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Pharmacies (Apotik) and Obtaining Medications in Indonesia

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expatriate information for Indonesia

Expat residents concerned with maintaining the health of their family during their stay in Indonesia will necessarily need to purchase over-the-counter and prescription medications during their stay to deal with unexpected illnesses and treat ongoing medical conditions. Many international medications are readily available in Jakarta and to a lesser extent in other population centers.

Consult your doctor before departure

If any family member requires prescribed medication, ask your doctor if you could obtain a supply of medication that will last until your next home leave in case Indonesian pharmacists do not carry the drugs required by your family. Note the expiration date of the drugs before purchase. Tell your pharmacist that you intend to use them over an extended period and confirm that drug strength will be remain the same. If the medications that you need have a short shelf life and they are not available in Indonesia, agencies such as International SOS can often obtain prescription medications from overseas suppliers within several days.

If your sponsoring company does not provide local medical insurance, find out from your insurance company if your pharmaceutical purchases abroad are covered by your home medical insurance. Once you have been to Indonesia and know what is available, you will have a better idea of what medications you must purchase during home leave trips in the future.

Bringing medications from home

It is okay to bring prescription medications from your home country to Indonesia, but you MUST obtain and bring with you either a doctor's letter outlining the need for and listing the medication(s) and/or a copy of the original prescription(s). It is best to bring both! If you are questioned about the medications by Indonesian customs officials, you need to have these documents to prove that the medication is legally prescribed.

Additionally, if you are transiting through Singapore's Changi Airport you will also need to apply for authority to import your medications into Singapore. I know, you are just transiting but this MUST be done. Singaporean officials are very fast and professional in issuing these authorities.

Local pharmacies (apotik)

A limited number of foreign chain pharmacies can be found in most of the major cities in Indonesia and include Guardian and Century Health Care. These pharmacies are located in major malls and shopping centers in Jakarta. They sell a wide range of prescription and over-the-counter medications and toiletries, and typically have a pharmacist on staff to fill prescriptions and assist customers with drug-related questions. Be advised that many Indonesian pharmacists know little English. If you are having problems communicating, write the name of the medication down and show it to the pharmacist as it may simply be pronounced differently in Indonesian. If what you need is not available in one store, it may be obtained from another store and held it for pickup. In some cases, they may be able to deliver the drugs directly to your residence.

There are many privately owned local apotik (pharmacies) in Indonesia. One of the better chains is Apotik Melawai, which is headquartered in Jakarta. There are also several government-owned pharmacies which sell drugs produced at government factories. Many local pharmacies sell generic medicines (obat generik) which are much cheaper.

Pharmacies are also found in all hospitals and major medical clinics or group practices, but it is harder to get medications from these pharmacies without seeing a doctor in practice there first. In generally, they will not fill prescriptions from sources outside of the practice.

In the evening on Jl. Roxy and Jl. Gajah Mada, many roadside stalls selling drugs at very reduced rates open for business. Their customers are usually poor people who cannot afford apotik prices. However, in many cases the drugs are fake and/or of uncertain origin, poor quality, or sold with a false expiration date. It is not advisable to purchase necessary or critical medication from roadside vendors.

Obtaining medications from abroad

It is possible to obtain drugs from abroad for ongoing treatment. The amount that can be brought into Indonesia without many complications is usually a 3-month supply. There are usually restrictions on controlled drugs, the classification of which varies between countries.

A medication order from abroad is most likely to be more expensive than the purchase of a locally available drug or its generic equivalent. In addition to the price tag, shipping costs and handling fees can add up to US$400 to your final cost.

Alternatively, speak to your physician at home and ask for a prescription. A family member or friend may then collect the prescription and medication(s), which can then be hand-carried by anybody from your company traveling to Indonesia or delivered to you via courier service. Various services have different policies on the shipment of drugs, but a written copy of the prescription accompanying the package is usually required and the maximum amount permitted is typically a 3-month supply. Individuals may agree to hand-carry a larger amount, but may be held up at customs if a purpose other than personal consumption is suspected. If the person brings a copy of your prescription and an email/letter asking you to bring the medicine, this should help their passage through customs.

Some additional cautions

Irrespective of where you obtain your medication from, please double-check before you leave that you have been prescribed the correct medication. If in doubt, ask to have a look at the medication's accompanying MIMS literature to confirm that you have been given the correct generic medication, as it may be under a different trade name. If you are unsure, ask to speak to the pharmacist again or call your medical advisor. This is important because most pharmacies will not allow you to return medication once it has been dispensed and paid for.

Also make sure that you have explicit instructions from the pharmacist on how to administer the medication, that you have been given the correct dose, that all medication is marked correctly and that the dosage is legible on all labels. Again, this may not always be clear and can lead to confusion. Be particularly careful with medications given to your children and if in any doubt, speak to a qualified medical advisor or your home doctor to confirm what you have been given is correct. Accidents do happen, even in the best facilities.

Polypharmacy is also fairly common, and you may end up receiving a prescription (resep) with five or six items on it for a simple ailment. The provision of vitamin supplements is also acceptable and the prescribing habits of Indonesian doctors may be different than what you are accustomed to. If you are not happy with what is being given to you, politely refuse the items that you deem unnecessary and take only those on the script that are required to cure the illness or relieve the symptoms.

Local drugs may use different names

If there are medications that you think you may need while you are abroad, bring a prescription from your doctor that lists both the generic (composition)/brand names and dosage, as medications may be sold under a different name in Indonesia.

Most apotik have a English-language directory (entitled IIMS or MIMS) which lists all the medications available in Indonesia by brand name, manufacturer and chemical name. You can often look through that with the pharmacist (apoteker) and determine the local equivalents for drugs from home. If the drug isn't listed in MIMS, then it probably isn't available in Indonesia!

Most prescription medications are sold for cheaper prices in Indonesia than overseas, as pricing is based on the local market's ability to pay. If the drug that you are asking for should be sold with a prescription and you don't have one, you may be asked for your name and address so that the apotik can account for who they sold the medications to.

While it is possible in most apotik to ask for a drug and get it without a local prescription, there is a clear danger in self-medication and doctors do not advise it. It is common for Indonesians to ask the pharmacist for a copy of the prescription (kopi resep) when they have a prescription filled, and store it against an future occurrence of the same symptoms/illness.

Obtaining medications in remote locations

If you are traveling to a remote location in Indonesia, it can be VERY hard to get ANY type of medication due to extremely limited local resources. If you are planning on traveling outside major population centers or off the islands of Java or Bali, it is highly advised to take a stock of basic medications with you as local clinic resources will be non-existent!

Many expat groups traveling through Eastern Indonesia, knowing of the shortage of basic medications, have donated basic medications brought along from Jakarta to local community health centers (puskesmas).

Singaporean and Changi Airport pharmacies

If you are traveling through Singapore and leaving the country within 24 hours, you can buy medications from local pharmacies without a prescription. If your prescription is unusual, contact them in advance to ensure they have what you need in stock. All customers will be asked for a ticket as proof that you are leaving Singapore.

You can also obtain medications without a prescription at the pharmacies in the transit section of Changi Airport after you pass through immigration. Just show your boarding pass and ticket and you can buy any medications they have in stock over the counter. The telephone number for Terminal 2's pharmacy is (65) 545-4622.

If you have any further questions about your medical care in Indonesia, see the Ask the Experts.

We trust this information will assist you in making correct choices regarding your health and welfare. However, it is not intended to be a substitute for personalized advice from your medical advisor.

Our thanks to International SOS for their assistance in preparing this article.


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