How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France
Though I have lived abroad in several countries on many different occasions, this year traveling in France was the first time I’ve ever had to deal with figuring out how to get long-term access to prescription medication from across the pond. Before I left for the country of cheese, wine and baguettes, I had been taking hormonal birth control for a little over a year.
Like many women, the process of finding the right pill for me was a long and arduous one, which included morning sickness, acne, weight gain, moodiness, etc. until I finally found the one that worked perfectly for me. I was using a generic brand, about $30 (US) a month, but covered 100% by my insurance.
A few weeks before embarking on my nine-month stay in Northern France, I went to my gynecologist to get a note enabling me to stock up so that I would not have to worry about access abroad. Unfortunately, when the pharmacist checked with my insurance, he found that they were only willing to make an exception to pay for three months worth at one time.
Mailing prescription medication into France is strictly forbidden unless you have a special license (that costs over $1000 to acquire).
Furthermore, I would not be able to tap into this exception again for over a year. If I wanted the other six months of pills, I would have had to cough up $180. The pharmacist suggested I simply have my mom pick up my prescription each month and mail it to me. This would cost a few dollars. Satisfied with this response, I took my three months of goods and left.
Fast forward three months and I only have two weeks left of my final pill pack. I call my mom to entreat her to drop the next pack in the mail as soon as possible, because I don’t know how long it will take to get to my small, relatively isolated town. Later that day, she heads down to the post office to mail the innocuous little package, only to be informed that mailing prescription medication into France is strictly forbidden unless you have a special license (that costs over $1000 to acquire).
Upon hearing this from my mother the next day, I marched over to the nearest pharmacy, dwindling packet of birth control in hand, and explained to the pharmacist (in very poor French and creative hand gestures) my entire predicament. Technically I needed to visit a doctor to get an official prescription, but the pharmacists were perfectly willing to look at my existing pill pack to check if they carried what I was looking for.
Nevertheless, they figured out the closest approximation, and promptly sold it to me. Sans prescription for an impressively shruggable price of 2,90€.
After ten minutes of fervid searching and online research on their part, they determined that my formula of birth control was not available in France. They also explained to me that North American birth control pills tend to be much stronger than their European counterparts, so it would be difficult for me to find something very similar to the pills I had come to know and love.
Nevertheless, they figured out the closest approximation, and promptly sold it to me, sans prescription, for an impressively shruggable price of 2,90€. A relief when you do not have French health insurance.
Unfortunately, the pills proved to interact with me in awful ways, and I soon realized that I needed to change to something else. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment with a regular general practitioner, which cost me the routine, universal price of 24€. (No need to visit a gynecologist for a simple birth control prescription.
Especially since they are considered specialists, and thus charge closer to 40€ per visit.) She prescribed me something new, wrote it down on her official prescription paper, I paid her for the visit, and headed to the pharmacy, prescription in hand. Once again, it was only about 3€, and has not given me any problems whatsoever.
It also helps if you act slightly distressed about the situation and/or claim that you are on this medication for very heavy periods and that you do not know what might happen if you suddenly stop taking it due to lack of access.
If you find yourself in a French town with no paper prescription (foreign or local), and know that you cannot get access to a doctor, try just walking into multiple pharmacies with your current prescription, in its original packaging if possible, and attempting to explain your situation.
Bringing your actual pill pack with all relevant chemical information (look it up online if necessary!) is imperative because it will enable them to find something fairly comparable (do not forget that they sometimes measure in micrograms (µg) instead of milligrams (mg)).
How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France
It also helps if you act slightly distressed about the situation and/or claim that you are on this medication for very heavy periods, and that you do not know what might happen if you suddenly stop taking it due to lack of access. All of the pharmacists who I have dealt with since I have arrived in France have been very kind and helpful women who tend to empathize with your situation and do everything in their power to meet your needs.
Do not worry about your lack of French. A few vocabulary words, hand gestures and minor props (your current pill back) go a long way! Once you have succeeded, you can add the entire process to the list of challenges that you have overcome abroad!
Photo credit for How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France by Pixabay.