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HEALTH

Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

Whether you're a resident, tourist or second-home owner, here's what to do if you need non-emergency medical care while you are in France.

You might be curious what to do in France if you’ve ever suffered from a stomach virus that hangs around a little too long, wondered if you’ve came down with a case of strep throat, or worried about a minor allergic reaction.

Obviously if you have a major medical event you should either visit a hospital urgences (Emergency Room) or call an ambulance (more on how to do that below) – but if your problem is not quite an emergency but still something that you need help with, there are several options.

Here are the services available and how they can be accessed by French residents, tourists and second-home owners.

SOS Médecins

This is the ’emergency doctor’ service and will connect you with a general practitioner, available 24/7. You can use it if you’re a visitor to France, you’re on holiday in a different part of France, you’re not yet registered with a doctor or simply if your own doctor is not available (either because it’s out of normal hours or your doctor is on holiday).

SOS Médecins is most known for their house-calls, as they will come directly to your home to give you a consultation. However you can also visit their local office or request a téléconsultation (online appointment). In either case, the person you see is a doctor and they will be able to diagnose you and prescribe medication, as needed. 

The SOS Médecins website gives three options: make an appointment by calling (the number is 3624), make an appointment online, or walk-in for a consultation (hours will vary for this depending on the location).

When making your appointment, you can request an English speaking doctor, but it is not guaranteed you will get one. 

When calling to make the appointment, you will need to know your département number, your phone number, the patient’s first and last name, the exact address (including the building code, floor, and any other relevant apartment-specific information), the reason for the call, and the age of the patient.

Cost – SOS Médecins varies in price depending on the time of day and location (whether the consultation is at the centre or at your home). For a house-call on holidays, weekends, and nights you can expect the fee to range between €50 to 80, which may be in part reimbursable by Assurance Maladie if you are registered in the French medical system.

Maisons Médicales de Gardes

These are community health centres that are intended to stay open after working hours and on the weekends. They are intended to ease the burden on emergency room by offering a place for people with non-life threatening emergencies to go outside of normal operating hours.

You can look online to see the closest Maison Médicale to you, or you can call your regular doctor and listen to their voice machine – usually they will list your after-hours options. For more information, you can visit this website.

Before walking up to the centre, you can call to allow the operator to assess your situation and give you a recommendation regarding whether you need emergency treatment or whether you can be treated at the Maison Médicale.

Cost – you can expect to pay between €40 to €60.

Pharmacy

Pharmacists in France are highly qualified (it takes between five and seven years to complete the training) and by law all pharmacies must have at least one qualified pharmacist on the premises.

Although they cannot prescribe medication, you can go to a pharmacy with a minor medical problem, to ask advice or for treatment for less serious injuries, or to get over-the-counter medication such as cough syrup or painkillers. You can visit on a walk-in basis and there is no need for an appointment.

If the pharmacist cannot treat you, they will tell you whether you need further assistance from a doctor or whether your medical issue is urgent enough to warrant an ambulance or trip to the hospital.

If you suspect you have Covid-19, you can get a test at a pharmacy. For strep throat or tonsilitis (une angine), you can ask for a rapid test (TROD or Test Rapide d’Orientation Diagnostique) at any pharmacy. If it is a positive result for bacterial strep, then you’ll be referred back to a primary care doctor in order to get a prescription for antibiotics. This test is covered by Assurance Maladie if you are registered in the French system.

READ MORE: How to get the flu vaccine in France

You can find a ‘pharmacie de gard‘ (a 24-hour pharmacy) by also going on the SOS Médecins website and using their locator tool.

Cost – Seeking the assistance of a pharmacist is free, but if they recommend medication or treatment, you will likely have to pay, although some treatment types are reimbursed if you are registered in the French health system. 

Make a doctor appointment

Oftentimes, foreigners or tourists do not think they can make an appointment with a general practitioner in France if they do not have a carte vitale or are not registered in the French healthcare system.

In fact, anyone can make an appointment to see a French doctor, there is no need to be registered with them. One of the easiest ways to do this is by going to the website Doctolib and signing up for an appointment.

On Doctolib, you can see the medical professional’s qualifications and languages spoken, so you can filter based on the doctor’s English abilities. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt because not every medical professional with English listed on their Doctolib page speaks fluent English. 

On the Doctolib website, you can set a preference for Aujourd’hui (today) or Dans les prochains trois jours (In the next three days), and you can also set your motif de consultation (type of consultation) to an online appointment, if you are not looking to make the trip to the doctor’s office (not all doctors offer these).

Cost – Everyone who visits a doctor in France is expected to pay, the standard rate is €25. If you are registered in the French medical system part of the cost will be reimbursed through your carte vitale.

If you are a tourist or second-home owner you may be able to claim the cost back on your health or travel insurance, depending on the policy.

If you are still in the process of registering for your carte vitale be sure to ask for a feuille de soins – this is basically a receipt, and when you get the card you can claim back medical costs incurred while you waited using the feuille de soins.

When booking the appointment, check to see whether the physician is ‘Secteur 1’ or ‘Secteur 2’ – this will determine if they are allowed to charge additional fees. A sectuer 1 doctor must apply the basic rate set out by the medication convention. For a GP, the fixed price is €25.

For an emergency 

If your situation is a life-threatening emergency, you should seek immediate assistance.

READ MORE: Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Call 15: You will be put in contact SAMU who provides ambulances and emergency medical care. 

Call 18: You will be put in contact with the fire department (les pompiers) who are trained to provide emergency medical assistance.

Call 112 (or 114 for people with hearing and speaking difficulties): This is the EU-wide emergency phone number. You might be more likely to reach someone who speaks fluent English on this line. 

Cost – emergency medical treatment is open to everyone including visitors. If you go to the hospital and receive treatment without being admitted, you will be charged a one-off fee of €18.

If you are admitted to hospital you may have to pay, depending on the treatment you receive and the nature of the problem – more details here.

Although hospitals will ask for your carte vitale as standard, you can still receive treatment if you don’t have the card.

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DRIVING IN FRANCE

French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Breaking down on a French motorway just got more expensive, as the government raised the prices that breakdown services can charge.

French motorway breakdown services cost rises

If you do break down, you should use the nearest emergency call box rather than your mobile phone (they’re about 2km apart). This puts you immediately in touch with the motorway company, and means your car is easier to locate. 

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in a driving emergency in France

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee would rise from €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

If, however, the repair is likely to take longer, your vehicle will be towed. You can decide whether your vehicle is taken to the garage to which the truck belongs, or one of your own choice, or another location within an acceptable distance.

For breakdown assistance that requires a tow (to a rest or service area, to a garage or to a location chosen by the motorist), this rate – again, set by the government annually – varies according to the weight of the vehicle.

These charges are now:

  • €138.01 for vehicles weighing no more than 1.8 tonnes (up from €131.94 in 2021);
  • €170.65 for vehicles with a total weight greater than 1.8 tonnes and less than 3.5 tonnes (up from €163.15).

Be aware: Add 50 percent to these charges if the call was made at weekends and public holidays, or between the hours of 6pm and 6am Monday to Friday.

Meanwhile, running out of fuel is not considered an unforeseen emergency for stopping at the side of a motorway. Motorists are expected to keep an eye on their fuel gauge and ensure they have enough fuel to complete their journey or to be able to reach the nearest service station.

For full details on what to do if your car breaks down in France, plus some handy French vocab, click HERE.

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