How to Fill Prescriptions and Find Medical Specialists Abroad

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A stumbling block for many aspiring expats is healthcare: where to go, which doctors to see, and how to get prescriptions. We can help with that.

Getting Your Prescription in a New Country

First, you must know that prescriptions do not work across national borders. A prescription from your home doctor generally can’t be filled by a pharmacist in another country. However, there are still plenty of options for you to get your medications abroad! These include…

Over-the-counter medications may be more available in other countries

It’s possible that the medication you need is available over the counter in other countries. Many countries in Latin America and Europe treat prescriptions quite differently than in the U.S. and Canada. Many more medications are available over the counter than you may be used to. The easiest way to check is to simply visit your local pharmacy in your new country and talk to your pharmacist.

Getting a local prescription

If your prescription is for a medication that requires some regulation or control (e.g. strong painkillers), is for treatment of a more serious condition, or is a particularly expensive medication, you are more likely to require a prescription from a local doctor. Typically the most efficient way to get a prescription locally will be to make an appointment with a doctor and bring with you both your prescription from home and a letter (translated if necessary) from your home doctor. This can greatly expedite the process of setting up medication in your new country.

Alternative and substitute medications abroad

You may find that your particular medication is unavailable in another country, but that there is a close substitute. This may be a generic option rather than a brand-name drug, or a similar class of medication that has similar effects. We recommend that you discuss the similarities and differences with your local pharmacist and/or doctor.

Private ordering

Many countries with nationalized health care will have a more limited medication list available to patients in the public system. In order to access the drug you have been prescribed at home, it is possible you will need to place an order through a private hospital or doctor’s office. Of course, this means that the expense may be much higher than a steeply discounted or free drug available through a national healthcare system.


You may need to do some math – is it more cost-effective to purchase the drug privately in your new country, or should you maintain health insurance and prescription coverage at home, traveling back regularly or getting your prescription sent to you abroad?

How to Find Medical Specialists Internationally

Medical referral systems in other countries

The first step in identifying a great specialist is to figure out how your new country treats referrals. Do specialists or does your insurance require referrals from a primary care physician? In many countries the answer is no. However, if you are seeking care under a national healthcare system, you may need to start your search for a specialist by inquiring via your local clinic or hospital. In still other countries, and often under private health insurance abroad, you can simply do some research and set up an appointment directly with your specialist of choice.

How to source recommendations for medical specialists abroad

If you have much experience as an expat, you’ll know that one of the richest sources of information is other expats, particularly expats who are local to your new town or city. Therefore, the first place we recommend starting to find recommendations for any type of specialist is a local expat Facebook group. Some expat Facebook groups are much better than others – if possible, find a private group that is specific to your geographic region or city. You can then search old posts for recommendations, or pose your own question to the group. This is a particularly good route if you want to find an English-speaking doctor in a place where English fluency is not typical or cannot be assumed.


You could also start with a reputable hospital network to find medical specialists. Certain hospitals may have particularly strong reputations in particular specialities, such as oncology or obstetrics. Or perhaps there are a few hospitals in your new country that are well-respected across the board where you could seek any kind of care with confidence.


Note that if you are seeking care within a public healthcare system your ability to select your own specialist may be much more limited. You may have to be flexible in whom you see for your care based on geography, who is more available, or when you are seeking care.

StartAbroad is here to help

Get a free consultation with international move experts at StartAbroad to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. StartAbroad provides a comprehensive suite of services to make your move abroad as easy and painless as possible. StartAbroad’s international moving experts have over 20+ years of experience living abroad and helping others get settled. Get a free consultation at to discuss your situation and learn what’s right for you. Ask us about our holistic concierge package, and our medical, visa, and tax solutions!

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