Like it or not, there’s a chance that you’ll need to visit a pharmacy while you’re visiting Italy. But it’s important to know that Italian pharmacies (farmacie) likely aren’t exactly the same as those in your home country.
I’m writing this article as an Italian resident and someone who’s used pharmacies here personally and as a guide since 2003. To give you the most accurate information possible, I’ve tapped into the knowledge of a friend who is a pharmacist here in Italy.
In this article, we’ll walk you through some Italian pharmacy basics including:
- What Italian pharmacies are (and aren’t)
- How to find a pharmacy in Italy
- Opening days and hours for Italian pharmacies
- Prescriptions in Italian pharmacies
- How to use the pharmacy in Italy
- Other options besides pharmacies
- Helpful Italy pharmacy vocabulary & phrases
Read on for all you need to know about farmacie – Italian pharmacies!
How to Say Pharmacy in Italian
Farmacia is the word for pharmacy in Italian.
It’s pronounced far-mah-CHEE-ah.
Listen to it here:
Farmacie is the plural of farmacia.
It’s pronounced far-mah-CHEE-eh.
Listen to it here:
What is a Pharmacy in Italy?
An Italian pharmacy (farmacia) is a shop run by a pharmacist (farmacista), a trained medical professional that has a 4-to-5-year university degree. The pharmacist dispenses over-the-counter and prescription medicines, and you can also purchase health and beauty products in the pharmacy.
Important: Pharmacists in Italy cannot help with major ailments or injuries. They can refer you to an urgent care doctor (guardia medica) or the hospital (ospedale).
Fun Fact: You’ll find farmacie in large cities and small villages throughout the country. The placement of pharmacies throughout the country is regulated based on population.
Farmacie are a handy place to get:
- A Consultation by a Pharmacist for small ailments
- Prescriptions filled (from your home country doctor or an Italian doctor)
- OTC (over-the-counter) medicines
- First aid supplies like bandaids, disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, thermometers
- Toiletries, health and beauty products like shampoo and conditioner, face creams, lotions, sunscreen, dental hygiene, feminine products, pregnancy tests, OTC contraceptives, and makeup. Note that many toiletries are higher-end products (La Roche Posay vs. Loreal).
- Baby products like diapers, baby wipes, diaper cream, baby food, formula, small baby toys, bottles and feeding equipment, teethers, pacifiers, baby lotions and shampoos, and medicine (from the pharmacist).
- Vitamins, supplements, and homeopathic remedies
- Miscellaneous products like bug spray
- General health supplies like facemasks, hand sanitizer, and rapid Covid tests (and the facemask price is controlled by the government)
- Blood pressure controls
Most Italian pharmacies also have:
- A special diet section with packaged gluten-free foods and other foods for special diets.
- COVID tests. If the farmacia doesn’t offer in-person tests (with official, signed results), you can buy a rapid test kit to do at your accommodation. Note that some Italian pharmacies accept walk-ins for in-person tests, while others require a reservation (prenotazione). Hotel receptions are well-versed in which pharmacies work best for travelers (especially if you require an English-language translation of the results).
What You Won’t Find in an Italian Pharmacy
Italian pharmacies aren’t like CVS or Walgreens – you won’t find a section with magazines, greeting cards, or stuffed animals. Likewise, no soda section or aisle of potato chips and snacks.
Good To Know: Italian pharmacies don’t carry contact solution – you need to go to a shop that sells glasses and contact lenses or to an optician.
When to Use a Pharmacy in Italy
In general, you’ll want to use the pharmacy in Italy if you need a basic consultation with a pharmacist, over-the-counter medicine, or a prescription refilled. You can also purchase any of the products mentioned in the section above (first aid supplies, baby products, etc)
Important: Do NOT use an Italian pharmacy if you have an emergency. Call 112 (general emergency number used throughout the European Union) or 118 (medical emergency).
How to Find a Pharmacy (Farmacia) in Italy
Look for a Farmacia
Most Italian pharmacies have a green ‘+’ (plus) sign in front, and it’s usually lit up when the farmacia is open and turned off when the farmacia is closed. Sometimes the cross will include the caduceus (a symbol of medicine that has snakes winding around a winged staff). Other Italian pharmacies just have ‘FARMACIA’ on a sign on the storefront.
Ask for a Farmacia
You can ask your hotel receptionist or someone on the street for help with finding a pharmacy:
Scusi, dov’è la farmacia più vicina?
Excuse me, where is the closest pharmacy?
Scusate, c’è una farmacia in zona?
Excuse me (to a group of people), is there a pharmacy nearby?
Look on Google Maps for a Farmacia
Use Google Maps or your favorite map app to search for a pharmacy in Italy using the term ‘farmacia.’
Opening Days and Hours for Italian Pharmacies
Opening Days & Hours
Italian pharmacies are open in the morning and evening, from Monday through Saturday. Most close from lunchtime (12:00 or 1:00pm) to early afternoon (4:00 or 4:40pm). In large cities, you’ll usually find a few pharmacies that stay open during the typical afternoon pause. Pharmacies are closed on Sundays and national holidays.
Farmacie di Turno
If you need medicine or need to see a pharmacist on a Sunday or a holiday, don’t worry! You can go to a farmacia di turno (plural: farmacie di turno), which loosely translates to ‘on-call’ pharmacy.
You can find out which pharmacy in the area is ‘on call’ by looking at the sign on the door of a closed pharmacy. The sign will list all area pharmacies that are di turno and give a contact phone number. The sign will say something like this:
È di turno settimanale
dalle ore 13 del venerdì alle ore 9 del venerdì successo,
compresa la domenica e le festività infrasettimanali,
La Farmacia Raddi
via San Giacomo, 1
The weekly on-call pharmacy
from 1:00pm Friday to 9:00am next Friday,
including Sunday and holidays during the week
is Raddi Pharmacy
via San Giacomo, 1
Or search Google Maps for farmacia di turno, but know that results are often inaccurate, so you should call before heading to the pharmacy. If you can’t speak Italian, ask your hotel reception to help.
