Understanding the French Healthcare System for English Speakers Moving to France

Moving to a new country can be an exciting adventure filled with new experiences and opportunities; however, the complex administration process can often be daunting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to understanding and navigating a foreign healthcare system. This is particularly true for English speakers moving to France, where the healthcare system differs significantly from that of the English-speaking world. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with a clear overview of the French healthcare system and help you understand the necessary steps to access healthcare services in France with ease.

The French healthcare system is known to be one of the best in the world, with its high standard of care, easily accessible services, and a unique combination of public and private healthcare providers. As an English speaker in France, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the different types of healthcare services and how to access them. From registering with the French Social Security System (Sécurité Sociale) to finding an English-speaking General Practitioner (GP), this guide will provide you with the knowledge and practical tips to successfully navigate the French healthcare system and make informed decisions about your healthcare needs. Furthermore, French Connections HCB, a one-stop administration partner for expats in France, can provide you with personalized support and guidance in managing the healthcare administration process, making your transition to life in France as seamless as possible. So, let’s get started on understanding the basics of the French healthcare system and how to make it work for you.

Overview of the French Healthcare System

Public Healthcare (Sécurité Sociale)

The French Social Security system, or Sécurité Sociale, is the main public healthcare provider in France. Funded by taxes and social security contributions, it provides universal coverage for all legal residents. The services offered are extensive, from routine consultations to specialist care, hospitalisation, and maternity. As an expat, you will have access to these services through the French healthcare system once you have registered and met the eligibility requirements.

Private Healthcare and Insurance

In addition to the public system, France has a thriving private healthcare sector, providing an alternative for those who prefer to have a greater choice and flexibility in their medical care. Many French residents opt for additional private health insurance, also known as a mutuelle, to cover expenses not reimbursed by the state. These can include treatments with specialists, dental care, and alternative therapies.

Emergency Services

France has a comprehensive emergency care system, with hospitals and clinics equipped for emergencies throughout the country. The emergency number is 112 for medical, fire, and police emergencies. It is crucial to know the location of your nearest hospital and emergency room should you need urgent medical care.

Registering for Healthcare in France

Necessary Documents

To register for healthcare in France, you will need:

1. Proof of residence, such as a rental agreement or utility bill

2. Passport

3. Proof of income, such as a payslip or pension statement

4. European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), if you are from an EU country

Steps to Register

1. Obtain a French Social Security number (numéro de sécurité sociale). You may be automatically assigned one when you start a job in France, or you can apply for one at your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) office.

2. Register with a GP (médecin traitant) who will become your primary contact for the French healthcare system.

3. Complete the “Carte Vitale” application form to receive your healthcare card, which you will present at medical appointments to access reimbursements.

Accessing Healthcare Services

Finding a General Practitioner (GP)

Once registered with the healthcare system, you will need to find a GP who will act as your primary point of contact for medical care in France. It’s essential to find a doctor who speaks English if you are not fluent in French, as this will ensure clear communication in discussing your health issues. Asking fellow expats or using online directories can be helpful in finding English-speaking GPs in your area.

Specialists and Referrals

In France, you generally need a referral from your GP to see a specialist. These referrals are essential for accessing specialised care and receiving reimbursements from the healthcare system.

English-speaking Practitioners

In larger cities, you may find medical directories listing English-speaking healthcare practitioners, including GPs and specialists. Utilise the resources available online and the expat community around you for recommendations.

Costs and Reimbursements

Standard Fees

French healthcare costs are set by the government, with a standard fee (tarif conventionné) for various medical services. You will typically pay these fees upfront and later receive reimbursement from the healthcare system. Keep all documentation related to the cost of your treatment, as you will need it to claim reimbursements.

Claiming Reimbursements

After paying for a medical service, you will usually receive a “feuille de soins” form to claim a reimbursement. Fill in the necessary details on this form and send it to your local CPAM office, along with any related receipts or documents. Reimbursements usually cover 70% of the standard medical fees, with the percentage typically higher for chronic conditions or hospitalisation.

Tips for Navigating the French Healthcare System

1. Register for healthcare as early as possible to access services without delays.

2. Familiarise yourself with local emergency services and facilities in your area.

3. Seek out English-speaking healthcare providers or French classes to improve your communication skills.

4. Understand the standard fees for common medical services.

5. Keep track of medical documentation to streamline reimbursements.


The French healthcare system can be an unfamiliar landscape for English speakers moving to France, but with the right knowledge and guidance, you can navigate it with ease. Ensure your access to comprehensive, high-quality French insurance by taking the time to understand the processes and services available. And remember, French Connections HCB is here to support you throughout your transition to life in France, offering personalised assistance with healthcare administration and more. Together, we can make sure your move to France is a smooth and enjoyable experience.

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