Travelers Guide to Healthcare in France

An in-depth guide on healthcare in France for travelers, from pharmacy runs to emergencies – here's everything you need to know.

France is one of those destinations that tends to land up on nearly every bucket list.

Situated in Western Europe, the country encompasses Mediterranean beaches, alpine villages, and medieval cities. Paris is its capital, world-renowned for fashion, classical art, and monuments like the Eiffel Tower. And of course, France is also famed for its wine and sophisticated cuisine – ooh la la!

If you are planning a trip to France, then this healthcare guide will tell you everything you need to know to stay safe and informed during your stay.

Contents

Healthcare In France – The Basics

The French healthcare system is considered one of the best in the world. With more than one doctor for every 1,000 citizens and an average life expectancy of 83 in the country. The universal healthcare system is a hybrid, providing universal coverage for all citizens in France. It consists of an integrated network of public and private services, including doctors, hospitals, and specialist providers.

Healthcare costs in the country are partly covered by the state and partly by individual or private health insurance companies. 

Residents are covered through mandatory health insurance contributions in France – in other words, taxes – with private insurance options widely available for those who want additional coverage. Government-funded agencies cover over 75% of health expenditures in the country. 

Tourists and foreigners visiting France are required to have a minimum of at least 30,000 EUR in travel medical insurance. It is one of the primary visa requirements, and it should provide coverage across France and all member states of the Schengen area. It should also cover any expenses that might arise in connection with urgent health care, emergency hospital treatment, repatriation for medical reasons, and death.

Public Healthcare

Public healthcare in France is regulated by The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (Ministere des Solidarites et de la Sante), with primary and secondary care services delivered by various healthcare providers. High-level preventative healthcare is offered throughout the country, with services including addiction prevention, regular medical check-ups, and the encouragement of physical activity and healthy eating.

All residents can access public healthcare, and as of 2016, a new healthcare system for foreigners, known as Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA), allows foreigners to access state healthcare after three months of residence in France.

It is required by law for all residents to have some form of health insurance – either state or private. Certain households are eligible for free commentary health insurance coverage (CMU-C) if the household income falls below a certain threshold.

Temporary visitors to France from the EU/EEA/Switzerland can access public healthcare if they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Private Healthcare

Many private doctors and specialists receive funding through the state insurance scheme, meaning they will still provide services through the public healthcare system. Similarly, people with public insurance can access most private hospitals – although the fees will be higher. Due to this, many French residents and expats have additional private health insurance to cover the balance. Private insurance is also useful to cover specialist treatment or therapies not available through public healthcare.

Foreigners will need to be covered by private health insurance for their first three months in France if they are not covered by the EHIC or some other form of insurance.

Cost of Health Care In France

The French healthcare system is partially funded by compulsory French social security contributions (sécurité sociale) deducted from salaries, as well as the government. The patient also pays a small contribution to their healthcare costs. France’s state health insurance covers anywhere from 70%-100% of costs for services such as doctor visits and hospital costs. Long-term sick and low-income patients are eligible for 100% coverage.

As of 2017, doctors and certain medical professionals are not allowed to charge upfront payments and instead are paid directly from the government or health insurer.

France has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world and currently spends around 11.5% of GDP.

Typically, patients pay a flat rate for a visit to the GP – around 25€ per visit, with higher rates for after-hours and at-home visits.

Doctors And Specialists In France

Family doctors or GPs in France are known as médecins généralistes. GPs are mainly self-employed and work either alone or in group practices. Any person can choose the doctor they would like to consult with but should register with them as their attending or primary doctor (médecin traitant) in order to claim a full reimbursement via the French health care system.

Like most healthcare systems, GPs can refer you to other doctors and specialists, hold and maintain your medical records, as well as coordinate follow-up treatments. If your GP or médecin traitant refers you, around 70% of French healthcare costs, like medical consultations and treatments, will be reimbursed. Choosing your own specialist may result in your medical fees being higher as well as being reimbursed for much less.

In France, you don’t need a referral to see a gynecologist, ophthalmologist, or pediatrician and can consult with them directly. Also, if you are under the age of 26, you can see a psychiatrist without a referral from your GP.

Seeing A Specialist

Specialists charge more than GPs, but there are official agreed-upon rates with the national health service, forming the basis on which patients are reimbursed.

Nearly 30% of outpatient specialists are exclusively self-employed, either in offices or private clinics, and are paid on a fee-for-service basis; the rest are either fully salaried hospital employees or have a mix of income sources. Specialists operating in public hospitals may see private-paying patients either as outpatient or in-patient. Half of the specialists across the country are working out of private group practices, and this percentage is increasing among specialties that require significant investments in equipment and technology.

Drugstores And Pharmacies

It isn’t hard to find a pharmacy in France. Pharmacie in French, there are more than 20,000 pharmacies across the country – which is double the number in the UK. Pharmacies are identifiable by a large green cross.

As soon as you take your prescription to a pharmacy, you will need to pay a portion of the cost of the medicine, depending on the drug and your insurance coverage. The amount reimbursed depends on the type of medication prescribed and can vary from 15% – 100%.

Pharmacies in larger towns and shopping centers are usually open from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 AM – 7:30 PM. While in smaller towns, pharmacies tend to close for lunch between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM. Typically, one pharmacy per area will stay open on Sundays and after-hours. You can easily find a duty pharmacy in the window of other pharmacies, or in the local newspaper, or by calling 3237.

