How do I get my insulin filled in a foreign country?
July 2, 2010 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Oh, hive mind. I am very soon going to go join my boyfriend in Macau, China for an indefinite amount of time. I am an insulin-dependent diabetic. I am quitting my job and therefore, losing my insurance... is this going to cause problems?

I am literally packing my apartment into several boxes and going to join him with little more than the two suitcases I am taking with. I plan on visiting my doc, loading up on my prescriptions as to what I can take with me, and taking paper copies of my prescriptions... to get filled there. How difficult is this going to be? What have I left out of my plans? I will not be on any insurance when I am first there... anyone have any experience with this type of thing? Thoughts? Guidelines? Experience? Very specifically, for those of you savvy to this type of thing, I am currently on a regimen of Novolog and Levemir pens, (long-acting and short-acting, with the Levemir as a pre-prandial dosage and a corrective measure. It seems to be working pretty well.) am I going to be able to get those? Or am I going to have to go back to the vials and syringes method? Money is not as big an object as it could be, but more concerned with transporting my drugs through customs and then getting refills when I am there. Any and all advice or experience welcome and gratefully received.
posted by the_royal_we to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your BF is already there in Macau? Why isn't he checking this out for you?
posted by randomstriker at 12:52 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. Do you see an endocrinologist regularly? Maybe you could ask them for advice, or even see whether you could set up an e-mail/prescription relationship for after you arrive in Macau.
posted by chinston at 12:58 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound like you're really rushed, how much time do you have? I would reaaaaallllllyy think hard on whether or not it's good to quit your current job/access to lifesaving medicine before you've figured out the details of securing that medicine overseas.
posted by Think_Long at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you a Type I or Type II diabetic?
posted by anastasiav at 1:09 PM on July 2, 2010

I was totally uninformed on this issue but after googling "diabetes insulin living China" it will necessitate considerable planning, some financial resources and patience. I hope you find a plan that works for you and makes the trip and living there possible if that is what you decide. I would hope you take the advice of having your SO thoroughly research this and read some of the related blogs and experiences.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:10 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a type I. I am not really rushed so much as wanting to be prepared for whatever gets thrown my way. Worse case scenario, we get it filled at my kindly pharmacy in the states and ship it my way, god bless airmail, but would really like to find an alternative. And I am going to see my awesome doctor in a week. I hope maybe she has some good ideas about this, but want to be prepared as possible from all angles...
posted by the_royal_we at 1:21 PM on July 2, 2010

and @randomstriker: this is a good point. I think my best answer would be that he is an inexperienced one at this kinda thing, and I probably need to do some more education with him about how to go about this. This is why the feedback is so helpful. Forest for the trees, all that....
posted by the_royal_we at 1:24 PM on July 2, 2010

after googling "diabetes insulin living China" it will necessitate considerable planning, some financial resources and patience

Hold on. Macau and Hong Kong are not, for practical purposes, China. They are modern cities with a distinct history, with long-established legal, financial and healthcare systems. Even China recognizes this, and grudgingly grants them some degree of autonomy, thus designating them as Special Administrative Regions (SARs).

I don't know specifically about insulin medication, but I am very confident that most modern medicines are readily available in Macau, and anything you have difficulty finding in Macau will DEFINITELY be available in Hong Kong which is just a short ferry ride away.

For sure you will be able to get a local prescription. The parts I'm unsure about are: a) if foreign prescriptions are accepted, and b) what insurance coverage is available. But again...Macau and Hong Kong are modern places -- OPP just has to do a bit of research to figure this out.

Again, her BF who's already there should do the legwork. It would only take him a few phone calls to figure it out.
posted by randomstriker at 1:27 PM on July 2, 2010

See, that is what I am thinking. This region has the lowest infant mortality rate and highest longevity rate on earth, if I am to believe what I read on the internets. Surely there is some kind of way to get this done. I will have him do more research. He's sleeping now, but soon. I hope. I appreciate all the input. Maybe we'll get someone on here that has had to actually deal with this....
posted by the_royal_we at 1:31 PM on July 2, 2010

Let me make this easy for you, as someone who lived in Hong Kong for ten years.

White people in Hong Kong stick together. Get your BF to ask his white friends/acquaintance who their doctor is. Call that doctor.

Problem solved.
posted by randomstriker at 1:37 PM on July 2, 2010

I carelessly typed "Hong Kong" instead of "Macau", but for most intents and purposes those two places are shockingly similar.
posted by randomstriker at 1:38 PM on July 2, 2010

Here's a UK page on diabetes and travel. You're going to have to do a lot of research; you may actually have to talk to the consulate to get more information.

