French pharmacies are awe-inspiring places filled with enough colorful little packages to keep your eyes busy until it’s your turn to speak to the pharmacist. The French pharmacy is a place you’ll visit often for OTC and prescription medicines, advice and sometimes just to say hi to your pharmacist. Your pharmacist not only knows your dog’s name but actually allows your dog to accompany you into the pharmacy.
But are French pharmacies really all that different?
Let’s see as we discover my list of differences between pharmacies in France and the United States.
Pharmacies in France
Pharmacies in France are awesome and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. I love wine and cheese and all kinds of things in France, but as silly as it sounds, the pharmacy in France ranks right up there too.
Maybe it’s because I love the prices or the service or maybe all the interesting products just dazzle me. Or maybe my pharmacist is just really nice (not this embarrassing guy though).
But before you set out to discover your French pharmacy, keep in mind this list of differences between pharmacies in France and the U.S. that I’ve observed. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be:
1. French pharmacies are really just about the medicines and personal care products. No fluff.
In the U.S., we commonly say we’re running to the pharmacy to get a few things like toilet paper, some Gatorade and maybe some gum. But you wouldn’t find any of these in a France pharmacy, which are smaller than U.S. chain drug stores and carry just medicines and personal products.
There’s no greeting card section or kids’ toys or candy. Just the meds. There are pharmacies that include a parapharmacy section (or places that are just parapharmacies and don’t have any prescription medications) and that includes skin care products like makeup and sunscreen and other non-rx items (but never gum and drinks and magazines, etc.).
2. No long wait times at pharmacies in France to “fill” your prescription. In fact there’s no verb equivalent of “filling” a prescription.
In France, you pop in to the pharmacy with your prescription, hand it to the pharmacist or tech and in just a few seconds they return with your box of medication. The exception here would be a special preparation that they have to make, but in most cases, pills and other treatments are ready to go.
They’ll ask for your carte vitale (health insurance card) to process the reimbursement, explain how the medication works and see if you have any questions. Then you’ll be on your way.
There’s no wait time because you get the entire box of medication even if it contains more pills than your treatment requires, and your name, address and other personal details aren’t typed up on a label like they would be for American prescriptions. French pharmacists still hand write the instructions right on the box.
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3. French pharmacies’ business hours are very different.
Most of the pharmacies in my area are open from about 9 a.m. until noon. They’ll then close for lunch until about 2 or 2:30 p.m., reopen and stay open until 6 p.m. or so. Some stay open a little bit later.
French pharmacies are NOT open 24 hours although there’s a pharmacie de garde in each town or commune that is required to stay open 24 hours (and they rotate so it’s not always the same pharmacy) for after-hours emergencies.
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4. There are no pharmacy chains in France.
There are no French equivalents of CVS or Duane Reade in France because French pharmacies are all privately owned (might be a few exceptions but nowhere near the scale of pharmacy chains in the U.S.)
All pharmacies have a flashy green pharmacy sign out front that easily identifies them as a pharmacy. That’s the same everywhere. But as for franchises or chains, there are no pharmacy chains in France.
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5. Drugs are CHEAP.
My pharmacist loves me because I am always so happy to pay for my medicines, which are in most cases 50-90% less than the cost of the same thing in the U.S. (even without any reimbursement from the secu). Prescription medicine prices are regulated by the government so they’re the same price at every pharmacy. For medicines like Advil or Maalox, each pharmacist in France can set his own price (within reason).
Drops for pink eye for example cost nearly $100 in the U.S. for a little tube and the exact same thing cost me about $15 — and then I’m reimbursed 70% of that. I bought an Epipen for my best friend’s son here in France for 78 euros (box of 2) and delivered it to her when we visited. She would have paid over $500 back in the US for the same thing.
6. French pharmacy employees are all trained in pharmacology.
It’s very common to be friendly with your pharmacist and to have 10-minute conversations with him or her (goes double if you’re over 70). When picking up a prescription, you might talk about your health problems, get advice, get questions answered that you forgot to ask the doctor, etc.
In France, everyone who works in the pharmacy is trained — the minimum being préparateur en pharmacie — and is able to do more than just ring you up or check records in a computer.
In the U.S., sometimes you’ll pick up a prescription and the person who helps you is a cashier and not trained in pharmacology, so you’ll have to wait if you have a medicine-specific question.
Also, all the over-the-counter medicines are usually behind the counter so forget about discreetly grabbing diarrhea medication and heading to the self-checkout. OTC medicines like Advil are only available at pharmacies (not the supermarket) and you have to talk to someone to get said medicine. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you have a loud talking pharmacist or a huge line behind you.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video tour I did of a French pharmacy where we see their robot technology, compare two drug prices, learn about homeopathy and more:
What do you think of pharmacies in France? What would you add?
PIN my pharmacies in France vs. US differences post:
We went to a pharmacy in Paris with good results.