Hospitals In France

There are two kinds of French hospitals:

  • State-run hôpitaux 
  • Privately run cliniques

Although cliniques are usually state-approved and work under the country’s healthcare system, doctors can refer you to either a state hospital or a private clinic.

The French healthcare system reimburses around 80% of hospital costs, but ‘board and lodging’ costs of a hospital stay are not – and this is where top-up insurance is useful.

List of International Hospitals

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse

  • Place Lange, 31300 Toulouse, France
  • +33 5 61 77 78 16

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Lille

  • 2 Avenue Oscar Lambret, 59000 Lille, France
  • +33 3 20 44 59 62

Groupe Hospitalier Pellegrin

  • Place Amélie Raba Léon, 33076 Bordeaux, France
  • +33 5 56 79 56 79

Hôpital Civil, Strasbourg

  • 1 Place de L Hôpital, 67000 Strasbourg, France
  • +33 3 88 11 67 68

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Tours

  • 2 boulevard Tonnellé, 37000 Tours, France
  • +33 2 47 47 47 47

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Montpellier

  • 2 avenue Emile Bertin Sans, 34000 Montpellier, France
  • +33 4 67 33 74 85

Centre hospitalier universitaire de Nantes

  • 1 Place Alexis-Ricordeau, 44000 Nantes, France
  • +33 2 40 08 33 33

Hospital Center University Rouen

  • 1 Rue de Germont, 76000 Rouen, France
  • +33 2 32 88 89 90

Hospital Center University De Rennes

  • 2 Rue Henri le Guilloux, 35000 Rennes, France
  • +33 2 99 28 43 21

Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital

  • 47-83 Boulevard de l’Hôpital, 75013 Paris, France
  • +33 1 42 16 00 00

Health Centers & Clinics In France

Many French medical professionals, including doctors and dentists, work in health centers (centres de sante) across the country – there are around 1,600 across the county in total, mostly in urban areas. If you visit a specialist, they will most likely be based at a centres de sante. You can search for one near you on the National Federation of Health Centers (Federation Nationale des Centres de Sante) website.

There are also Family Planning Centers (centres de planification et d’education familial) which provide services like birth control, parenting sessions, sexual health advice, and abortions. Find out more and search for services in your area on the Planning Familial website.

Emergency And After-Hours Healthcare

In a medical emergency go to the A&E or ER (les urgences) of the nearest hospital. Additionally, call 112 (or 114 for hearing assisted), which is the free pan-European emergency number for any type of emergency. The following numbers are also free to dial:

  • 15 – SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale d’Urgence) for serious medical emergencies with ambulances and specialist medical teams
  • 18 – sapeurs pompiers are the fire brigade, but they also respond to car accidents and emergency medical situations
  • 17 – police (commissariat de police or gendarmerie)
  • 112 – sea and lake emergencies (calling from land)
  • 116 117 – out-of-hours doctor

Telehealth In France

Telemedicine is permitted in France and is governed by FCPH Art. L6316-1 and R6316-1 et seq. Telemedicine services can only be offered by healthcare professionals or healthcare organizations like hospitals. The French Government and Parliament have been encouraging the development of telemedicine, and it can be used for:

  • Diagnostics
  • Follow-up of patients exposed to risks, either through prevention or post-therapy
  • Requesting medical advice from specialists
  • Helping in the therapeutic decision-making process
  • Prescribing health products or medical services
  • Telemonitoring or patients’ care

Tips For Tourists In France

Many French people speak English well, especially in larger cities. Overall, French people dislike being addressed in English by foreigners unless first asking if they speak English: Parlez-vous anglais?

It is polite to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ (good morning or good evening) when encountering someone, even if it’s a stranger. It’s customary to greet people with a brief bonjour.

French traditions and culture reflect their values of unity, beauty, respect, and family. Hierarchy is strictly adhered to in France. Decisions are made by those at the upper levels of authority, subordinates must only act when specifically instructed to do so.

Quiet tones are expected in public, and it is considered polite to be formal and reserved, particularly with strangers or acquaintances.

When arriving at a doctor’s room, let the receptionist know you’re there – if there is no reception, go to the waiting room. Normally the door will be marked. Greet everyone with a quick bonjour and then sit down. Do not just go sit down.

French GPs don’t always wear white doctors’ coats and instead wear regular clothes. Do not ask if they are the doctor, it would be considered rude.

Customer service is not part of French medical standards, while the medical providers are polite and professional, they won’t necessarily go out of their way to establish a relationship. The French believe the patient is there for medical attention, so healthcare providers directly attend to the medical need at hand.

Some Useful Phrases:

Some useful phrases to learn, in case of an emergency, are:

  • Besoin une ambulance: I need an ambulance
  • J’ai eu un accident: I’ve had an accident
  • Ma localité est…: My location is…
  • Crise cardiaque: Heart attack
  • Très malade: Very ill
  • Je suis en train d’accoucher: I’m in labour
  • Où est-ce qu’on peut trouver un cabinet médical? Where can I find a doctor’s surgery?
  • Au secours: Help!

If you are a tourist in France and would like to speak to a medical professional connected to an international network of doctors, you can make an appointment on the Air Doctor web app right now and have an in-person or virtual consultation within minutes. You can also download the Air Doctor app on your Android or iOS device.

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Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.