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World-renowned and ranked highly by the World Health Organization (WHO), healthcare in France hinges on an intricate public-private combination that is both efficient and generous.
While most locals claim to be happy with the healthcare system in France, many also supplement state-provided coverage with private health insurance that covers add-ons such as private hospital rooms, dentistry and eye care.
Expats lucky enough to take advantage of the public system and the associated insurance will be spoilt for choice, but even those forced to shell out substantially more for private health insurance will nonetheless be satisfied with the standard of care.
Public healthcare in France
The network of public healthcare facilities in France is comprehensive. It includes more than 1,300 regional, university, local and general hospitals. The system upholds an exceptionally high standard and emphasises primary care.
The French public healthcare system is generally free of the waiting lists associated with the socialised medical systems found in the UK and Canada. Expats will also find that they have plenty of choices when selecting a doctor or specialist in France.
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 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 usually make use of the French public healthcare system once they have registered at their local social security office.
The public system covers the major part 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 will find that the government covers 100 percent of their medical bills, including surgery, therapy and drugs.
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
Private healthcare is available in France but provides little advantage in terms of quality of care over the public system.
Most healthcare providers in France work in private offices and run fee-for-service practices. The French government still plays a strong role in negotiating medical fees and costs associated with prescription drugs. Most private physicians accept the state-negotiated fees, but some doctors in the major urban centres and select sub-specialists may bill extra.
Medicines and pharmacies in France
Pharmacies are plentiful in France, especially in its major cities. 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.
Most pharmacies are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Late-night pharmacies (Pharmacie de Garde) can also be found in major cities. A list of nearby late-night pharmacies is normally posted on the door of a pharmacy.
Private health insurance in France
Even though public health insurance covers a substantial portion of medical bills, most of the French population also has some form of private health insurance. These private health plans are often supplied by employers. Expats moving to France for work should try to negotiate this into their package before signing a contract.
Owing to the success of the public health insurance system, there are far fewer providers of private healthcare insurance in France than in many other destinations.
Emergency services in France
Most serious medical emergencies in France are handled by SAMU (Service d'Aide Médicale d'Urgence), which is a publicly run organisation that provides ambulance services as well as other specialist medical assistance. In case of an emergency, expats should dial 15 if using a landline, or 112 if phoning from a mobile.
►For more on healthcare services in the capital, including a list of hospitals, see Healthcare in Paris
"I’ve been fortunate enough not to need to use the healthcare system too much; however, my sliver of experience has shown it is very welcoming to foreigners. Healthcare providers will treat you first, and worry about expenses later. In my case, I did not yet have my Carte Vitale which is a public health card that covers expenses. I was told I could be later reimbursed for various expenses I might have incurred." Read more about Canadian expat Dorian's experiences in France.
Are you an expat living in France?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to France. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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