Greece, home of Hippocrates and Asclepius, is a land of pharmacies, and every town of size has one. Cities will have many, with some designated to stay open all night. If a pharmacy is closed, a notice on the door will give the address of the nearest pharmacy designated to be open that day.
Look for the "Green Cross"
Greek pharmacies can be spotted by a green equal-armed cross, either lit up in neon or against a white background.
Many drugs that require prescriptions in the United States are sold over-the-counter in Greece, usually at a fraction of the price paid in North America. Remember, though, bringing home drugs from Greece may cause problems at U.S. Customs if you don't have prescriptions for them.
If you are looking for something specific, having the generic or "real" name of the medicine may help you to find the Greek equivalent more easily.
Your Friendly Pharmacist
Pharmacists are usually very decent diagnosticians and speak English; they can help you with many medical problems and can be your first line of defense if you're feeling sick in Greece.
If you have a problem but are hesitating to go through the process of seeing a "real doctor" or visiting a foreign urgent care on your trip, pop into the local pharmacy and see what they have to say. You may not need that appointment after all. For medical emergencies, ask your hotel staff or call the Tourist Police for a recommendation of an English-speaking doctor in your area.
Pharmacies also have a wide range of Greek health and beauty products, and visiting them can be a fun time of browsing. They often carry products made with special Greek ingredients, a line or two of essential oils, and vitamins and other over-the-counter remedies. Due to oddities in the Greek health system, those 'over the counter' items may cost much more than a prescription drug.
Larger pharmacies will have active sales personnel in white coats standing by to help you; you won't be expected to wander up to the shelves without someone in close attendance, so unobtrusively selecting that box of sanitary napkins or nose-hair clipper is usually out of the question. But the downside of the prevalence of Greek pharmacies is that your average market will carry few, if any, health-related items at all, leaving that to the professionals down the street.
Prescription Medicines Need Prescriptions
When carrying prescription medicines into Greece or anywhere, it is best to have them in their original containers and to have a paper prescription with you. If you want to take just part of a bottle, your pharmacist can make you a smaller, properly labeled container for your travel.
The Codeine Question
In Greece, codeine is an outlawed drug, classified in the same category as heroin. Medicines containing codeine or even synthetic codeines are technically illegal and can be seized and the "smuggler" can be arrested, even if you have a proper prescription for them.
In practice, however, this type of seizure almost never happens. But if "almost never" isn't enough reassurance, you might want to try a different medication while you are traveling in Greece.
More Information for U.S. Travelers
For official information from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you can call their traveler information line: 1-877-FYI-TRIP for automated health information.
Handy Health-Related Phone Numbers for Greece
These are accurate as of the time of posting; on your arrival in Greece, you may want to confirm them locally. In most cases, the phone will be answered in Greek but the person will either speak English or know enough to get someone who can.
You can dial these from any phone.
- 24-hour pharmacies - 107
- Hospitals - 106
- Emergency doctor (2 pm to 7 am) - 105 or 107
- Ambulance - 166
- Roadside assistance for car problems - 10400