How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France

How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France

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!

How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France

8 thoughts on “How to Get Over the Counter Birth Control in France

  1. Avatar
    donna zammit
    March 7, 2016
    Reply

    is the Nexplanon implant available in France, if not what countries offer it?

  2. Avatar
    natasha
    December 26, 2013
    Reply

    Thanks a lot for the post!

    I needed an extra pack since I have to stay in Paris longer than expected. With a pack of my pills and the original prescription, I went to the nearest pharmacy. They looked it up and found out that the first component (norethindrone acetate) is not used in France at all. Instead, they recommended something with the same dose of etstradiol and levonorgestrel as the first component. Very quick, did not even ask about the prescription, very helpful, and only five euros for a three-month pack. In the US, it’s all covered by my insurance but otherwise costs about $100 for a one-month pack.

  3. Avatar
    Chloe
    November 13, 2013
    Reply

    I am currently studying in France and went to two pharmacies looking to buy a new pack of birth control without a prescription after reading this blog post. Both pharmacies told me that a prescription from a French doctor is required.

  4. Avatar
    Deirdre
    June 3, 2013
    Reply

    I lost my travel case with several meds while on a train most likely. Worst of all, I was on my honeymoon! I definitely didn’t want to start my period (or have a honeymoon baby)! While this part was very frustrating, finding birth control in Paris was v easy! I speak French fluently but not perfectly but was able to get bc pills without any problems. Although I didn’t have my pack since it was lost, I remembered the name and hormone dosages. I wrote it down and took it to the nearest pharmacie (one on every block in Paris). The first pharmacist advised me that she didn’t have the exact drug but what she did bring was extremely close. She wouldn’t sell it to me because it wasn’t the exact same drug and advised me to go to an urgent care to get a script the next day (it was Sunday and everything would be closed) or to make an appointment with a doctor Monday and get a script. She was nice but being difficult and I looked at the dosage 3 mg dospirone, .02 ethinyl estradiol (Yaz) where mine was the same hormones 3 mg and .03 respectively (Yazmin). I knew this was bs but wouldn’t have if I didn’t speak the language, so I wanted to post. It was Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the pharmacies were closing for the day, so my husband and I just walked a little further to find an open pharmacie Sunday. I just told the pharmacist I needed Yaz but didn’t write down the exact dosage. No Rx, no argument, no problem, and she was v sympathetic. If you’re not familiar w dosing get some advice but don’t give up! I got 3 packs for 39 euros, that would have cost me $250 without insurance and $90 with.

  5. Avatar
    Lianne
    January 4, 2013
    Reply

    Thank you for this post! I just moved to Paris and I was getting anxious how to replace my last pack of pills. I came from Spain where pharmacies don’t usually require prescription for most contraceptives. Thanks and all the best!

  6. Avatar
    Jessica
    December 7, 2012
    Reply

    A huge thank you! I’m in a very similar situation and am going to try to bring my pill pack to the pharmacist tomorrow, thank you!

  7. Avatar
    alice
    November 12, 2012
    Reply

    Thank you for this post, I was having the exact same problem 🙂

  8. Avatar
    August 3, 2012
    Reply

    Thank you immensely for the advice in this post; it was just what I needed to find. -roma

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