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Health insurance in France: What are the requirements for visitors and residents?

Accessing healthcare in France may require insurance
Accessing healthcare in France may require insurance. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP
Whether you are living in France or just visiting, you will need to make sure that you have health cover to avoid big bills should you fall sick or get injured. Here's how the health insurance system works.

Already resident in France

If you have lived in France for more than three months then you are entitled to register within the French State health insurance system, known as Assurance maladie.

If you’re working in France your healthcare will be paid for by the French State, while if you receive a state pension from another country your home nation may pay for your healthcare, depending on bilateral agreements. If you’re not working and have not yet reached pension age, you can register through the PUMa system – but in all of the above cases you will receive a carte vitale, the card that entitles you to reimbursed healthcare.

Here’s full details on how to register in the system.

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Mutuelle – the French system is a reimbursement one – you pay upfront for a medical appointment, procedure or prescription and then swipe your carte vitale. A percentage of the money is then reimbursed straight into your bank account.

Most procedures are reimbursed at around 80-90 percent, while some such as cancer treatments are reimbursed at 100 percent. You can either pay the remaining costs yourself, or take out a mutuelle – a top-up insurance policy – to cover the rest.

These are cheaper than standard private health insurance policies and if you are working, your employer is obliged to pay at least half of the cost of this – full details here.

Private health insurance – if you are a resident it’s not compulsory to be registered within the state health system and you can if you prefer carry on paying for private health insurance.

The French health system is generally pretty good, so you are unlikely to get significantly better care if you go private, but it’s an option.

If you’re not registered in the state system you are unlikely to be called for things like routine breast cancer screening or a flu shot, so you will have to make your own arrangements.

Moving to France

If you move to France as an EU citizen you can move to France without the need for a visa and register within the state health system once you have been here for three months.

For any healthcare needs in the interim period, you can use the European health insurance card from your home country if you were previously resident in an EU country. If you are an EU citizen but not an EU resident (eg a dual British and Irish national who lived in the UK) you may need private insurance to cover you in the interim period.

If you move from a non-EU country you may need a visa and certain types of visa – primarily those for retirees or people who are not working in France – require proof of private health cover, usually for one year.

Find out more about how visas work here.

Once you have registered for the carte de séjour residency permit after arrival in France, you can then apply for the carte vitale, as detailed above.

Waiting for the carte vitale – getting a carte vitale is not always the swiftest process. Times vary between areas, but a wait of six months is not uncommon. While you are waiting you can still access healthcare if you need it.

You pay upfront and ask the doctor or pharmacist for a feuille de soin – this is essentially a receipt and once you have your card you can use the feuille de soin to claim back the cost of any procedures that you had while waiting for the card to arrive. You can also request a feuille de soin if you have lost your card or just forgotten to take it with you to the doctor/hospital/pharmacy.

READ ALSO Emergency in France – who to call and what to say

Second-home owners or regular visitors to France

Registration within the French health system is restricted to people who live here, so if you are just visiting France you will need to look at alternatives.

If you are visiting from an EU country you can use the European health insurance card to access healthcare – countries within the EU have agreements that they will pay for emergency healthcare needed by one of their citizens visiting another EU or Schengen zone country.

British visitors can no longer use the EHIC, but can use the new GHIC card, which France has agreed to recognise.

However, both the EHIC and GHIC cards will only pay for emergency or unplanned treatments and almost never cover the cost of repatriation, so travellers are always advised to have travel insurance with health cover as well.

Visitors from outside the EU cannot benefit from the EU health agreement so will need to have either health insurance or travel insurance in order to cover the cost of any treatment needed in France.

French hospitals are legally obliged to treat you if it is an emergency, so you won’t be turned away, but you could end up with a hefty bill for treatment if you are not insured.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France’s new emergency medical fees 


Member comments

  1. How does it work when my wife and I hold British and EU passports but reside currently in the UK?
    We are investigating living in France but retaining a “pied a terre” in England (Wales).

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