Obtaining Western medicine can be a challenge in Shanghai – even over-the-counter medication. China has strict rules on importing medicine, and it is not unusual for the Western pharmacies attached to the clinics to have limited medication, or standard medication at very high prices. Pharmacies in China are marked by a green cross and can be found at every corner. Though finding a pharmacy may be easy, finding English speaking staff in pharmacies is not.
If you’re fortunate, you will find a pharmacy that keeps a bilingual medical directory or has some staff that speak a few words of English (but not any medical terms). Fortunately many Chinese medications have the drug’s generic name in English on their box, but the directions and precautions will be all in Chinese. When you do find the medication you need, make sure to take the box with you the next time you visit the pharmacy in order to make the process easier for yourself.
Foreign clinics will often carry imported medications that you are used to from home, but you’ll pay much more for these than you would at home. On the other hand, many common Chinese medications sell for just a few dollars.
Chinese pharmacies carry over-the-counter drugs that are similar to those in most Western countries, but they probably won’t have a specific brand that you’re used to from home. Previously, many drugs requiring prescriptions in other countries were freely available in China, but this has changed due to tighter regulations. However, some pharmacies might sell you a prescription-drug without a prescription if you sign a statement releasing the pharmacy from any responsibility of potential harm you do to yourself.
Getting a prescription works pretty much the same in China as in any other country. You need to get a prescription paper from your doctor and take it to the pharmacy to purchase you medication. Chinese pharmacies will not recognize any prescriptions from abroad, with the lone exception of the Parkway Community Pharmacy in the Jinqiao area. If you have a prescription from you home country, you need to take it to a Chinese doctor and get a new Chinese prescription.
Some prescriptions that you may have been taking at home might not be available in China, so bring a stock of your needed drug with you and make sure that you keep the original prescription paper in case you are stopped by customs. If you urgently need a particular medication in China but can’t get it in the mainland, you might be able to obtain it in Hong Kong.
For any illness, especially those less serious, you have the option of using Chinese medicine. Very popular among locals, many expats have faith in this millenarian form of treatment, available in the same pharmacies where you buy Western medicines. Those who advocate these natural alternatives argue that by using Chinese medicine you avoid poisoning your body with chemicals, present in Western medicines, which can be harmful if used on a long time basis. It is a very personal decision, and in fact, this writer is not among those foreigners converted to Chinese medicine. Two reasons: the cure is much slower and avoiding chemicals in a city so polluted as Shanghai sounds like the person who after an abundant dinner asks for saccharine for the coffee. Of course, there is no harm in trying the local way.
There are no pharmacies that are open 24/7. Pharmacies that are tied to the large supermarkets, such as Carrefour, Lotus, and others, are usually open until 9-10 pm. The pharmacy at the Gubei Carrefour (corner of Shuicheng lu and Yan’an Xi lu) has people who can give adequate advice on medicines for various ailments. They deal with expats every day.
Drugstores in Shanghai:
- Herbalist Store
Retail shop for alternative health, herbal medicine and nutritional supplies
D-Mall, underneath People’s Square
Tel: 6390 6796 or 6528 0691
- Huadong Hospital Foreign Expatriate Dispensary
221 Yan An Xi Lu
- Huashan Foreign Expatriate Dispensary
12 Central Wulumuqi Rd
Tel: 6248 9999
- Parkway Community Pharmacy
(will accept overseas prescriptions)
333 BiYun Lu, 9B-102
- Ruijin Hospital Foreign Expatriate Dispensary
197 Ruijin Er Lu
Tel: 6437 0045
- Shanghai Jinjiang Drugstore
856 Huaihai Zhong Lu
Tel: 5404 7074
- Shanghai No. 1 Dispensary
616 Nanjing Rd (E)
Tel: 6322 4567
- Shanghai Wu Yao Pharmacy
201 Lianhua Lu
021 – 6294-1403
- Shanghai Wukang Drugstore
1848 Huaihai Zhong Lu
Tel: 6437 2763r
- Watson’s (many locations)
789 Central Huaihai Rd
Tel: 6474 4775
- Hua Shi Pharmacy
1376 West Nan Jing Road