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Pharmaceuticals import/export guide for Australia

If you’ve considered launching a pharma import/export business out of Australia, here’s where to start.

Updated

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Australia’s pharmaceutical market is estimated to be worth $8.9 billion. You can grab a slice of the pie by starting your own trading company. From controlled substances to medical compounds, you can build a thriving pharmaceuticals business that facilitates trade around the world.

Types of import/export businesses

Import/export businesses fall into three main types. What’s best for you comes down to where your interests lie.

Export management company

An export management company (EMC) helps a company in Australia export its medicines and pharmaceuticals. It manages tasks such as hiring distributors, developing marketing materials and preparing shipping logistics.

Export trading company

An export trading company (ETC) looks into the needs of foreign buyers and finds domestic companies in Australia to meet those needs.

Import/export merchant (or free agent)

This involves buying the merchandise directly from the manufacturer – overseas or local – and then reselling it abroad. It involves a bigger risk, but it can lead to higher profits without the middleman that the other business types involve.

Check out our guide for more on starting your own import/export company

Types of pharmaceuticals

To meet the needs of your target customers, you need to choose the pharmaceuticals that you’ll offer. Choose something that you have the most experience with. For instance, do you have a science background with knowledge of medical compounds? Have you worked with controlled substances in a hospital setting? Do you know about a specific sector of the medical industry?

Existing experience with your target area is a plus, but having a passion for it widens your advantage. You’ll understand the jargon of your niche and you may already have contacts.

The pharmaceuticals market

  • Controlled medicines and substances.
  • Medicinals, botanicals, and dietary supplements.
  • Pharmaceutical preparations.
  • In vitro diagnostics.
  • Veterinary drugs.

Top import/export countries for pharmaceuticals

Export:

  • China: $817 million
  • New Zealand: $143 million
  • United States: $135 million
  • Japan: $98 million
  • Turkey: $61.2 million

Import:

  • Ireland: $1.03 billion
  • Germany: $785 million
  • United States: $605 million
  • Switzerland: $551 million
  • United Kingdom: $340 million

Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity, 2016 data.

Do I need a licence or permit to import/export pharmaceutical goods?

A majority of pharmaceuticals will need either a licence, permit or both to be imported or exported in Australia. To find out what requires permission to import and export, visit the Office of Drug Control’s website (ODC). This index can also tell you what you’ll need in the way of permits and licences. Let’s look at a few examples.

NameWhat application will I need?Import permit needed?Import licence needed?Export licence and permit needed?
MorphineNarcotic/psychotropic applicationYesYesYes
Testosterone5G/5HYesNoNo

This info is sourced from the ODC’s website on 6 November 2018.

International billing and payments

Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll make transactions between currencies and across borders.

You can safely and affordably manage your business payments – with lower fees and stronger exchange rates – by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist.

Compare international money transfer options for importing and exporting pharmaceuticals

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
AUD 2,000 1 day AUD 0.00 0.708 USD
7,078
TorFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. Conditions apply.
Send money overseas in 30+ currencies with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
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AUD 2,000 1 day AUD 0.00 0.708 USD
7,078
SendFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. T&Cs apply.
Fee-free transfers in 30+ currencies to over 200 countries.
Go to site Show details
AUD 2,000 1 day AUD 0.00 0.708 USD
7,078
Better exchange rates for Finder customers.
Send 60+ currencies at competitive rates and no fees. If you find a better eligible quote, WorldFirst will beat it.
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AUD 250 1 - 2 days AUD 0.00 0.708 USD
7,078
$0 transfer fees for Finder customers.
No-maximum limit transfers with competitive exchange rates for 100+ currencies. No transfer fee over AUD$10,000.
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GBP 3,000 1 day AUD 0.00 0.708 USD
7,078
Global Reach will match any competitor's exchange rates. Conditions apply.
Get no fees for both business and personal transfers when you send your money overseas with Global Reach.
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AUD 1 1 day AUD 52.00 0.707 USD
7,034
Pay no fees on your first two transfers, up to $3,000.
SingX offers the real exchange rate every time you make a transfer and can help you send money across the world.
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AUD 0 Same day AUD 2.99 0.703 USD
7,026
Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options. Express transfers delievered in as little as 10 minutes for an extra fee.
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AUD 1 Same day AUD 0.00 0.707 USD
7,071
Get fast transfers with no fees and a range of foreign currency tools. Go to site Show details
AUD 200 1 - 2 days AUD 50.00 0.710 USD
7,065
Exclusive: Use code FINDER10 to receive US$10 off your first transaction.
Quick and simple international money transfers with a flat 0.5% transfer fee for most transfers. Zero-margin rates on some currencies.
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AUD 5 1 - 2 days EUR 3.00 0.704 USD
7,034
Special offer: Zero fees on your first 10 transfers.
Get bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
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AUD 1 Same day AUD 3.99 0.702 USD
7,018
Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Conditions apply.
An online money transfer service with cash pick-up, bank account to bank account and airtime transfers available.
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Compare up to 4 providers


The "Rate" and "Amount Received" displayed are indicative rates that have been supplied by each brand or gathered by Finder.

Exchange rates are volatile and change often. As a result, the exchange rate listed on Finder may vary to the actual exchange rate quoted for the brand. Please confirm the actual exchange rate and mention "Finder" before you commit to a brand.

Bottom line

The pharmaceuticals import/export business is for people who love building relationships in other countries, and success requires an organised mind that can handle logistics. When dealing with medicines and similar goods, a willingness to thoroughly comply with relevant regulations is a must.

If you have these qualities, take the plunge into creating a thriving pharmaceuticals import/export business.

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International Money Transfer Offers

Important Information*
Logo for TorFX International Money Transfers
TorFX International Money Transfers

TorFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. Conditions apply.
Send money overseas in 30+ currencies with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.

Logo for SendFX International Money Transfers
SendFX International Money Transfers

SendFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. T&Cs apply.
Fee-free transfers in 30+ currencies to over 200 countries.

Logo for WorldFirst International Money Transfers
WorldFirst International Money Transfers

Better exchange rates for Finder customers.
Send 60+ currencies at competitive rates and no fees. If you find a better eligible quote, WorldFirst will beat it.

Logo for OFX (Ozforex) International Money Transfers
OFX (Ozforex) International Money Transfers

$0 transfer fees for Finder customers.
No-maximum limit transfers with competitive exchange rates for 100+ currencies. No transfer fee over AUD$10,000.

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