How to Buy Over-the-Counter Drugs at a Mexican Pharmacy

How to Buy Over-the-Counter Drugs at a Mexican Pharmacy

Mexico is the world’s 15th largest consumer of pharmaceutical drugs. Drugstores, almost as ubiquitous as Oxxos (Mexico’s equivalent to 7-11), allow the purchase of most medications without an official prescription.

About 400 laboratories in the country manufacture pharmaceuticals, with 20 of the world’s top 25 pharmaceutical companies maintaining a local manufacturing presence. The U.S. is Mexico’s largest supplier of foreign-made medications, exporting approximately $875 million per year in pharmaceuticals.

If you plan to live or spend extended time in Mexico, understanding how Mexican drugstores operate can be beneficial when you feel under the weather. Here are some basic tips and insights on dealing with drugstores in Mexico.

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How Drugstores in Mexico Operate

Drugstore is an important part of a healthcare system in Mexico.

There are two main types of drugstores in Mexico: smaller, independently-owned ones and larger drugstore franchises.

Smaller drugstores, often opened by wealthy individuals and sometimes run as a family business, are commonly found interspersed with other small businesses in commercial areas. Their prices are usually slightly higher than those in larger chains.

Drugstore franchises are typically large and prominent. They are often located in malls, on busy street corners, or in residential areas as standalone buildings.

In Mexico, there are no specific laws about who can open or own a drugstore. However, laws do prohibit physicians from practicing or prescribing inside one. To circumvent these laws, many drugstores form arrangements with nearby clinics or individual practices to refer patients. Numerous drugstores also feature a walk-in clinic in a small, attached building on the same property, with a distinctly separate entrance.

These clinics can assess your condition and prescribe necessary medications inexpensively, despite any potential conflicts of interest.

Most clerks at Mexican drugstores lack significant clinical expertise, though they typically have access to comprehensive prescription drug manuals like the Physician’s Desk Reference. Some clerks are very knowledgeable and offer reliable recommendations, while others may not differentiate between aspirin and acetaminophen.

Mexican drugstore practices vary widely, with some adhering to strict corporate rules requiring comprehensive documentation for every sale, while others may dispense almost any medication with a persuasive request and sufficient cash.

Most of Mexico’s biological and pharmaceutical chemistry graduates (QFBs) enter the manufacturing industry rather than working in drugstores. About a third of Mexico’s drugstores employ a full-time QFB.

Legal regulations only require drugstores selling controlled substances to have a QFB on site for a few hours each week [source].

Medications in Mexico are typically prepackaged in neat little boxes, with pills individually sealed in blister packs instead of in plastic bottles.

Do I Need a Prescription?

In most of Mexico, prescriptions are strictly enforced only for antibiotics and controlled narcotics known to cause dependencies, such as opioids and some sleep and anti-anxiety medications.

If you encounter a drugstore willing to sell addictive pharmaceuticals, like Oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax, Ativan, etc., without a prescription, you should approach both the store and the drugs with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s technically required to show a prescription when purchasing antibiotics, but occasionally, some smaller drugstores may still sell them over the counter.

You might not need prescriptions when buying pills from a small drugstore.

There are also many medications requiring prescriptions in other countries that Mexico doesn’t regulate heavily, including:

  • Pain relief medications like Tramadol
  • SSRIs and other antidepressants such as Wellbutrin and Celexa
  • High blood pressure medications like Atenolol and Lisinopril
  • Cholesterol-reducing medications like Simvastatin
  • Insulin and other diabetes medications
  • Digestive medications like Omeprazole
  • Medications that treat erectile dysfunction, such as Viagra
  • Birth control pills
  • Corticosteroids like Prednisone
  • Anti-parasitic medications like Ivermectin

Of course, vitamins, supplements, and other generally over-the-counter medications are readily available without paperwork at any Mexican drugstore.

How to Get a Prescription in Mexico

If you need to refill a medication for which you have a prescription from another country, you can bring your foreign prescription or empty pill bottle to a doctor in Mexico. They will review it and write you a valid Mexican prescription for a small fee.

If you don’t have a foreign prescription or pill bottle, it’s easy to arrange a medical consultation with a general practitioner or specialist to have your case reviewed and the right medication prescribed. You can also explain your problem to the medical professional in the walk-in clinic attached to a drugstore, and they will typically issue you a prescription that you can fill in the store.


This method is effective for obtaining antibiotics but less so for acquiring opioids and other addictive pharmaceuticals. Controlled substances like these are difficult to obtain in Mexico, and you can usually only purchase them legally with a prescription from an authorized doctor at a licensed drugstore linked to a hospital.

Brand-Name or Generic Medicine?

According to Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier, over 90% of all medications sold in the country are generic. The widespread availability of non-branded medicine helps ensure low-income and rural communities can afford the treatments they need.

Since 2010, all generic medications sold legally in Mexico must undergo rigorous bioequivalence testing.

As a result, the popular generic drugstore franchise Farmacias Similares invested millions of dollars to test their entire lineup, with other manufacturers quickly following suit.

Today, Mexico’s Federal Committee for Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS), responsible for overseeing compliance with medical laws, certifies that most generic medications have received bioequivalence approval for quality and dosage, differing only in minor aspects such as shape, color, and packaging.

In 2022, the Mexican government amended its General Health Law to require that all medical prescriptions, marketing, and other references use the generic name when referring to a medication, rather than a specific brand name.

