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Expat Exchange - Prescription Medications and Pharmacies in Japan
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Prescription Medications and Pharmacies in Japan

By Joshua Wood, LPC

SJB Global
SJB Global

Summary: Develop a basic understanding of prescription medication procedures and pharmacies before you need them in Japan.

Prescription Medications and Pharmacies in Japan

For expats and digital nomads considering a move to Japan, understanding the healthcare system, particularly the availability and accessibility of prescription medications, is crucial. Japan offers a high standard of medical care, but navigating the pharmaceutical landscape can be different from what many are accustomed to in their home countries.

Pharmacies in Japan

In Japan, pharmacies, known as "yakkyoku" in Japanese, are widespread and can be found in both urban and rural areas. They are typically well-stocked and staffed by licensed pharmacists who are knowledgeable about a wide range of medications. However, language barriers can be an issue, so it's advisable for expats and digital nomads to learn some basic Japanese medical terms or use translation apps when visiting a pharmacy. Most medications, including over-the-counter drugs, are kept behind the counter, so you will need to ask the pharmacist for assistance.

Purchasing Prescription Medications in Japan

Prescription medications in Japan are indeed purchased at pharmacies. However, before you can buy prescription drugs, you must first visit a doctor and obtain a prescription. Japan has a strict policy on prescriptions, and medications that may be available over the counter in other countries could require a prescription in Japan. It's also important to note that some medications available abroad might not be approved for use in Japan, so it's essential to check the availability of your specific medication beforehand.

Are Prescriptions Needed for Medications in Japan?

Japan requires prescriptions for most medications, especially those that are potent or have potential for abuse. While some basic over-the-counter remedies for common ailments like colds, headaches, or allergies can be purchased without a prescription, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional if you're unsure about the medication you need. Additionally, Japan's strict drug laws mean that bringing certain over-the-counter or prescription medications from your home country without proper documentation can lead to legal issues.

Cost of Prescription Medications in Japan

Prescription medications in Japan can be expensive, but the cost is often mitigated by the country's national health insurance system, which covers most residents, including expats who have lived in Japan for more than three months. Under this system, patients typically pay only 30% of the cost of their prescription medications. However, for those without insurance or for medications not covered by insurance, the costs can be significant. It's advisable to check if your medication is covered by insurance and to consider additional private insurance plans if necessary.

Important Considerations for Expats and Digital Nomads in Japan

Expats and digital nomads in Japan should be aware of several important considerations regarding prescription medications. It's crucial to bring a sufficient supply of any necessary medications with you, along with a copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining the need for the medication. This preparation can help prevent any issues at customs and provide you with enough time to find a local healthcare provider in Japan. Additionally, it's wise to research the generic names of your medications, as brand names may differ in Japan. Lastly, always carry your health insurance card with you, as you will need it to fill prescriptions at a local pharmacy.

Expats Talk About Prescriptions in Japan

"Pharmacies are usually attached to hospitals or clinics and require prescriptions. There are drugstores for over-the-counter medicine. Prescription medicine is priced pretty low, depending on what coverage and costs you are used to," commented one expat living in Tokyo, Japan.

"There are pharmacies in every neighborhood and they are easily accessible and reasonably priced. However, being in Japan, some medications may not be available or provided. Therefore, check which medications are available before moving to Japan," mentioned one expat living in Japan.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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