Why is Nicaragua being a pill about prescription drugs?


Nicaragua is the most beautiful country in the world. Yes, I’m Nicaraguan, so I am biased. That being said, Nicaragua is not a poor country; it’s an impoverished country. This is one of the first things tourists notice when they visit here. They notice all the opportunities around and can’t understand why Nicaragua is so poor.

Recently, Nicaragua has been popping up in news articles and magazines as one of the best countries for senior citizens to retire. This is a very lucrative market and I naturally agree that Nicaragua is a great place to move. However, some Nicaraguans institution have recently made it a living hell for many senior citizens trying to move here.

Here we go…

One of the many traits and benefits that Retired Foreign Senior Citizens (RFSC) bring to our country is not only entrepreneurship (starting a small business that employs locals) but also fresh dollars that will be spent in the local market.

If these foreign senior citizens have one thing in common, it’s that when they move to Nicaragua they will need to bring packages from home. Whether it’s a laptop that they don’t sell in the local market or medicine they need to survive. Recently, the government has made imports very difficult for everyone.  

In the past week I’ve seen more than five cases where Customs (Aduanas) and the Ministry of Health (MINSA) have made it more difficult for elderly foreigners to receive their medication. Approximately two weeks ago, the ministry of health started requiring that all medications exempt from taxes have a prescription from a local doctor, even if the medicine already comes with a prescription from a foreign health-care provider. In addition, the medication must now be accompanied with a description of what the product is and the a letter for MINSA explaining why the patient needs the medicine.

To get all the necessary paperwork to clear customs, foreigners have to spend a day at MINSA waiting in line. Then they wait another day or two to get the permit they need to present to customs to bring their medicine into the country. When that’s done, they have to then go to customs to pick up their medicine. Have fun in customs.

For someone who lives outside Managua, this isn’t an easy process. For someone whose life depends on taking medicine, this is terrifying.

This was the case of Peter, who is 85. Peter’s daughter, who lives in the U.S., sent her dad some medicine. Peter’s doctor told me that if Peter doesn’t take his heart medication in 10 days, he could die.

The medicine Peter’s daughter sent him was in Nicaragua within 36 hours after she sent it. But then it took him four business days to clear it with Nicaraguan authorities. What was this 85-year-old doing during those four days in Nicaragua? He was looking for a doctor he’s never met to explain his case and convince him to write a prescription for him to get medicine that he had already bought—all because of silly bureaucracy.

After that, Peter had to go online to find the chemical composition of the medicine. After that, he had to write a letter explaining why the medicine was important to his health. When he got to MINSA, they didn’t even listen to his case. They were more interested in him paying the 35 cordobas that is required. They took his papers and sent him home for the weekend. When Monday came around, Peter went back to MINSA to pick up a small piece of paper that said he is permitted to have his medicine, which is not sold in Nicaragua! This is medicine that his U.S. doctor had already prescribed him! Medicine that the FDA approved! Medicine that was never even touched by a MINSA official!

What is the worst part of all this? Peter will have to do this all over again in a few weeks when he refills his bottle. This is only one case. There are diabetics who have been taking the same medicine for 56 years, and he now need to find a local doctor and go through all the bureaucracy every time they want to bring their insulin into the country.

So to all the folks looking to move to paradise, this is a serious issue to consider before you move down here. And to the government officials who are looking to lure foreign retirees to Nicaragua by making it attractive and comfortable to live here, WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!?!?!? FIX THIS PROBLEM!


  • Joe Jones

    This is not about medication, it’s about the 35 cordoba’s! Every time we turn around down here, there’s a “fee” of some kind and of course, you can cut through the red tape for a few “extra cord’s”. Corruption is encouraged by this practice, not hindered.

    • Joe Jones

      Just curious about who the “other” Joe Jones is or if someone here is using my name on these posts?? So “Joe” are you real or using my name??

  • Jameson

    its almost lie everything in this country is made to work only with a “mordida” or bribe!

  • Kave

    I’m hoping someone can clear things up for me re: prescription drugs.

    My husband and I are semi-retiring as of this year to Nicaragua, we’re 45 and for the next few years will be living 6/6. Only one prescription between the two of us is a anti-anxiety drug similar to Xanax. I’ve taken 1/2 -1 tab a day or less since I was 19 or so. It is however considered to be somewhat of a narcotic (though I don’t get that).

    I had the impression as does my family doctor that I can just buy them from a pharmacy so will not have to bring a six months supply. From this article I’m thinking that both myself and my doctor are confusing Mexico with Nicaragua where you can walk in and buy pretty much anything.

    I would be grateful if someone could give information about this. Was this article about shipping in drugs via medicare or buying them in general.

  • http://www.nicaragua-guide.com Darrell Bushnell

    While the title was about prescription drugs, Javiera brings up the topic which many of us discuss continuously – Nicaragua is a poor country by choice. It is a beautiful country which is why many of us have chosen to live here. It is a rich country in resources. If there is a country which could be self sufficient, Nicaragua is one of them yet it continues to rank at the bottom in GDP. I believe the confusion in interpreting the rules by government officials is a major reason.

    Getting something through customs is a nightmare no matter what it is. We taught English to our neighbors so we ordered 10 copies of a book from Amazon but they wanted an exorbitant tax because if you receive more than one copy of a book you must be planning to sell them. What? The same problem in getting residency, registering a vehicle, opening a business, etc. The rules aren’t that difficult but every government clerk interprets them differently and seems to want to make it difficult instead of making it happen.