Prescriptions in Italy – Do You Need Them?
You will need an Italian prescription for any medicine or drugs that require a prescription. An American prescription is NOT recognized legally in Italy.
You can use a prescription from home. If you need to use it, you will first need to see a guardia medica (urgent care doctor).
You can see a guardia medica for free. The doctor will consult with you and give you an Italian prescription for your medicine.
Good To Know: You may have heard of fellow travelers getting their medication or other non-OTC medication from a pharmacist without a prescription. Italian pharmacists can legally dispense non-abusive drugs like antibiotics (using their judgement). But, that does not mean they will give them to you – they may ask you to get a prescription from a doctor.
Helpful Tip from an Italian Pharmacist: For any prescription medications you’re taking, have your doctor write a prescription for travel with your condition, the medication you take, the dosage, the generic name, and any important notes. Carry a paper copy and keep a copy in the cloud for online access. If possible, have your doctor include the generic name of the drug.
Good To Know: Research your country – for example, EU countries have a unified health system.
You don’t need a prescription for over-the-counter medicines like cold and fever medication, ibuprofen, etc. While you may just grab them off the shelf at your pharmacy at home, you will need to ask the pharmacist for them here (but don’t worry, you can have them without a prescription).
How to Use the Pharmacy in Italy
- Enter the pharmacy. If you just need products on the shelves of the pharmacy, select what you need and wait in line. May OTC products are still behind the counter and not on the shelves.
- When it’s your turn, walk up to the counter and:
- Pay for your products
- Or ask the pharmacist for help with your problem
- Or give your prescription to the pharmacist
- You’ll be helped immediately (at the same counter). If you’re purchasing medicine, remember to clarify the dosage and timing with the pharmacist. Even though you may take the medicine at home, the medication may be a different strength here in Italy. Don’t rely on reading the instructions if you don’t speak Italian!
- Pay for your medicine/products (at the same counter).
Good To Know: Wondering how to tell who is a pharmacist and who’s a cashier in the farmacia? A pharmacist in Italy wears a white coat and a small pin on his/her chest. The pins are often white with a red cross and the symbol of Italian pharmacies. The Italian symbol for pharmacies is the caduceus, which includes two snakes winding themselves around a winged staff. Here are a few examples of Italian pharmacist pins:
Good To Know: Most pharmacies still recommend using a mask inside. In some busy pharmacies, you must take a number and wait until your number is called or shown on a screen.
Other Options Besides Pharmacies
Grocery Store Sections – a great place to get basic toiletries like deodorant, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner. More and more grocery stores now have ‘pharmacy’ aisles that sell products you typically find in a pharmacy like supplements, balms, creams, first aid supplies, pregnancy tests, and contact lens supplies. They don’t sell anything that requires a prescription.
Good To Know: Many large grocery stores have a pharmacy inside the store. You can purchase OTC medications and get prescriptions filled, just like in a regular pharmacy.
Toiletry Stores – small stores that carry toiletries and home cleaning products are popping up throughout Italy. Two common chains are Caddy and Tigotà.
Baby Stores – find all baby supplies (like diapers, wipes, diaper cream, formula, baby food)
Erboristeria – herbalist’s shop that sells herbal treatments, ointments, creams, etc.
Parafarmacia –a parafarmacia is like a regular farmacia, but it cannot legally fill prescriptions. It can only sell OTC medicine.
Guardia Medica – if you know you need help from a doctor, you can see the local urgent care doctor. Keep in mind that while the guardia medica can help with small injuries and sew a few stitches, if you have a major injury you’ll need to go to the hospital.
Hospital – for any major injury or illness, head straight to the emergency room (pronto soccorso).
Helpful Italy Pharmacy Vocabulary & Phrases
Dolore – Pain
Aiuto – Help
Mi fa male… – It hurts…
Qui – Here (where something hurts)
Tosse – Cough
Febbre – Fever
Allergia – Allergy
Diarrea – Diarrhea
Raffreddore – Cold (as in ‘I have a cold’)
Mal di testa – Headache
Mal di gola – Sore throat
Ciclo – Menstrual cycle
Incinta – Pregnant
Antidolorifico – Anti-pain medicine
Cerotto – Bandaid / bandage
Medicina – Medicine
Ricetta – Prescription
Compressa/e – Tablet/s
Crema solare – Sunscreen
Automedicazione – Self-medication
Farmaci da banco – Over-the-counter (OTC) medication
Parafarmacia – Pharmacy that does not sell prescription medication
Erboristeria – Herbalist’s shop
Farmacia – Pharmacy
Farmacia di turno – ‘On-call’ pharmacy
Farmacista – Pharmacist
Commessa – Sales clerk
Guardia medica – Urgent care doctor
Ospedale – Hospital
Pronto soccorso – First aid / emergency room
I hope this has helped clarify what farmacie are and how you can use the pharmacy in Italy while you’re here – hopefully just to pick up some sunscreen or diapers!
Italy Pharmacy FAQ
A parafarmacia is similar to a traditional Italian pharmacy, but it does not sell and medications that require a prescription. You can still purchase over the counter medications and other health and beauty products.
You must be a part of the national Italian health system to participate in vaccination programs.
As a visitor, you can buy prescription medication at a pharmacy in Italy. You will need to have an Italian prescription, which you can get from a doctor (dottore) or urgent-care doctor (guardia medica). The pharmacist can give you contact info for the guardia medica.
Yes, you can find diapers at pharmacies in Italy. The selection may not be vast, but you’ll find them along with other baby supplies.