The Turkish healthcare landscape is witnessing a remarkable phenomenon — a surge in medical tourists from neighboring countries not only for hair transplants but also seeking prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
This trend, known as pharmaceutical tourism, is driven by the significant cost differences between Türkiye and countries like the United States.
Take, for example, Humira, a heavyweight TNF blocker and the second-best-selling prescription medicine worldwide, with sales reaching $21.2 billion in 2022. In the U.S., it costs approximately $7,299 for just two kits, whereas in Türkiye, the price is a mere 7,728 TRY, translating to around $271. Such staggering differences place Türkiye at the forefront of medical savings. (With today’s currency exchange: 1 USD is 28.488 TRY)
It’s not just Humira where savings can be made. Keytruda, a cancer immunotherapy drug that brought in $20.9 billion in revenue, is sold for around $5,862 in the U.S., but in Türkiye, it’s available for roughly $1,490. The anticoagulant Eliquis, another high-revenue drug at $18.2 billion in sales, is priced at about $600 in the U.S., compared to $21 in Türkiye.
The price gaps continue with Trulicity, used for Type 2 Diabetes, which costs about $990 in the U.S. and is available for $199 in Türkiye. Genvoya, used for HIV infection, is priced at around $4,006 for a supply of 30 tablets in the U.S. according to drugs.com but can be found for approximately $360 in Türkiye, according to the Turkish drugs price website ilacfiyati.com.
The country’s competitive pharmaceutical market is fostering a rise in drug tourism as travelers seek out affordable medications, from prescriptions to OTCs. Edirne, a Turkish border city, is a prime example of this emerging trend, where Bulgarian and Greek tourists are taking advantage of the lower costs for their pharmaceutical needs. However, it’s important to note that while over-the-counter medications and supplements are readily accessible, prescription drugs still require a valid Turkish prescription.
Pharmaceutical Regulation in Türkiye
The Ministry of Health in Türkiye is the authoritative body responsible for overseeing the entire lifecycle of pharmaceuticals within the nation. This includes the stringent regulation of sales, distribution, and the approval process for all medications, be they prescription-based or over-the-counter varieties.
A critical component of their oversight is the Turkish Drug Tracking System (İlaç Takip Sistemi – İTS), an advanced registry that assigns a unique identification barcode to each medication container. The İTS ensures that only certified pharmacies can dispense drugs that are registered with an official İTS barcode, maintaining a secure and controlled distribution chain.
In its commitment to safeguarding public health, the Turkish Ministry currently does not allow the online sale of any pharmaceutical or medicinal products, ranging from standard prescriptions to additional items such as dietary supplements, homeopathic remedies, steroids, and even baby formula.
Over-the-Counter Availability of Prescription Medications
In Türkiye, certain medications that typically require a prescription, such as Cialis or Viagra, can be purchased over-the-counter. These drugs are dispensed directly to the consumer without the necessity of a prescription or the documentation of the sale.
How to get a Prescription in Türkiye as a Tourist
Tourists needing prescription medication during their stay in Türkiye can get a prescription by visiting a local doctor or a medical facility.
First, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with a Turkish doctor. Tourists can visit either a private clinic or a hospital to seek medical advice. English-speaking doctors are available in major cities and tourist areas, making communication easier for international visitors.
Upon consultation, the doctor will conduct a necessary examination to understand your medical needs. Be sure to bring any medical records or documentation from your home country that could aid in your consultation. Sometimes your prescription in your country would be enough to get a Turkish one without any examination and test. When the doctor determines that medication is required, they will issue a prescription.
With the prescription in hand, you can visit a pharmacy to have it filled. In Türkiye, pharmacies are called “Eczane” and are widespread, with at least one open 24/7 in each district, including weekends and holidays, as part of a rota system.
As the cost of healthcare continues to rise globally, Türkiye’s combination of quality, affordability, and strategic geographical position makes it an attractive destination for those looking to manage their health expenses effectively.