Buying Insulin in Bangkok!

05/04/2017

Insulin is as important as water, blood, food, and happiness to living for a diabetic. We need it, we gotta have it, but unfortunately it doesn’t flow freely from faucets. Maybe in an ideal diabetic world there will be sterile insulin faucets everywhere around the world, but for now, we’ll call that faucet a pharmacy. And when traveling, you can pack three times more insulin than you need, but things still happen where you might need to find a pharmacy and buy insulin quickly. We’re here to help you out if you are ever in Bangkok when this happens.

 

Emily and I have been eating, wat touring, and monk chatting our way through Thailand, which is known around the world for its medical tourism in Bangkok. People travel from across the globe for its good doctors and low costs. Because of this reputation, we decided to stock up on insulin before we move on to Cambodia, Vietnam, and India, who have good healthcare but not the same reputation as Bangkok. We have enough insulin to last for 3 more months, but we want to be prepared with more insulin than we need for the next few months because life happens and never goes as planned. It’s always good to have backup supplies to your backup supply.

 

Buying insulin in Bangkok has been a looooooong process. Between visiting an endocrinologist and running across the city to multiple pharmacies, we have spent multiple days on the hunt for the best and cheapest option for buying insulin.

Which involved some juice chugging along the way.

We want to share with you our process and the costs of our experiences so you know exactly what to expect if you are ever in need of buying insulin in Bangkok. This way you can keep touring Bangkok’s beautiful temples and cultures, not their pharmacies.

 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying insulin in Bangkok, but also when buying insulin anywhere while abroad:

  • A prescription is always required for buying insulin in Thailand, so seeing an endocrinologist is the first step.
  • There are no vials anywhere in Thailand. We toured many pharmacies all across the country, and Bangkok has the best healthcare in Thailand. We went to the most expensive, most westernized hospital in Bangkok, and even they did not have vials. Only cartridges and pens. Keep this in mind if you use pump or a pod.

  • Many pharmacies we visited only had generic insulin, not Humalog, Novolog, or Lantus. These can be equally as effective, but just to have peace of mind we wanted to buy what we were familiar with and find Humalog.
  • Bring with you a printed diagnosis and prescription list from your doctor at home. The Thai doctor may want to run a blood test to prove that you have diabetes which can be costly and time consuming. Having a diagnosis from your doctor may prevent this.
  • If you have it available, bring an extra vial/cartridge/pen of insulin with you to the pharmacy. This will clear any language barrier confusion and let the pharmacist know exactly what you need.
  • When they bring you the insulin, always look at the expiration date and check to make sure it is cold. Some pharmacies do not refrigerate insulin, so feel it, check it, and go somewhere else if it is warm.

 

We will outline 2 of the best options we have found for buying insulin in Bangkok, though we only have personal experience with number 1. We did not take route number 2, but through talking to doctors and pharmacists it seems like another great and cheap option as well.

  1. First, see an endocrinologist at a large hospital to get a prescription (we went to the Bumrungrad Hospital) then go to Petcharat pharmacy on the west side to buy the insulin. This was the option we took.
  2. Go to Sriraj Hospital to see the doctor and buy the insulin in one fell swoop.

 

$$$$$$$$$$       Cost of both in Thai baht and US dollars       $$$$$$$$$$

  1. We went to one of the more expensive (for Bangkok) and westernized hospitals to see a doctor. The doctor visit and hospital fees added up to 770 baht=$35 USD.The Pethcarat Pharmacy sold 3ml Humalog cartridges in packs of 5, making 1500 units per pack. One pack was 1600 baht=$46.43 USD.We bought 4 packs=$185.72 for 6000 units of insulin.Total cost of the visit plus insulin=$220.72
  2. A general cost for an endocrinologist appointment at Sriraj Hosptial is between $15-25. We asked the person at the front desk and the pharmacist, but they could not tell us exact prices, but said it would be within this price range.They sell single 3ml cartridge of Gensulin (generic rapid acting insulin) for 220 baht=$6.39.To get the same amount of insulin of 6,000 units would require buying 20 cartridges= 4,400 baht= $127.82Total amount of seeing the doctor and buying 6,000 units of insulin= $142.82-152.82

================          The Process          ================

 

Option 1: Get a prescription from Bumrungrad hospital and buy from Petcharat Pharmacy.

