For members


How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

Applying for the health card carte vitale will get you free or discounted healthcare, but it will also make sure you are in the French social security system.

How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one
The carte vitale grants you a refund on the cost of healthcare. Photo: AFP

The carte vitale is the national French health insurance card that allows those who have one to have most or all of their health costs either covered or reimbursed by the state.

The cards work mainly as a reimbursement system – when you have a doctor's appointment or are prescribed medication, you pay upfront to the doctor or pharmacist.

They then swipe your carte vitale and the government reimburses some or all of the cost directly back into your bank account.

The card doesn't pay for all of your medical costs unless in serious cases like cancer or heart disease.

How much is covered by the state depends on the treatment or action taken by the doctor. For example the rates of reimbursement depend on the specialist you see or the type of scan you get. 

In general for dental treatment the rates are much lower.`

So who pays the rest of the bill?

Most people have top up health insurance – known as a mutuelle – to cover the difference (or most of it) between what the state pays via the carte vitale and the total fee.

Anyone who is working in France or who has been legally resident for more than three months is entitled to the carte vitale and it is not means tested.

Until now, many British people living in France have relied on the European health insurance card, what used to be called the E111.

However it is advised that these people now get a carte vitale, firstly because the European health insurance card won't work after Brexit, and second because it is another way of ensuring that you are “in the system” in France.

So how to go about it?

Like most things in France, it will probably involve a lot of paperwork, but the system itself is relatively simple.


The French health insurance site Ameli

First you need to get an application form – these are available to download from the French health insurance site –

The form itself is fairly straightforward and just asks for personal details like name, age and address. 

It does include a box for a social security number, which you will not have yet – just ignore that. The same form is also used for people who already have a carte vitale but need to change their details.


You will then have to return the form by post to your local CPAM office (find out yours here) accompanied by various documents. You will need:

A photocopy of your passport

A photocopy of your visa or carte de sejour if you are required to have one (not currently needed for EU or Swiss citizens).

Your birth certificate. This cannot be a copy but must be the original. It must be the full certificate including parents' names (not the shorter certificate that most British people born before 1983 will have) and if it is not in French you will need to include a certified translation of it.

Your bank details – the relevé d'identite bancaire (RIB) that you are given by your bank. 

If you are working you will need proof of your employment – either a copy of your contract or a pay slip

If you are not working but are already in the system – for example as a jobseeker or asylum seeker – you will need to send copies of all the paperwork pertaining to your status.

If you are not working and are not already in the system you will need to send proof that you have been a resident in France for three months, documents accepted include rental contracts, utility bills, phone bills (but only for a fixed line, not a mobile) and, if you are studying, a certificate of study.

If you have children under the age of 18 living with you then you will need to include form S3705 – the Demande de rattachement des enfants mineurs à l'un ou aux deux parents assurés (application for the attachment of minor children to a parent's health insurance). This form is also available to download from the site. 

Once you have filled in the form and sent off the paperwork you should – if all the papers are correct – get a temporary number.

You can use this to claim back the cost of any health treatments, but you will have to fill out paper forms (feuille de soins) to claim them.

You then receive a permanent social security number. The time it takes to get the number varies significantly from area to area, some people get theirs in just a few weeks, for others it can take up to six months.

Once you get your permanent number, you will then get a second form to fill out and send back, together with a passport photo, and then you will be sent out the card.

The final thing to do is to choose a registered GP and fill out a form (declaration de choix du médecin traitant) that formally declares them as your chosen doctor.

While the whole process can be a lengthy one there are several bits of good news.

Firstly the Amelie site has an English section which explains the requirements for different classifications – retired, employed, self employed.

If you're still stuck there is an English language helpline, which is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Call 0 811 36 36 46 or 09 74 75 36 46 from France or 0033 811 36 36 46 from outside France.

Once you have a social security number you can set up an account on the Ameli site which you can use to track payments and make other changes, for example if you move house and need to change your address.

French vocab

L'assurance maladie – health insurance

Numéro de sécurité sociale – social security number

Medicin traitant – Your registered GP

Member comments

  1. This is a very useful item – really clear, setting out the terms of the CV. There is so much rumour and misleading data about the role of the “Mutuelle” out there on other sites. We have submitted our first application for the CV, so now can wait – with relief – that the rest will follow smoothly!

  2. Yes, but don’t you also need to obtain a S1 form from the UK if you’re receiving state pension, or, a refusal
    of S1 letter if you’re not receiving it?

  3. I’ve been fighting for a carte vitale for four years now. I dont have a birth certificate. My now deceased parents didn’t bother to register my birth. I left home at 15 and social servo got me a NI number and passport. I’ve paid in NI and taxes all my life. I now own a business and home in France and pay my taxes and have a residency card. All this without a birth certificate but CPAM have not accepted decades of passports and tax docs,
    Does anyone have any idea how I can get my carte vitale or who I have to talk to? CPAM asked my deceased parents to confirm this but as yet they haven’t replied 🙂

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France to roll out ID cards app

Technology is being rolled out to allow people to carry their French ID cards in an app form - and could be rolled out to other cards, including driving licences and cartes de séjour residency cards.

France to roll out ID cards app

Holders of French carte d’identité (ID cards) will soon be able to carry certified digital versions of them on their smartphone or other electronic devices, a decree published in the Journal Officiel has confirmed.

An official app is being developed for holders of the newer credit card-format ID cards that have information stored on a chip. A provisional test version of the app is expected at the end of May.

Users will be able to use the ID card app, when it becomes available, for a range of services “from checking in at the airport to renting a car”, according to Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.

All French citizens have an ID card, which can be used for proving identity in a range of circumstances and for travel within the EU and Schengen zone – the new app will be in addition to the plastic card that holders already have.

Under the plans, after downloading the app, card holders will need merely to hold the card close to their phone to transfer the required information. According to officials, the holder then can decide what information is passed on – such as proof of age, or home address – according to the situation.

The government has not given any examples of situations in which the app would need to be used, but has set out the main principles and the ambition of the plan: to allow everyone to identify themselves and connect to certain public and private organisations, in particular those linked to the France Connect portal.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Cards will continue to be issued for the foreseeable future – this is merely an extension of the existing system.

Only French citizens have ID cards, but if successful the app is expected to be rolled out to include other cards, such as driving licences, cartes de séjour residency cards or even visas. A digital wallet is being developed at the European level – Member States have until September to agree what it could contain.

READ ALSO Eight smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier