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If you are planning a trip to France, you would be well advised to take some time to familiarise yourself with the country’s healthcare system. Every country has its own approach to healthcare, and in the UK we are used to receiving a large number of treatments free of charge via the NHS. Not all countries offer this kind of system, and in many you have to make a patient contribution to the cost of your care. Here is everything you need to know about healthcare in France if you are planning to visit, whether it be for a short holiday or long-term relocation.
For visitors to France
Anyone requiring urgent medical attention will be provided with emergency medical care. If you don’t have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you should expect to be charged in full. It is always recommended that you purchase travel insurance to ensure you have sufficient funding to cover medical treatment you may need overseas. It is important that you keep any relevant receipts and paperwork, making copies if possible, to ensure you or your insurance company can apply for refunds if applicable.
As things stand, an EHIC affords you access to state-provided medical care in France at a discounted rate, or sometimes free, if you are on a temporary visit. Any facility that asks you to pay for your treatment upfront is probably not a state-provided institution.
EHIC doesn’t cover the cost of private treatment in France. It also doesn’t cover the following expenses:
- Being returned to the UK
- Mountain rescue services
- Treatment on cruises
Make sure you seek treatment from a state-provided healthcare facility to ensure you are covered. State healthcare providers in France are called conventionné. These practitioners fall into one of the following categories:
- Secteur 1: those who charge the standard social security rate
- Secteur 2: those who place an extra fee in addition to the standard rate
Be wary of healthcare arrangements made by a travel representative or hotel – any costs associated with private healthcare are not refundable.
If you are visiting France after Brexit, you should buy travel insurance and make sure it has sufficient healthcare coverage to keep you safe in France. It is always advisable to take out travel insurance, regardless of whether your destination is an EU or non-EU country.
Any current EHIC will remain valid until Brexit is complete. The British government is seeking agreements with EU countries, including France, on healthcare arrangements for UK nationals visiting after Brexit.
When taken to hospital, show your EHIC upon being admitted to ensure you are only charged the patient portion of the fee. If an ambulance takes you to a private facility, try to make sure it is also registered to deliver state healthcare.
In general, you will only be required to pay a 20% co-payment towards the cost of your treatment, and sometimes there will be no charge. Inpatients must pay a daily hospital rate of €18. Any admission to hospital for major medical treatment will incur a flat-rate contribution of €18 plus the daily hospital charge or the co-payment of 20%.
Where possible, seek to learn about the cost of treatment and reimbursement rates before being admitted. Some providers apply a surcharge, or dépassement d’honoraires, that isn’t covered under the French healthcare system. There are even a few ‘non conventionnées’ clinics whose fees are not regulated by the government.
Medications can be obtained from any pharmacie when you present your feuille de soins and your doctor-issued prescription. The cost of a medication can be found on a feuille de soins that will be given to you by the pharmacist, and you pay the pharmacie directly.
Prescription meds are only refundable if they are listed as reimbursable products. Refund rates can be anything from 15% to 100% of the sale price. Most areas will have at least a single pharmacie that opens on Sundays and out-of-hours (this is called a pharmacie de garde/service de garde). The shop windows of most pharmacies will usually display out-of-hours services, and you can call 32 37 to learn about duty pharmacies.
Bringing medication to France
Some prescription medications contain substances that the Misuse of Drugs regulations have controls over in the UK. Extra-legal controls apply to such medications, and you may need a personal licence to take them overseas. There will also be certain requirements with regards to the information you need to take with you and the way your controlled medications must be carried.
A provisional replacement certificate is available to demonstrate your entitlement to EHIC if you don’t have your card with you. You will need to contact Overseas Healthcare Services and request a PRC that you can present to the healthcare facility to avoid being charged directly. The numbers to call are:
- Inside UK: 0191 218 1999
- Outside UK: +44 191 218 1999
You shouldn’t have any difficulty obtaining a PRC if you are definitely entitled to EHIC.
If you have a pre-existing health condition
Any pre-existing health conditions will need to be sufficiently covered by medical travel insurance if you are visiting France. You must disclose all pre-existing health conditions to your insurance company to ensure you are covered. Failure to do so could leave you high and dry when you need funding for healthcare, so don’t leave anything out, even if you think it is only a minor detail. If you have an EHIC, it will be valid up until Brexit, but may become void after that. Keep up with the latest information to learn about whether EHIC will continue to cover you after the UK leaves the EU.
If your pre-existing health condition will require routine treatment while you are in France, talk to your doctor before you travel. You may need to take documentation about your condition and/or medication to ensure you get the right treatment while you are abroad.
