The People's Guide To Mexico

Staying Healthy in Mexico
Buying prescription Drugs in Mexico

Buying Prescription Drugs In Mexico
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Part 3

How do I know if the medicine I want is actually available in Mexico?

You don’t. In fact, Mexico does not import or manufacture every brand and doseage of medicines found in the U.S. To be absolutely certain, you’ll either have to visit a Mexican farmacia or contact the folks at the farmacia mentioned above. Keep in mind, however, that the cost per pill of many medicines is as much as the minimum daily wage in Mexico. Large border cities and major resorts that cater to affluent tourists are more likely to have expensive medicines, as are huge interior Mexican cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City. You can also try the website at for lists of foreign brand names and availability of various medicines in Mexico. (David offers a review of the rxlist website at the end of this FAQ.)

In general, Mexico seems to dote on drugs used to treat high blood pressure. As a result, it is common to find both exotic and expensive medicines for high blood pressure in larger farmacias. In contrast, opiate varieties and derivitives are somewhat limited, as are psychotropics. Valium is common, Librium and Ativan less so, Quaaludes are banned, and Dalmane and Rohypnol seem to be non-existant. Penicillin, amoxycillin, tetracycline, ampicillin, keflex, vibramycin, Ciprofloxacin, and related antibiotics can all be found in Mexico.

In the land of enchiladas and jalapeno chiles, it should be no surprise that stomach remedies such as Tagamet, Pepcid, and Prilosec abound. Birth control pills, prednisone and related medicines are also quite common, as are asthma inhalers, decongestants, antihistamines, and diabetes medicines (oral and intravenous). Diabetic test supplies are scarce and very expensive. Disease modifying drugs for arthritis such as Plaquenil and gold salts are not common.

How do I know if my medication is “controlled” or not?

Ask your physician or pharmacist.

Can I use a valid prescription written by my U.S. or Canadian doctor to buy controlled medications in Mexico?

The answer is emphatically, “No!”.

A foreign prescription in Mexico is as useless as trying to use a foreign prescription in the United States. Of course you can always show a U.S. prescription to a Mexican physician, and it may or may not convince her of your need for a controlled medicine. By law, however, Mexican pharmacies cannot honor foreign prescriptions.

You need a valid U.S. or Canadian prescription to bring any controlled medications back into the U.S., even if you bought them with a valid Mexican prescription.

A U.S. Customs inspector will ask you for a valid U.S. or Canadian prescription when you declare more than fifty doses of a controlled medicine. This prescription will be in addition to the Mexican prescription you used to purchase the meds in Mexico, which you absolutely must have.

The Customs inspector’s job is to determine the possible potential for abuse. To put it bluntly, anyone coming into the U.S. who declares a large amount of controlled medicines without presenting a U.S. doctor's prescription is assumed to be habituated to that drug. In other words... an addict, however lawful and respectable they might otherwise appear.

Regardless of how you personally feel about this policy, it is enforced and cannot be ignored. Whether they will allow more than fifty doses is anyone's guess.

I’ve heard somewhere that I can buy Mexican pharmaceuticals over the Internet or through the mail?

The answer to this one is definitely, “No”!”

Don’t be scammed and ripped off! Unscrupulous companies that promise to deliver any kind of Mexican pharmaceuticals are simply out to steal your money. As of this writing, foreign medicines cannot enter the USA without passing through U.S. Customs. U.S. law says that drugs cannot be mailed, shipped, or brought into the country for you by a well-meaning friend.

This law is so strict that you can’t even carry medicines for the person standing beside you in U.S. Customs!

Please understand this point clearly: unless a U.S. doctor orders medicines for you through a U.S. pharmaceutical house, it is a felony to send or receive medicine by mail, UPS, Federal Express, or any other means. The DEA treats this offense very, very seriously!

My brother-in-law swears I can buy diethyl-ribo-euphoric-dipsocaine for pennies in Mexico. Will U.S. Customs hassle me if I tuck a couple thousand of these in my suitcase when I come back from Acapulco? (For my personal use only, of course, wink.wink.)

Sorry, but as I mentioned earlier, The People’s Guide to Mexico can’t answer this. You’ll have to contact the U.S. Customs service or Drug Enforcement Agency and ask them yourself.

What if I need a controled medicine?

What follows next is a hypothetical scenario that assumes you are under a doctor's care and taking a maintenance dose of a controlled medication. You’d also like to purchase a rather large quantity of the drug (more than fifty tablets) and bring it through U.S. Customs -- but legally, without ending up behind bars. This is what I would do:

1. Ask my personal physician to write a letter on his letterhead, stating that my medical condition requires the drug I want on a maintenance basis. (See the suggested sample letter below.)

2. Obtain a "Bulk Prescription" from this same doctor for a large quantity of the drug. Keep the prescription with you.

3. Stop at U.S. Customs on the way into Mexico and ask to see a supervisor.

4. Discuss with the supervisor why you would like to import a large amount of the controlled drug. Get the supervisor’s name and establish a clear path of communication. This person is your fallback contact in case another inspector “flags” the medicine upon your return.

5. Find a Mexican doctor and show your personal doctor's letter and prescription. It is a waste of time to ask for a bulk Mexican prescription without these documents.

6. Obtain a factura (receipt) for the meds you buy from the farmacia.

7. Declare your medicines at U.S. Customs and be prepared for a delay.

Sample medication letter from a U.S. or Canadian physician.

The letter below should be written on the physician’s letterhead.

"To Whom It May Concern:

Mr. /Mrs ____________ is under ongoing treatment for various medical conditions. Part of this treatment regimen includes the use of (insert drug names here), which have been prescribed by (insert doctor's name here)."

signature of physician”

I would have this letter notarized, if only for the impressive, authoritative effect of additional seals and stamps. I’d also make several copies of the letter, and keep one at home.

Your information is all well-and-good but why do I hear so many different stories about buying medications in Mexico from different people? You say one thing and someone else says something else completely different! What’s the real story?

You are absolutely correct; there’s a lot of information, mis-information and half-truths out there. For example, someone may report that they purchased a sack full of Valium and codeine without a prescription at a friendly little farmacia in Valle de Los Podridos. Maybe they did... but if so, both the purchaser and the pharmacy that sold the drugs broke a serious law. Sooner or later they’re going to get caught (several hundred farmacias are busted every year; many of these go out of business).

It’s one thing to rely on a friend-of-a-friend’s advice when you’re looking for information on hotels in Cancun, but quite another if you’re shopping for medications. Rather than risk Mexican jail-time or a stiff fine by U.S. Customs -- read our advice carefully, and don’t take chances

Continue with: How many Mexican meds will U.S. Customs let me bring into the United States?

©1972-2003 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens