Pharmaceuticals are fun in Costa Rica for those of us from backwater countries where you still need a prescription for everything that keeps life pretty. Last night, I spent $200 at a local farmacia [far-MA-see-ah, pharmacy]. Here’s what I got:
Retin-A 0.05% 40g
My dermatologist* recommended this. I’ve never used it before, she’s 33 and uses it everyday. One look at her and you’d be buying a lifetime supply. *White girls with freckles living in the tropics practically own their dermatologists.
Price here is 9,163 colones ($18) – I’d love to know what this costs in the states, but I can’t find prices online. [In the comments, Robert says $73 for 20g, .04%… so this would have cost me $146 in the states and not even as strong as I get here. I guess, what, it’s "worth" more there????]
Canada pharmacies sell 20g for $20; they are at least half U.S. prices, so I’m estimating this tube would cost at least $80 in the states. Not including the doctor’s visit. This visit was $45.
Efudix 5% 20g
Dermatologists love turning the ice torch on me. The first time my doc said the words "basal skin cell carcinoma," I was terrified. While waiting for the biopsy, I was writing out my will, saying good bye to friends, planning who would get my valuable stuff. But basal cells are so nothing. They never even turn into cancer. A complete waste of good drama. Of course, you have to have every spot looked at to make sure it’s basal and not something else. In Key West, that’s $95 to walk in the door. Then each burn is $100… it’s ridiculous. Last year at Clinica Biblica, I got a skin screen and about a zillion places burned off while the doctora and I chatted… $50 total.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I can afford to stay healthy in Costa Rica.
Efudix (Efudex in English) has been around for awhile now. It’s like home chemotherapy for your skin. You apply the cream, your skin burns and bubbles and erupts in ugly lesions while the cream is killing ALL the skin cancer cells wherever you’ve applied it. You look like you stood too close to a pan of frying bacon. Six weeks later, you are beautiful. Girlfriends in Key West pay around $300 for Efudix treatments and do it every couple of years. They look HIDEOUS while going through it, but love the effects.
I have a tiny annoying place on my neck, driver’s side. It’s not basal but some completely benign skin damage. She told me to dab Efudix on it every night for 30 nights to burn it off. I put it on last night, didn’t feel a thing, but I figure that spot is going to look Frankenstein-ish in a few days. The Efudix was 11,478 colones ($22). It’s $80 from an online pharmacy, so probably double that in the states.
Fisiogel Crema Liquida 120ml
This is one of those Cadillac (read expensive) pharmaceutical skin lotions. I’m to apply it over the Retin-A so my skin doesn’t totally dry out. I’m not big on expensive creams, love my Lubriderm. On the other hand, my skin basically looks like it’s seen a hard 51 years and I don’t "moisturize" like I’m sure Greta Garbo did. Only if the lotion is handy do I partake. So, I’ll give it a try… maybe expensive stuff really IS better? We’ll see. It’s not greasy and does feel different than other lotions. Therapeutic, in fact. I feel pretty-er for only 10,220 colones ($20).
Glicolic (Acido glicólico) 10% 60g
Basically an acid exfoliating treatment at home. I put it on my sun damaged legs and chest, arms. Doesn’t burn, does make the skin softer, all good. 11,589 colones ($22), could not find similar products for sale and costs in the U.S. or Canada.
Umbrella Plus 120g
Sunscreen, what else? She told me to put it on everyday in the am and again at noon. OK. 8,684 colones ($16). In Colombia, the price is $52.500… not sure how that translates: if it’s in pesos or already in dollars. Must be dollars.
Ryan’s turbohaler (I love that name) for his asthma. No one ever prescribed this for him in the states and this works GREAT. In the states, he was prescribed several different daily inhalers to manage his asthma, but none worked so well he couldn’t live without rescue inhalers also. We went through rescue inhalers like candy.
Daily Symbicort with Singulair kicks butt. We don’t even buy rescue inhalers anymore. Which are cheap and over the counter here, btw. 18,189 colones ($36). I’ve paid $100 to $150 for other inhalers in the states which basically didn’t manage anything. Makes me angry that this stuff is so expensive. Why? The libertarian in me goes right out the window on this topic (pharmaceuticals) and I want to throw those bastards in jail for making so much money at the expense of sick people.
