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I will be travelling in Colombia soon as a foreign tourist (UK national) and will need to acquire insulin whilst there. I will be visiting major cities including Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena.

I've been advised by the manufacturers of my brands of insulin that they are available in Colombia. However the staff at their call centres were unable to advise me on the process of actually acquiring them whilst there.

I've found on various forums online that in certain countries in South and Central America one can purchase insulin over the counter at a pharmacy without requiring a prescription from a doctor.

Is this the case in Colombia? If not and a doctor's prescription is required before ordering from a pharmacy, how might a tourist go about acquiring one? I'm looking for a reasonable compromise between cost and time/effort involved in the process.

  • I just wanted to know how you found buying Insulin in Colombia.. its has been a year since the post went up and i wanted to know if you had any updated information on the matter – user46873 Jul 2 '16 at 12:00
  • See the self-answer below. – chirlu Jul 16 '18 at 9:05
7

Asking for Information, the Right Way

You ask for a cost-/effort-effective solution to procuring insulin in Colombia. The fact that most authoritative websites on the topic only explain how to pack supplies, and how many to pack (see Diabetes UK for an example) somewhat hints to the fact that you are not guaranteed to be able to always find, and buy, insulin while abroad. Having said this, there are a few contacts you can poll to get a definitive yes/no answer on the matter.

Colombian Associations/Organisations

Here is a pdf document from the Diabetes UK organisation which summarises a lot of interesting information relevant to travelling with diabetes in Colombia. It is in my opinion one of the most complete sources of authoritative information available on the web.

The how to obtain insulin section of this leaflet does indeed suggest to inquire for medicine availability in your destination country, by contacting the manufacturers of your brand of insulin. Moreover it mentions the contacts of two Colombian associations you might want to contact either before or whilst travelling:

Asociación Colombiana de Diabetes, Calle 39A, No. 14-78, Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia

Tel +57-1-2880777 or 2883420 -- Fax +57-1-3231582

E-mail adiabete@cable.net.co -- Website www.asodiabetes.org

and

Federación Diabetológica Colombiana (FDC), Calle 94 no. 15-32, Oficina 101, Bogotá D.C., Colombia

Tel +57-1-6359710/11/12 -- Fax +57-1-6359711

E-mail fediacol@cable.net.co -- Website www.fdc.org.co

Your Local Colombian Embassy/Consulate

In addition, the Travelling page of the Diabetes UK website advises you to ask your local Colombian authorities - embassies, consulates, etc. - for information on the topic.

First Hand Experiences on the Web

Prescription and Explanation Letter

There are however a number of first-hand experiences from diabetic worldwide travellers recorded on the web (see here for example). Most of which seem to suggest that with a prescription, and an explanation letter, from your "home" doctor, and a visit to a local doctor, you should be able to get a prescription in any country in which insulin is readily available. If you want to go the extra mile, think about translating the letter and prescription in Spanish.

Insulin Over the Counter in Central America

On the other hand, this post from a Lonely Planet thread on insulin and Central America states that it is possible to buy insulin over the counter in Costa Rica, without the need for a prescription:

I live in Costa Rica and there is no need for a prescription to buy insulin and needles.

This is about the only direct source of information I could find on the web. Of course you should not take this for an absolute truth.

Final Notes

I personally would not trust internet opinions alone, and would not gamble on the availability, and ease-of-purchase, of insulin in Colombia. Hence, be prepared and bring some supplies from home along with the necessary documentation from your doctor back home.

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I can happily confirm that insulin is available for purchase over-the-counter in pharmacies in Colombia.

I've bought some myself, I simply asked for it at a pharmacy and paid for it, I required no prescription, or any doctor's note or other evidence that I am Diabetic.

I'll reiterate that I did check that my specific types of insulin were available in Colombia, with the manufacturers, before travelling. It's entirely possible that not all types of insulin, or form factors of a specific type (vials, cartridges, disposable pens) will be available for purchase here.

Side note - the same is true in Panama (I bought some insulin, over the counter, without prescription, in Panama City a few weeks ago).

  • 2
    Thanks for the answer with on-the-ground experience. I just want to add something for anyone that finds this answer in the future. Just because this is true now it will not necessarily be true in the future -- rules and laws change over time. So I would not rely on this and would suggest you also follow the advice in JoErNanO's answer above. – SpaceDog May 25 '15 at 4:33

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