Health For Members

The 7 over-the-counter meds Americans might want to bring with them to Europe

Elizabeth Anne Brown
Elizabeth Anne Brown - [email protected]
The 7 over-the-counter meds Americans might want to bring with them to Europe
Alternatives must be found in Europe to many over-the-counter medicines available in the US. Photo by Serkan Yildiz on Unsplash

Over-the-counter cold, flu, and pain remedies that are popular in the US can require a prescription or be near-impossible to get in Europe.


There's nothing quite like being laid low by the flu or a splitting headache with your American medicine cabinet an ocean away. Here's a list of the over-the-counter drugs Americans living in Europe recommend you bring from with you from home — along with whether local equivalents are available. 

This post is not sponsored, and for this list, we'll be focusing on the EU countries with their own national editions of the Local: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  


Bear in mind that EU countries will likely have limits on the amount of medication you bring past border control without customs officials wanting to charge import duty.

You will also want to remember to keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. For any prescription medication, be sure to bring a copy of the prescription that includes the generic name for the medicine, your full name, the health provider's name, as well as the exact dosage.  

If you plan to travel with any narcotic or psychotropic substances, such as methylphenidate-based products like the ADHD med Ritalin, then you must take a copy of the prescription and can only bring 30 days worth of the medication (14 days in certain cases). You will also receive a certificate from the Schengen state welcoming you which will give you permission to travel with the substance for a maximum of 30 days. 

In general, countries may have a maximum amount of time for any medication to be considered 'personal use'. For the Schengen Zone, if there is no prescription for the medication then you can bring a maximum of three months worth of it. However, if you do have a prescription you will likely only be able to bring in the total dosage indicated in the prescription.

7. Sudafed. A decongestant. Active ingredient: Pseudoephedrine. 

Sudafed's active ingredient, pseudoephedrine, is combined with different drugs before it's sold in Europe — this makes it harder to make illegal narcotic crystal meth with it. So while Americans might be accustomed to popping your antihistamine or painkiller of choice when you take Sudafed, be mindful that the European equivalent will contain one or the other already. Read the label to avoid doubling up. 


6. Tums. An antacid to relieve indigestion and heartburn. Active ingredient: Calcium carbonate.

Lower dose versions with the same active ingredients are available in France (Rennie) and Denmark (Calcichew), but in other countries you're likely to be offered Gaviscon (actually a heartburn medicine) or Almax (a different antacid with the primary ingredient almagate).  

5. Delsym. A cough suppressant. Active ingredient: dextromethorphan.

Delsym's active ingredient isn't available over the counter in Sweden or France due to its potential for abuse as a recreational drug. It's available by prescription in Denmark and OTC in Austria (Wick), Germany, Italy (Bisolvon, Recotuss, Bronchenolo), Spain (Romilar).

4. Mucinex. Active ingredients: dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and guaifenesin (an expectorant, loosening mucous and helping you cough it up).

Generally in Europe you'll find cough suppressants and expectorants aren't combined into the same drug. The ingredient that provides the cough suppressant in Mucinex (which is also the active ingredient in Delsym) is available over the counter in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Spain. 

Guaifenesin, the expectorant, is available OTC in Germany (Fagusan), Italy (Actigrip Tosse, Vicks Tosse) and sometimes in Denmark (Benylin). 


4. Melatonin. A sleep aid. 

While it’s considered a supplement in the United States—and thus not subject to FDA regulations—melatonin is legally a drug in the European Union and for higher doses (over 2mg in France, for instance) you will likely need a doctor’s prescription to get it. The EU is probably right on this one—studies from the US and Canada find that OTC melatonin supplements can have only a fraction of or radically more than the dose advertised on the bottle. Consider asking your European doctor for a prescription for more consistent dosing.

3. Alleve. An anti-inflammatory pain reliever. Active ingredient: Naproxen. 

While naproxen (Alleve) joins ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) as a frontline pain reliever in the U.S., it's less commonly used in Europe. Naproxen requires a prescription in Denmark and France. In Germany, it's available without a prescription but you may have to talk to the pharmacist to get it. Naproxen is available OTC in Spain, Norway, Sweden, and Italy. 

2. Pepto Bismol. For heartburn, nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Active ingredient: Bismuth subsalicylate. 

Pepto Bismol's active ingredient is expressly banned in France and Denmark and you're unlikely to find it elsewhere in Europe. The pink tablets and liquid are among the most recommended items to bring from home for Americans living abroad. 

*1. Nyquil. Active ingredients: Acetaminophen (pain reliever), dextromethorphan (cough suppressant), and doxylamine succinate (an antihistamine that will knock you out).

You can simulate the effects of Nyquil with a pain reliever, an antihistamine, and a cough suppressant, but when you’re sick as a dog who has the wherewithal to do that?

Nyquil is hands-down the most sought-after OTC drug among Americans living abroad. 


Comments (3)

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Shelley Boettcher 2023/09/07 20:55
In case you're in need, high-dose melatonin is very easy to find in Italy at farmacias.
Stanley 2023/06/28 19:23
HELLOO…..SUDAFED has been prescription in the USA for many years. Not OTC. Due to the methamphetamine scourge.
Johnny Cazzone 2023/06/24 15:55
Coated baby aspirin (for those with potential heart issues) is not available in Switzerland. Non-coated small-dose aspirin requires a prescription in Switzerland. And of course vitamin pills are MUCH cheaper in the US than in Switzerland - like almost everything else!

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