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The French healthcare system

Updated: Sep 17, 2022


Here is all you need to know about the healthcare system in France, from locating a doctor to traveling to the emergency room, hospital, or dentist, and everything in between.

Every citizen and permanent resident of France has access to high-quality medical treatment via France's universal healthcare system, which is comprised of public and private hospitals, general practitioners, and other medical professionals. This is true regardless of a person's age, wealth, or social standing, which is one of the reasons why the French healthcare system is so easily accessible even to non-French citizens.


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The French COVID-19 base

Everyone has had a rough time during this period of the COVID-19 epidemic. A significant number of people who go abroad find themselves cut off from their friends and loved ones back in their native country. As a foreigner, it might be difficult at times to discover essential information on the prevalence of coronavirus infection, local measures, limits, and now, luckily, vaccines. Vaccinations are now available.

Visit the official Coronavirus (COVID-19) website to get information on the overall coronavirus situation in France, including vaccination regimens and the most recent restrictions.

Consult our guide on the COVID-19 pandemic in France if you would need information specifically about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts France.


Overview of healthcare in France

The French healthcare system

The healthcare system in France is of a very high standard, and all of its residents, regardless of age or financial standing, are automatically enrolled in the system. It is a unified system that connects both public and private service providers, such as medical professionals, hospitals, and other establishments that provide specialized care.

In France, residents are covered by mandated health insurance payments, and those who desire extra coverage have the option to purchase private insurance on the side. More than 75% of France's health care costs are covered by organizations that get funding from the government.

In France, the administration of public healthcare is handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, which is officially known as the Ministere des Solidarités et de la Sante. Primary and secondary care services in France are provided by a variety of different healthcare providers. A high standard of preventive healthcare is provided in France. Among the services that are offered, one may get help to avoid being addicted to substances, maintain regular medical checkups, and learn how to eat well and exercise regularly.


On the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index, France came in at position number 11 and was lauded for the effectiveness of its procedures and the results it produced. The nation, for instance, has the lowest death rate associated with heart disease in all of Europe, although it has been criticized for its excessive dependence on prescription drugs.


Who can access healthcare in France?

All citizens and permanent residents of France have access to the country's public healthcare system by paying into the French health insurance system. Access to public healthcare is now available to non-citizens who have been living in France for at least three months thanks to a new healthcare system that went into effect in 2016 and is known as Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA).

It is required by law for every inhabitant to have some kind of health insurance, either via the state or privately. You may be eligible for free commentary health insurance coverage (CMU-C) or aid in taking up supplementary private health insurance (Aide pour une Complémentaire Santé or ACS) if your family income falls below a particular level. These benefits are available in France.


You can be eligible for State Medical Assistance (also known as Aide Médicale d'Etat or AME) if the decision on your application for legal residency has not yet been completed. Visit the CMU for more specific information.


Visitors visiting France from the European Union, the European Economic Area, or Switzerland who have a European Health Insurance Card are eligible to use the French public healthcare system (EHIC). To get access to medical treatment in France, retirees from the European Union, the European Economic Area, or Switzerland must first fill out a social security S1 form in their home country before moving to France.

Healthcare costs in France

The mandatory social security payments (sécurité sociale) in France provide a portion of the funding for the nation's healthcare system. These contributions are often collected from an employee's paycheck. In 2016, workers contributed around 8% of their pay, while employers contributed approximately 13%.

Patients in France are required to make a tiny payment toward the cost of their healthcare, in addition to the government's contribution to the country's healthcare system. The public health insurance system in France covers between 70% and 100% of the expenditures associated with things like hospital stays and visits to the doctor. Patients with low incomes and long-term illnesses are eligible for full coverage.

Since the end of 2017, it has become illegal for physicians and some other medical staff to demand money in advance for their services. Instead, they get their remuneration in the form of direct reimbursement from the government or health insurance.

According to the most current data, France is the country that spends the most proportion of its GDP on healthcare, making it the leader among EU countries. At this time, it consumes around 11.5% of GDP. Only Switzerland (12.3%) spends a greater percentage of its GDP inside EU/EFTA countries. When compared to the other nations in the EU and EFTA, France has the 11th highest expenditure per person.


Health insurance in France

In France, medical care is provided via a system that is similar to that seen in many other European nations. In France, having health insurance is a legal requirement, therefore citizens are required to sign up for it. After three months of continuous residency in France, non-EU citizens are eligible for health coverage via the PUMA programme administered by the French government. Those with incomes that fall below a specific level are eligible to apply for supplemental coverage known as CMU-C. (Complementary Solidarity Health as of November 2019).

