Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Buying medicines online

3-minute read

Buying medicine and other therapeutic goods from an online pharmacy has advantages, but you need to be careful. If you buy from an overseas website, there's a risk you could lose your money, break the law or seriously damage your health.

How are medicines regulated?

Medicines are known legally as 'therapeutic goods'. To be sold in Australia and on websites operated by Australian companies, they must be assessed and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The TGA checks the quality of therapeutic goods, making sure that they are safe and they do what they are supposed to do. In addition to medicines, the TGA also checks the quality of goods such as:

  • bandages, pregnancy tests, and artificial hips and knees
  • complementary medicines including vitamins
  • sunscreen and other products that claim to protect skin from the sun

Medicines or medical devices bought online from an overseas company are not regulated by the TGA. Nor are most protein supplements, which are usually treated as foods, not therapeutic goods.

Buying prescription medicines in Australia

In Australia, some medicines are available only on prescription because doctors and other health professionals need to check that you really need them — and advise you on how to take them safely. Some medicines can have side effects and can interact with each other, as well.

Benefits of buying prescription medicines online

Buying medicines online can sometimes work out cheaper and more convenient than getting them from a local pharmacy.

Risks of buying medicines online

If you buy medicines or other therapeutic goods online from an overseas source, you could risk your health, lose your money or potentially break the law.

Risks to your health

The product you order might:

  • be fake
  • contain too much, or too little, of the active ingredients
  • contain toxic or dangerous ingredients
  • contain ingredients that are illegal in Australia
  • be past their use-by date

You could lose your money

The medicines might never arrive. This could be because they were stopped by Australian customs because they contain ingredients you are not allowed to import.

As with any purchase from an overseas business, you might not be protected by Australian consumer laws.

Buying medicines online and the law

It's illegal to import some medicines, such as steroids and antibiotics, for example.

Things to consider when buying medicines online

Before buying medicines online, check to see if the pharmacy is based in Australia and that it is a legitimate business.

The website should ideally show a physical address in Australia, an email address, a working phone number and more details about the company, such as an Australian Business Number (ABN). Check that you can ask questions over the phone.

Check if you need to provide a prescription. Australian-based pharmacies only sell prescription medicines online if you provide a valid Australian prescription.

Also think about how it will affect you if the post is delayed and you don't receive your medicine in time.

How can I safely buy medicines online?

Follow these steps:

  1. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before buying medicines online.
  2. If you want to buy medicines online, buy them from a company based in Australia. Investigate the company thoroughly.
  3. If you'e thinking of buying from overseas, check the Office of Drug Control's list of drugs and ingredients that can't be imported into Australia unless you have permission.
  4. Be wary of wild claims — if a therapeutic product or a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Where to get help

  • Go to NPS Medicinewise for information about buying medicines online.
  • Get medicines information on Medicines Line 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424)
  • Learn more about buying medicines and devices online at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Last reviewed: April 2019

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Buying medicines over the internet - NPS MedicineWise

Buying medicines online may seem like a good idea, but how safe is it? Find out the risks and how to tell a legitimate site from a scam.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Buying medicines and medical devices online | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

The Internet can offer consumers a convenient way to access therapeutic goods, but online purchases of medicines or medical devices should be approached with caution

Read more on TGA – Therapeutic Goods Administration website

Counterfeit Drugs for Erectile Dysfunction (ED) | myVMC

Counterfeit erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs are fraudulent or fake medications marketed and/or sold to treat erectile dysfunction. Like other counterfeit medicines, they may differ from genuine medications in many ways.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Medicine or Drug Overdose | myVMC

A drug overdose occurs after a person consumes too much of a drug, medication or poison. Overdose can occur accidentally when a person inadvertently takes the incorrect medication or dose, or when they intentionally misuse drugs to get high or with the intention of self-harming (e.g. committing suicide).

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Online pharmacies: buyer beware | Issue 6 | Volume 38 | Australian Prescriber

Online pharmacies have been operating in Australia since the mid 1990s. Community pharmacy is now a mix of traditional pharmacies with little or no online...

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Travelling with medicines in 2018 | Australian Prescriber

Planning ahead is key for travelling with medicines to ensure sufficient supplies, compliance withlegal restrictions...

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Online pharmacies: a consumer perspective | Issue 6 | Volume 38 | Australian Prescriber

This comment accompanies the article Online pharmacies: buyer beware. While the power of the internet has proved a...

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

What are drugs? An introduction to pharmacology | myVMC

A drug is a chemical that interacts with proteins in the body to affect a physiological function. This is the general idea behind all medicine. The study of drugs or chemicals and the effects they have on living animals is called pharmacology.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Australians overseas - Australian Government Department of Human Services

If you travel or live outside Australia this may affect your health care, child support and Centrelink payments.

Read more on Medicare website

Could I have it - Safe sex

All about safe sex

Read more on WA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo