Pharmacies in Colombia are typically small shops, and you can usually also get a toothbrush, a bottle of water or shampoo, not just medication, but it’s usually not going to be anything like a Walgreens or CVS!
They’re everywhere! It’s not unusual to find several on the same city block, sometimes one next to the other. Some are mom & pop shops, whereas most are franchises: La Rebaja*, Pasteur, Colsubsidios, Cruz Verde, just to name a few. In malls, there tends to be fewer drug stores, but if there is it’s almost always franchises. Farmatodo is a chain of large drugstores like say Walgreens that is found in a limited number of locales, but could increase its national presence.
Prices for most medications are much lower than in the USA, Canada or Europe, and if you have health insurance here, you can sometimes get them for almost nothing (usually only in the clinic’s own pharmacy), but in this case you do need a Doctor’s prescription.
Tip: Ask for generic (genérico/a) versions of drugs and the price difference can be huge! MK, Genfar and La Sante are just some of the recognized generic Colombian laboratories.
Here are some common translations you can use at the farmacia…
- Acetaminophen (Ex: Tylenol): Acetaminofén (Ass-eh-tah-mee-no-FEN). With codeine: Acetaminofén con codeína
- Antibiotic: Antibiótico (Ann-Tea-Bee-OH-tea-coh)
- Aspirin: Aspirina (Ass-pee-ree-nah)
- Ibuprofen: Ibuprofeno (ee-boo-pro-feh-no)
- Laxative: Laxante (Lax-ann-teh) or bisacodilo (bee-saw-co-dee-low)
- Supositories: Supositorios (Soo-poh-see-toe-ree-oss). Usually used with “de glicerina”.
- Feminine hygiene pads: toallas sanitarias (toe-ah-yass sah-knee-tah-ree-ass). Many other possibilities but this should get you by!
- Condoms: Preservativos (Press-air-bah-tee-vauss). Many other possibilities but this should get you there!
- Toothbrush: Cepillo de dientes (Say-pee-yo dey dee-ehn-tess)
- Dental Floss: Hilo de dientes (ee-low dey dee-ehn-tess)
- Shampoo: Champú (Tcham-poo)
- (hair) Comb: Peine (Pay-neh). Sounds a lot like pene, or penis, so careful! Might want to add “pal cabello” if they hear you wrong!
There’s 2 words to ask for a pharmacy: Droguería (droh-gueh-REE-ah) or Farmacia (Farma-seeyah)
Tip: Many pharmacists won’t give any advice (store rules or law, not sure) so know the exact generic name of the medication before you go to the counter. Google for the translation.
SIDENOTE: It may be possible to obtain non-OTC medications without a prescription in Colombia as in many Latam countries, depending on the pharmacy, but in no way do I advocate self-medicating — this is just a statement of fact.
(*Yes, I know La Rebaja was founded by the Cali Cartel, but it was seized a long time ago, and they’re great!)
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