Anyone seeking specific medical treatment in France should ensure they know everything they need to know about seeking medical treatment there before travelling.
You must pay dentists in France directly for any treatment you receive there. They will fill out a care certificate (feuille de soins), which will be required to claim any refunds that are available in France. You may be able to claim back around 70% of the standard treatment fee.
You can find local health professionals in France via l’Assurance Maladie website, but be advised that all information is in French.
If an emergency medical situation arises while you are in France, and you feel your life is in danger, you need to make your way to an accident and emergency (A&E) unit in a hospital. In France, this unit is called les urgences. If you require an ambulance, dial 112 (or 114 for a hearing assisted line). Calling this emergency number is free of charge from any phone.
Whilst on the phone with emergency services in France, you should try to remain calm and provide the following details:
- Your location
- Your name and phone number
- The nature of your emergency
- The number of people in need of help
- Whether any weapons are involved in the incident
While most emergency services personnel and doctors can speak English, there are some who don’t. If necessary (and possible) get a local to assist with your call to emergency services. You may also find it helpful to learn some useful French phrases for emergencies.
French doctors are required to confirm that you really are in need of an ambulance, otherwise you will be charged for the service. Alternatively, you could make use of a light medical vehicle, or véhicule sanitaire léger (VSL), to transport you to hospital.
Here are some other important emergency numbers to take note of:
- 15 – Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente (SAMU) can provide specialist medical teams, as well as ambulances. Only call this number for serious emergencies – think neurological disorders, loss of consciousness, sudden severe pain, chest pain and breathing difficulties
- 17 – commissariat de police or gendarmerie (police)
- 18 – Sapeurs Pompiers (fire brigade) should be contacted in certain medical emergencies, including domestic accidents, traffic incidents and recent trauma. They are also the number to call when a victim is in a dangerous environment like a fire, landslide or flood, or if their health is swiftly deteriorating
- 196 – calling from land for emergencies in the sea (use VHF channel 16 if calling from the sea)
- 32 37 – a service to help you find the nearest duty pharmacy. This service does not yet cover all pharmacies in France
You can learn more on the GOV.UK website.
For people working in France
If you have been living in France for 3+ months, you can apply for coverage under the French healthcare system to get the same access to medical care that French nationals get. Any British worker posted to France by a UK company may be entitled to health cover funded by the UK. Contact HM Revenue and Customs to find out more.
After the UK leaves the EU, any British nationals living in France will be able to continue doing so without a residence permit but would be advised to start applying for one. The application process currently costs nothing, but this may change after Brexit. It is advised that you take out private health insurance until you secure coverage under the state system.
UK posted workers are likely to need to buy into the state system to continue receiving healthcare on the same terms as French nationals. Otherwise, you may need to get private health insurance.
Anyone living in France with an exportable UK benefit like the State Pension may be entitled to healthcare funded by the UK. You will need to apply for an S1 certificate, which will help you and your dependants access healthcare up until Brexit. After Brexit, the certificate may no longer be valid, though this has not been confirmed yet. You should continue to apply for an S1 certificate until any new information is released that says otherwise.
Make your application through the Business Services Authority.
If you have been living in France for 3+ months, apply for coverage under the French healthcare system. This will give you access to all social security provisions. As previously stated, the application process is currently free of charge.
You can apply for French citizenship if you France has been your permanent place of residence for 5+ years (or 4 if you are married to a French citizen).
Until Brexit has been completed, anyone going to study (or currently studying) in France as part of a UK-recognised course may qualify for healthcare in France funded by the UK government. You will be required to obtain an EHIC. Regardless, the British government advises citizens to take out travel insurance for any trip overseas, whether the destination is in the EU or beyond.
Until Brexit is completed, any UK citizens already residing in France can continue to do so without obtaining a residence permit. However, they should start applying for one in preparation for Brexit, as the process is currently free of charge.
The French healthcare system is known for its provision of quality medical care, and its pricing system is very fair. It is important to get a good understanding of what you need to do to ensure you get full access to healthcare when visiting France, regardless of how long you are going to be there. There are various details that can impact on whether you will have adequate coverage, and if you have any doubts then the safest option is to take out a private insurance policy. This is particularly important if you know you are likely to require some medical attention while you are in France, or if you are going to be there for an extended period of time. Healthcare while abroad is a serious consideration, and you must not ignore it – when the unexpected happens, you’ll be glad you put things in place to protect yourself.