The Cost of the Common Cold in Every Country in 2023
A cold? In this economy?
It begins with a tingle or an ache, but the worst part of the onset of a cold is the feeling of dread: the dread of time lost and money down the drain. On a national scale, colds cost U.S. businesses around $25 billion annually, two-thirds of which is lost through on-the-job productivity dips — so-called presenteeism.
But the cost is more profound on an individual level. You head to the pharmacy to splash out on cold meds and cough syrup in an effort not to miss too much work or be labeled a “presentee” and — you know — not feel like death warmed up. Regular illness takes its toll on your home life, relationships and self-esteem. If you’re your own boss, you feel the pinch twice: once as a business owner and once as the one who draws a paycheck.
Unfortunately, it’s not a case of if you’ll get a cold, but when you’ll get your next one. The average adult gets two or three colds per year, with around one billion colds affecting the U.S. annually. But if getting sick in America is notoriously expensive, the cost of over-the-counter cold remedies is not the highest in the world. So, NetCredit decided to find how the cost of the common cold stacks up from country to country.
What We Did
NetCredit researched the local cost of six days’ worth of cold medicine and cough syrup around the world. We converted all prices to USD and ranked them against each other in a series of maps and a chart illustrating the most expensive places on Earth to treat the common cold.
- Cuba has the most expensive cold remedies in the world, costing $31.79 over six days.
- The cost of the common cold is cheapest in Guyana ($0.27).
- The U.S. is ranked 13th most expensive, with a cold remedy bill of $20.98 over six days.
- The U.K. is ranked #87 and is one of the cheapest in Europe, with a cost of $10.70.
The Common Cold Costs Most in Cuba – But Preventative Action Prevails
Cold weather doesn’t cause colds; any range of viruses can do it. But while winter weather does create the conditions for cold viruses to survive and spread effectively, areas with warmer and tropical climates tend to see similar cold and flu infection numbers spread more evenly throughout the year. Certainly, there is little correlation between local temperature and the cost of cold remedies around the world, suggesting that high demand is not the issue among these, the countries with the highest costs.
Cuba ($31.79) comes out as the worst market to stock up on cold remedies, with six days of supplies costing fully $3.50 more than second-placed Belize and nearly four times that of the neighboring Dominican Republic. Cuba is known for its robust healthcare system, with locals enjoying the same life expectancy as Americans despite the state spending just 4% per person on healthcare each year compared to the U.S. However, Cuba makes the most of its limited resources by focusing on preventative measures rather than cures, and the U.S. trade embargo contributes to shortages that inflate prices.
U.S. Cold Costs Eclipse Those of Canada
Despite the relative wealth of the U.S., its cold remedies are not the most expensive on the continent — although they do work out nearly four bucks more expensive than in Canada ($20.98 vs. $17.12 over six days). Cuba and Belize have higher costs than the U.S. According to the Commonwealth Fund, “before the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act were introduced — the United States had worse outcomes and spent more on health care, largely because of greater use of medical technology and higher prices.”
Americans can save money by taking a cue from the Cubans: think preventative by getting flu shots, washing hands regularly and using natural remedies. It is also worth looking twice at the remedies you buy. Many expensive remedies are just cheaper ones repackaged and marked up, and some contain multiple ingredients, negating the need to buy multiple products.
South America: Guyana is Cheapest in World for Cold Remedies
Cold remedies cost ten times as much in Bolivia ($23.17) as in Guyana ($0.27), the cheapest territory in the world. Guyana imports most of its generic pharmaceuticals from India and Pakistan and balances the books by exporting medication to neighboring Caribbean countries.
Colombia offers mid-priced cold remedies ($9.99) amidst a liberal pharmaceutical culture where you rarely need a prescription. You can even use food delivery apps to order medicines from a pharmacy. This may push the price up, but sometimes, it’s just what you need when you’ve caught a cold.
Europe: U.K. Offers Good Value Cold Treatment
Armenia is one of Europe’s least wealthy countries, but its “prevailing sociopolitical and economic obstacles” are also partly responsible for the nation’s expensive ($28.15) cold remedies — which cost nearly twice as much as wealthier Netherlands and Denmark. “Direct out-of-pocket and illicit payments for medical services” characterize Armenian healthcare, according to the International Journal for Equity in Health. The CDC recommends bringing cold remedies with you if traveling from abroad.
