Pharmacies (Apotik) and Obtaining Medications in Indonesia
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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; your pharmacist will give you medications whose expiration dates are appropriate. If the medications that you need have a short shelf life and they are not available in Indonesia, medical clinics such as International SOS may be able to order the medicines for your through one of their clinics. It is best to check with them before you travel, so they can estimate the delivery time.
If your sponsoring company does not provide international medical insurance, find out from your insurance company if your pharmaceutical purchases abroad are covered by your 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.
Check the MIMS Indonesia website to see if the medications you take regularly are available in Indonesia. You will need to sign up (free) to see the information.
It is permitted 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 and additionally the medicines should be in original packaging where possible. 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.
For strong painkillers, such as Oxycodone tablets or Fentanyl Patches, special rules apply. The supporting doctor’s letter and prescription needs to be in English AND Indonesian. The drugs must be declared on the pre-arrival customs form. The drugs must be in their original packaging and the total amount being imported must not exceed the amount prescribed for the duration of the visit. To be clear for example; if Oxycodone liquid is prescribed for 10mg four times a day (40mg total) and the medicine you bring is 5mg per ml strength and your trip to Indonesia is for 10 days then the maximum amount of drug you can import is 40mg x 10 days = 400mg or 80ml.
A note of caution - If you are transiting through Singapore and plan to leave the Changi Airport for any period of time, you will need to apply for authorization to "import" your medications from the Health Products Regulation Group (part of the Health Sciences Authority (HSA)) before you travel. Contact them attaching (in one pdf file) :
When you get the reply/authorization, print out that email. When you go through customs, go through the "Things to Declare" line and show them the email along with the prescription for your medications and the actual medications.
If you stay in the airport transit area, you don't interact with Customs officials, so you aren't affected by these import regulations, nor do you need authorization from the Singapore 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 or your prescription/medical bottle 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 branch of the pharmacy and held it for pickup. In some cases, they may even be able to deliver the drugs directly to your residence.
There are many privately owned local apotik (pharmacies) in Indonesia. 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 than branded options.
Most of the reputable pharmacies have a General Practitioner (MD) on site. They can issue prescriptions for a much smaller fee than making an appointment with a GP in a medical clinic/hospital. Caution, of course, is advised without a thorough medical check-up!
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 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 we urge great caution in purchasing from roadside stalls as in many cases the drugs are fake and/or of uncertain origin, poor quality or sold with a false expiration date.
Obtaining medications from abroad
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 considerable expense to your final cost.
Alternatively, speak to your physician at home and ask for a prescription. A family member or friend may then collect medication(s), which can then be hand-carried to Indonesian by a friend or colleague or delivered to you via courier service. This is for non-narcotic and non-controlled medicines such as blood pressure tablets. Various international courier 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.
Check first with the carrier to make sure that a copy of Badan Pengawas Obat dan Makanan (Indonesian equivalent of the US FDA) permit isn't required for the shipment to clear customs.
Some additional notes
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 adviser. This is important because most pharmacies will not allow you to return medication once it has been dispensed and paid for.
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 adviser or your home doctor to confirm what you have been given is correct.
The provision of vitamin supplements is also common in Indonesia and doctors may have different prescribing habits than you are accustomed to. If you are not happy with what is being prescribed for you, politely refuse the items that you deem unnecessary and purchase only those on the script that you are confident are required to cure the illness or relieve the symptoms. If in doubt, seek advice from your assistance company or home doctor.
Local drugs may use different names
Medicines in Indonesia may be sold under a different brand name than your home country, but the generic drug name will be the same.
Most apotik have a English-language directory (entitled IIMS or MIMS) which lists all the medications available in Indonesia by brand name, manufacturer and generic 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 a 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 may be non-existent!
Singaporean and Changi Airport pharmacies
If you are traveling through Singapore and leaving the country within 24 hours, you may be able to 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 some 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. Contact them ahead of time and be sure that they have any medications you want/need in stock.
Drug Smuggling Penalties
The news is full of stories about Indonesian officials imposing harsh penalties against drug smugglers. If someone is caught trying to bring a quantity of forbidden drugs in Indonesia, either in a suitcase, shipment, or ingested into their body, they will receive severe penalties, which includes the death sentence. Do not carry packages for other people for transport to Indonesia.
A bit of language to help you with your discussions in the pharmacy, thanks to BadAzz from the Expat Forum:
Berapa kali per hari? - how many times per day
If the pharmacist asks questions, it could be such as this - Sakit apa? (what sickness? ), so you need to have some translation of your problem.
Sakit kepala - headache
Masuk angin - this is a common sickness in Indonesia with a wide variety of symptoms - believed by Indonesians to be caused by the wind getting into your body!
Panas dinging - literal translation = hot cold - means fever.
Add the word infeksi in front of the body part name and you are saying it is infected.
A essential tool for living in Indonesia, Indonesian Words and Phrases, published by the AWA, offers an extensive word/phrase listing in it's "Emergency & Medical section".
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 adviser.
Our thanks to International SOS for their assistance in preparing and updating this article.
Last updated February 9, 2016.
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