Health insurance in France explained

Health insurance in France explained

by Audrey Sivadier

Updated November 7, 2022

When you travel to a country that is not your own, getting sick is one of the most stressful situations that can happen. So you might as well prepare well in advance and leave with peace of mind. Whether you’re going on holiday or for a long stay in France, here’s what you should know about health insurance in France. 

Health insurance explained

Sécurité sociale, Assurance Maladie or “” are various names that all mean the same thing: French social protection. It’s one of the best in the world, but you have to know where to find the administrative procedures because the French are also world champions in paperwork.

Do tourists in France need health insurance?

What should you do if you get a toothache, a fall or a bad cold while visiting France? Don’t panic, wherever you are, you can be checked.

To find a general practitioner or specialist, you can use the yellow pages, the French national phone book, or better: Since 2015, this website (and app) has been the most used by the French. And it will save you a conversation in French on the phone with the doctor’s secretary.

If you are from the European Economic Area, remember to apply for a European health insurance card (EHIC) from your country’s health insurance scheme before you leave. Everyone in your family must have their own EHIC, including your children. In some European countries, the EHIC is the same as the national health insurance card.

In any case, you may well have to pay consultation fees in advance. But again, don’t panic. In France, on average, a consultation with a general practitioner costs around €30. Ask the doctor for a “feuille de soin” so that you have a receipt to send to your health insurance when you return to your home country.

Going to the doctor in France (with useful vocabulary)

Expatriates in France

When you come to work in France, it is up to your employer to take the necessary steps with health insurance. The members of your family who come to live with you are also covered by health insurance.

Once your employer has taken the necessary steps, you will be given a health insurance number. This is a very important number to keep and is useful for many administrative purposes, including taxes.

Health insurance numbers in France

The health insurance number is made up of 15 digits that tell the story of your life! Do not give it to anyone if you are concerned about them knowing your age!

1: If you are a man you will have the number 1. If you are a woman you will have the number 2.

2: Your year of birth.

3: Your month of birth.

4: Your department of birth. If you were born abroad you will get the number 99.

5: The code of your city of birth.

6: Your birth order number. (for example, 019, this means that you are the 19th person born in that town this month).

7: Security key.

This number allows you to create an account on and apply for your carte vitale.

If you do not work in France but have been living there on a stable basis for more than 3 months, the PUMA (universal health protection) guarantees you the right to cover your personal health expenses.

What are the main airports in France?

Health insurance policy (complementary health insurance)

For medical care provided in France, the costs are covered by the Health Insurance within the limit of basic rates. Some doctors, often specialists, charge more than the basic fee, which is not covered by health insurance. Some medicines are also not fully reimbursed. Spending several nights in hospital (public or private) can quickly become very expensive.

This is why it is recommended to take out a complementary health insurance policy, also known as a “mutuelle”.

When you have medical expenses, your carte vitale allows you to not advance the part covered by health insurance. However, you will have to pay the part not covered out of your own pocket. Unless the practitioner (hospital or pharmacist) offers you “le tiers-payant” (“third-party payment”). In this case, they will ask you for your carte vitale + your “mutuelle” card and they will contact your “mutuelle” directly.

So, remember to ask for it before taking the treatment prescribed by your doctor. Some X-ray or MRI surgeries do not offer “le tiers-payant” and you will have to pay a very high bill…

You are now ready for all medical situations in France! But have you revised your French to describe your symptoms to the doctor? Don’t wait any longer! Practise with Lingoda!

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