You can happily lose yourself in a French pharmacy for hours, perusing all the interesting remedies with colorful boxes and new-to-you labels. But when you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time in a pharmacy because you’re confused about what medicine to buy in France. This goes double if you don’t speak French very well. If you want to get in and out of the pharmacy and back to your bed in no time, read on for the French equivalents of common American medications you can get without a prescription.
Common over-the-counter American medications and their French equivalents
Note: Please consult a doctor or pharmacist for all medical advice before taking any medication in France. This post should not be a substitute for medical advice.
There are few things worse than getting sick in a foreign country. On top of being sick, you’re not in your own bed, you aren’t familiar with the culture and language, and you definitely aren’t in any shape to research what medicine you need. I was hospitalized due to food poisoning two months apart in Rwanda and then again in Kyrgyzstan, but those are stories for another day. Trust me when I say that getting sick abroad can be hell.
Moving on… so what can you buy over the counter in France when you’re sick?
Let’s talk some of the most popular over-the-counter medications you’ll find at French pharmacies. As a tourist, you’ll want to be prepared in case you get sick in France, so let’s get into what the French equivalents are for common U.S. medications. That way, the next time you’re not feeling well, you’ll know exactly what French medicine you need. Even better, if you live in France, get your medicine cabinet ready now so you’re prepared and don’t even have to leave your apartment.
I should also point out that if you are seriously ill, the French equivalent of 911 is 112. Dial 112 from anywhere in the European Union for emergency services. You can also dial 15 from within France for an ambulance (SAMU) to handle a medical emergency.
I’ll say right off the bat that France has a high quality healthcare system. French pharmacists’ expertise is top notch, as is the care they provide and the selection of products available, so visit one with confidence. Of course I hope you don’t get sick in France at all, but if you do, don’t stress. They’ve got you and can counsel you on exactly what medicine to buy in France.
Alright, let’s get into some of the most common over-the-counter medications you’ll find in the U.S. and what the French medication equivalent is called. Keep in mind that everything below is over the counter and doesn’t require a prescription. Also, I’m mentioning some of the most popular options, but this is not an all-inclusive list.
🎧 Lastly, be sure to listen to the audio files (look for the headphones emoji in each section and click the little play button above each set of phrases) which have a few key phrases and the pronunciation of the French medicines pictured.
U.S. medicine names: Advil/Motrin, Tylenol, Excedrin Migraine
Active ingredients: Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol), acetaminophen/aspirin/caffeine (Excedrin Migraine)
French medicine names: Advil, Doliprane, Efferalgan (effervescent formulation), Algodol Caféine (Excedrin Migraine equivalent, just without the aspirin)
French vocab to know for pain:
(Note: My French husband Tom is the French voice you’re hearing for the audio component. Thanks for your help, Tom!!) For each French phrase, he says them 3 times total — first at regular speed, then slowly so you can hear the words better, and again at regular speed.)
🎧 Press play to hear how to pronounce each phrase in French:
⦿ I have a headache: J’ai mal à la tete.
⦿ I have a migraine: J’ai une migraine.
⦿ I have a toothache: J’ai mal aux dents.
⦿ I have a fever: J’ai de la fièvre.
⦿ I’d like a box of Doliprane, please: Je voudrais une boîte de Doliprane, s’il vous plait.
Headaches are no joke and you’ll want to have the right meds on hand the next time one strikes. Luckily, French pharmacies have all kinds of over-the-counter medicines for headaches and general pain from backaches, toothaches, etc.
In the U.S., Tylenol is made up of the active ingredient acetaminophen, which is called paracetamol in many other parts of the world, including here in France. Acetaminophen and paracetamol are the same chemical compound, C8H9NO2. The most common Tylenol in France equivalent is the brand Doliprane, which comes in several dosage options. Aspégic is another popular pain/fever medication in France.
Turning to ibuprofen, what is ibuprofen called in France? It’s the same, just with a French accent (ee-byoo-pro-fenn). The brand Advil is available here and there’s also a brand called Nurofen, which is an ibuprofen equivalent in France. You can also get generic ibuprofen. In the case of migraines, an Excedrin Migraine equivalent is Algodol Caféine, but it doesn’t come with the aspirin component — just the paracetamol and caffeine.