This practice, endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), makes most local medications much more affordable than their equivalents in the U.S. However, imported pharmaceuticals are often slightly more expensive than in the U.S.

How to Find a Trustworthy Drugstore in Mexico

In general, the most trustworthy Mexican drugstores are the nationwide franchises, as they are the most highly regulated and supervised.

You can usually trust the pharmacy sections in large department stores like Walmart and Costco.

If you want a local recommendation, you can ask any independent general practitioner in town which drugstores they consider reliable.

You can also ask your health insurance provider.

local pharmacy in Mexico
There are many pharmacies in Mexico. But not all of them is trustworthy.

Try to avoid tourist-oriented drugstores that push popular American pharmaceuticals like Viagra and Vicodin with blatant English marketing.

Here are a few of the most trustworthy drugstores in Mexico:

  • Farmacias del Ahorro, established in 1991, now has 1,600 locations across Mexico.
  • Farmacias Benavides has over 1,000 branches in 20 Mexican states and is part of Walgreens Boots Alliance’s International Retail Division, lending it global reliability.
  • Farmacias Similares, a generic-only franchise, operates more than 8,000 stores in Mexico and Chile. It offers a 25% discount on all items every Monday.
  • Farmacias Guadalajara, also known as Super Farmacia, has over 2,000 branches around Mexico and offers around-the-clock home deliveries.
  • Farmacia San Pablo, a self-service drugstore franchise with a home delivery system, is located in Mexico City, Queretaro, and Puebla.

You’ll find similar pricing in most of the above drugstores, with the exception of Farmacias del Ahorro and Farmacias Similares.

Farmacias del Ahorro sells a line of generic medications that are cheaper than the brand-name drugs found in most other franchises, and the generics sold by Farmacias Similares are known for being the most affordable drugs available.

The Best Online Drugstores in Mexico

Some trustworthy physical drugstores also have strong online presences, while some of Mexico’s best digital drugstores are exclusively online.

Here are a few of Mexico’s most reliable online drugstores:

Prixz is known as Mexico’s largest online-only drugstore franchise. It has expanded its online presence through partnerships with online retailers like Amazon, Mercado Libre, and Cornershop, as well as delivery apps like Rappi.

Its AI-based compliance feature allows you to scan and verify your prescription, enabling Prixz to deliver most prescribed medications to your doorstep. Required information includes the prescribing doctor’s name, institution of origin, specialty, and identification number, as well as the drug’s name, dosage, and formula. Prescriptions for antibiotics require a digital signature, while other controlled medications have stricter signature requirements.

Farmacias similares
If you do not want to visit a drug store in person, you can buy it online right now.

Farmasmart offers over 15,000 medical products online in nearly 20 categories, including antivirals, cardiovascular medications, and contraceptives. You can enter your shipping details for home deliveries or pick up your products at a nearby physical location.

Farmacias del Ahorro’s online presence includes a rewards system called “Monedero del Ahorro” that gives you in-store credit every time you buy a participating product on its app or website.

Farmacias Similares’ online store provides home deliveries for most medications in its generic lineup. It also partners with Amazon and Mercado Libre, offering exclusive online deals on certain presentations and flavors of its medications.

Farmacias Benavides offers free shipping for orders placed on its website. You can also order medications from Benavides using popular delivery apps like UberEats and Rappi for quicker home deliveries.

Farmacia San Pablo has a mobile app for

Can I Bring Medications Back into the U.S.?

If you have any prescription medications with you while crossing back into the U.S., you’ll need to declare them at customs.

This also applies to medications that are controlled in the U.S. but not in Mexico. If a border agent finds an undeclared controlled medication in your luggage, they may confiscate it.

Here are a few more rules to be aware of when returning to the U.S. with medications purchased in Mexico:

  • Prescribed medications must be in their original labeled containers.
  • Bring your prescription or a note from your physician stating that you need the medications while traveling and are using them under your doctor’s supervision.
  • Bring only a reasonable amount for personal use.
  • If you have a medication that is legal in Mexico but hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), you won’t be allowed to bring it into the U.S. unless you adhere to these guidelines:
  • The medication must treat a serious condition for which no other effective treatment is available.
  • It must not pose an unreasonable risk.
  • You cannot bring more than a three-month supply.
  • You must provide a written statement affirming it’s for your personal use only.
  • You must also provide the name and address of the U.S. physician overseeing your treatment or evidence that the medication will be used to continue a treatment begun overseas.


Now, on to You

Drugstores in Mexico can be a good way to find essential medications at a lower cost, as long as you understand how to find reliable providers and avoid tourist traps.

You can purchase most legal drugs without a prescription, but if you genuinely need antibiotics or other controlled substances, prescriptions are easy to obtain from most local physicians and clinics.

Most medications sold in Mexico are generic alternatives to popular brand-name drugs, and you’ll generally receive comparable quality while spending much less than you would in the U.S. If you plan to bring medications purchased in Mexico back to the U.S., make sure you understand and comply with the relevant U.S. regulations to avoid confiscations and other consequences.

Joseph Johnston
Joseph Johnston is a writer and amateur wizard with unruly, but not outrageous, eyebrows. His restless toes traipsed him through the bristling barrios of a couple dozen mystical kingdoms before settling on settling down in Mexico and the U.S., where he currently splits his time between the state of Jalisco and the state of Georgia. Thanks to infinite patience & a few magic spells, he's earned his Mexican citizenship, turned most of his Ns into Ñs, and replaced most of the cells in his body with Mexican food.

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