“Ahhh Choo!” Oh no! Could that sneeze be the start of a cold? Is your whole body aching after that surfing lesson? Did you break out in a weird rash after eating too many mangos? Time to find a Costa Rica pharmacy!
“Do I have to see a doctor?” Maybe not. For illnesses that are not serious, you can visit your local pharmacy (farmacia) and consult the pharmacist. Every Costa Rican pharmacy is required to have a licensed pharmacist on site and he or she has some medical training that enables them to assess common symptoms and recommend treatments. These pharmacological “doctors” are a wealth of information and always very helpful. Simply describe your symptoms, and they will recommend a medicine. Because Costa Rica is not as litigious as the U.S., the advice is dispensed freely without fear of legal repercussions. However, no diagnostic examination (like taking your temperature) will be done nor is treatment applied, such as salves or bandaging. Surprisingly, they will do injections! If your symptoms are severe or it is an emergency, you will need to see a doctor or go to an emergency room.
Many medications that require a prescription in the United States can be bought over-the-counter in Costa Rica. Blood pressure medicine, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and birth control pills can all be obtained without a prescription. Generally speaking, only antibiotics, opiates or psychotropic drugs will need to be prescribed by a doctor.
Pharmacies carry drugs manufactured by many countries, so if you need a particular brand from a U.S. drug manufacturer, you may be better off bringing a supply with you. If a pharmacy does carry a U.S. brand, it will likely be more expensive. However, generic versions of all the most-used medications are available and reasonably priced. If you are shown your requested medicine and the price seems a bit high, ask if they carry another brand. They usually offer you the most expensive product first, but there are lower-priced brands available.
There are several medicines available in Costa Rica which are not sold in the U.S. and many of them are very good. Be sure to do your research before trying anything new.
If you don’t know what your medicine is called in Spanish, just do a Google search for the generic name. Since generic names are Latin-based, the Spanish equivalent is very similar. For example, insulin is insulina, Enalapril (for high blood pressure) is enalapril, and Levothyroxine (thyroid hormone) is levotiroxina.
The farmacias are also well stocked with products such as shampoos and lotions, deodorant and diapers, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines.
Prices vary from store to store. It is a good idea to ask local people which pharmacy they use. Ticos are very aware of even the slightest of price variances, so they will definitely know which is the cheapest. Farmacias Fischel is a big chain with stores in almost every town. Playas del Coco along with Fischel also has Farmacia Aloe where you can also find homeopathic remedies if that’s what you’re into or visit Farmacia Azul. So there are plenty of pharmacies to choose from.
If you decide to become a resident one of the requirements is to join the Costa Rica national health care system (CCSS—the “caja”), there is no charge for the medications you receive at the local clinic. Be aware, however, that the caja does not have every medication in its catalog of medicines. It is not like walking up to a counter and asking for whatever you want. For example, if you take blood pressure medicine, the caja may offer just two or three different kinds of ACE inhibitors, rather than the 20 different ones that are on the market.
So, treat that cold or aching back to a quick trip to your local pharmacy and a chat with the pharmacist. Good health to you!