In Italy, you can buy many medications, both over the counter and prescription, at the pharmacy or farmacia. Most over the counter drugs and vitamins are not available at the supermarket, though you can find basic first aid supplies. For OTC and prescription medications, look for the cross sign – usually illuminated in green – to locate a pharmacy. Your hotel front desk should be able to direct you to the nearest farmacia. If you're staying at an Airbnb or similar rental, be sure to ask your host when you check in.
Most major cities have one or more 24-pharmacies, though these are not nearly as common as in the US. More typical is the "farmacia di torno" concept, where pharmacies within a given area take turns staying open at night and on Sundays. It means you might have to go out of your way to find an open pharmacy after hours or on Sunday, but there's usually one available within a few miles radius.
Traveling With Your Medications
If you take prescription drugs, be sure to carry them with you (in their original containers) in your carry-on luggage when flying to Italy. Do not pack them in your checked luggage. If you're carrying over 3 ounces of liquid medicine, bring the prescription or doctor's note with you.
You should also carry a copy of your prescriptions or list of the medicines you take (the actual drug names, not the generic names) in case you need to buy them in Italy. If you take medications that are essential for you to have, it's also a good idea to give the list to one of your traveling companions as well as someone back home who you can contact if you need to replace your prescription medicine.
If You Need Medication While Abroad
If you need medication while traveling in Italy, head to the farmacia (not the drogheria). The pharmacist may be able to replace your prescription drugs for you if you need more for any reason, even if you don't have the original prescription. The exceptions will be opiates, narcotics or other closely regulated medications – these will be difficult to get refilled in Italy. The safest course of action is to bring your original prescription, the bottle or container with your name on it and, for tightly controlled substances, a note from your doctor saying that you require these medications.
While you're likely to find that your prescription drugs cost less in Italy than in the United States, some over the counter medications may cost more -- as much as $1 per pill for ibuprofen. You might want to bring these with you especially if there is a particular brand that you prefer. Other medications, like aspirin, will usually be about the same cost as in the United States.
More than Just Meds
If you're feeling a little ill, the pharmacist may be able to give you advice, too. There are English-speaking pharmacists in most major Italian cities. If you have a minor health problem and explain your symptoms, a pharmacist will usually recommend an OTC product.
Over the counter medications are not usually on display, so you will probably have to ask the pharmacist and they may not have exactly the same medicine you are used to taking. The pharmacist will usually be able to find something equivalent to give you that will meet your needs.
Other essentials that you'll easily find in a pharmacy are contact lens solutions (you can also get these at a store that sells eyeglasses), sunscreen, mosquito spray, vitamins, toothpaste and mouthwash, feminine products, items for your baby, and sometimes even foods for special diets such as gluten-free pasta.
When to go to the ER
If you run out of medicine, you don't have your original prescription and/or you can't find a pharmacist willing to give you a refill, you will need to go to the pronto soccorso, or emergency room. There, an Italian doctor will be able to write you a prescription, assuming you can verify the medications you are currently taking. Whether you go to the ER or to a pharmacy, remember to always bring along your passport or other photo ID.
Updated by Elizabeth Heath