Those who do not qualify for the state's health insurance programme or who want a greater level of insurance coverage are required to get private health insurance from a business that provides either domestic or international health insurance.


How to register for healthcare in France

If you have resided in France for more than three months and are applying under PUMA, you are eligible to register for French healthcare via the CPAM (Caisse Primaire Assurance Maladie) office in your neighbourhood. On the Ameli website, you will be able to locate the CPAM office that serves your area (in French).

If you have a job in France, your company will register you with the French social security system first. After that, you will be able to register with the French healthcare system. If you are self-employed, however, you are required to get in touch with the Regime Social des Indépendants (RSI).

You will be required to provide certain papers, which may include the following:

● Your national identification card or passport is required.

● Documentation proving residency in France

● Documentation establishing your place of residence, such as a recent French utility bill

● Certificates of marriage or birth, if adding other family members in the search.

If you are applying for CMU-C, we need proof of income.

Before gaining access to medical treatment in France, you will also be required to choose a primary care physician and provide your insurer with a document known as a Declaration of Treating Physician.

You will be issued a carte vitale after you have successfully registered with the French national healthcare system. This is a health insurance card made of green plastic that bears your picture and is integrated with a chip that contains your name, address, social security number, and information on any exemptions for payments; however, it does not carry any medical information.

To get free medical treatment in France or to be eligible for reimbursement, you will need to bring your carte vitale with you to each appointment you have with a French healthcare provider.


Private healthcare in France

In France, the national health insurance programme provides financial support to a significant number of private physicians and experts. This indicates that they will continue to provide their services within the framework of the public healthcare system. In a similar vein, patients with public insurance are welcome in the majority of privately operated hospitals. However, the prices of services that are managed by private companies would be greater. This indicates that, although your state health insurance covers the same amount of expenses, you will be required to pay a higher premium for the portion of the expenditures that are not covered.

As a result of this, some people who live in France and those who work there choose to get supplemental private health insurance to pay the remaining costs. In addition, private health insurance may provide coverage for specialised medical care as well as alternative or complementary treatments, which are often not included in publicly funded medical care. If they are not protected by the EHIC or any other type of insurance, new foreign residents in France are required to sign up for a private health insurance plan during the first three months of their stay.


The following are examples of private health insurers in France that provide additional coverage:

● Allianz Care

● Cigna Global


Going to the doctor in France

Family physicians, also known as general practitioners (médecins généralistes), are considered to be France's primary caregivers. The majority of these physicians are independent contractors who run their own offices or participate in group settings. You are free to see any French physician you feel most comfortable with, but to be eligible for a complete reimbursement under the French healthcare system, you will need to register with that physician as your "attending doctor" or main doctor (médecin traitant).

Your primary care physician may recommend you to other physicians and specialists, keep and update your medical information, and coordinate follow-up treatments. If you are recommended by your médecin traitant, you will be eligible for reimbursement of around 70% of the expenses associated with receiving healthcare in France, such as medical consultations or treatments. If you pick your expert, then your medical expenditures may be greater, and the French healthcare system will pay you for a considerably smaller amount of those fees.


On the other hand, to contact a gynaecologist, paediatrician, or ophthalmologist, you do not need a referral from your primary care physician. If you are under the age of 26, you have the right to see a psychiatrist without first needing a recommendation from your primary care physician.

Women’s healthcare in France

Gynecologists are available to patients in France who have French public health insurance. You are free to choose your gynaecologist, and you do not need a referral from your primary care physician. On the Ameli website, you can find gynaecologists who practise in France. In addition, there is a searchable database where you may locate gynaecologists who come highly recommended.


If you think you may be pregnant but live in France, you need to schedule an appointment with your gynaecologist or primary care physician as soon as possible. The majority of the expenses associated with pregnancy are covered by insurance; however, to receive health benefits, you are required to notify the Health Insurance Fund (Casse d'Assurance Maladie or CAM) and the Family Allowance Fund (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales or CAF) of your pregnancy within the first 14 weeks of your pregnancy.

