Is it legal to order medication for import into Canada?

Written by Lucia Mueller | Posted May 25, 2023

In Canada, it is illegal for residents to import prescription medication from other countries, except in certain limited circumstances. However, similar to the practice in the United States, the law is not strictly enforced, and some Canadians do choose to import prescription medication from other countries for personal use. This article is for those living in Canada – people who enter Canada on visitor/tourist visas, student visas, or work visas are eligible to bring their medication prescribed in other countries, provided they follow Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) regulations.

Health Canada, the federal department responsible for national health policy in Canada, regulates the safety and effectiveness of prescription medication sold in Canada. In Canada, prescription drugs have specific import requirements and are “only permitted to be imported by a practitioner, a drug manufacturer, a wholesale druggist, a registered pharmacist, or a resident of a foreign country while a visitor in Canada.” Health Canada is explicit on its website, saying that “Canadian residents are generally not permitted to import prescription drugs by mail or courier,” however, in certain circumstances, the agency may grant special exemptions that allow individuals to import prescription medication from other countries. For example, if a medication that is not available in Canada is needed by the patient to treat a serious medical condition, Health Canada may grant an import exemption.    

The reasons cited for not expressly legalizing the personal importation of prescription medication in Canada are similar to those used in other countries, all of which are interested in protecting their own drug supplies: The overarching claim is that it can be difficult to ensure the safety and quality of medication that comes from outside of Canada. 

How can Canadians safely order medication online from other countries?

PharmacyChecker recommends that Canadians – and consumers located elsewhere – always consult their healthcare provider in order to carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of ordering medications from other countries. Reasons to do so usually fall into two categories: lack of availability within the region or cost-related nonadherence.

Despite the legality issues and tight border security, some Canadians choose to order medication online from other countries. Online pharmacies based in other countries, especially those in countries with lower drug prices, can offer an alternative for Canadians seeking more affordable medications or specific medications that may not be available within Canada. However, it is imperative to highlight the risks associated with ordering medication online, as the quality, safety, and legitimacy of these medications can vary. Health Canada – and the PharmacyChecker Verification team – are quite clear in cautioning consumers about purchasing medication from online sources, as it can be challenging to ensure the authenticity and safety of the products. The PharmacyChecker Verification Program was created over 20 years ago to arm the global consumer with the most comprehensive information possible on internet pharmacy safety and pricing across countries. PharmacyChecker publishes its list of accredited websites here: 

International Pharmacies Accredited through PharmacyChecker Verification

Websites authorized to publish the PharmacyChecker Seal market and sell prescription drugs dispensed from licensed pharmacies in good standing in the countries where they are located. 

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Will a prescription drug import be seized at the Canadian border?

When someone living in Canada orders medication from another country, there is always a possibility that the package could be seized at the border. If the imported medication is clearly for personal use, meaning it meets certain criteria such as being a non-controlled substance for which a valid prescription was obtained that does not exceed a 90-day supply, it will likely be granted entry. However, Canadian patients must be aware that, due to Health Canada personal drug import restrictions, even if the medication meets these criteria, there is still a risk that it could be seized by customs officials due to the country’s lack of express legalization of prescription medicine imports for personal use. 

The Canada Border Services Agency is likely most interested in seizing packages that contain prohibited or controlled substances, medications that require a prescription but do not have one, or medications that are not approved for use in Canada. Customs officers have discretion in enforcing these regulations. It is important to be aware of the potential risks and to familiarize yourself with the guidelines and regulations set by Health Canada regarding the importation of prescription medications. Consulting with a healthcare professional and following the appropriate legal procedures can help reduce the chances of package seizure at customs.

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Why Canadians Trust the PharmacyChecker Verification Program

Online pharmacies around the world are vetted against high standards of online pharmacy practice before acceptance into the PharmacyChecker Verification Program and listing on If the website and pharmacy successfully pass our evaluation, the website is approved and provided a valid PharmacyChecker Seal to place on their website.

PharmacyChecker Seal

Qualifications and credentials are re-checked on an ongoing basis. The program is run by the PharmacyChecker Vice President of Pharmacy Verification and Information, Jeffrey Poirier, RPh — a licensed pharmacist in New Hampshire.

The following is a sample list of important criteria we check for all online pharmacy applicants:

  • Prescription orders dispensed by licensed pharmacies verified by PharmacyChecker
  • Requires valid prescription
  • Meets website security requirements
  • Publishes customer privacy policy on the website
  • Publishes contact information on the website for customer service
  • Pharmacist consultation offered to consumers
  • Quantities marketed on the website are restricted to a maximum of 3 months' supply at a time
  • Disclosure of pharmacy location to the consumer prior to purchase
  • Marketing claims checked for accuracy
  • Controlled drugs, such as Vicodin and Xanax, are not sold internationally is frequently cited and recommended by popular and well-respected media channels, organizations, and consumer health experts, including AARP, CNN, The New York Times; The People’s Pharmacy and the Public Interest Research Group; and Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Kaiser Health News and Roger Bate, PhD, drug safety expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

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How can Canadians order medication from accredited international online pharmacies?

See our Ask PharmacyChecker answer: How can I safely order medication from an online pharmacy?

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