Navigating Pharmacies in The Netherlands: Complete English Guide

Sofia Van Dirk

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Moving to or visiting a new country comes with its own set of challenges. Among the most vital to address is understanding the healthcare system, especially when it comes to sourcing medicines or seeking pharmaceutical advice.

Whether you’re a tourist eager to explore the Dutch tulip fields, an expat settling in for a new chapter, or a student embracing a rich academic journey, getting to grips with pharmacies in The Netherlands is both essential and reassuring. This article serves as your handy guide, ensuring that, even if you don’t understand Dutch, you’ll never feel lost when it comes to managing your pharmaceutical needs in The Netherlands.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dutch pharmacies are health hubs, offering a range of medications and services.
  • Over-the-counter medicines are available, but consult pharmacists for the right choice.
  • Prescription medicines typically need a doctor’s digital recommendation.
  • Payment can be made directly or through insurance, with many pharmacies billing insurers directly.
  • Convenience is a hallmark, with accessible locations, English-speaking staff, and digital integration.
  • Tourists and foreigners can navigate Dutch pharmacies with ease using a few essential tips.

Understanding the Terminology

In The Netherlands, while many professionals speak English, knowing a few Dutch terms can enhance your experience, making your interactions seamless and efficient.

Apotheek: This is the Dutch word for “pharmacy.” If you see this sign, you’re in the right place for both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as other health-related services.

Drogisterij: This term translates to “drugstore.” Unlike an apotheek, a drogisterij is more akin to a general store for personal care products. Here, you can find toiletries, cosmetics, and some non-prescription medicines like pain relievers or cold remedies. However, for more specialized medicines or prescriptions, you’ll need to visit an apotheek.

It’s crucial to make this distinction, especially when in need of specific medications or health advice. By understanding the difference between an apotheek and a drogisterij, you can save valuable time and ensure that you’re seeking help from the right place.

Types of Pharmacies in The Netherlands

pharmacies in the netherlands

Let’s delve into the types of pharmacies you might encounter:

Regular or Open Pharmacies

These are the most common and easily accessible pharmacies you’ll find dotted across Dutch cities and towns. They cater to a wide range of needs, supplying both prescription and non-prescription medicines. Their staff are trained to provide advice on various health concerns and can guide you to the right product or service.

Hospital Pharmacies

As the name suggests, these are located within hospitals. They specialize in providing medications for in-patients, ensuring that medical treatments align with hospital care. Moreover, they stock specialized medicines that might not be available at regular pharmacies. If you’re receiving treatment at a hospital, this is where your medication will likely come from.

Internet Pharmacies

Embracing the digital age, The Netherlands offers a range of online pharmacy platforms. These are especially convenient for routine medications or those who prefer to have their medications delivered directly to their door. Ensure you choose reputable platforms, often affiliated with brick-and-mortar pharmacies, to guarantee the quality and authenticity of your medicines.

Getting a Prescription

In The Netherlands, the process of obtaining prescription medicines is systematic and prioritizes your safety. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you seamlessly get the medications you need:

Consult a Dutch Doctor: Before anything else, it’s essential to see a local doctor (huisarts). They’ll evaluate your medical condition and decide on the best course of action. Whether you’ve run out of a medication you’ve been taking or developed a new ailment, the doctor is your first point of contact.

Digital Prescription Transmission: Gone are the days of paper prescriptions that can be easily lost. In The Netherlands, once a doctor prescribes a medication, it’s digitally transmitted to the pharmacy of your choice. This system reduces errors, ensures that the right medication is available when you arrive, and allows for a quicker pick-up process.

Prescription Validity: Typically, a prescription in The Netherlands is valid for six months unless specified otherwise by the doctor. Some medications, particularly strong painkillers or certain psychiatric medicines, may have stricter validity periods, so it’s wise to stay informed.

Repeat Prescriptions: If you have a chronic condition that requires ongoing medication, many doctors will provide a repeat prescription. This means that you can obtain the same medication multiple times without revisiting the doctor, up to the quantity or duration they’ve approved.

Key Services Offered

Let’s explore the range of services you can expect when walking into a Dutch pharmacy:

Over-the-Counter MedicinesMedications available without a prescription; seek pharmacist advice.
Prescription MedicinesMedications provided upon a doctor’s recommendation, usually sent digitally.
Health Advice and CounselingConsultation on various health concerns, including medication side effects.
VaccinationsAvailable in some pharmacies for travel or flu seasons; check in advance.
Special OrdersOrdering specific medications not in stock.
Equipment and DevicesAvailability of medical devices and equipment like blood pressure monitors or crutches.

Purchasing Over-the-Counter Medications

For minor ailments or common health needs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications are a go-to. These are medicines that don’t require a doctor’s prescription and can be directly purchased from the pharmacy. Here’s what you need to know:

Making the Right Choice: While some familiar brands might be available, there are instances where the brand names differ from what you might be accustomed to. In such cases, focus on the generic name or the active ingredient of the medicine. For instance, if you’re looking for paracetamol, that’s the name you should ask for or search on the packaging.

Pharmacist’s Guidance: Dutch pharmacists are well-trained and knowledgeable. If you’re unsure about what to buy, describing your symptoms to the pharmacist can lead you to the best OTC medication for your needs. Remember, many pharmacists in The Netherlands speak English, so language shouldn’t be a barrier.

Reading Instructions: While many medicines will have instructions in Dutch, pharmacists often provide English instructions upon request. Ensure you understand the dosage, potential side effects, and any other relevant information before leaving the pharmacy.

Drogisterij vs. Apotheek: As previously mentioned, while you can find some OTC medications in a drogisterij (like pain relievers or cold remedies), an apotheek will have a broader selection and offer expert advice on choosing the right medication.