Excellent to hear 😉
Don’t forget all of the wonderful holistic formulas they carry that a U.S. pharmacy would never consider! The French pharmacists are even knowledgeable about how to use them.
Isabelle de fromSide2Side says
love to read that .. I am French and I live in the US .. and I am a pharmacist .. so hard when you arrive here in the US : I hate CVS and Walgreen and I am very disapointed by them, because I don’t find what I want .. when I come back to France I love to go and visit the pharmacies and bring back what I don’t find here .. so I decided to creat a website in French speaking about pharmacy in the US : AmerikSante.com (that’s not a spam) ..
Hi Isabelle, thanks for your comment. Do you work for a chain or do you have your own pharmacy? I find that in general French pharmacists are more knowledgeable and welcoming (and spend more time with you) than U.S. ones but then again I think sometimes regular employees of the chain with no pharmacy knowledge are the ones who get you your bag of meds and take your money. So the whole system is different. And the mess of insurance just complicates thing. I’ll check out your site!
Hi ! I’m from the US and I’ll be taking pharmacy as my major I wanted to ask I wanted to become a pharmacist in France one day will it work out easily or will it take time in terms of finding the job specially if I just got out of pharmacy school.
Hi there, that’s not really my area of expertise so I’d recommend calling a pharmacy school in France or see if there’s anything through your school that can assist you. I know regulations are different and of course you’d have to be pretty good at French to complete a high level degree like that. But I don’t think the schooling transfers between the countries or anything. Probably best to call to make sure. 😉
Just an FYI…I’m not sure how long you’ve been away from US pharmacies, but since roughly two decades ago, our pharmacists are trained and well-versed enough in pharmacology that the degree was changed from a Bachelors of Pharmacy to a PharmD as a response to the rapidly aging population and incline of health problems. Pharmacists within the US nowadays are NO LONGER the “druggists” maintaining the apothecary/soda-jerk and are more than able to assist physicians with comprehensive healthcare for their patients.
Please understand that I am not being argumentative, but your thesis statement of “French Pharmacists Act More like Doctors” is kind of misleading and dismissive of the doctorate our US pharmacists earn today.
Hi there, thanks so much for your comment and I didn’t intend for anything to be misleading or dismissive. I know pharmacists in both countries are highly educated. I was referring to regular employees in US pharmacies who are not licensed pharmacists but just employees trained on the register and don’t have any type of pharmacy or medical training. I’ve gone to CVS, picked up a prescription and asked a question just to have the person say they have to ask the pharmacist so it’ll be a bit of a wait. Then the next week the same person may work a shift in a different part of the store. In France, I don’t think I’ve ever come across someone in a pharmacy who would just work the register and be unable to answer medical questions. Again, my apologies for anything that wasn’t clear! I will update the post. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 😉
I’m American but moving to France this next month. I have a lot of experience with American pharmacists for various reasons. Last time I was in Paris I had bad roughed up my knee and I went to the pharmacist and not only did she examine it, she cleaned it up and bandaged it properly, insisting I only pay for one item she used. That would never happen in the US. The most detailed service I have had in the US is they pointing out how to inject myself with medications for after my surgery (on a piece of paper not with an actual needle) and the newer addition of getting a flu vaccine.
Jana Gross says
Last April while in Arles, I missed the bottom two steps and fell against an ancient stone wall hitting my head. I ended up with a cut above my eye. The pharmacist was great and assessing my situation. Gave me some steri-strips to close the wound. I ended up going back because I realized I hurt my foot in the process and needed an ice pack. I liked that I could get attention to assess the situation. Now lets talk about the difference in building codes!
That’s great to hear, Jana. So glad you were able to get fixed up. The personalized attention really does make the whole experience better and have always found pharmacists to be caring and willing to listen. Building codes are definitely not the same — the naked bulbs still drive me insane. You may like this post: https://www.ouiinfrance.com/2013/09/18/new-house-wtf-1-exposed-wires-and-naked-bulbs/
Steve Durfee says
I have a really good relationship with my local pharmacienne. After two or three visits she reluctantly told me that I needed an ordonnance (prescription) for some things before she could fill things another time. When I showed up with one she was genuinely happy for me. And the prices are as good as what we got in Mexico. The only downside is that there is so much quack medicine in France that is marketed alongside genuine medicine. If you don’t want snake oil you have to be informed.
Funny you should mention snake oil, I literally found snake oil the other day marketed as a product for hair!!! What kinds of quack medicine are you referring to? I stick to Advil and eye drops but would like to know what more interesting things you’ve found.
He likely means homeopathic “remedies.’ There are lots sold in France but they are really just bottles of water that someone waved their hands over so they can contain “magic.” Which is to say they are just bottles of water.
I have an ongoing love affair with the pharmacies. From holistic skin care, to solving a bladder problem (I had to have a French friend explain that one), to my most recent visit when I had taken a fall. The lady brought out the best muscle rub ever. It contains Lidocaine and relieves pain instantly. I’m back home and running out so I’ve found a French pharmacie website to order more. It’s not found in US pharmacies.