In France, access to contraception is not an issue, as around 65% of the expenses are covered by the government. To get a birth control pill, you will need a prescription from a physician, gynaecologist, or midwife. On the other hand, condoms are readily available for purchase at supermarkets and pharmacies. Additionally, you may get them for free from a lot of different health clinics that focus on sexual health and family planning. However, the majority of health insurance coverage does not cover the expenses associated with emergency contraception, even if it is accessible without a prescription.


Women ages 50 to 74 are eligible to participate in a breast cancer screening programme. Gynecologists are qualified to provide routine screenings for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and cervical cancer. From the age of 25 (to screen for cervical cancer) and 30 (to screen for breast cancer), they are advised to every two to three years (breast cancer).


In recent years, there has been a trend toward the liberalisation of France's abortion legislation. Within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, it is permissible to end the pregnancy, and this may be done at a hospital, a doctor's office, or a private clinic. If a physician chooses not to perform an abortion on a patient, they are required to direct the individual to a family planning centre (also known as a centre de planification et d'éducation familiale).


Children’s healthcare in France

Children in France who are covered by their parent's or guardians' public health insurance are eligible for free medical treatment at any public hospital or clinic in the country. This includes dental checkups that are completely free up to the age of 18

Pediatricians and general practitioners provide medical treatment for children in France. Children get twenty free and mandatory screenings beginning at birth and continuing up to the age of six, after which it is advised that they have one test each year. These examinations look for potential health problems such as:

Genetic disorders include sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis, amongst others.

● Hearing disorders

● Visual disorders

● Language and learning problems

● Diabetes

During the screening procedure, the medical professional will issue three Child Health Certificates, also known as certificates de santé de l'enfant (CSE for short). This takes place:

Within eight days of birth

After nine months

After 24 months


Children in France from ages 0 to 13 have access to a comprehensive immunisation programme. Vaccinations are required by law for all children born on or after January 1, 2018, in the following categories:

● Diphtheria

● Tetanus

● Polio

● Whooping cough;

● Hemophilus influenza B

● Hepatitis B

● Meningococcus C

● Pneumococcus

● Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)

Hospitals in France

There are two different kinds of hospitals in France: hôpitaux, which are managed by the government, and cliniques, which are run by private organisations but are often sanctioned by the government and fall within the purview of the French healthcare system. Your primary care physician can recommend either a public hospital or a private clinic for you.

The French healthcare system pays back around 80 per cent of hospital bills. However, the expenses of board and housing during a hospital stay are not covered by primary insurance; here is where supplemental insurance comes in handy. Find out more by reading our comprehensive guide to hospitals in France.


Going to the dentist in France

You are not required to see the same dentist for all of your treatment, but you are free to visit whatever dentist you feel most comfortable with. The majority of dentists in France are employed by the public healthcare system, and patients' dental care expenditures are paid in the same manner as those of other medical procedures.

The majority of dental expenses for adults are paid at a rate of 70%, while checkups for children are covered in full. However, some operations, including orthodontics, are not covered by the state system, therefore you will be responsible for paying for such services on your own. For additional information, have a look at our travel guide to dental care in France.


Health centres and health clinics in France

Health centres, also known as centres de sante, are located throughout France and employ a large number of medical professionals, including dentists, doctors, and physicians. Across the United States, there are around 1,600 of these facilities, the most majority of which are located in metropolitan regions. If you visit a specialist, there is a good chance that they practise out of a health centre of some kind. On the website of the National Federation of Health Centers (Federation Nationale des Centres de Sante), you will find a search function that allows you to locate a centre de sante in your area.

In addition, there are facilities known as Family Planning Centers (centres de planification et d'éducation familial) that provide services including abortions, contraception, parenting classes, and counselling on sexual and reproductive health. On the website of Planning Familial, you will be able to look for services in your region as well as get further information.


Pharmacies in France

You will not have any trouble locating a pharmacy (pharmacie) in France since the nation is home to more than 20,000 pharmacies, which is twice the number of pharmacies that can be found in the United Kingdom. It is possible that this should not come as a surprise given the propensity of French physicians to prescribe a great deal of medication.


Once you have taken your prescription to a pharmacy (a store that prominently displays a large green cross outside), you will be required to pay a portion of the cost of the medication. The amount that you are responsible for paying will vary depending on the medication and the insurance policy that you have. The amount that is reimbursed might range anywhere from 15% to 65% or even 100%, depending on the drug that was purchased.