  • Jeff

    The corruption reached new heights in Nicaragua. The Ortegas, coming from a poor family, are Billionaires by now. Chavez won again so the money flow from Venezuela will not end. Justice does not exist and foreigners are hated deep down. Not a country to live at. Try Panama!

  • mnelson

    I’m shocked by this information. I time my 3 month stays in Nicaragua to the about of days my HMO will let me have 90 days of five prescription drugs I take including insulin. I promise you, if they stop or slow me down from bringing in my prescribed drugs I’m selling my property and tossing away my cedula!

  • jerry

    It’s not a problem if you bring them in your suitcase. I just brought a years supply of meds, two weeks ago. I have been doing it for 7 years. It’s only a problem if you get it mailed here. Have your doctor give you a years supply!

  • ells

    all this trouble in a country where you can walk into a pharmacy and buy as many anti-biotics and/or other non-over-the-counter drugs as you would like at any pharmacy with no prescription. And don’t get any non-profit worker who hosts medical teams started on the red tep you have to go through to host a medical team. “This stamp is in the wrong place, I am going to need this document to be re-sent from the US with the stamp here.” (real life example) How much more frustrating it must be to go through so much bureaucracy to obtain personal meds.

  • miskita

    Nonsense! I understand the need to try to regulate the misuse of medications, however, risking peoples’s life is not a smart way to solve the problem. There must be a way to make it easier, such as submitting a physician letter/diagnosis when applying for a visa to go to Nicaragua. Soon MINSA will be on the international news. I event think that the international health regulations can ban that procedure.

  • nicafred

    If a foreigner who is not a pedophile or axe murderer comes to our impoverished paradise- HELP him- he will spread the wealth around.
    But noooooo. Petty offialdom, as always, pulls back the hammer and shoots itself in the collective foot. Been that way as long as I can remember.

  • Ineficient

    Its not just that, even if you want to bring in a needle or a device to check your blood sugar. they want a medical prescription for it. its the dumbest thing ive seen in my life.

  • Lucio

    I like the answer from this mnelson…”I promise you, if they stop or slow me down from bringing in my prescribed drugs I’m selling my property and tossing away my cedula!” Great, I love it!

    Simple and straight forward, this country like any other has it own regulations, if you are not willing to deal with them you must conclude, you choose the wrong place to live…stop biching about and pretending to make Nicaragua “as efficient the US”, if you’r constantly critiquing about in so many issues, and this makes you please, go elsewhere and enjoy it, all you are gaining is presenting the expatriot community as a constant unhappy group of complainers constantly critiquing the goverment, the bribes, the dogs and trash on the streets and on and on.
    If you choose to come and live here, take it as it is, with respect to locals and national policies, otherwise, if your life is so miserable, get your ass in gear right away and leave Nicaragua. Go and deal with the smooth bureacracy in the US, but stop bitching this country that I loved so much.
    Dis-graceful comments make te entire community look like a bunch of criticals dis-respectful of local practices and culture. Enough is enough!

  • Ineficient

    No one said anything about disrespecting. Rather a constructive criticism of recent regulations that make no sense. By the way, the person that wrote this is nicaraguan. he can complain about whatever he wants. Look at what he wants, he wants for people that come here, to feel comfortable enough to open up a business and live happy. this country needs it, it deserves it. not worth putting peoples lives at risks for a measely C$35 cordobas.

  • Edgard Zamora

    In addition there are many medications,that you can’t find in Nicaragua,such as cardiac medications, that this retired us citizens get thru their Medicare insurance, such as multaq for atrial fibrillation management ,xarelto, pradaxa latest anticoaugulants, agree that they need a local physician to monitor their health and medication,most insurance refill medications for 90 days .

  • Edgar J Pereira

    I am totally in agreement with the procedures of customs and ministry of health to import prescription medicines to Nicaragua. Just go to Huembes and Oriental markets and see the wide variety of fake medication available, they look just like the real one. The government has to protect the health and safety of the population at large not the interest of a wealthy minority. Expats should have their medication brought in by relatives and friends that are constantly travelling to the US. Many do so and get their prescriptions on time. Do not wait until the last minute.

  • http://no Damian

    Living in Nicaragua is wonderful but requires more planning than we are used to in the first world. With some degree of pre-planning and coordination you can create your paradise. But if you are a person who does not want to plan then it can become complicated and very frustrating. So I agree, don’t wait until the last minute.

  • Ineficient

    Edgard, while the intentions might be good, the results are horrible. What will they wait for? For someone to die trying to get their medications? Youre in agreement withthem because you dont understand the unintended consequences. If you think that people in HUEMBE brought those meds in through customs, then you need a wake up call. Contraband is a HUGE problem in this country. Besides, we are talking about individuals asking for meds, not companies, not a truck load of medications. Have you ever tried to bring in meds here? talk to somone that has, talk to someone that went to MINSA, and ask if MINSA even saw their meds. All they do is sign some papers and make you wait two extra days for you meds.

  • lenny

    and me, with epilepsy! I would, by the time the process finished, have a blood level of my needed medication so low I would go into “status epilepticus” and die! Something needs to be changed in this system of checks and balances.