Is it legal to order medication for import to Australia? How can Australians order online safely?

Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted November 29, 2022

PharmacyChecker has received over 500,000 visitors from Australia since 2010.

Importing medicine for personal use in Australia is legal but with important caveats. Australia’s government warns consumers against ordering medicine online because of the dangers of rogue online pharmacies. PharmacyChecker helps Australians and consumers internationally to avoid dangerous websites by providing the information they need to order from safe international online pharmacies, referred to as online chemists in Australia. I’ll use pharmacies and chemists interchangeably below. 

Australia’s Personal Drug Importation Scheme

Australia has what is called its personal importation scheme, under which “individuals can legally import most therapeutic goods for personal use.” In other words, many drugs and medical devices can legally be purchased overseas for use by an individual or their family members. For those Americans reading this post, “scheme” is not something shady. “Scheme” is merely a word used in place of “system.”

Under Australia’s regulations, you can import a 3-month supply of medications without approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), but you must comply with the following:

  • The medication is for your own treatment or the treatment of your immediate family; you don’t sell or give the medicine to any other person.
  • You keep the medicines in the original packaging with dispensing labels on them.
  • The medication is not restricted under Australian Customs controls or quarantine rules and it is not a controlled substance.
  • The medication is not an injection that contains material of human or animal origin (insulin is an exception).
  • The total amount of medication imported within a period of 12 months does not exceed a 15-month supply. I found this to be confusing. It appears to mean that if you go a little over the three-month supply, then the government is not concerned that you are importing for resale, which is illegal – but keep to that 15-month maximum supply!
  • You must have a valid Australian prescription for medications in Schedule 4 or 8 of the Poisons Standard.
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How do Australians import more than a 3-month supply and restricted drugs?

If you want to import more than a 3-month supply of medication in Australia, then you must have an Australian-registered doctor apply to the TGA for approval of the Special Access Scheme. This special access scheme is also used for obtaining access to controlled and unapproved therapeutic goods in Australia, however, this is for exceptional clinical circumstances.

The TGA wisely warns people that the government cannot guarantee the safety and quality of drugs imported online. They urge consumers who choose to import drugs from overseas to know about the drug they are ordering, its source, and the legal requirements for importation.

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So how can Australians import prescription medication safely from trusted companies?

If you decide to import your prescription medication from an international online pharmacy, we strongly recommend that you only buy from websites that the PharmacyChecker Verification Program accredits.

PharmacyChecker was established in 2003 to help patients find qualified online pharmacies in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. PharmacyChecker is also a valuable resource for finding the lowest drug prices available online.

Peer-reviewed and independent research show that as long as patients search PharmacyChecker-verified pharmacies for medications purchased online, they receive lawfully manufactured and high-quality medication.  

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Are drug costs an issue in Australia?

Like most other high-income countries, Australia provides its citizens with far greater security when it comes to healthcare than in the United States – including access to safe and affordable prescription drugs. However, even in Australia, it’s estimated that 8% of people are not properly filling their prescriptions because of cost. According to the Commonwealth Fund, 12% of Australians who take two medications or more report not filling a prescription or skipping doses, compared to 24% in the United States. 

One study from the Grattan Institute has shown that drug prices are higher in Australia than in the UK, for instance. Furthermore, some drugs remain outside the country’s regulatory scope and can be far more expensive than therapeutically equivalent drugs. For those medicines, patients may seek access to lower prices offered in other countries.

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Should doctors help their patients import medicines ordered online?

My shorter answer is “hell, yes!” 

Dr. Narcyz Ghinea from Macquarie University more eloquently answers the question “ Do doctors have a responsibility to help patients import medicines from abroad?”  with the most beautiful articulation of this issue I’ve ever read:

“Insofar as doctors have a responsibility to address the unmet needs of their patients if deemed in their best interests, they also have a responsibility to help patients import medicines that they cannot otherwise afford if the likely benefits outweigh the potential harms, and if their involvement may help mitigate some of the risks.”

In view of the barriers to medicines access in Australia and an assessment of the more dire situation here in the United States, Dr. Ghinea concludes that “...for many people, having the option to import medicines from abroad is an important mechanism for bypassing cost barriers to care.” 

PharmacyChecker is on the frontlines and at the vanguard of promoting safety and mitigating risks for those buying prescription drugs online across borders. In addition to cost barriers, in some cases, Australian care providers may want their patients to obtain a drug that is not available domestically, precipitating the need for an international chemist.

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How can Australians order medication from accredited international online chemists?

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

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Why Patients Trust the PharmacyChecker Verification Program

Online pharmacies (chemists) are verified for high standards of online pharmacy practice before acceptance into the PharmacyChecker Verification Program and listing on PharmacyChecker.com. 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

PharmacyChecker.com 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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Compare drug prices among reputable online pharmacies

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