Can Americans legally drive to Mexico to fill a prescription?

Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted December 21, 2018 | Updated October 04, 2022

It's not really a secret that many Americans travel to Mexico for prescription medications, which are sold just across the border at a fraction of the U.S. price tag. This is in addition to other forms of “medical tourism” to find lower-cost care. It’s often not a question of the “American” vs. “Mexican” version: Patients will find that many brand-name medicines sold in Mexican pharmacies are the exact same ones sold here, the only difference being cost and the label. Even factoring in the cost of fuel or flight, it's big savings, but should you do it? 

The legality of Importing Prescription Medication from Mexico

For decades, millions of Americans with inadequate or no drug coverage, as well as those seeking critical medications that are not available domestically, have purchased medication from foreign pharmacies. This practice is known as personal drug importation. The U.S. government generally does not stop individuals from importing medication for their own use (usually up to a three-month supply of non-controlled drugs).

You should know that according to the FDA, under most circumstances, “importing” prescription drugs for yourself is prohibited. The reality is that no one is arrested, let alone prosecuted, for doing so. Further, I believe that the FDA’s position about legality sometimes doesn’t tell the whole story. Suffice it to say that federal law includes numerous protections for patients who import prescription drugs for themselves that do not extend to businesses who illegally import and resale drugs. 

For example, there is a special provision in the law that prevents the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from stopping people who bring personal use quantities of FDA-approved medication back from Canada. That provision does not, however, extend to Mexico. In another law passed in 2000, the Prescription Drug Import Fairness Act, Congress stated that American patients have reason to import FDA-approved drugs for themselves and their families. There are others!

Related: Can I drive to Canada to fill a prescription?

The laws noted above may explain why individuals are not prosecuted for importing small quantities of medication for personal use, not re-sale. The FDA itself says its enforcement efforts around importation are focused on drugs imported for commercial use, fraudulent drugs and products that pose high health risks. So, taking a drive or flight to Mexico for medication and bringing back a 90-day supply or less carries minimal risk of import seizure.

While the law allows the FDA and the CBP to detain and refuse personal drug imports by mail, far less than one percent are actually stopped when the patient has ordered from a pharmacy that requires a prescription. Under U.S. law, the FDA must provide you with due process to challenge that decision to take away your medication.  

Also, while many drugs purchased in Mexican pharmacies are the exact same as ones sold in U.S. pharmacies, many others are not, especially when it comes to generic drugs. The U.S. FDA regulates the safety and efficacy of medications sold in U.S. pharmacies. Medications dispensed from Mexico are regulated for safety and efficacy by the Federal Commission for the Protection against Health Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios), Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

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Ordering Medication Online from Mexico

Currently, there are no online pharmacies in Mexico that are accredited by Several online pharmacies in Mexico sell medicines but do so without requiring a prescription, which makes them ineligible for the PharmacyChecker Verification Program. A licensed pharmacy in Mexico, with the proper prescription requirements and subject to inspection, could potentially qualify for the Verification Program. You can, however, find vetted pharmacies listed on that market and ship prescription drugs internationally from other countries, provided you have a prescription.

See List of Accredited International Online Pharmacies

Related: Are there safe online pharmacies in Mexico?

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Compare drug prices among reputable online pharmacies

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