Singulair 10mg 30 tablets (one month supply)
One a day for asthma sufferers, works like a charm. Giving your child daily drugs for anything is terribly worrisome. You wonder will it stunt his growth, have horrible consequences down the road that no one knows about now? On the other hand, he can BREATHE and live basically a normal life with these drugs.
I’ve done all the checking I can find, read all the books on managing asthma "naturally" and there ain’t no such thing. We’ve done the breathing cure, the water cure… some other things. Looked at allergy treatments. One doctor suggested twice weekly shots to curb allergies (before she’d even had him tested). I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Not that those shots aren’t appropriate for some people, but she had a steady stream of kids going in and out getting shots… looked too much like money in the bank. Jaded. I know what foods and material affect him: I’ve hovered over him while he ate, slept, bathed… With these two drugs, nothing adversely affects his breathing except not taking them.
I have zero faith in pharmaceutical companies to look out for the well-being of its customers (really?) and remain convinced they care only about profit centers. Like my child. 36,549 ($72), $100 in the states. There is a generic here that is significantly cheaper and just as good – it’s the same stuff (montelukast sodium). Can’t remember the brand name, but he’s used it before and I’ll buy it next time. I just forgot…
The packaged pills are acetaminofen (acetaminophen): 40 pills for $3. Have no idea if this is more or less. Sounds expensive – I’ll check it out next trip stateside and cart it back in bulk.
Many of these drugs are prescription only in the states. Why? Would you die if you ate a box of Singulair? Would your skin fall off if you rubbed all the Efudix onto it? Has anyone in any of the many, many countries in the world that sell these products sin [seen, without] prescription ever died? Let’s face it: only a mad person would waste time abusing these drugs (narcotics are sold by prescription only). Sane people are not at risk.
With doctor visits required to renew prescriptions (which is why doctors don’t fight pharmaceutical companies and, in fact, own stock in them) on top of the exorbitant price of the drug, it costs a fortune to stay healthy in the states. Probably less expensive to fly to Costa Rica once every 6 months, $350 rt to FLL on Spirit Air (have I mentioned this?), and stock up! Pura vida = pure life. Yes, indeed, you can get it here.
I fully agree with your comment about requiring a RX for everything, for example stuff like contact lenses (gas permeable kind which RARELY if ever changes over years) you need a RX that is less than 2 years old
I tried once to order a medicine for my dog online (he was put to sleep because of the severity of the condition) and for that TOO they wanted a prescription….geesh
how convenient! to order the expensive medicine you need a current RX which comes with a hefty price tag (paid out of pocket by you or by your insurance company) which in turn drives premiums up…….and so on
My Libertarian (used to be a Republican until the politicians started dividing up the country and putting it in their pockets) dander gets up just thinking about doctors and drug companies. My little boy has learning disabilites and of course they wanted to put him on Adderall at the grand old age of three. We know this drug stunts growth, won’t let him sleep,eat, and causes him to grind his teeth. Long term effects aren’t known…short term is bad enough. Needless to say after one dose of this poison we chunked it in the garbage. His pediatrician was IRATE. Anyway..it’s all a money making machine. I can’t wait to get to CR with my family.
P.S. How are you getting the Spirit airfare so low? For the 4 of us from Atlanta it’s going to be around $2100.
Retin-A .04% 20g tube…$73
Wolfie – it’s a racket and I was aware of it but felt so powerless over it, especially when it came to my son, I just swallowed my frustration and paid the tab. How wonderful to be here and have some of that choice and power back in my own. Lovely.
Hi Frantica – I hear you on the drugs. We are certain that teachers would have had Mo on ritalin in a heartbeat. Good for you for standing up to them. If there’s one thing that gets my goat, this is it. And it wasn’t till I got here and got to buy whatever I needed for son, that I started to see the big picture. AND pharmacists prescribe here. Tell them your symptoms, they recommend what you need.
Not sure about the tickets… I just went on their website and ordered. It’s usually $600/rt for each of us to Miami. Did you join the $9 club? I also joined the other thing for $30/year and at least once a week, I get notice of specials. I almost bought $9 flights between FLL and Ocean City but we changed our plans. The earlier you book, the better – that’s how they operate.
