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Can I import a medicine for personal use?

12 April 2019

We’re often asked whether it is possible to import a medicine if it is only for personal use.

In some cases, the answer is yes.  Provided all appropriate rules are followed, you can import many medicines for personal use.  This includes some medicines that have not been approved for supply in Australia.

But some medicines can never be imported, or can only be imported by a medical professional on behalf of a patient.  If you try to import a medicine without the proper permissions, the package may be seized by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and destroyed.  You will lose both the product and your money.

In serious cases, you could also face a fine or jail time.

How can you know whether a medicine can be imported for personal use?  Usually, it depends on the ingredients in the medicine.  There are more restrictions on higher risk ingredients such as ingredients with potential for abuse.

In this article we will explain the rules around importing medicines for personal use, including how to find out whether you will be able to import a particular product.

Before you import, be aware that if a medicine has not been approved in Australia we have no check on its safety or quality.  This means importing an unapproved medicine can be risky.  If you do import an unapproved medicine, you are taking this risk on yourself.

Small amounts for personal use

Under the personal importation scheme, some medicines can be imported for either you or an immediate family member.  This includes many medicines that are not approved in Australia.

However, you need to follow certain conditions:

  • If the medicine is prescription-only in Australia, you must have a valid Australian prescription or written authority.  You should arrange for a copy of the prescription or written authority to be enclosed with the package the medicine is sent in.
  • You can’t import most medicines with animal or human material.  Insulin is an exception and can be imported with a prescription.
  • You can’t import a controlled substance under this scheme.  Some prescription medicines are also controlled substances, and not eligible for personal importation.
  • You can’t sell the medicine, or give it to anyone outside your immediate family.  If the medicine is prescribed, you can’t give it to a different person.
  • You can only import a 3 month supply in one order, and no more than 15 months of supply over a 12 month period.
  • You must keep imported medicines in their packaging with any labels intact when importing.

Check for possible import restrictions

Before you import a medicine, you should always seek advice from a medical professional on the appropriate treatment for your condition.  A medical professional can also provide advice on appropriate access to a medicine.

If after consulting a medical professional you decide to import:

It is the responsibility of anyone importing a medicine to ensure that they comply with all relevant legislation.  If requirements are not met, the medicine could be seized and destroyed.  Heavy penalties can apply for illegal importation of a medicine.

If in doubt on any point, talk to a medical professional such as a doctor.

Counterfeit medicines

A medicine with an undeclared ingredient or substance is counterfeit, and cannot be imported for personal use.

The traveller’s exemption

If you are travelling to Australia from overseas, the traveller’s exemption allows you to carry up to a three month supply of a medicine, including controlled substances.  The medicine must be for your own personal use, or use by an immediate family member travelling with you.  You will need to carry a valid prescription or authorisation for the medicine, and the medicine must also be legal in the country you are travelling from.  For more information, read our blog post on travelling with medicines.

This exemption does not apply to prohibited substances.

Know the facts before you import

As a first step, always raise any health concerns with a medical professional, such as a doctor.  If you cannot import a particular medicine, your doctor will discuss alternatives.

All medicines have risks, and a medicine sold online can be especially dangerous because it may not meet the Australian standard of safety, quality and efficacy.  It may have undeclared ingredients, a different dose to the one advertised, or not have the advertised ingredient at all. Always use an approved medicine in favour of an unapproved one.

Be aware that some medicines are only available with a prescription, some medicines can only be accessed by a medical professional, and some substances are never available for medical use.