Can I import it?

27 June 2016

We do not recommend that consumers buy medicines and medical devices online from overseas websites as they can be harmful to your health. If you do want to import medicines or medical devices currently not approved for supply in Australia please read the information below.

Medicines

Case study 1: Tim wants to buy human growth hormone from an online store

Tim is a bodybuilder, and wants to import a human growth hormone for personal use. He finds a website to supply it from overseas and gets it shipped to Australia.

Human growth hormones are prohibited substances that require a permit to import.

The package is intercepted and seized by the Australian Border Force when it enters the country. As Tim cannot produce a permit for the shipment, it is destroyed.

Tim should have checked the list of prohibited substances to see if human growth hormone was on it. He should have then spoken to his doctor, who could have advised whether the medicine was suitable for him and, if appropriate, ordered it through the Special Access Scheme.

Case study: Roger is looking for a medicine to help lose weight

Roger believes he has a weight problem and is looking for a herbal or natural medicine to help him lose weight. He goes online and finds a number of websites that offer '100% natural' and 'all herbal' medicines that are 'guaranteed' to help him lose weight.

Surprised at the many 'natural' options on offer, he chooses one on a website that promises their products are scientifically proven and purchases the medicine online.

When the package arrives in Australia, the package is seized at the border because it contains suspicious capsules with '100% natural' on the label, but no list of ingredients. The capsules are tested and found to contain sibutramine, an illegal substance known to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Roger had unwittingly tried to import counterfeit medicines after buying online, and ended up with no shipment and several hundred dollars out of pocket.

More about medicines

Read up on the risks of buying medicines and medical devices online and remember to rigorously investigate the seller to make sure the products are genuine.

Some medicines may contain ingredients that are not allowed into the country without approval. In general, these include steroids and antibiotics.

Check the list of prohibited substances to see if any of the ingredients in your medicine are on it. If they are, you cannot order it. If you believe you need the medicine, speak to your doctor and they may be able order it for you through the Special Access Scheme.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure whether the medicine needs a prescription.

Send the seller a copy of your prescription so they can include it in your package. This will demonstrate to the Australian Border Force that you have a valid prescription for that medicine.

One importation cannot exceed a 3 month supply at the maximum dose recommended by the manufacturer.

If you repeat the importation you cannot exceed 15 months supply over a 12 month period.

If you wish to bring more than 3 months supply at the one time into Australia, an Australian-registered doctor will first need to apply to the Special Access Scheme.

If your medicine contains human, animal, plant or bacterial ingredients, or contains living cells or tissues, it will be subject to quarantine procedures at the border. Learn more at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

Supplying medicines to people outside your family that you have bought online is illegal and penalties could apply.

Medical devices

Case study: Sally wants to buy a medical laser for her beauty clinic in Brisbane

Sally runs a small beauty clinic in Brisbane and would like to buy an intense pulse light (IPL) laser system to use on clients for hair removal.

Sally finds a cheaper model online from an international wholesaler and has it shipped to Australia.

Because the laser system is not for personal use it is seized at the border and destroyed, leaving Sally thousands of dollars out of pocket.

To legally import an IPL machine for commercial use, Sally would need to become the legal sponsor of that machine or buy one from a company that has already included the machine on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Case study: Sue wants to buy a CPAP machine online from Asia

Sue snores like a trooper and her friend has suggested she purchase a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine from an online wholesaler in Asia. Sue wonders if it is illegal to import a medical device from overseas.

Because Sue plans to use the CPAP machine for her own personal use, importation of this medical device is legal. However, purchasing from an unknown source that may or may not meet quality standards can be risky.

More about medical devices

You can import a medical device (including an IVD medical device) if:

  • it is only for you or an immediate family member
  • the device has a primary purpose of personal use – see below
  • the device does not contain a medicine which is on the list of prohibited substances

Medical devices which are deemed to be for a commercial or clinical purpose may be seized at the border, as they are not considered to be for personal use. This includes equipment used in medical clinics or beauty and laser clinics, such as IPL machines and medical lasers.

If a medical device you are buying online contains or dispenses a medicine, follow the procedures above to find out of the medicine inside the device can be imported.

If your device contains or uses any material of biological origin, it will be subject to quarantine procedures at the border. Learn more at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.