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Keeping you and your family healthy in France

When relocating to another country, organising the health care needs of you and your family will no doubt be a top priority.

Even if France is simply a quick leap away, it’s important to familiarise yourself with its health care system before you travel. Health insurance is vital, guaranteeing that if you fall ill, you can access the treatment you need straight away, and without ending up with an enormous bill. 

A world-class health care system

With a number one World Health Organisation ranking for its overall health system performance in 2000, France is renowned for its excellent standard of health care. Comparatively, the UK and U.S. come in at 18 and 37 respectively. There are over 1000 regional hospitals across France, including university, local, and general and the country lacks the long waiting lists common in both the UK and Canada. Access to health care is divided between state provided health insurance — known as Sécurité Sociale — and private health insurance, both of which boast high standards.

Health care cover

If you’re taking a trip to France from another EU country your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will allow you access to state-provided medical treatment on the same terms as French nationals. If you’ve lost your card or don’t have one, you can contact the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. However, an EHIC is not a substitute for health or travel insurance and does not cover medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment, or non-urgent treatment. So if you’re planning a long-term stay in France, you must make sure you have sufficient health care insurance.

For those relocating from the US, the advice is to make sure you have adequate health care insurance before you leave home. If you develop an illness or have an accident that requires routine care, this may be refused if you don't have enough money to pay for it. You'll get treated in the case of an emergency, but beyond this, you must make sure you're covered, and this includes evacuation. Once you become a resident and you're paying into the system (see state health insurance below), this becomes less of a problem but your health card can take some time to process, and you'll need to have sound plans in place for this interim period.

If you’re relocating from another area of the world, it would be wise to check out whether your country has a reciprocal health care arrangement but bear in mind that you’ll also initially need private cover for all the reasons above.

And a final note: following five months of discussions by representatives of five different medical related unions and the Assurance Maladie in France, it was decided the cost of GP and specialist consultations in France will rise from 2017, so it’s even more important to make sure you have the necessary cover.

State Health Insurance

When you’re settled and resident in France, it’s essential that you have health insurance in some form — whether through the state health insurance or private health insurance.

If you’re employed in France, you’ll be automatically covered by state health insurance, with the contributions deducted automatically from your wages once you have registered with your local social security office.

If you’re not working, but are a retired expatriate, you’ll need an S1 form from your government to qualify for state health insurance.

However, the downside of state health insurance is that you’re required to pay up front for your treatment, and often only about 70% of this is reimbursed. It can be less or more, depending on the severity of the condition and the necessity and effectiveness of the treatment.

As an expatriate, you may also find that pre-existing or chronic conditions might not be covered under state health insurance.

Private Health Insurance

It is interesting to note that many French nationals choose to top-up their state cover with private health insurance.

For expatriates living in France, private health insurance is also recommended, as it can be tailored to your needs, offers extensive cover (which private health insurance ‘top-ups’ in addition to state health insurance may not), and can often include things like dentistry, routine check-ups, and even existing medical conditions. You may find that your employer will offer a private health insurance as part of the employment package, so this is always something worth negotiating if you can.

If you’re not yet fluent in French, it is also good to have a multi-lingual support element to your insurance, to help you navigate the local health care system. This means you can avoid any surprise additional costs and it will give you peace of mind.

It’s wise to keep the direct contact number of your insurance company to hand. If you’re transferred to a medical facility, you will need it.


Found everywhere from the main cities to smaller towns, pharmacies in France can offer advice on minor ailments. They are easily recognisable by their unmistakable green cross, which often flashes when the pharmacy is open.

If you’re looking for over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol, you’ll find they are only available in a pharmacy as opposed to a supermarket. When requesting prescribed medication, you will only need to pay for the part of your prescription not covered by your health insurance, rather than paying the total upfront.

Things to remember

  • Dial 112 for English speaking emergency services.
  • If travelling with prescription medication, make sure it is clearly labelled with its generic name (sometimes the name will be different in France) and if you have a serious medical condition and strong medication, it is advised to carry a letter from your GP detailing your condition and medication.
  • Health care insurance is a must, whether you intend to stay for just a while or on a more permanent basis. Make sure you get the right kind of cover for you and your family by talking to our friendly team of experts before you make any plans.

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