If you’re in need of an Aleve equivalent in France, you won’t find one over the counter. The active ingredient of this anti-inflammatory –naproxen sodium — is by prescription only.
Lastly, on the topic of pain… while there’s no French equivalent for Midol, which is marketed for menstrual cramps in the U.S., the French anti-spasm medication Spasfon will do the trick. It’s for abdominal cramping of all kinds and there’s no exact American equivalent to Spasfon.
Cold & congestion
U.S. medicine name: Sudafed
Active ingredient: Pseudoephedrine Hcl
French medicine name: Actifed Rhume
🎧 French vocab to know for colds:
⦿ I have a cold: J’ai un rhume.
⦿ My nose is stuffed up: Mon nez est bouché.
As a kid, Sudafed was my go-to, but you won’t find it in France. If you’re looking for a Sudafed equivalent in France, you’re in luck. Many over-the-counter cold meds do contain pseudoephedrine. Go with a box of Actifed Rhume, which contains capsules for both the daytime and the nighttime hours (with the nighttime formulation containing the addition of diphénhydramine).
There are a bunch of cold medicine options in France that get rid of congestion, cough, and fever so you’ll have no problem finding one that fixes you up in no time. Other cold medicines in France are Humex Rhume, Fervex, and Advil Rhume.
One last thing, anything with dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in Nyquil, seems to only be available with a prescription. You won’t find an exact Nyquil equivalent in France as an over-the-counter option. How can you get a prescription for Nyquil in France, you ask? You can make an appointment with any doctor and pay the same rate as a French person.
U.S. medicine names: Dramamine Original or Bonine
Active ingredients: Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine Original), meclizine (Bonine)
French medicine names for motion sickness: Nausicalm (Dramamine Original), Agyrax (Bonine), Mercalm (Dimenhydrinate & caffeine)
🎧 French vocab to know for motion sickness:
⦿ I feel motion sick: J’ai le mal des transports.
⦿ I feel dizzy: J’ai des vertiges.
⦿ I feel nauseous: J’ai la nausée.
Travel isn’t always comfortable and for those of us prone to motion sickness, a train ride where we’re facing backwards or seated at the back of a bus isn’t ideal. But have no fear, France has a bunch of meds for motion sickness.
Dimenhydrinate is an antihistamine — most commonly known as Dramamine — that prevents and treats nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness. You can find Dramamine at some French pharmacies but the other French brand motion sickness meds mentioned above are more common. If you’re going on a boat or a road trip and are prone to motion sickness, be sure to stock up on one of the French motion sickness options before you go.
U.S. medicine name: Imodium
Active ingredient: Loperamide
French medicine names: Imodium, Diaretyl
🎧 French vocab to know for diarrhea:
⦿ I have diarrhea: J’ai de la diarrhée.
Luckily, Imodium is available in France, so you don’t need to look much further than that. Diaretyl is another popular medicine in case you get a case of the runs. Doctors and pharmacists often recommend Smecta as well, which can help with diarrhea in the case of gastroenteritis or similar.
For a funny Instagram reel Tom and I did on the topic of diarrhea and how it’s handled at a French pharmacy, click here.
U.S. medicine name: Ex-Lax
Active ingredient: Sennosides
French medicine name: Pursennide
🎧 French vocab to know for constipation:
⦿ I am constipated: Je suis constipé(e).
No one wants to be constipated on vacation but if it happens, the French pharmacy has you covered. The French Ex-Lax equivalent for constipation with sennosides as the active ingredient is Pursennide. If an oral treatment isn’t cutting it and you want to address your constipation from the other end, another good option is Microlax.
U.S. medicine: Gas-X
Active ingredient: Simeticone
French medicine name for gas: Imonogas
🎧 French vocab for gas:
⦿ I have gas: J’ai des gaz.
