Healthcare in France
Understanding the fundamentals
Expat Protect Plans for France, Benelux or Monaco
Public healthcare in France
The public health insurance system, known as Sécurité Sociale, provides basic coverage to those who qualify and is funded by tax contributions from salary deductions. Expats employed in France, those who are self-employed but make the necessary contributions, and those who have reached official retirement age in their home country, can all make use of the French public healthcare system once they have registered at their local social security office. Many employers will do this on behalf of their foreign employees, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual to ensure that it is done properly.
EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
The public system covers a major portion of medical bills. That said, most locals and foreigners use private supplemental insurance to cover themselves for the remainder of the medical fees. Those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, have 100 percent of their medical bills, including surgery, therapy and drugs covered by the state.
Expats using the public healthcare system should keep in mind that even though the choice of doctor is left up to the patient, going to the same doctor will assure higher compensation from social security. A referral must also be acquired before a specialist is consulted or the state will lower its contribution. Certain professionals, such as psychiatrists and dentists, are exceptions to this rule.
It is worth noting that payment is required upfront for some appointments, and patients are only reimbursed at a later date.
Private healthcare in France
Despite the country’s high quality of public healthcare, private top-up health insurance is still sometimes taken out by expats in France. This will usually cover the balance of state healthcare costs or any additional administrative fees.
Expats who are not from the EEA or EU and do not pay into the French public healthcare system will need to take out comprehensive private health insurance for the duration of their stay in the country.
Pharmacies and medication in France
Pharmacies in France are plentiful. In cities like Paris and Nice, expats will also find 24-hour and late-night pharmacies. Over-the-counter medicine can only be sold in a pharmacy, and it is unlikely that basic medication like painkillers or flu medicine will be available in a supermarket. Pharmacies can be identified by their large illuminated cross sign, which is normally red or green.
Expats should not have trouble bringing prescription medication into France for personal use. It is always advisable to travel with an original prescription and the generic names of any medication, as brand names tend to vary from country to country. It’s advised to take routine vaccinations such as for measles, mumps, rubella and diphtheria, as well as for Covid-19, before travelling to France.
Emergency services and important numbers in France
Emergency services in France are efficient and reliable. Most emergency response services in France are managed by the Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgence (SAMU), a government organisation. Expats should not have trouble finding an ambulance in the major urban areas, but rural areas may have slower response times.
English-speaking expats can make use of the general European Union emergency number, 112. The local emergency number for SAMU ambulances is 15. Expats should also take note of the number for their home country’s embassy or consulate in case of emergency.