New rules allow French pharmacies to dispense certain prescription-strength drugs without prescription and give flu and Covid injections (depending on the circumstances) and in the future may well allow them to hand out certain antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.

pharmacy cross

In fact, ‘Pharmacie’ staff in France are highly trained, (six or seven years of university studies are required) and therefore, whilst they are not allowed to diagnose, they are generally very competent in providing advice and over the counter treatment for many common ailments. Whilst certainly not a substitute for a doctor, they can be a good place to start if you’re off colour. Do not be afraid to ask advice, describe your symptoms etc.

We checked in with our local pharmacie in Maureillas to find out more about the many services offered by chemists in France.


According to the WHO (World Health Organisation, not the rock band!), France has the best healthcare system in the world and more people visit the doctor here than in any other country – and of course, doctors write prescriptions.


Most pharmacies will carry out first aid, take your blood pressure, lend blood pressure gauges (and show you how to use them), advise on the edibility of mushrooms picked, sell or rent out and deliver materials such as crutches, wheelchairs, beds for the disabled….. Village pharmacies will often work closely with district nurses and doctors to ensure that patients receive the right medical care.


Pharmacies open shop hours and are closed Sunday and Bank holidays. However, there will always be at least one ‘service de garde’ in each area providing out-of-hours service in case of emergency. Look for a notice in the window of any pharmacy, or ring 3237 for the local of the ‘pharmacie de garde’ nearest you.


Only pharmacies are allowed to sell over-the-counter, non-prescription drugs, so you will not find paracetamol or haemorrhoid cream at your local corner shop or supermarket. There is no state reimbursement for over the counter drugs, unless they have been prescribed by a doctor.


Many French chemists have a wide range of homeopathic remedies and pharmacists often recommend them. Bear in mind that the homeopathic option MAY BE considerably less efficient and should not be considered if you are amongst the ‘at risk’ groups.


You will often be given ‘generic’ drugs with different names, cheaper equivalent of the ‘branded’ drug you may be used to. You can ask specifically for branded drugs but you will only receive reimbursement at the rate for the equivalent generic drug.


Medicine in France is dispensed by the pack, so you will often end up with much more than you need. For example, if you are prescribed a twelve-day course of antibiotics and these come in packs of ten, you will receive two packs, nearly half of which you will not use. Take your surplus drugs into your local pharmacie and they will see that that they are disposed of safely. They are no longer able to recycle.


The high standard of French healthcare and low price of prescription drugs is changing, as state contributions towards medicines are substantially reduced. This reduction will also affect the amount of reimbursement from your ‘complémentaire santé’, so this is a good time to check the conditions of your top up health policy.


….we can’t possibly end without mentioning the good old suppository! Used in France to cure sore throats, fevers, inflammations, and a whole range of ailments, whether they be bottom related or not, this is one French treatment that still makes the Brits go ‘oh là la’ !

Some useful vocabulary for visiting the chemist in France

Ou est la pharmacie de garde la plus proche?
Where is the nearest emergency chemist?

J’ai le nez bouché.
I’ve got a bunged up nose

I feel dizzy.
La tête me tourne

I feel sick
J’ai mal au cœur

I have been sick.
Je viens de vomir

Je ne dors pas bien
I’m not sleeping well

I have sunburn.
J’ai pris un coup de soleil

Est-ce qu’il y a un générique?
Is there a ‘cheaper alternative’?

Do you have anything for a cold/flu?
Avez-vous quelque chose contre un rhume/la grippe?

I’ve been stung by a bee/wasp
J’ai été piqué(e) par une abeille/guêpe.

Can you recommend an insect repellant?
Pouvez-vous me conseiller une crème anti-insecte?

I would like some plasters, please.
Je voudrais du sparadrap, s’il vous plaît.

I am allergic to…
j’ai une allergie contre…

It is not serious.
Ce n’est pas grave.

I feel dizzy.
La tête me tourne.

I have been sick.
Je viens de vomir.

I have stomach ache.
J’ai mal au ventre.

I have a headache.
J’ai mal à la tête.

Can you give me something for the pain?
Pouvez-vous me donner un analgésique?

Est-ce que je devrais voir un médecin?
Should I see a doctor?

I feel unwell.
Je ne me sens pas bien.

I have a temperature.
J’ai de la fièvre.



  1. I live in Maureillas so would agree pharmacies are generally very good but delays in other areas let the side down Cardiology RDV mid July

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