The standard of healthcare in the Netherlands is generally high. Having come top in a variety of European surveys over the years, the Dutch health system has secured its place in the upper echelons of healthcare. However, there will still be some surprises for expats moving to the Netherlands, particularly when it comes to picking up prescriptions.
Registering With A Pharmacy
Because of the nature of the Dutch health insurance system, in which residents must by law sign up for a private health insurance policy, rules and regulations can differ widely across the country.
Depending on the insurance premium you have chosen and the nature of your policy, there might be restrictions on which pharmacies you are allowed to visit. Some plans — particularly the more basic ones — only cover specific pharmacies, meaning that you may not be able to pick up your prescriptions from the pharmacist closest to your home or doctor’s surgery. You can find out which pharmacies are included in your plan by talking to your insurer or looking through your policy documents.
Once you have found out which pharmacies you are able to visit, you should then find out whether you need to register there. Although some pharmacies will distribute medications if you simply turn up with a prescription from your doctor, others will require you to register at their pharmacy as well as at the doctor’s surgery before they will allow you to pick up medications. This makes it easier for the pharmacist to find you on their system and to work out repeat prescriptions where required.
Registering with a pharmacist is straightforward: you simply need to take in your health insurance card and proof of your identity. You will then be able to pick up prescriptions from your pharmacist, and they will also be able to advise you about over-the-counter medications for common complaints such as colds, aches and pains.
What Medications Are Available In The Netherlands?
Pharmacists in the Netherlands stock a wide range of prescription and over-the-counter medications, so you should be able to find something that suits your needs. However, some expats, particularly those from the US, find that the medications they are used to being prescribed back home are either restricted or completely unavailable in the Netherlands, and it can be difficult to find a direct replacement.
Any drug that can be considered a ‘narcotic’ or ‘sedative’ will probably fall under restrictions in the Netherlands. This includes heavy pain killers such as morphine, and most medications for ADHD and related disorders.
When you first move to the Netherlands, you may bring a limited supply of medication with you from your home country, but if the medicines you are bringing are on the list of restricted substances then your doctor will need to fill in a Dutch medical certificate stating what you need to take and why, otherwise your medication will be confiscated at the border.
You can find out whether your medications are prescribed in the Netherlands, and whether you are allowed to bring them with you without an accompanying doctor’s certificate, by checking to see if they are listed in the Opium Act. This is in Dutch, so you might need to look at it with a translator.
Expats moving from the US will often find that their US health insurance will only cover a prescription for up to a month. This means that once you have arrived in the Netherlands, you have one month in which to sign up to a health insurance policy, receive your health card, register with a doctor, and find a new prescription if your original one is not available. Since it is not possible to buy strong medications over the counter, and since you cannot visit your doctor until you are registered with them, this can present a challenge for new expats. If you are worried about not having enough medication to cover your needs, speak to your doctor in your home country before you move to find out whether you can get an extended prescription because you are moving abroad.
Once you have settled in and registered with a doctor, they should be able to find a medicine to suit your needs, although there may be a period of adjustment while you get used to the new prescription and any attendant side effects. You might also find that the substitution is not directly one-for-one: you may need a couple of new medications to manage your condition.
Paying For Prescriptions
Depending on the level of cover you have from your insurer, you might need to pay for some of the cost of your prescriptions. Those who have taken out a Restitutiepolis — the fullest level of health insurance cover — will usually be reimbursed for 100% of medical fees, including prescription medication. However, if you have chosen any other kind of insurance policy, you might not be reimbursed for the full amount.
It is not just your health insurer who will set the price of your prescriptions: this is also partly up to your pharmacist. Some pharmacists charge for the checks they undertake whenever they receive a prescription from a doctor, to ensure that the right dose and amount of medication has been prescribed; others charge for checks against your current medications; and some charge for the dispensing of medications. If the pharmacist has to explain how to use the medication, they may also charge for this. Usually your pharmacist will have a single policy covering all visits, so check with them to see whether you will be required to pay any fees on top of the prescription itself, and then check with your insurer to see whether these fees will be reimbursed.
The basic price of your medication might change depending on your insurer, since prices are set by pharmacists in collaboration with health insurance companies. This means that two people getting the same prescription from the same pharmacy might be charged different amounts, depending on which insurer they are with and what package they have chosen. If you are worried about the cost of your prescriptions, you can visit Medicijnkosten.nl, an official Dutch medicine site, to find out whether a cheaper version of your prescription is available.
Whether your insurer pays for your medications directly, or whether you pay upfront and are reimbursed later, will again depend on the insurer and the premium you have chosen. If your pharmacy has a contract with your health insurer, you will not need to pay for the medication, so if you are worried about upfront costs then it is worth shopping around for an insurer that has a contract with a pharmacy near you.
Would you like to share your experience of life abroad with other readers? Answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!