The U.K. offers relatively affordable cold remedies ($10.70), with only five European countries being cheaper. U.K. supermarkets tend to stock their own unbranded remedies as cheap loss leaders, although like-for-like, they should be just as effective as pricier, branded drugs. “Regulatory authorities who license medicines strictly control generic medicines to ensure they are equivalent to the branded product,” explains Colin Cable, Royal Pharmaceutical Society. “They have the same levels of safety and quality as branded products and produce the same therapeutic effect.”
Middle East & Central Asia: Moderate Prices All Around
Cold remedy prices in the Middle East and Central Asia are not high. Turkey is the most expensive, but the costs are higher in 47 countries outside the region. Remedies are moderately priced ($11.16) in the United Arab Emirates, where the average wage is around USD 5,853/month. Like other countries around the world, UAE experienced a surge in respiratory tract viruses during the emergence from lockdown.
“From March or April  during lockdown and beyond, we barely saw a common cold,” said Emirati consultant pediatrician Dr. Misha Sahu in May 2021. “Then for six months I saw nothing, not even a runny nose… At the moment, I could easily see two or three children a day with a fever, of which one or two of them may have upper respiratory symptoms along with that.”
Rest of Asia & Oceania: Samoa, Australia and New Zealand Have Costliest Colds
There’s not much between the cost of a cold in Australia ($21.38) and New Zealand ($19.66), but both are edged out by Samoa ($24.00) as the most expensive in the region. Dr. Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Australia’s Bond University, emphasizes the efficacy of prevention: “Really there are no medications that are proven to cure colds or flu, it’s really just about your immune system,” Yates tells 7NEWS. “Fruit and veggies are great because they’re a natural source of vitamins, particularly Vitamin C and D.”
The South Asian countries of Nepal, India and Pakistan are among the cheapest places to cope with the common cold in this region. India and Pakistan have a strong capacity to produce their own medicines, although Pakistan lacks some of the raw materials. However, Pakistanis can also turn to alternative remedies like the legal high of ephedra-laced Joshanda.
Africa: Egypt Has Cheapest Remedies (and Long History of Trying)
Cold remedy pricing is diverse across Africa and does not necessarily follow from a nation’s prosperity; the relatively high GDP nations of South Africa ($6.15) and Egypt ($1.67) have the cheapest cold medications in the continent.
Efforts to combat the common cold in Egypt date back at least 3,500 years to the Ebers Papyrus, which urged sufferers to chant an incantation “in association with the administration of milk of one who has borne a male child and fragrant gum.” The cost of the gum is not known.
Prevention is Better Than the Cure
While the price of common cold treatments varies greatly around the world, the true costs are far from equal even within each country, pricing aside. Research has found that people who grew up economically disadvantaged are more susceptible to colds in adulthood, while poorer people are also more likely to live in conditions that promote the spread of respiratory viruses such as colds, the flu and Covid-19. You may also incur additional childcare or support costs if you have dependents, whether it is the carer or the dependent who gets sick.
However, as the Cuban example shows, prevention can save money, and suffering over time and natural treatments offer a serious alternative to costly medications. AARP recommends:
- Staying hydrated when sick by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol.
- Washing hands regularly — “arguably the single most important — way to stay healthy and avoid a cold to begin with.”
- Getting plenty of sleep — but staying mobile once awake.
Doesn’t sound so costly after all!
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
For the purposes of our research, the cost of the common cold is defined as six days’ worth of cold medicine and cough syrup. Cold medicine is defined as medicine containing a pain relief drug and a decongestant compound. Cough syrup is defined as any syrup used to alleviate a chesty cough, usually by dealing with the mucus associated with the common cold.
For our research, we used Google Search to search keyphrases such as ‘online pharmacy/drugstore in X country’ and ‘online price of cold medicine/pain relief/cough syrup in X country’ (both in English and each country’s native language). For each country, we could then retrieve the cost of six days’ worth of medicine, considering local pharmacies or retail pharmacies first. If none could be found, international retail drugstores such as Amazon.
Please note that due to shipping costs, international retailers like Amazon offer more expensive prices than local pharmacies. Some countries (such as Iceland) prohibit the online sale of medicines containing painkiller drugs (e.g., paracetamol/acetaminophen or ibuprofen). So for these countries, online retailers that deliver medicine to those countries were used instead of local online pharmacies.
The Cost of the Common Cold in Every Country