In general, pharmacies are open from Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm in bigger cities and shopping malls. However, in smaller towns, pharmacies may shut for lunch between the hours of 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm. On Sundays and during off-hours, there will be at least one pharmacy operating in each region. You may identify the location of this duty pharmacy by looking in the windows of other pharmacies, consulting the local newspaper, dialling extension 3237, or searching online.

Mental healthcare in France

Patients in need of mental healthcare in France may take advantage of free treatments provided by the country's healthcare system or get substantial subsidies instead. On the other hand, there is some cause for worry that the level of services is not sufficient to meet the level of demand.

Recent studies indicate that around one in every five persons living in France struggles with some kind of mental illness. One hundred French psychiatrists expressed their worry about the quality of mental healthcare services in a letter that was delivered to the French minister of health in January 2019. This is most likely the result of a lack of financial support.

A significant portion of France's mental healthcare is delivered using Medical Psychological Centers (centre medico psychologique – CMP). These provide services that are for the most part free of charge and are covered by state health insurance. Certain specialised services need a down payment. These facilities are managed by a variety of medical professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, and speech therapists.

For the majority of treatments offered at the CMP, you will need a recommendation from your primary care physician. If the service is supplied by the state, you will be compensated at the same rate as for services given by a general practitioner (GP) if you consult a psychiatrist or psychologist outside of the CMP. If you do not have private health insurance, you will not be eligible for reimbursement of the costs associated with private treatment.

On the website Counselling in France, you will be able to search for therapists who speak English. A significant number of these will exclusively provide private services.

Other forms of healthcare in France

The conventional medical system in France has acknowledged the validity of alternative and complementary practices. According to the findings of one survey, over 58% of patients in France employed alternative treatments of some kind in 2017.

The following are the several forms of alternative medicine that are most common in France:

Homeopathy

Acupuncture

Herbal medicine

Water cures

Chiropractic

The majority of the time, they are used to treat relatively mild diseases, and chronic problems, as supplemental therapy for more severe illnesses, and to prevent illnesses. It is required in France that anybody who engages in the practice of alternative or complementary treatment register with the Professional Society of Physicians. There are a significant number of conventional doctors and physicians in France who also practise alternative medicine and offer it as a therapeutic option.


Homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, and chiropractic care are some of the alternative therapies that are eligible for reimbursement under the national health insurance programme in France as long as they are administered by appropriately trained practitioners. Reflexology is one of the many alternative therapies that are not covered by insurance. On the other hand, some medical experts are encouraging the French government not to provide financial support for homoeopathic therapy because there is insufficient data to show that it is effective.


What to do in an emergency in France

In the event of a medical emergency, proceed to the local hospital's A&E or emergency room (les urgences). You may also contact 112, which is the free pan-European emergency number for any form of emergency, or one of the following numbers, all of which can be called from any phone and are also free of charge:


15 - SAMU, or the Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgence, is for the most urgent medical situations and includes both ambulances and medical personnel with specialised training.


18—Sapeurs-pompiers are members of the fire department; nevertheless, they also react to incidents involving automobile accidents and medical emergencies.

17 – police (commissariat de police or gendarmerie)

112 – sea and lake emergencies (calling from land)

116 117 – out-of-hours doctor


Useful French medical phrases

The following are some phrases that may come in handy in the event of an unexpected circumstance:

● Besoin une ambulance: I need an ambulance

● J'ai eu un accident: I have had an accident

● Ma localité est…: My place is…

● A heart attack is sometimes known as a crise cardiaque.

● Très malade: Very unwell

● Je suis en train d'accoucher: I have started the labour process.

● Où est-ce qu'on peut trouver un cabinet médical? Where can I locate a clinic or a doctor's office?

● Au secours: Help!


Useful resources

● (Ministere des Solidarités et de la Sante) is the French Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

● Complementary Solidarity Health Fund (complementaire sante solidaire) - information on how persons with a low income may have access to healthcare;

● A website containing healthcare information and recommendations, known as Ameli. Calling 3646 from inside France or +33 811 70 36 46 from outside the country will put you in touch with an advisor who speaks English and can provide information on healthcare insurance in France.

● Cleiss (Centre des Liasons Européennes et Internationales de Sécurité Sociale) offers information on healthcare in France and the social security system;

● Find a health centre near you by using the resources provided by the National Federation of Health Centers (Federation Nationale des Centres de Sante);

● Information about French family planning centres and family planning, in general, may be found on Le Planning Familial.

● 3237.fr – find a 24-hour pharmacy


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