Sick in Iceland? How to find the medicine you need

One thing parents worry about on vacation is the prospect of sick children, and worse, sick children in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Fortunately, we have not had to deal with any doctors’ visits yet here in Iceland. We have, however, had to buy medicine at a pharmacy. (Look for the big sign saying “Apotek.”)

pharmacy sign

The first thing you need to know is that you are not going to find a 24-hour pharmacy. Like grocery stores, pharmacies in Iceland have very limited hours. The pharmacy with the best hours we have seen is next to a 24-hour(!) grocery store in Reykjavik:

pharmacy hours
That is Mon.-Fri. 9-6:30, Sat. 10-4, and Sun. 12-4.  And that is open a lot more hours than many of them!  Typically, they are open during the workday during the week, and possibly for a few hours on Saturday. And you need a pharmacy to buy *any* medicine: so far as I can tell, you can’t even buy Tylenol (acetaminophen) at the grocery store! (Vitamins are available at most grocery stores.)
Because you are in a foreign country, remember that the drug brand names you know are not necessarily the brand names that will be available, and once you figure out the brand name you need, the dosage may be different per pill or per teaspoon. Or your normal dosage may not be available over the counter. If you know you are going to need medicine, bring it with you!


We, of course, didn’t follow our own advice, and so we needed to purchase Advil (ibuprofen) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine HCl).


Advil was easy, as we knew that it was ibuprofen. If you know the generic chemical name for the drug you need, the process is much easier because the pharmacist likely knows that name, too. If, however, you only know the brand name, you are likely to be reduced to trying to explain your symptoms (or mime them). It took us quite a while to get a bottle of Pektolin (Benadryl!) for our daughter—we needed Benadryl in particular, not Claritin or Zyrtec, equivalents of both of which were readily offered. And when we did figure out the right name, it was only available as a liquid over the counter. For pills or tabs, we would have needed a prescription.


The easiest way I’ve found to get the Icelandic brand name is to first google the US brand name to get the generic chemical name. Then google the generic name plus “Iceland.” A result on is usually good, though Wikipedia is sometimes surprisingly helpful. Either way, the list of brand names is likely to be very long, so you may have to search on the page for the word Iceland as well. (Ctrl-F is your friend!) Below I put together a list of some of the more common drugs you might need.


Note that some of these have additional active ingredients that I have not included—so they are not necessarily direct equivalents! I am not a doctor. I am not a pharmacist. I am not guaranteeing that any of these medications are exact equivalents—so please use your own judgment—research and talk to a doctor or pharmacist about any medicine you intend to take!


Ibuprofen (Advil): Íbúfen
Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Panodil, Paratabs, Pinex
Aspirin: Hjartamagnyl, Alka-Seltzer, Aspirin Actavis, Treo (also has caffeine)
Naproxen (Aleve): Naproxen Mylan

Diarrhea relief:
Loperamide (Imodium): Imodium, Loperamid Portfarma
Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol): ???

Itch relief:
Hydrocortisone cream: Ciproxin-Hydrocortison, Daktacort, Mildison, Plenadren, Locoid, Solu Cortef, Fucidin Hydrocortisone

Diphenhydramine HCl (Benadryl): Benylan, Pektolin
Loratadine (Claritin): Clarinase, Loritin
Cetirizine (Zyrtec): Cetrizin ratiopharm

If over the counter medicine isn’t enough, then you will have to find a clinic.  Thankfully, we have avoided needing that so far, so I do not have any direct experience with going to the doctor, urgent care, or emergency room here in Iceland.  I did find a post on a different blog that has a little information and may be helpful if you do need a doctor.  If you have any experience with going to the doctor or finding medication in Iceland, tell us about it!


Sick in Iceland? How to find the medicine you need was last modified: July 6th, 2016 by Lora