(Google term I found handy: "travel advice diabetics China")
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:39 PM on July 2, 2010

(Google term I found handy: "travel advice diabetics China")


Again: Macau and Hong Kong are NOT like most of China (except perhaps the centres of Shanghai / Beijing).
posted by randomstriker at 1:44 PM on July 2, 2010

I am learning this. But boyfriend is one that does not have to deal with any of the cursory details, he is one of the lucky ones. I will try to find out more. And @randomstriker: you lived in HK? Details!
posted by the_royal_we at 4:04 PM on July 2, 2010

Note going in: I have no idea how insulin works/how long it lasts & whatnot.

That said: my sister is on several prescription meds and is moving to Europe. Her doctor wrote her a prescription for 6 months and wrote on it something like "she needs to have it for this long because she will be out of the country" and, after some wrangling with the insurance company, it was fine.

My completely uneducated guess is that you can't just take 6 months of insulin with you and have it be ok, but if my guess is wrong, you might do what you can to stock up before you go, so that you have some time to resolve the issue.
posted by brainmouse at 4:31 PM on July 2, 2010

White people in Hong Kong stick together. Get your BF to ask his white friends/acquaintance who their doctor is. Call that doctor.

This is my experience in many countries overseas with varying levels of health care infrastructure. I might suggest that since you seem to be so reluctant to have your BF to do this, that you get said doctor's email address (or for the receptionist who would pass it along) and ask these questions electronically yourself. If you can't get doctors' names from your BF then contact via email the consulate/embassy for your country (or others including US, Canada, UK, Aus) and explain why you are looking for doctor's contact info that might have known email/websites and see if they can give them to you.
posted by kch at 4:40 PM on July 2, 2010

I also think you should be having your bf do a lot of the legwork here, but maybe your doctor might also have some advice as well. Better yet, try to find a doctor in Macau for your diabetes management so you're all set to go when you get there.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2010

How much insulin do you use per day? Remember that it retails for around $50 per vial. Can you afford it without insurance?

Also, remember that you may need a prescription for both insulin and syringes, and also for a glucose meter and test strips, so figure in doctors' fees, not to mention the cost of periodic checkups. Check in advance about whether you'll have trouble getting them in. Check also whether you can be arrested for carrying a syringe, and what kind of proof of diabetes you'll need if you're questioned.

Do you frequently get hypoglycemic? Hyper? You need to find a hospital emergency room nearby if you do.

Almost all Chinese food has sugar in the background, even if it's not explicitly sweet, so you'll need to monitor your blood sugar several times a day, at least at the outset.
posted by KRS at 5:15 PM on July 2, 2010

If you're from the US and plan on ever coming back, I'd think about whether you would be able to afford your treatment sans insurance in the states. Especially if you might get back before 2014.
posted by ishotjr at 8:25 PM on July 2, 2010

I'm sorry, these answers just don't make a lot of sense to me.

You are moving to Macau, yes? As with anyone who moves to a new country, you will need to find a primary healthcare provider in your new home. If there is some form of government sponsored or government run healthcare, you may or may not be eligible for it, and therefore may or may not have to pay for your healthcare costs out of pocket.

That is the sort of thing your boyfriend should be looking into. As random striker points out, the expat community will be able to point you to a provider very easily. It will not be a problem in Macau to find an English-speaking GP. The standard of healthcare is high and diabetes would be a very routine issue - incidence in China is sky-high.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:02 PM on July 2, 2010

These are all really good points, and things I haven't necessarily thought of, so I thank you for every single thing you continue to point out. I am going to have my BF do some legwork, hopefully finding me a bad-ass GP like I have in the states. That would be the best move. I wonder, will there be access to my usual meds that I am accustomed to in the states? I use the super cool pens: no need for refrigeration, etc... is this going to be something I need shipped from the states? Anyone know?
posted by the_royal_we at 9:28 PM on July 2, 2010

I wonder, will there be access to my usual meds that I am accustomed to in the states? I use the super cool pens: no need for refrigeration

I don't know. But given that I've seen the highest concentration of cool cell phones, gadgets, toys, fancy cars, luxury yachts, and fur coats in HK/Macau than anywhere else in the world, I am going to guess that the answer is YES DAMNIT WILL YOU RELAX ALREADY???
posted by randomstriker at 10:26 PM on July 2, 2010

Yes sir, I shall. :) Thanks.
posted by the_royal_we at 7:08 AM on July 3, 2010

Hey y'all, just a follow-up, I wanted to thank you all for your input, and let you know that it seems the problem is, well, not a problem at all, really.

I worked with my doctor to take a stock-pile of insulin with me, and she is confident that I will receive excellent care while there. She has also agreed to help me with any problems, should they arise.

Wish me luck! Soon to be posting from China!
posted by the_royal_we at 9:27 AM on September 10, 2010

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