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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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Survey shows that strong majority of the French are ‘happy’

Their international reputation inclines more towards the grumpy, but the latest national mood survey shows that most French people are 'happy' and a significant amount are even 'very happy'.

Survey shows that strong majority of the French are 'happy'

The study by the Elabe Institute showed that 68 percent of respondents said they were happy, and a third (32 percent) even said they were “very happy” – despite serious concerns about the rising cost of living and the climate crisis.

While these figures are down on the 2021 study, which showed 11 percent more French people responding that they were “happy” and seven percent more saying they were “very happy,” it is safe to say that the French population is still quite content.

However, the survey did show some differences when considering certain factors.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are the happiest areas of France?

Income level

81 percent of people who “make ends meet without financial restrictions” reported being happy, while only 54 percent who experience financial restrictions said they were happy.

The same was true within companies – executives and heads of organisations were much more likely to say they were happy (87 percent) than their subordinates.

Political preferences

When looking at how French people voted – 77 percent of the people who supported President Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the presidential election responded that “things are going well” when asked in the survey their personal situation.

This is higher than both people who voted further to the political Left and Right. As for those who supported Left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, 63 percent said “things are going well.” This number was even lower for first-round supporters of Marine Le Pen – only 58 percent said “things are going well.”

Inflation and climate change

Almost all the people surveyed (91 percent) said they were concerned about a loss of household purchasing power due to inflation in the coming months.

And the French mood has dropped since October 2021, when the last survey was conducted. Overall, respondents feel less confident than they did last year (-4 percent), less “serenity” (-5 percent) and less satisfaction (-7 percent). 

People also feel generally more weary, nostalgic, sad, angry, and fearful than they did in 2021.

Many are particularly concerned about how global issues like the climate crisis and inflation could impact their daily lives. 89 percent reported being worried that their day-to-day life will deteriorate as a result of price increases, and 85 percent reported being afraid of the consequences of climate change (eg flooding, natural disasters, and drought).

A large number of French people (74 percent) also said that they worry about their health deteriorating due to pollution and environmental problems.

Other surveys echo these results, showing an increase in concern over climatic events in France, particularly since the summer of 2022, which was marked by three significant heatwaves, forest fires, and widespread drought.

READ MORE: France records 10,000 excess deaths in second hottest summer on record

A poll published in August by Odoxa showed that seven out of ten French people “fear being personally affected by a climatic hazard.”

Of those feeling climate-anxious, age played a role, with 81 percent of those under 25 responding that they are personally afraid, in comparison of 62 percent of those aged over 65.