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Health care in France for expats

With its stylish cities and rolling countryside, rich history and free-market economy, France is the ideal place to settle down with your family and earn a living. But what is health care like in the country and how easy is it for families to stay safe and well?

Thankfully, France has a minimal risk of dangerous infectious diseases and parasites and quality health care in French hospitals are easily accessible in an emergency.

However, there is plenty more to learn about staying healthy in French – we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the public and private health care systems, prepare for your move and keep safe.

An overview of France’s health care system

Both state and private health care are available in France and everyone living in the country is legally required to have health insurance, whether public or private. While both are accessible, international private health insurance can offer additional benefits tailored to expats.

French universal health care

France does not have free health care, although residents can be reimbursed for most common services through the universal health care system – Protection Maladie Universelle (PUMA).

This state medical coverage in France is paid for by contributions required via payments to the French social security system. The cost of health care in France works out to around 8% of an individual’s net income.

Expats living in France can access public health care by registering to the social security system. You can do this via your employer. Alternatively, if you are travelling to France from within the EU (European Union) or EEA, you can use an EHIC card to cover your medical costs, albeit on a temporary basis.

While the country’s state health care is deemed one of the best in the world, there are still specific services, including psychologists, reflexology or Chinese herbal medicine, that it does not cover.

Private health insurance in France

Those with state insurance can also get a private health care policy, known as a mutuelle, to access certain medical services. The French government provides funding to many private health companies to ensure a range medical and holistic services is available to its citizens.

A mutelle is usually purchased by the individual, although some employers offer private health insurance as a benefit. Private health care insurance works similarly to public health insurance – your provider will reimburse a percentage of your costs, depending on the treatment or service you use and your level of cover.

Private health care is popular among expats living in France. Many people opt for a comprehensive private insurance policy that can cover all their needs, rather than split between state and private services.

How to prepare for your trip to France

Vaccinations you will need before travelling

If you and your family have had routine vaccinations, there are no specific additional vaccinations required for travelling to France. However, it is a good idea to check with your family doctor six to eight weeks before travelling that all your vaccinations are up to date and that you have had all necessary boosters.

Vaccines recommended for travellers

  • MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella)
  • Combined diphtheria, tetanus and polio
  • Tetanus vaccination and booster

Depending on your individual medical history, your family doctor will offer specific advice and you may require additional vaccines.

Health risks in France

Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE)

TBE is a viral infection transmitted through the bites of infected ticks, which can often be found in long grass, meadows, and forested areas. They are most active between spring and autumn.(March-November). The most affected areas are the Alsace region, and Faverges, Nancy, and Grenoble. The disease can also be transmitted through ingestion of unpasteurised milk products.

While a vaccine is not typically offered for TBE as cases are rare, it is strongly advised that you take precautions. If visiting these areas, regularly check your skin for ticks (there are anaesthetic properties in their bite, so you may not feel it happen), avoid unpasteurised milk, and make yourself aware of the symptoms, which include fever, vomiting, a stiff neck, muscle aches, and headaches.


Rabies (Bat Lyssavirus) is transmitted to a human, or another animal, through the saliva of an infected bat, usually by way of a bite. Though rare, symptoms of the virus can be slow to develop and the condition is almost always fatal.

While the virus has not been reported in other wild or domestic animals in France, exposure to bats carries a risk of infection. For most people, avoiding contact with bats may be straightforward to accomplish, but for veterinarians, or people planning to go caving, there is a higher risk of exposure.

If a bite does occur, or any situation in which the saliva from a bat may get into mucous membranes (such as the eyes or mouth) or open wounds, immediate medical advice should be sought, and the wound/exposure site thoroughly cleaned.

If your occupation puts you in the higher risk category, you should make sure you are vaccinated against Bat Lyssavirus before moving to France or that your vaccination is up to date.

Other health and safety risks


Since 2020, France’s terrorism alert has been at the highest level. The French Government has launched a campaign to raise awareness and for more information, check out this website.

Eager to put citizens' minds at rest while keeping them up to date, they have also introduced a free app called SAIP. (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations) to alert users to incidents.

You should also check for advice provided by your government before you move to France.


Sunburn is possible when you live in France – often the wind can mask the UV levels produced by the sun, which can be higher in the South. Follow best practice such as applying sun cream, limiting the amount of time you spend in direct sunlight and staying hydrated.

Altitude sickness is also a risk in some areas of France, as there are places above 2,500m, including Mount Blanc which is 4,807m. Altitude sickness, which can be fatal, can occur in people travelling at a height over 2,500m when the body has not acclimatised to the reduced oxygen levels.

If you live in or are travelling to a high altitude while in France, speak to your doctor for advice about how best to prepare.


As in any country, it pays to exercise caution in certain situations. Be mindful when withdrawing large amounts of money or walking in busy streets as there may be pickpockets operating, particularly in major cities like Paris or Marseille.

If you are planning to move to France, you should have comprehensive health insurance. Aetna International offers health insurance plans for expats and their families, ensuring you all have access to first-class international medical coverage in France.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

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