Yes, sometimes you can find some great products that don’t exist in the US. So happy that you’ve had good experiences here. Pharmacies are fantastic!
I had very good experiences with the pharmacies in Paris when I lived there for 3 months. I found that they often spoke pretty good English, which was helpful when I didn’t know the French terms. (I did pop into a few pharmacies for directions when I got “lost” walking around the city. They were very helpful!)
I an currently visiting Paris for the first time (breathtaking, I must say) and was a little disappointed with the pharmacies here. My wife injured her arm so we visited a pharmacy looking for a sling (and hoping to pick up some toilet tissue), the pharmacist told us that we would need a doctor’s note to get a sling (really!?!) and they sell only pharmaceutical products. The pharmacies here are a throw back to the 50’s. Charming but with a few short comings.
Hi Spencer, I agree with you about the pharmacies being charming with a few shortcomings (many have less than convenient hours, etc.). The pharmacist you saw about the sling might have been an exception because most pharmacies have slings and can help. I hope you tried another one and got her fixed up. About toilet paper, that’s true. Pharmacies won’t have drug store stuff like toilet paper or gum or candy. It would be really convenient though. Thanks for commenting and happy New Year!
Dan ferris says
After walking at least 100 miles across Paris in the wrong shoes my feet were in desperate need of some attention and some remedies. I stopped by my local pharmacy they had several suggestions all of them helpful, after an evening of foot care I was able to continue walking the next day . The employees at this pharmacy were so helpful and understanding plus they spoke English . My next favorite place was the post office I love to send postcards when I travel but was afraid to enter the post office just seem so complicated but once I did I was standing in line at post office an employee came up to me and said” do you need stamps” I had to laugh because that’s what I was therefore. Never be afraid of pharmacies or post offices the employees are there to help us at least that’s been my experience.
Back in my youth (the 1950s) American pharmacists did treat and evaluate. I remember our pharmacist determinung I had a n eye infection, and putting the medicati I n in my eye before handing my mother the tube a nd explaining what to do. They’d also remove bad splinters and address minor injuries, as well as mix meds (compound drugs.) Now with our litiginous society, they may not physically touch us medically, and very few pharmacies are licensed to do compounding. French pharmacies are better.
Diana Winkler says
I work in the pharmacy industry in the US. When we visited France, we stayed with our french hosts , one of which was a pharmacist. We were sick with a cold. She brought home this wonderful nasal spray that we couldn’t get in the US. I was delighted to hear about how the pharmacists can actually do real pharmacist’s work and really care for their patients. The pharmacies here in the US have too much focus on money and profit. The pharmacists are forced to do what corporate CEOs want, to make more money. They don’t care if the pharmacy is understaffed, under paid, can’t eat lunch or go to the bathroom. My pharmacist host in France said there of none of those things in her pharmacy. The pharmacists would revolt if treated that way. If I ever move to France, I would be delighted to be trained to work in a French pharmacy.
Hi Diana, thanks for your comment! I’ve heard the same sentiments from other Americans who are pharmacists or work in the industry. So much in the US revolves around profit and profit alone. Not worth the gamble when it comes to health and patient care. I respect the work and dedication of pharmacists everywhere, but overall, the system in France and the level of care beats the USA. So happy you had a positive experience!
My son and I were visiting France in July (not the best time) and he got chapped on his inner thighs after all the walking. I went to a pharmacy and explained the best I could in French what was needed. The pharmacist was extremely nice and helpful and we got a tube of medicine. In the U. S. Pharmacists are very helpful in the smaller places, especially when you know them, but I dislike most of the chains. And the pharma companies have much too much sway over drugs that are prescribed and ridiculous prices.
Hey ! I’m writing a video which will be about différences between pharmacies un US and Fr, and I sure will put a link to this article 🙂 As a french pharmacist , I know some pharmacies have non pharmacology trained employées, but they can not sell you any medicine 😉 My videos are about pharmacists in the movies , called Clap’n Blouse 🙂
Thank you for this information. I’ll be going to France soon and I’m pretty sure I’ll need to visit a pharmacy. I’m recovering from sciatica and I may need to replenish ibuprofen. I hope they have those Theraheat type heat patches there.
jemes smith says
Such a great article I have ever seen. Everyone should follow your thoughts. I really appreciate it.
Dianne M. Devaux says
I enjoy your blog.
We have visited France many times and have had the experience of receiving health care in Avignon. I cannot say enough great things about the French Health Care System. It was an excellent experience.
I must tell you I take Coquelicot, my little dog to the pharmacy where we live. She sits on my lap when the pharmacist give me the flu shot.
We live in Oakville Canada
Hi Dianne, so glad you find the blog interesting and your pharmacy experience in France was a good one. LOVE your dog’s name. I bet you get a lot of questions about it!
The pharmacy is very good in French. Very good medicine