Pharmacies in France are easily spottable by their blinking green cross neon sign. Read this guide to learn how and why French pharmacies are so different than American pharmacies. You will also learn what products are exclusively sold in French pharmacies and what parapharmacies are.
Pharmacies in France vs pharmacies in the U.S.
There are 6 major differences between a French pharmacy and an American pharmacy.
1. The space (or is it the atmosphere?)
Visiting RiteAid or Walgreens feels like entering any grocery store, except for the pharmacy section in the back. On the contrary, stepping foot into a French pharmacy feels nothing like entering a grocery store. Most pharmacies I know are a mix between a luxurious beauty store and a doctor’s office. The atmosphere is usually quiet because French pharmacies are rather small and intimate. The word that comes to mind is sanctuary.
2. Products sold in pharmacies in France
The French health ministry regulates which products can be sold in a French pharmacy. Aside from pharmaceutical medication, pharmacies can sell produits de parapharmacie (over-the-counter products) such as:
- personal care items
- some dietary supplements
- essential oils
In a French pharmacy, do not expect to buy beers, postcards or batteries. Do not think you can have your picture taken like you would in RiteAid or Walgreens either.
3. Professional advice
A French pharmacy is much more than a place to purchase medication. French people turn to their pharmacist for everyday bobos (boo-boos) as well as for more serious matters. Since the pharmacy staff is highly qualified (read on to find out why), you can ask medical advice on a wide range of situations like:
- removing a splinter
- asking for advice regarding your sick child
- best product against lice
- best sunscreen
You can also turn to your pharmacist to find a nurse or a local doctor.
In any case, the pharmacist will redirect you to another professional if he cannot help you.
Did you know?
In France, you can ask your pharmacist to take a look at the mushrooms you just picked in the woods to make sure they are safe to eat.
4. No prescription filling in pharmacies in France
Since French pharmacies deliver medication in the original packaging, you can take your medicine home right away. You only wait for specific medicinal mixture that the pharmacist has to prepare. The pharmacist usually handwrites the medication posology on the box itself.
Read Medical prescriptions in France to learn more on prescriptions.
In France, you do not bring home prescription pill bottles with your name on it. Your medication comes in the original packaging. Bring back your leftover medicine to your local pharmacy when you are done.
5. Business hours of pharmacies in France
Forget 24/7 pharmacies because typical business hours for a French pharmacy are 8:30am to 12:30pm and 2pm to 7pm. When you need to buy prescription drugs after hours, find the pharmacie de garde (on-call pharmacy) closest to you.
6. Nothing to pay
If you’re into the French healthcare system and you already have a mutuelle, you might not have to pay anything for prescribed medication. Remember to bring your carte vitale and your mutuelle’s carte de tiers-payant to buy prescription drugs.
Why are pharmacies in France different from pharmacies in the U.S.?
French pharmacies are pharmacist-owned
By law, only pharmacists can own pharmacies in France and one pharmacist cannot owe more than 1 pharmacy. As a consequence, there are no pharmacy chains in France.
All pharmacists in France hold a Docteur en Pharmacie diploma, which takes 6 to 9 years to obtain. Pharmacy staff is highly trained and one can safely rely on pharmacists for medical advice. Only Préparateurs en Pharmacie (pharmaceutical assistant) and Pharmaciens (pharmacists) are allowed to prepare and deliver medicine inside a pharmacy in France.
Pharmacies in France have exclusivity on over-the-counter medicine
Pharmacies in France are the only place where you can purchase over-the-counter medicine. Grocery stores in France do not sell any over-the-counter drug. If you are prone to headaches, head to your local pharmacy to get some Advil because you will not find it at Carrefour or Intermarché.
Don’t expect to find huge bottles of pills like you would at Costco or Walmart because medicine is only sold in small packages in France.
Pharmacies de garde (On-call pharmacies)
On Sundays, holidays and after hours, only pharmacies de garde (on-call pharmacies) are open. Pharmacies usually display the closest pharmacie de garde outside their building. Your local pharmacy might indicate the nearest pharmacy de garde on its answering machine as well. You can also use Servigardes to locate the nearest on-call French pharmacy.
Can one buy medicine online?
In France, selling prescription drugs online is forbidden by law. Over-the-counter items can be purchased online from the official list of pharmacies authorized. Only pharmacists who own a brick and mortar pharmacy can sell over-the-counter medicine online. Before starting filling your online shopping cart though, make sure the online pharmacy can deliver products because some sites only do pickups.
By law, over-the-counter medicine sold online require some interaction with the pharmacist. This is the reason why you have to fill out a questionnaire when ordering online to specify your age and current medication. Before sending your order, the pharmacist goes over your questionnaire to make sure the medicine does not interact with a drug you are taking.
On online pharmacy websites, go to the Médicaments section to purchase over-the-counter medication. When ordering online, you always have the possibility to pick up your order at the pharmacy linked to the website.
What’s a parapharmacie?
Parapharmacies sell over-the-counter non-medical items allowed in pharmacies. There are parapharmacie sections in some grocery stores as well. In a grocery store’s parapharmacie section, a pharmacist is available on site at all time. The parapharmacie section is an enclosed area inside the grocery store, with its own cash register.
Beauty products in parapharmacies
In parapharmacies, you can purchase beauty products from fabulous French cosmetics brands like Nuxe, Caudalie, Avène, La Roche Posay, Lancôme, Vichy, Uriage, just to name a few. No wonder French pharmacies attract many tourists trying to stock up on great beauty products.
One advantage of buying your cosmetics in a parapharmacie is that the cosmetics do not contain any forbidden ingredient. Overall, parapharmacies sell personal care items that are mostly healthy and natural.
Another great advantage is that the pharmacy staff can help you pick skincare products adapted to your type of skin. Again, do not hesitate to ask for advice in parapharmacies in France!
Even though I miss being able to make a quick run to the nearest 24/7 pharmacy for some batteries or whatnot, I love going to the pharmacy in France.
Now that you know all about French pharmacies, would you like to learn about Going to the Doctor in France?