Safety First: Just because a medication is available over-the-counter doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everyone. Always consider any allergies you may have, other medications you’re taking, and pre-existing health conditions. When in doubt, consult with the pharmacist.

Payment and Insurance

Let’s demystify the basics of how payment and insurance work with Dutch pharmacies:

Methods of Payment

Most Dutch pharmacies accept a variety of payment methods, including:

  • Debit and credit cards (Maestro, Visa, Mastercard are commonly accepted)
  • Cash, although card payments are generally more prevalent
  • Mobile payment apps or contactless payments, increasingly popular in the digital age.

Insurance and Medications

Basic Insurance Coverage: By law, every Dutch resident is required to have at least basic health insurance, which covers a significant portion of prescription medication costs. If you’re an expat or long-term student, it’s worth looking into this.

Additional Coverage: Some medicines or treatments may not be fully covered by basic insurance. In such cases, supplementary insurance can bridge the gap. Always check your insurance policy’s specifics or consult with your insurance provider.

Direct Billing: Many pharmacies have arrangements with insurance companies to bill them directly. This means that, in many cases, you won’t need to pay upfront and then wait for reimbursement. Instead, the pharmacy will handle the billing process, and you might only need to cover any co-payments or medicines not covered by your policy.

Tourists and Short-Term Visitors

If you’re a tourist or a short-term visitor, you’ll typically pay for your medications upfront. It’s then up to you to check with your travel or health insurance, if you have one, to see if they will reimburse these costs.

Price Transparency

One of the commendable aspects of Dutch pharmacies is their transparency in pricing. Medication prices are usually consistent across pharmacies, ensuring you get a fair deal. If in doubt, feel free to ask the pharmacist for a cost breakdown.


Always retain your receipts, especially if you plan to seek reimbursement from your insurance. It’s also a good practice to have a record of your medical expenditures.

Related: Best Banks In The Netherlands: How To Open An Account 2023

Convenience and Accessibility

Let’s delve into what makes Dutch pharmacies a paragon of convenience and accessibility:


Whether in bustling urban centers like Amsterdam or Utrecht, or in tranquil towns dotted with windmills, you’re never too far from a pharmacy. Their strategic locations ensure that you can access medications and health advice with ease, regardless of where you are in the country.

Opening Hours

  • Regular Hours: Most pharmacies adhere to standard business hours, opening from around 8 or 9 am and closing by 6 pm on weekdays. On Saturdays, they may have shorter hours, typically closing by mid-afternoon.
  • On-call Services: For after-hours needs, many cities have designated “on-call” pharmacies that remain open later into the evening, on weekends, or even 24/7. It’s a good idea to note down the nearest on-call pharmacy when you’re in a new area.

Languages Spoken

The Dutch are renowned for their linguistic skills. In many pharmacies, especially in urban areas, staff often speak English, making it easier for non-Dutch speakers to communicate their needs and understand medical advice.

Digital Integration

With the rise of technology, many Dutch pharmacies have embraced online platforms. This means you can often renew prescriptions, seek advice, or even order certain medications online. This digital integration offers unparalleled convenience, especially for those who prefer online interactions.

Public Transport Proximity

Given The Netherlands’ robust public transport system, many pharmacies are conveniently located near tram stops, bus stations, or train stations. This ensures that even if you don’t have personal transportation, you can easily reach a pharmacy.

Accessibility for All

Many pharmacies, keeping in line with Dutch inclusivity values, are equipped to cater to individuals with disabilities. This includes ramps for wheelchair access, braille labels for the visually impaired, and often, staff trained to assist diverse needs.

Useful Tips for Foreigners

Here are some handy tips tailored for foreigners to ensure a smooth experience with Dutch pharmacies:

  • Pharmacy Signage: Keep an eye out for the green cross symbol. This is universally recognized as the sign for a pharmacy and will guide you to the nearest one when in need.
  • Carry Identification: When collecting prescription medications, it’s advisable to have a form of identification with you, such as a passport or residence permit. Some pharmacies might ask for it, especially if it’s your first visit.
  • Medication Names: If you have a preferred medication from your home country, jot down its generic name, not just the brand. This will make it easier to find its equivalent in Dutch pharmacies, ensuring you get the right medication.
  • Ask Questions: If you’re unsure about anything – be it the dosage, potential side effects, or storage instructions – always ask. Dutch pharmacists are approachable and well-informed, and they’re there to help.
  • Know the Non-Pharmacy Alternatives: For basic health products like vitamins, skincare, or non-prescription pain relievers, remember that drogisterijen (drugstores) like Kruidvat or Etos might also have what you need.
  • Emergency Numbers: In case of a health emergency, dial 112. If you need a doctor outside of regular hours, look for the nearest “huisartsenpost” (after-hours GP service). It’s good to save these numbers and addresses on your phone or keep a note handy.
  • Respect Etiquette: The Dutch appreciate politeness and patience. A simple “Dank je” (thank you) can go a long way. If there’s a queue, wait your turn. If the pharmacist is offering advice, listen attentively.
  • Stay Updated: Especially relevant for long-term visitors, be aware of any updates in insurance policies, pharmacy practices, or regulations. Joining local expat forums or groups can be a valuable resource for this.

Related: New To The Netherlands: Everything You Need To Know (2023)

ABOUT Sofia Van Dirk

Sofia van Dijk is our resident Relocation Expert at Born and raised in the Netherlands, Sofia possesses extensive knowledge of Dutch culture, local customs, and the practicalities of living in this unique country. She studied International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and spent several years working for an international relocation company before joining our team.

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