Do You Need a Prescription for Online Canadian Pharmacies?

Always use caution when ordering a prescription from an online Canadian pharmacy.
Always use caution when ordering a prescription from an online Canadian pharmacy. (Image: "Fix" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Shutr under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

With the cost of medications on the rise in the United States, many people are turning to online Canadian pharmacies in the hopes of finding discounted prices or relaxed rules regarding prescriptions. It’s important to remember, however, that legitimate online pharmacies in Canada operate under similar ethical codes as stateside pharmacies. While it is possible to purchase a prescription from an online pharmacy that does not require a doctor’s script, it could invite a lot of unnecessary trouble for someone simply seeking medication.


Since prescription drug costs have skyrocketed in price, online pharmacies in other countries--especially Canada--have seen a boost in the number of American customers seeking medication.


Many people are under the impression that they can order any drug they like from an online Canadian pharmacy with no prescription and without breaking international law. This is not true. Any legitimate Canadian pharmacy, either a physical building or an online business, will require a valid doctor’s prescription.


There are plenty of “pharmacies” online, in Canada and elsewhere, that promise any medication without a prescription. It is important to remember that any online Canadian pharmacy working within the bounds of the law is licensed by a pharmacy board, is overseen by a licensed pharmacist, and follows the strict guidelines set forth by the Canadian government.


Use caution when purchasing your medication from an online pharmacy in any country. Double check with the pharmacist that you receive the exact medication indicated on your prescription.

While it is not legal to bring drugs into the United States from any foreign country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not intercept drugs imported from Canadian pharmacies as long as three criteria are met: the drug cannot be a controlled substance, it must be for personal use only, and it is no more than a 90-day supply.

Ordering prescription drugs that are approved by Health Canada but not by the FDA is illegal, but in this circumstance, too, the FDA will make exceptions if certain conditions apply. These are: the drug is for a serious condition and treatment is not available stateside, the prescribing pharmacy does not market the product to U.S. consumers, the medication does not pose unreasonable risk, the supply is for no more than 90 days and the person importing the drug states--in writing--that it is for the sole use of the patient and states the name and address of the patient’s U.S.-licensed doctor. If the drug is for the continuation of medical treatment received in a foreign country, the person importing the drug must provide evidence of this.

U.S. Customs, however, screens shipments randomly, looking for drugs with dangerous or unapproved ingredients and for bogus prescription medications.


If the pharmacy you’re dealing with does not follow Canadian law--such as by filling and shipping your order without a prescription--and U.S. Customs becomes aware of the transaction, you may be held accountable for trying to acquire the drugs. Penalties can be stiff: fines of thousands of dollars or time in jail.

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