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How the French healthcare system works

Some useful information in order to quickly understand the specificities of the French healthcare system.

What is the French Social Security system?

The French Social Security system is available to all and comprises a fully integrated network of public hospitals, private clinics, doctors and other health professionals. It is a multi-payer system which provides medical care for all citizens regardless of age, income or social status. Contributions are made through social security deductions from each person’s income.

Hospitals vs Clinics

France divides healthcare institutions in to hospitals, which are publicly owned, and private clinics. In Paris and the surrounding region, the AP-HP (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux Parisiens) provides the majority of emergency care. More generally across France, hospitals provide care, but also oversee teaching, research and emergency treatment.

There are a few English-speaking hospitals in or near Paris.

Insitut Hospitalier Franco-Britannique (IHFB)

Hôpital Foch

Adolphe de Rothschild Foundation Hospital

American Hospital of Paris

To find a doctor who speaks your language, contact your country’s or region's embassy in Paris.

A savoir

In France it is compulsory to choose a médecin traitant (attending physician) who is your general doctor. You must consult them before you visit a specialist.

In case of emergency:

  • 18 (Pompiers – Fire department)
  • 15 (SAMU - Paramedics)
  • 17 (Police Secours – Police emergency squad)

What is Carte Vitale?

This French ‘green card’ doesn’t give you the right to move to the US, but it does allow you to benefit from the French health insurance system.

Learn all your rights as well as your personal situation at www.ameli.fr. There is also an English speaking helpline whose number can be found on the website.

Your Carte Vitale can be supplemented by an optional private ‘mutuelle’ insurance scheme, which will reimburse you for some of the fees not covered by the compulsory health insurance scheme. It is usually proposed by your employer in the private sector.

Doctor's fees

You are usually asked to pay at the end of your consultation. Your doctor may have a terminal which reads your Carte Vitale and transmits the information directly to the Social Security office for reimbursement. If not, you will be given a feuille de maladie form which you must send to Social security yourself.

Many doctors charge for their services according to the Social Security approved rates but it is always helpful to confirm this before your consultation.

Doctors don’t always accept card as means of payment, so ensure you take cash with you to the appointment.

Sickness leave

If you are employed and your doctor signs you off work for medical reasons, you will continue to receive your salary. The Social Security and your mutuelle scheme will cover the cost and repay your salary to your employer.

The French government also guarantees maternity / paternity / adoption leave, that is much longer for women than men and is variable according to sectoral agreements.

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