Around a third of medications in Switzerland can only be obtained with a prescription, whilst the rest can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy.
To obtain a prescription an individual needs to visit their doctor, who will write one out. Prescription medication is covered by the Swiss Mandatory Health Insurance (MHI), therefore its cost is paid by the individual’s health insurance policy.There are plenty of pharmacies in Switzerland and it’s easy to recognise them by their sign: a green cross over a white background. Pharmacies will be able to fulfil the prescription and provide the patient with the medicine needed. 90% of the cost of the medication bought in a chemist is paid by the health insurance provider; the remaining 10% is paid by the individual.
When buying medication on prescription, patients need to show the pharmacy their insurance card. Pharmacies will invoice the health insurance provider for the full amount and the health insurance provider will invoice the individual for the remaining 10%. Some pharmacies allow the individual to pay the 10% directly to them.
If a patient has insurance but hasn’t been issued an insurance card, they will have to pay the cost of the medicine directly to the chemist and later send the receipt to their insurance company, who will reimburse it.
Non-prescription medications must be paid in full by the individual at the time of purchase. Generally, pharmacies don’t accept a non-Swiss prescription, so it is important to have one from a physician who is practicing in the country.
For a small fee, pharmacies can open a patient file in which they keep a record of all the medications the patient purchases. However, these records are not shared among pharmacies, so a patient will need to visit the same one in order to have their medications kept on file.
Since January 2019 more medicines have been made available without a prescription. The website of pharmaceutical regulator Swissmedic offers information on which medications can be obtained over the counter or with a prescription.
Medicines are very expensive in Switzerland – in fact, they are the dearest in Europe – so non-residents are advised to take with them any medications they might need when travelling here. Even over-the-counter medications such as painkillers and cold and flu tablets have a high price tag.
Pharmacies opening times and out-of-hours chemists
Pharmacies in Switzerland are open six days a week, Monday to Saturday. Their opening times are 8am to 6pm every day except Fridays, when pharmacies close at 5pm.
If an individual needs to purchase medication in an emergency outside of opening times, they can visit an out-of-hours chemist. However, the patient will have to expect to pay more for their medication. In Switzerland there are out-of-hours pharmacies in every neighbourhood and the nearest one can be located on SOS Pharmacy. The website is available in German, English, Italian and French.
Medicines and Prescriptions
It is important to remember that Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, therefore it is not part of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
In Switzerland the independent federal organisation Swissmedic (the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products) is the body responsible for pharmaceutical regulation and monitoring, and the approval of new medicines. Any medicine or medical device for humans or animals must be approved by Swissmedic before it can be used or sold in Switzerland.
Swiss pharmaceutical companies must prove that their products are effective and satisfactory and must apply to the Federal Office of Public Health before their medicines and medical devices are added to the Special List (SL). Once they are approved, medicines are covered by the MHI.
Swissmedic works closely with foreign agencies, so many medications available in Europe and the rest of the world are likely to be available in Switzerland too, but it’s worth checking if the medication needed is available in the country before moving there.
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