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5 things to know about visiting a doctor in France

We wish all our readers good health, but it's still the case that at some point you will probably have to visit a doctor in France. And when you're there, you may find some cultural differences - here's what you need to know.

5 things to know about visiting a doctor in France

First things first, healthcare in France is, in the main, excellent. Care is generally of a high standard, specialists and extra testing is readily available, and if you have lived in France for more than three months you can register in the state healthcare system.

Nevertheless, the system and the care itself may well be different to what you are used to.

1 Wear your best underwear

Trips to the doctor in France often involve a physical examination and for this it’s likely that you’ll have to lose at least some clothes.

Even if you’re just visiting your GP or family doctor for a routine appointment, the doctor will frequently take the opportunity to give you a quick check-up, check heart rate, blood pressure etc.

If you have an injury or illness symptoms, the doctor will almost certainly physically examine you and you will probably have to take off at least your top and perhaps more. Stripping to your underwear is perfectly normal in a doctor’s office, but in general your keep your undergarments on unless the doctor specifically tells you to remove them.

So make sure you’re wearing some nice undies. 

READ ALSO French vocab: What to say and do if you fall sick in France

2 Take some money

You have to pay to visit the doctor in France.

Even if you are covered by either the state health system or private medical insurance, the system is that you pay the doctor and then either claim the cost back on your health insurance and – if you are resident in France – the doctor swipes your carte vitale and the state reimburses you.

READ ALSO How to get a carte vitale and why you need one

These days more and more doctors accept debit cards, but not all do so it’s wise to have some cash with you. The standard fee for a GP appointment is €25, but other appointments can be more. If you’re booking the appointment via Doctolib, the doctor’s profile will tell you whether they accept cards, cheques or cash.

How to use the French medical website Doctolib

3 Take stamps

Depending on your health issue, the doctor may order tests such as blood samples or a urine sample.

In some cases you will need to make an appointment at a medical lab to have these tests done, in other circumstances the doctor can do the tests in their office.

If the latter is the case, you will usually be asked to post the sample to the relevant lab for analysis. The doctor will seal it up in a sample pot and provide you with an envelope that is addressed, but not stamped. You will then need to affix the correct postage and put the envelope in the post.

4 Make your own specialist appointments

If you have an issue that requires a visit to a specialist, you can make an appointment directly. Sometimes your GP will recommend a specialist appointment, but if that’s the case they won’t book it for you, they will simply tell you that they recommend you see a dermatologist, gynaecologist, neurologist and it’s then up to you to book the appointment.

For Brits, this is very different to what they are used to, since in the UK the normal process is for the GP to refer you to a relevant specialist and you simply wait for the letter and go along on the date that you are offered.

In France you go ahead and book it. The advantage of this is that you usually don’t have to wait, and if one specialist has a waiting list you simply find another. The disadvantage is that it can feel quite daunting to be told to ‘go and find a neurologist to do a brain scan’. Your GP may recommend a practitioner, otherwise it’s a question of asking friends/neighbours for recommendations or going online to find someone in your area.

Likewise with routine screening appointments such as mammograms or cervical smear/pap smears – Assurance maladie will write to you and tell you when it’s time, but then it’s up to you to find the relevant practitioner and book an appointment.

If you decide you want check-ups more regularly, then you can book them yourself, you don’t need to wait for the invitation. 

5 Expect a prescription

It’s a cliché but a largely true one to say that the French love medication – a study from 2017 showed that 90 percent of doctor’s appointments result in a prescription for at least one type of medication.

READ ALSO Why do the French love medication so much?

French doctors happily prescribe remedies that can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy and if you have an injury you’re likely to be given some kind of medical aid, such as a surgical collar.  

For certain ailments, you may even be prescribed a spa cure.

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What you need to know about microchipping your pet in France

Under French law, dogs, cats and ferrets that are kept as pets must be identified and registered on a national database.

What you need to know about microchipping your pet in France

The animal must be identifiable by a tattoo or microchip – the most common method – registered on the Identification des carnivores domestiques (I-CAD) database. 

All dogs aged four months and over, cats over seven months old, and ferrets born after November 1st, 2021, that are over seven months old that were, must be tagged in this way. This also offers pet owners peace of mind as it means they can be easily identified and returned if they go missing, as pets sometimes do.

READ ALSO Do you really need a licence if your cat has kittens in France?

The procedure to insert the microchip, or ink the tattoo, must be carried out by an approved professional. The procedure should be done by a vet and costs between €40 and €70.

For anyone who has travelled to France from another country with a pet, the animal will already be microchipped – and on the register. But if the animal joined a family while in France, a trip to the vet may be in order.

READ ALSO Paperwork and shots: How to bring a pet to France from the USA

Once the animal is registered on the database, the owner will receive a letter from I-CAD, along with a credit card-sized document listing the registered animal’s details, including its home address.

It is up to the owner to ensure the details remain correct, including notifying the database operators of any change of address. This can be done via the I-CAD website. Alternatively, you could use the Filalapat app (download for free here), or the more traditional postal service.

As well as declaring any change of address, you should also inform the database operators if you are giving up the animal, or if it dies.

Under a 2021, first-time buyers of cats or dogs have to sign a ‘certificate of commitment and understanding’ before they are allowed to purchase a pet. 

After the signed document is delivered to the authorities, future owners have seven days to change their mind – the idea is to prevent people from ‘impulsively’ buying pets only to abandon them later.