Thank you, Robert. Man I saved a bundle: It would have been $146 for the same quantity and not quite as strong as I am using.
I’ve used it for two days by the way and I still look 51. We’ll see what tomorrow brings….
Hi Saratica! I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I love it! I tried emailing the other day and I don’t think it went through. The cc i did to myself never showed up either, so… ANYhow, wanted to say that i get a product at a discount drug store near me that’s called Aqua Glycolic. I use a creamy cleanser, an astringent type thing and also there is a moisturizing lotion, but it’s too greasy for my liking. Is this the type of thing you were talking about in your post? I also found it online at aquaglycolic(dot)com, so you can check it out there if you want.
Keep up the great work with your blog! I have 2 boys about your boy’s ages and so I can relate to that. 🙂
Thank you for reading and enjoying the blog – I’m loving writing it. When I was looking online for US glycolic acid, it looks like what you get there is a watered down version of what we get here. I don’t know that – I’m just guessing. It’s not greasy, what I have, but I use moisturizer afterwards. It’s glycolic acid 10%. My skin is noticeably softer after a few days. You might have to ask at a drugstore… Teens are fun, eh?
Here at WalMart I can buy Acetaminophen 200mg tabs, 250 count for about $5 to $6 a bottle. Somtimes it’s on sale for a bit less. That seems to be about the least expensive price, as in some of the chain pharmacies like CVA it was 50 cents to a buck more for the same potency/count.
Pablo de Tampa
I wonder why it’s so expensive here? I buy the generic. I need to check around at other pharmacies. They pack each tablet in it’s own punch out tab… maybe that’s really expensive? I don’t know…
Hello again. I decided to do a little investigating and brought my Aqua Glycolic down here by the computer and went to the website to check the strength. The products range from a 10% glycolic solution (the face cream) to 11% (the toner ~ i LOVE), 12% for the facial cleanser (also love) to 14% for the hand % body lotion, and the shampoo and body cleanser. I’ve not tried the last two.
After reading the information online, i think my problem with the face cream is that my skin type became more oily since i had my boys and i may have applied it to liberally, it was making me break out. At 44 yrs old, it was not the result i wanted! But for dry skin, not prone to acne, i’m sure it would be wonderful. it’s very gentle.
I just checked the online pricing and they are only slightly higher than my discount drugmart prices per item. But the Merz Direct website also offers them in a package of 3 or 5 items and that’s a great price. i think i’ll do that next time i need to stock up.
Yep, i love having teenagers. I’m not the best with babies and preschoolers. I much prefer this age. 🙂
Super Blog! I live in Ft Lauderdale (also have been in the Real Estate biz), and spent 10 years living in Costa Rica, so most of your trials, tribulations and adventures were mine, too.
I hope your Dr. told you that using Retin-A might be a lifelong commitment (ugh). I’ve used it for 15+ years – for the first year, applied every night; after that about 3 times a week. I didn’t notice any wonderful thing happening after the first 4 months (as the directions promised), but I know it must be working because I get compliments on my skin all the time, and it does look pretty decent for having hung out in South Florida for 40 years. BTW, the last time I checked prices, a 45 gram tube of Retin-A Micro 0.1% was $95 here and half that in Canada.
Enjoy your time in Paradise – I hope it’s forever!
Pura Vida, jill
Hola Jill – Thank you for reading! Yeah, every morning I rush out and look in the mirror but I still look the same… The glycolic works to soften skin on my chest arms and legs – that is lovely. My skin (on my face) sure feels different, so we’ll see… 3 and 1/2 months to go…
We love living here, can’t believe it. For now (after the past couple of years, I’ve learned to never say never), we can’t imagine living anywhere else. Pura vida to you – hope the real estate market is not being too unkind where you are!!!
Thanks for this article. I have a question to clarify things for myself. I use albuterol inhalers, and I am going to Costa Rica soon. Will I need to have a prescription to buy them in San Jose? Or will they be available over the counter there in 2009?
Thanks much for your reply.
Hi Garrett, sorry it took me so long to get back to you! Yes, you can buy albuterol over the counter here and singulair and advair and all the asthma acoutrements! If you need a steroid shot, the pharmacist can usually do that, too.