LAST UPDATED: July 14, 2022
While many snowbirds lead active, healthy lifestyles, the reality is that most snowbirds require one or more prescription medications to manage medical conditions that come along with age, regardless of how active or healthy they are.
For snowbirds, managing your prescription medication needs while you’re away for long periods of time during the fall/winter – as well as when you’re back in Canada – can present several challenges and issues.
Here’s what you need to know, along with a few tips and options on how best to manage your prescription medication needs while you’re away for the winter and at home in Canada.
Clearly label your medication
When travelling outside Canada, always leave your medications in their original packaging and do not combine them. Not having your medication clearly labelled and in its original packaging when travelling can lead to issues with customs officers.
Keeping your medication in its original containers with the pharmacy labels intact is essential to ensure you don’t have issues when crossing the border.
It’s also useful so that you know the correct dosage and instructions should you need replacements while away.
It is important to research what drugs are allowed to be imported to your destination. This can vary so you’ll need to investigate ahead of time.
If your prescription medication is a narcotic or opioid, you may not be allowed to travel to another country with it, and could run into serious legal issues if you do.
It is also important to remember that some common over-the-counter medications in Canada such as nasal inhalers are forbidden in Mexico. You should always research ahead of time anything that you plan to bring with you.
Another example is medication containing cannabis ingredients which should never be taken across the border to the U.S., as cannabis is still illegal at the federal (national) level in the United States, despite the fact that it is legal in some states.
Here are some guidelines from the FDA for taking medication to the U.S.:
Get a supply of more than 3 months
Snowbirds who go away for more than 3 months may have problems getting more than a 3-month supply of medications, as some pharmacies and insurance plans won’t allow you to get more than a 3-month supply at a time.
However, some pharmacies will make arrangements to provide up to a 6-month supply of medication at a time, which can be a big convenience for snowbirds who go away for extended periods.
If you are travelling to the U.S., you should be aware that while many Canadian snowbirds take up to a 6-month supply of prescription medication with them to the U.S. every year without incident, official FDA guidelines state that “foreign nationals travelling to the United States are allowed to bring or ship a 90-day supply of drug products. If you are staying longer than 90 days, you may have additional medication mailed to you”.
If you prefer not to travel to the U.S. with more than a 90-day medication supply, some Canadian pharmacies offer an alternative option and will arrange to have an additional 90-day supply of your medication shipped to you in the United States. However, make sure the pharmacy has experience with the correct procedures and documentation required for shipping medication to the U.S., or your medication could be delayed or seized by customs.
If you live in Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, Snowbird Advisor’s virtual pharmacy partner Pillway can solve this issue for you by arranging up to a 6 month supply in one of two ways:
- Providing you with a 6-month supply up front, or
- Providing you with a 90-day supply up front and shipping an additional 90-day supply to you in the U.S.
Running out of medication while you’re away
If you run out of your prescription medication while you’re outside Canada you are left with two options, depending on which pharmacy you use and which country you are in:
- Have your mediation shipped to you in the U.S.
If you are in the U.S., you may be able to arrange to have your Canadian pharmacy ship your mediation to you.
However, as mentioned previously, while some pharmacies like Pillway offer this service, many other pharmacies don’t, so make sure the pharmacy you are using in Canada offers this service and has experience shipping medication to the U.S., or your medication could be delayed or seized by customs.
- Find a local doctor and get a prescription you can fill at a local pharmacy
If you want to keep things local, you can find a local doctor and get a prescription written that you can have filled at a local pharmacy. But keep in mind that you will have to pay for the visit to the doctor and the cost of your medication generally won’t be covered by your provincial drug plan if you purchase it outside your home province. There may also be language barrier issues, depending on where you’re travelling.
In Mexico, many prescription drugs are available without a prescription and snowbirds who go regularly to Mexico are aware of what they can find locally. If you are going for the first time, you should research whether your medications are available in Mexico.
Consider a one-stop pharmacy solution that meets your needs year-round in Canada and abroad
While some snowbirds juggle multiple pharmacies – one to meet their needs at home in Canada and one to meet their needs for travelling - this can be very time consuming and lead to complications when it comes to refills, renewals and managing your medication.
In most cases, your best option is to find a single pharmacy that can meet as many of your needs as possible year-round while you’re in Canada and when you’re travelling.
Canadian virtual pharmacies that offer free delivery in Canada, shipping to the U.S., 6-month medication supplies and free virtual doctor visits can fill many those needs at home and when you’re away.
Snowbir Advisor Virtual Pharmacy Solution
Due to the unique pharmacy needs faced by snowbirds, Snowbird Advisor has partnered with leading Canadian virtual pharmacy Pillway to provide our members with a one-stop, year-round pharmacy solution for all their prescription medication and pharmacy needs, both at home in Canada and while travelling.
Pillway’s team is available to answer any questions you may have and help you with the onboarding process if you decide to use their service.
Pillway’s full suite of services is available in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Some Pillway services may not be available in other provinces, including direct billing with provincial drug insurance plans, 6-month medication supplies and free virtual doctor visits.
Through our partnership with Pillway, Snowbird Advisor members receive a full suite of pharmacy solutions, including:
- Fast, free prescription medication delivery directly to your home Canada-wide
- Shipping to the U.S. for customers who use Pillway year-round
- Convenient, personalized medication packaging that is pre-sorted and clearly labelled by dose and time
- Automated prescription refill and renewal management
- Pharmacist consultations
- Up to 6-month supply of prescription medication
(Available for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia residents only)
- Direct billing with provincial drug insurance plans
(Available for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia residents only)
- Free virtual doctor visits for medical consultations and prescriptions
(Available for Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec residents only)
- Exclusive offers and benefits from Pillway for Snowbird Advisor members
Get more information about Pillway’s services for Snowbird Advisor members.