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Drugs: How To Save Money When Buying Or Using

Outside Of The United States

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More and more people are purchasing prescription drugs outside of the U.S. because the price difference can be substantial, even for drugs which are manufactured in the U.S. and exported to the foreign country. According to one published report, the savings can be up to 70% of what we pay here.


  • Unless there are facts which justify the purchase, it is not legal to do either of the following:
    • Bring drugs purchased outside the United States back with you into the U.S. 
    • Receive by mail order- foreign made versions of U.S. made drugs.
  • Saving money is not considered to be legal justification for buying a drug from outside the country.


  • Despite the law, the reality is that neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Customs take steps to prevent Americans from crossing the border with a personal supply of prescription drugs (particularly when you have a valid prescription from your U.S. based doctor) or from receiving a personal supply of drugs by mail order.
  • Since the FDA's position is only a guide line, customs officers may stop a drug from entering the country. While there have been reports of some seizures of mail-order packages, by and large mail-order packages that are for personal use have not been confiscated.
  • Generally a personal supply is considered to be three months' worth of a drug bought for your own use.
  • According to recently published reports, the pharmaceutical companies are taking steps to stop foreign pharmacies and mail order companies (particularly Canadian) from selling U.S. made drugs back to U.S. residents. However, even those efforts apparently do not involve enforcement activities against individuals who obtain prescription drugs for personal use.
  • NOTE: If ordering drugs through the mail, check to learn about storage requirements. For instance, some drugs such as insulin need to be refrigerated or lose their effectivness. Other drugs should not be exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold. If you are concerned about the manner of shipping, contact the supplier.

Before purchasing drugs from outside the U.S., keep in mind:

  • Prices may not be cheaper. Be sure to compare before purchasing.
  • The lack of FDA supervision. The FDA has no control over drugs produced outside of the U.S. As a practical matter, this means:
    • The safety and usefullness of the drug has not been subjected to the FDA's rigorous standards.
    • The FDA has no control over drug manufacturing outside the U.S.
    • There is no assurance that what you are getting isn't a counterfeit knock-off of the real drug.
    • NOTE: Even for drugs manufactured in the U.S., the FDA has no supervision over storage or handling of the drug.
  • There is a procedure to authorize import  of a limited quantity of drugs for personal use to treat serious illness when the drug is not available in the U.S. If you wish to purchase medication from outside the United States for treatment that is not available here, and want to assure there will be no difficulties importing the drug, speak to your doctor about applying for Investigation New Drug (IND), Compassionate IND, or Treatment IND exemptions to the import regulations.To learn more, see the FDA webs

NOTE: If you are going to go to a neighboring country to purchase prescription drugs, click here for Canada, here for Mexico.

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