 

Getting a prescription was very straightforward and easy. We went to Bumrungrad Hospital, which is referred to as the “American hospital” because so many Americans travel to Thailand and come here to save a buck on knee and hip replacements. By American standards, this hospital is dirt cheap for large surgical operations. But for routine visits or seeing the endocrinologist it is expensive by Thai standards, and cheaper options do exist. It is incredibly nice and basically a 5 star resort with medicine.

We definitely fit in with our giant bags.

 You could save a few bucks and go to another highly rated hospital without the western reputation. We wanted good English to ask the doctors about the best pharmacies, so we were willing to pay a little extra.

 

We made an appointment the day before and were taken right back after the registration process. We were able to understand the doctor fairly well, and the whole appointment was helpful and speedy fast. All he did was ask what insulin I needed and without any further questioning or tests, wrote a prescription for Humalog insulin vials. He went on to give us recommendations of the best and cheapest pharmacies to buy from.  All in all the appointment took about 15 minutes.

 

We hopped in a cab and drove straight across Bangkok to the number 1 recommended pharmacy of the doctor, Petcharat. It is just to the left of the Fascino pharmacy with the bright orange sign.

It is right around the corner from the largest hospital in Bangkok, Sriraj hospital, so we told the taxi driver to drop us off there. The sidewalk in front of the pharmacy was consumed by food stalls, and the inside was very busy, and slightly sketchy looking, but don’t let this initial shock scare you away. This pharmacy is legitimate and had the best availability of insulin and prices of the many pharmacies that we visited. The girl behind the counter spoke English very well, and understood when we asked for Humalog. We showed her one of my vials of Humalog insulin that we brought just to be sure that we were getting u-100 and not mixed. They had packages of 5x3ml cartridges that had obviously been refrigerated and were well within the expiration date for 1600 baht ($46.43) per pack. We handed her the prescription, which she barely glanced at, bought 4 packs that she so kindly packaged in a plastic bag with ice, and headed out!

We almost threw a party we were so excited to finally find good, cheap, insulin!

 

It was crowded inside but it felt as easy as buying fruit in one of the crowded street markets (minus the weird smells and bartering).

 

Option 2- Sriraj Hospital:

 

Siraj Hospital is Bangkok’s oldest and one of it most renowned hospitals on the west side of the Chao Phraya River.

 

In this scenario you can take care of everything at this one hospital, and see an endocrinologist at Sriraj for the prescription and then buy insulin from the hospital pharmacy. In order to buy insulin from the Sriraj pharmacy, you have to have a prescription from a Sriraj doctor which is why we didn’t take this option. But we did find the pharmacy and ask about the price of insulin, which was reasonably priced compared to many of the other Bangkok pharmacies and hospitals.

 

Upon first glance, this hospital looks more like the mall at Christmas time than a hospital, busy and slightly disorganized.

 

But the people working there were super friendly and loved having their picture taken.

 

Just like most things in Thailand, you have to scratch through the gritty surface to find the gold. But it is a good hospital and one of Bangkok’s highest rated. Sriraj hospital is just across the street from the pharmacy in option 1 and directly across the street from this orange sign.

If you fell out of the Petcharat pharmacy’s front door you would land right on the hospital’s. Because we only went to the pharmacy, we do not know the process of seeing an endocrinologist, but would suggest making an appointment at least the day before visiting. We were able to only ask the pharmacist and Hospital receptionist about the price of a doctor visit but they could only give us a range of $15-25, not an exact amount.

 

Once you see the doctor you will venture to the pharmacy, which is fairly difficult to find. Luckily we befriended a very helpful nurse who spoke English wonderfully and took us right to the pharmacy. In case you don’t bump into an awesome nurse, we can help you find it. Walk down the alleyway across from the Pethcarat Pharmacy and the bright orange banner.

This alleyway.

Continue under these 2 green awnings

until you see this building on your right.

The pharmacy is in this building on the 8th floor!

They had the motherlode of insulin!

 

The only rapid acting insulin they have is 3ml cartridges of Gensulin, which is as generic sounding a name as it can get. Each cartridge is $6.26, fairly cheap for 300 units compared to the U.S.! They only the Gensulin in individual cartridges, but they were cold and within the expiration date. Take your prescription to the pharmacist and get what you need!

 

The hardest part about buying insulin in Bangkok was figuring out how to do it. Now that we have done the work for you, there’s no need to worry or stress if something happens to your insulin stash. Buying insulin will be as easy as buying pad Thai!

 

Let us know if you have any questions about our process or  if you have bought insulin anywhere around the world by commenting below or emailing us at livingleashless@gmail.com.

 

Safe travels and steady blood sugars!

 

 

 

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