⦿ I’m bloated: Je suis ballonné(e)
No one likes feeling gassy and bloated, especially in public, so for the French equivalent of Gas-X, pick yourself up a box of Imonogas. There are a bunch of similar medications that contain other active ingredients aimed at reducing gas and bloating as well, so lean on your pharmacist for the best option for your particular symptoms.
U.S. medicine: Tums
Active ingredient: Calcium carbonate
French medicine for heartburn: Rennie
🎧 French vocab to know for heartburn:
⦿ I have heartburn: J’ai des brûlures d’estomac.
⦿ I have indigestion: J’ai une indigestion.
⦿ My stomach is upset: J’ai mal au ventre.
If your dinner gave you a case of heartburn, indigestion, and related stomach discomfort, pick up some Rennie from your local French pharmacy. Rennie is the closest Tums equivalent in France if you’re in need of an antacid. Caltrate is another good Tums alternative in France.
If you’re looking for a Pepto Bismol equivalent in France, you won’t find it, as bismuth subsalicylate is prohibited here. A good France Pepto Bismol equivalent for heartburn and acid reflux is Gaviscon. You can also find Maalox in France, both a chewable formulation and a gel packet option. Lemon and mint are the two most common flavors.
U.S. medicine: Benadryl Gel
Active ingredient: Diphenhydramine hydrochloride
French medicine for insect bites: Butix
🎧 French vocab for an insect bite:
⦿ An insect bit me: Un insecte m’a piqué.
⦿ I think this bite is infected: Je pense que cette piqûre est infectée.
⦿ It itches like crazy: Ça me gratte beaucoup.
Beyond the gel option, my go-to for bug bites is Synthol. It’s a liquid you apply to a cotton round and then swab onto the affected area. I swear by it and talk more about Synthol in this post.
If you’re looking for a regular Benadryl equivalent in France for allergies, there’s no exact equivalent. Nautamine, which is marketed for motion sickness, contains Diphenhydramine Hcl, the active ingredient in Benadryl.
U.S. medicine names: Zyrtec, Claritin
Active ingredients: Cetirizine (Zyrtec), Loratadine (Claritin)
French medicine names for allergies: Alairgix, Zyrtec, Clarityne
🎧 French vocab for allergies:
⦿ I am allergic to pollen: Je suis allergique au pollen.
⦿ I can’t stop sneezing because of my allergies: Je n’arrete pas d’eternuer à cause de mes allergies.
⦿ Do you have Clarityne for my allergy symptoms?: Est-ce que vous avez du Clarityne pour les allergies ?
If you have itchy, watery eyes and can’t stop sneezing, you’ll be glad to know that France has the brands Claritin and Zyrtec. The two brand names have popped up in recent years so you can ask for them directly (Claritin is spelled Clarityne in France) in most pharmacies to treat allergic rhinitis, dermatitis, and urticaria.
What you might see more commonly is the Zyrtec equivalent in France called Alairgix. It has 10 mg of cetirizine just like Zyrtec does. You can also get the generic cetirizine and loratadine in France.
U.S. medication name: Lactaid pills
Active ingredient: Lactase enzyme
French medicine name for lactose intolerance: Vitaflor Lactase
🎧 French vocab for lactose intolerance:
⦿ I am lactose intolerant: Je suis intolérant(e) au lactose.
⦿ I don’t digest dairy products well: Je ne digère pas bien les produits laitiers.
⦿ Do you have lactase enzyme pills?: Est-ce que vous avez des comprimés d’enzymes lactase ?
You’d think that in a land that is known for its cheese that you’d find Lactaid pills pretty much everywhere, but that’s not the case. I often have to order them at my pharmacy because they aren’t in stock. I’ve even had to explain in detail what they are for.
It surprised me to learn that lactaid pills in France are not a super common item. People are lactose intolerant, but I feel like the lactase enzyme pills are way less mainstream in France and not all pharmacy employees are familiar with them.
And get this, French lactose-intolerance pills my pharmacist ordered for me were about 2.5 times the price of the U.S. equivalent (and that’s with the euro at an all-time low against the USD!). DOH!
