Getting insulin OTC in other countries?

I’m going to Serbia in a week. Whereas I have a bunch of insulin I can bring with me, as well as a written scrip from my doc (just in case that works over there… I don’t even know… ) I have not been able to find out any information about which countries you can buy short acting insulin over the counter in. Anyone know if you can do so in Serbia?

As far as I know, most developed countries do not allow you to buy insulin over the counter. They usually have some sort of government controlled health system (either a health service or government regulated or run health insurance scheme) so there is little or no reason for anyone to buy anything more sophisticated than a cold-remedy across the counter.

If you are going to Serbia (about which I know zero) for a long enough period to exceed any reasonable amount you could bring with you, I would just bring my scripts with me - they probably won’t work over there, but you could take them to a local doctor who would then issue you a refill. Otherwise, just bring at least twice as much as you will need and split your supplies in case one batch gets lost.

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I would email the US Embassy in Belgrade. I’m sure the question has come up before.

If your trip is less than a month or so, I’d advise taking the supplies you need, plus a cushion to cover you in the event of delays. Whether vials or pens, insulin is light and small, easy to travel with. The only issue might be refrigerating an opened vial, though I personally have never stressed about that for a trip of less than a month. If you are concerned, every pensione, B&B, guesthouse or hotel I’ve stayed in has had a fridge somewhere.

If you can’t possibly carry the amount of insulin you’ll need with you, I’d go armed with a letter from your physician stating you have diabetes and require insulin injections or are on insulin pump therapy (the sort of generic doctor’s travel letter you should have anyway, for customs and security checks). My understanding is that insulin vials and pen cartridges are color-coded to type, so even if a pharmacist can’t read your Humalog label, you’ll get the right thing because of that maroon cap.

Recent reports are that diabetics in Bosnia can’t always get the supplies they need locally, so if you think you’ll need to buy insulin, you’ll probably have better luck in a major city. The US Embassy in Bosnia website has a list of hospitals. Worst-case scenario, you can always take a ferry to Italy for the day. In the EU, you do not (or should not) require a prescription to buy insulin, if you can reasonably prove you need it, such as by having insulin with your name on the prescription label, or unveiling your insulin pump.

Insulin is a prescription item in Serbia, so if you need to get more beyond what you are carrying with you, you’d most likely need to get a prescription from a local doctor, which should not be difficult - bring your scripts with you, and look for any private clinic. Larger pharmacies in Belgrade and other major cities should have Novo and/or Lilly insulins. If you need any assistance, you will find that younger people are in general able to communicate in English very well.

Serbia is not Bosnia, although Serbia and Bosnia used to be parts of the same country called Yugoslavia.

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True enough! My mistake. That will teach me not to answer posts when I’m 2.4.

While I can’t speak about Serbia, I have bought OTC insulin without a prescription in a number of OECD countries (typically considered “developed”). You just pay the full price out of pocket (unless you come from a European country to another EU country, in which case you might want to research whether you can qualify for a special health card). In fact, the more government-controlled the system is, the more likely that insulin is considered a life-saving medication and relatively unproblematic to obtain even without the local insurance. (Again, you will have to pay for it.)

The first time I had to do this, I had half my insulin supplies stolen while traveling in the south of Chile and I just showed the pharmacist in a tiny resort town my pump and they didn’t at all question me about prescriptions or anything else.

More generally, however, I would advise the OP to make sure they have a traveler’s insurance either through the institution sending them abroad (US-based large corporations whose staff travel frequently, international NGOs and universities typically offer these, but you should know what the exact policy covers and under what conditions) or one that they buy on their own for the duration of their vacation, if it’s a private leisure trip.

ETA: The other thing to pay attention to, when it comes to purchasing insulin abroad, is the formulation – make sure it is whatever strength you are used to using.

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Thanks everyone! All very useful information. I’ll be staying with a friend who lives in Belgrade. I know I’m covered by my medical insurance for ER visits and if I need to go see a doctor while I’m there, but I don’t have any coverage as far as pharmaceuticals goes. I found out today by calling my insurance that it would probably be less expensive to go to an ER over there and have them give me insulin, which would all be covered under the ER visit (they said they assume…) than to pay for insulin out of pocket. Also checking with the friend I’m staying with about the insulin situation over there (as in what kind of drug it’s classified as and whatnot.) I also found out that she has a friend who is diabetic and also on an insulin pump, so at the worst, I can borrow some insulin from them.

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