharmgeneral@dh.gov.hk

Expat Health Insurance Partners

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