Guideline on medicines and the Internet
This page provides advice on aspects that need to be considered when ordering medicines online. It will help you to comply with the legal requirements and provides information on potential risks.
Numerous vendors advertise the sale of medicines online and people’s mailboxes are frequently inundated with offers of this kind. Yet experience has shown that medicines ordered online often originate from illegal sources abroad and that the goods are of poor quality.
This is why Swissmedic strongly advises against purchasing medicines online.
Of course Swiss mail-order pharmacies with a corresponding cantonal licence to operate a mail-order business are an exception. It should be noted that a doctor’s prescription must be submitted for each order of medicines.
 Legal basis: Art. 27 of the Federal Act on Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (TPA; SR 812.21).
Small quantities of medicines may be imported into Switzerland legally under certain conditions.
An individual may import medicines corresponding to one month’s supply for personal use but not on behalf of third parties. One month’s supply is calculated on the basis of the dosage stated by the holder of the marketing authorisation (therapeutic medical use).
These legal provisions are actually intended for tourists who have purchased their medicines in their home country and bring them to use during their stay in Switzerland.
If a medicine is classified as a narcotic (see: Link), it may only be carried by sick travellers (see: Link).
If the imported product contains a substance listed in the Ordinance on promotion of sport it is classified as a doping agent; the principle of zero tolerance applies here.
It is forbidden to import more than one month’s supply of a medicine; in this case the shipment will be retained by the customs authority and forwarded to Swissmedic.
 Legal basis: Art. 20 para. 2 a) of the Federal Act on Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (TPA; SR 812.21) and Art. 48 of the Ordinance on licensing of medicinal products (AMBV; SR 812.212.1).
Your health may be endangered by purchasing medicines online from unreliable sources. Products frequently contain too little active substance or none at all, or the active substance is massively overdosed and products contain impurities. Moreover, extensive laboratory testing in the past has shown that these products sometimes contain undeclared synthetic ingredients that have been withdrawn from the Swiss market because of their severe side effects. Even if a medicine actually contains the declared active substance, its effect can be affected negatively by incorrect storage or transport.
Prescription-only products are usually offered for sale online without a prescription. This represents a danger to your health because of the lack of medical supervision.
Swissmedic strongly recommends you to seek the advice of a qualified professional if you have any questions about your health.
Repeated offences or the importation of medicines that are harmful to health may lead to criminal proceedings being instigated against the person placing the order. Importation for the purpose of reselling is also pursued vigorously by Swissmedic since trading in medicines is subject to stringent requirements (notably the need for a licence).
If importation is illegal, the goods will be confiscated and Swissmedic will initiate administrative proceedings. This usually results in the loss (destruction) of the medicines. In addition, the Swiss person who placed the order must pay for the work involved, which experience has shown to cost at least CHF 300.
The following factors must also be considered:
- The costs cannot be reimbursed by your health insurance provider.
- Medicines purchased online can usually not be returned.
- They are transported at the recipient’s risk.
- The purchaser alone bears the risk if the products are not delivered.
- Medicines may be delivered again and your credit card may be charged again automatically without you having placed a new order.
What is Swissmedic doing about illegal online trading?
Swissmedic’s approach is to inform and enhance public awareness. The message is simple: If you purchase medicines from an unregulated source you are putting your health at risk. Swissmedic therefore repeatedly issues warnings about the dangers of obtaining medicines online.
Swissmedic can intervene if the server hosting a website is located in Switzerland, if the person responsible for the website is in Switzerland, or if the foreign website pretends to be a Swiss online-pharmacy. Suppliers in other countries are not subject to Swiss law and the Swiss authorities are unable to intervene directly. It is possible, however, to report the situation to the competent foreign authority.
Seek advice on health matters from your doctor or pharmacist.
These people are in the best position to assess your personal state of health and to recommend the appropriate treatment. In addition, health care professionals are able to import medicines not available in Switzerland for a specific patient under certain conditions, or can apply for a special licence to import a medicine.
Purchase your medicines in Switzerland.
This has the advantage that the medicines come from official distribution channels authorised by Swissmedic. So far the authorities, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers and pharmacists, have been able to prevent counterfeit medicines from being distributed in Switzerland.
Get information about the product.
Reliable information about a medicine can be found in the patient information and the prescribing information provided for physicians about medicines authorised in Switzerland. These are available at www.swissmedicinfo.ch. This information has been reviewed by the authorities and is accurate. It gives an objective and comprehensive impression of the medicine, although the prescribing information requires expert medical knowledge. We therefore recommend you to talk to a health care professional about any questions you may have.
Get information about the vendor.
If you still want to order a medicine online, take a close look at the website. Check, for example, who operates the website and whether a complete contact address is given. Caution: Although vendors often pretend to be based in the UK, Canada or the USA, they supply medicines from countries such as India, China or Cambodia.
You can find out who is the responsible “holder” of the site by typing the name of the website (the domain name, such as www.name.com) into one of the service sites that provide information on who is behind a site. You can find such sites by searching for the keywords “Domain Whois” or “Domain Dossier” on www.google.ch, for instance.
Especially if the site advertises sensational results with no side effects, you should be sceptical.
If you have any evidence of unauthorised medicines being offered, imported into or exported from Switzerland, please report this to Swissmedic (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Last modification 21.01.2019