Let’s begin with terminology - many of us are familiar with the Pharmacy, Chemist, or Drugstore and what these shops have to offer in our previous locations. In Switzerland, medications are sold at the Apotheke. You will see the sign of the a big green cross on a white background outside shops to indicate that it is an Apotheke. These are distinct from drugstores. Drugstores don’t have a pharmacist who can dispense prescription drugs and they sell very limited medications. Drugstores focus on cosmetics, toiletries and beauty products. Apothekes operate a little differently to what you might be familiar with, and knowing what is on offer is useful, and might even save your a trip to the doctor.
The Apotheke dispenses drugs and medicines with or without a prescription (Rezept). In addition, they sell many first aid products, cosmetics and a variety of other health and beauty products. Apart from being a place to take your prescription, the Apotheke is a good place to go when you need competent advice. This can be a very useful and quick way to get good advice for minor ailments. The Pharmacist is trained to help you choose appropriate non-prescription medications and can tell you how to treat illness, wounds or minor injuries at home. The Pharmacist will also tell you when you should go to your doctor if what s/he can offer is insufficient.
Many of the products in the Apotheke are available on the shelves in the shop - first aid, health and beauty, dental products and so on. However, medications for minor illnesses that can be treated at home are often kept on shelves behind the counter and you need to ask a sales assistant or the pharmacist for them. When purchasing su products, such as painkillers, cough and flu medications, allergy treatments and so on, the pharmacist or pharmacist’s assistant will help you choose the most effective medication and ensure you know how to use it. Many of us are used to be able to pick health products off the shelves, supermarket style, and even in supermarkets, so needing to go to an Apotheke and asking for some products, might come as a surprise. Luckily, many of those who work in Apotheke speak some English, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting what you need if you are unable to explain in German. You can find some health products in supermarkets, but the range is very limited.
Some doctors’ practices have their own in house Apotheke which can be very convenient when you need a prescription filled after a visit. Otherwise, simply take your prescription to your local Apotheke together with your Health Insurance card. (Health insurances have a list of medications that are entitled to reimbursement.) If it is a repeat prescription, the Apotheke will keep the record on file and you simply go back when you need a refill.
The Apotheke is a good first port of call if you need urgent but not major health assistance, and in Zurich there are a few Apothekes open every day of the year and 24 hours. For example, the Bahnhof Apotheke is always open and easily reached by public transport. Conveniently, it is right next to the drop in medical clinic, Permanence Hauptbahnhof, also at the train station, and useful if the pharmacist or you decide that you need to see a doctor. For Bahnhof Apotheke, you can find information in English about their services and products here:
Permanence Hauptbahnhof also has information in English and is open from 7.00 - 22.00 everyday. If needed, a prescription is referred directly to the Bahnhof Apotheke next door, so that they is no delay in getting appropriate medications.
Another Apotheke that is easily reached by public transport, open 365 days, 24 hours is the Bellevue Apotheke.
Follow the links above for information about the services that these and other Apothekes have on offer, and the wide range of products for sale. This sometimes includes products made onsite by the pharmacist. Some Apothekes also offer homeopathy and herbal remedies as well as well as other complementary medicines. All the medications available at the Apotheke are tested and registered according to Swiss and European regulations. If you need an emergency out-of-hours pharmacy you can find the nearest one to you on this SOS-Pharmacy website (in English). Medicines cost more at out-of-hours pharmacies.
Remember the Apotheke is there to help and can be a very good source of early advice about a large range of health issues as well as being a good resource for home treatments.

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