A box of 60 Lactaid pills was $11.99 at Walgreen’s in Florida and a box of the French equivalent lactase enzyme pills was 26€. Crazy expensive! I think there might be cheaper ones out there, so I’ll have to keep an eye out.
One thing to note is that there are a lot of different brands and formulations for this medicine in France, so make sure you’re comparing apples to apples or the French one might not work for you the way the U.S. version does.
French pharmacy tips to know before you go
–Keep in mind that if you see a doctor who prescribes you medication — either over the counter or one that requires a prescription — you’ll pay the French price, even as a visitor. You won’t be reimbursed any part of it by the French government like French citizens and residents are since you aren’t paying into the system, but the full price of meds or a doctor’s visit, even without reimbursement, is often less than what you’d pay in the United States. I made a whole video where I went behind the scenes at a busy French pharmacy, so check it out for more.
–If you’re unsure about whether or not a French pharmacy has your medication, note the active ingredient and the pharmacist can look it up for you. You can also bring your actual U.S. medication and/or prescription and the pharmacist can help you look it up that way.
—Pharmacy employees are there to help, so lean on them for their expertise. They do a great job! It’s often best to explain what is wrong and list out your symptoms so the pharmacist can then choose a medication that’s best suited for whatever ailment you have. Of course, if you just need some ibuprofen for a headache, definitely just ask for it. But if you’re not sure what might be best, don’t think twice about laying out your symptoms and asking for help. I find French pharmacies to be very hands-on in this regard.
–If you don’t speak French, keep in mind that most pharmacy employees do not speak conversational English and this goes double outside of major cities. That’s not to say that you won’t ever find anyone who speaks English — you will, it’s just not the norm like it is in other European countries. The thing to remember is to not expect the French to speak English. Always start any interaction with a bonjour and do your best in French. I recommend using a online translator to write down what you want to say before you go.
—For most over-the-counter medication, you’ll need to approach the register, wait in line, and speak to one of the employees to get it and pay. Medication is only sold at pharmacies in France and not grocery stores. Personal care items, skincare, and other parapharmacy items like toothpaste and Band-Aids will be on the shelves for you to grab on your own, but for any type of pill or medication, you’ll have to ask for it. This is very different from how we shop in the U.S. where you can easily pick up a box of Advil at the supermarket and be on your way at the self-checkout. In some larger pharmacies, you might find a few medications near the checkout line like Maalox, but be ready to ask for what you need and don’t expect a self-checkout line.
–Along with that, be ready for the questions, “C’est pour vous ?” (Is it for you?) and “Est-ce que vous connaissez le medicament ?” (Do you know the medication?) If you’re not familiar with the product, the pharmacist is happy to go over how to use it. They’ll even handwrite the medication dosage instructions on the side of the box for you.
–Have a bruise or swelling? Arnica gel, a homeopathic remedy, for any type of bruising or swelling is a godsend. You can get it in gel and rollerball form for after the fact once you already have a bruise, as well as homeopathic pellets for preventive care before a surgical procedure. While arnica is becoming more popular in the U.S., the French seem to love homeopathic remedies and you’ll find a lot of French homeopathic medicine options at the pharmacy for just about every ailment.
–If you’re wondering, “Are pharmacies in France open on Sundays,” the answer is yes but generally only one is open in each town on Sundays and after hours. The on-call pharmacy, which is called la pharmacie de garde, changes daily so it’s not always the same pharmacy that’s on-call after hours. In Paris, you’ll have no problem finding a pharmacy open on Sundays, but in small towns, just google the name of the town and “pharmacie de garde” to get the address of the one that’s open.
Have you ever been sick in France? Hope my guide to over-the-counter medicine in France and their American equivalents was helpful and that you have a great sickness-free trip!
For more on French pharmacies, what to buy in a French pharmacy, and the healthcare system in France, check out these posts: Differences between French and American pharmacies, why French pharmacies rule, strange French pharmacy products, the best remedy for bug bites, what to know about going to the doctor in France, French vs. American doctor differences, and French healthcare myths to stop believing.
***For more France travel tips to prepare you for your trip, grab my France travel guide priced at just a few bucks!***
PIN my American medications equivalents in France pharmacies post: