If you’ve been in Thailand long you’ll know that buying any form of vitamin or supplement is a major headache. Through research and trial and error I am now able to get any supplement I want at a reasonable price – see below for details. But first let’s look at the challenges.
The two standard local options are:
- The local pharmacies: They offer a very limited set of supplements and often they are of ‘unknown’ quality standards. To put this into perspective, I have not even found a good Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) product.
- The local GNC: Highly over priced in Thailand, much more limited than their retail stores in western countries as they only sell GNC brand products and many of their products are low quality in any case.
If you’ve tried to buy from outside of Thailand (e.g. U.S.) you’ll know that there are a few issues with this:
- Thailand Not Serviced: Many online stores will simply not ship to Thailand.
(This unfortunately includes Amazon.com which can work in other countries I live in / visit – for Thailand supplements get stopped at the shopping cart check out page on Amazon).
- Shipping Costs: Where online stores do deliver to Thailand you usually end up paying premium rates of between $40 to $80 for shipping alone.
- Customs Fees: Thai customs are notorious for stopping packages and charging exorbitant fees of up to 50% of total value (that includes product value + shipping value). This often means it makes no sense to buy unless it is an unavoidable necessity that you can’t live without.
Your 3 Options for Economical Quality Supplements
I’ve found that you can buy exactly the supplements you’re looking for by using one or more of 3 options depending on your needs. It inevitably involves buying from the U.S. but when done right can end up nearly as economical as buying locally – and with the products you want at the quality you want.
Option 1: iHerb.com for the Majority of Your Supplements
When you order from iHerb.com using some specific shipping and order size settings it is reliable, extremely cost effective. iHerb has a huge range of products that will cover 90% of even the most specific needs. Shipping to Thailand takes an average of 9 days – typically they ship the same day you order.
Now for the specifics:
- Your order should be lower than $60 to ensure you do not pay custom fees (see below).
- You will use the Global Priority Mail by DHL shipping option.
By using these options you will minimize shipping fees and customs fees. You should expect to pay a total of $16 for shipping and customs with this method at maximum. The shipping will cost $4 and when customs fees are charged, they are about $12 (400 baht). Most of the time you won’t pay custom fees as Thai customs don’t monitor this shipping method as heavily as many of the others.
Discount: Use a discount code to get $10 off your first order of $40 or more. Get the discount by using the code SLM450 in the shopping cart or by using this link when you order: iHerb.com
Option 2: Any U.S. Online Shop + Shipito for Your Specific Needs
In cases where you can’t find what you want at iHerb.com you can use any U.S. online shop (from Amazon.com to the smallest niche shop) combined with a package forwarding service. To minimize custom fees and premium shipping charges the package forwarding service will be Shipito.com.
This is a lot more hassle than option 1, but worth it if you value something specific that iHerb doesn’t stock.
Setting up the Package Forwarding account at Shipito is relatively straightforward. You sign up for a “Virtual Box” account for $10/ month, provide some scanned copies of ID to validate your account and add a deposit. You’re good to go.
Shipito gives you two addresses in the U.S. that you can ship your U.S. purchases to for forwarding: 1 in California (I mainly use this one) and 1 in Orlando.
You will need to follow some specifics using your shipito account to minimize costs:
- Consolidate your orders by:
A) Sending consolidated orders (instead of many individual shipments) from as few U.S. shops as possible to Shipito.
B) Consolidating packages into one package at Shipito (with the products with packaging taken off option). This minimizes your shipping costs while avoiding shipito per package charges for package consolidation.
- Fill in the customs forms for each package in your Shipito account with:
A) Generic name for the product category only (DO NOT PUT SPECIFICS). E.g. for supplements, put ‘Vitamins’.
B) A low cost for the item. Marking down the value avoids unnecessary Customs Fees. Between $4 and $10 is a reasonable amount or ~25% of real value. Aim to keep the total consolidated value under $40 and the consolidated merchandise fitting into their standard box size.
- Select the shipping option USPS Priority which in my experiences often arrives within 10 days (just as fast as USPS Express, but cheaper) and the best for avoiding custom fees. The standard DHL and Fedex options get stopped by customs more often.
The costs for this shipment are higher than option 1. They are:
A) Shipping from online U.S. shop to shipito.
B) Shipping from Shipito to Thailand ~$40 – $50
C) Customs fees are often zero as it bypasses customs – if not, it will be around the same as option 1 ($12/ 400 Baht).
The total cost is between $40 to $70 depending on your shipping costs from the online retailer in the U.S.
Note: Some U.S. online shops will not deliver to a U.S. address if you are not using a U.S. credit card. To get round this you will use your paypal account with a U.S. address you have added to it for shipping/ billing – which will be the Shipito address you are sending the goods to.
The paypal account does not need to be a U.S. account as long as you have set the main currency to U.S. dollars whereby it lets you use U.S. addresses. Example: My account is a Hong Kong paypal account (where my banking is) denominated in U.S. dollars as I receive money in that currency.
Learn more about the Virtual Box shipping account at Shipito.com.
Option 3: PhuketHealthShop for Generic Bodybuilding Supplements
If you are looking for generic bodybuilding and fitness supplements like protein powders, and fat loss products, AND ‘getting it quickly’ is more important to you than cost, you will probably find what you are looking for at PhuketHealthShop.com.
Prices are higher than the U.S. (and iHerb) but not crazy high, and shipping is
both free and quick (typically 3 days for me to Bangkok).
Shipping is now only free for orders over 2500 baht.
Some of the more interesting items they stock from a biohacking point of view are: Alpha Lipoic Acid, Acetyl-l-Carnitine and Creatine (all from the Dymatize brand).
With these 3 options you should be able to get any supplement while you’re in Thailand without too much hassle and keeping your costs to a minimum.
Personally, I’m very specific about the quality and kind of supplements that I use – but mostly I find what I need from iHerb and use Shipito and some select U.S. online shops for my highly specific needs.
If you want some generic protein powder or creatine you can get that from PhuketHealthShop.
Let me know about your experiences.