If like hundreds of thousands of expatriates, you’re hoping to discover France’s joie de vivre, don’t forget your health always comes first: you’ll need a flexible health insurance partner by your side as you embark upon your new adventure in la belle France!
The French often boast about having the world’s best healthcare system. Truth be told, France only has an average ranking as compared to other OECD country healthcare systems. However, the country’s public medical services rank amongst the best in terms of quality of medical services, affordability, coverage, and solidarity .
So, how do you get access to French healthcare? How does it work? What are the options for foreigners in terms of health insurance and how much does it cost? Here are some answers…
Healthcare in France: freedom, universality, and solidarity
In France, the Caisse nationale d’assurance maladie (CNAM – ‘health insurance office’), one of the five branches of the French social security system, ensures access to health services, covers public medical expenses, and promotes preventive healthcare.
The French healthcare system is centralized and run by the government. It is funded by contributions of employees/employers, the state, the private sector and taxpayers. It is based on a network of structures, each with a specific vocation: general practice (outpatient care), public hospitals and private clinics (hospitalization, emergency care, medical examinations), and social organizations (for the elderly or people suffering from a disability).
What are the strengths of the French health system?
- Freedom of choice: all patients are free to choose their own doctor, medical specialist, and health care institution in both public and private sectors.
- Affordability of medical services: the percentage of health expenses to be paid by the patient is very low (among the lowest in the OECD).
- Quality of healthcare: regardless of their income, people who are covered by public health insurance have access to top-notch healthcare services.
- High level of coverage: almost 90% of the French population  is covered by the public health system and around 95% have a complementary private health insurance (complémentaire santé/mutuelle).
- Universal health insurance: with the universal health protection scheme (protection universelle maladie – PUMa), anyone living or working in France has the right for their medical costs to be covered by the French public health insurance.
What is the Social Security Number (NIR)?
Your social security number (national insurance number) is a unique and personal number enabling all French social security bodies, particularly public health insurance, to identify you. You will need this number every time you deal with social security administration.
And what about the Carte Vitale?
This green and yellow card is your public health insurance card. Every time you present it to your health care provider, it allows you to get reimbursed for medical consultations and prescription drugs that are covered by public health insurance.
How do you get both?
You must go directly to the local office of the Caisse nationale d’assurance maladie. Click here for more information!
What is covered by public health insurance?
- The cost of medical consultations, tests, and treatments is usually 70% covered by public health insurance. The calculation is based on the reimbursement rates defined by the social security system. Doctors’ fees depend on their ‘sector of activity’ (I, II or III), and medical specialty. For example, a consultation with a Sector I GP costs €25 and will be covered up to €16.50.
- Emergency care
- Medication: partial or total reimbursement for prescribed medication (generics if any)
- Maternity care
- Some vaccines are covered up to 100% (for example: DTP, MMR, Covid-19)
- Dental care: full or partial coverage depending on the nature of the procedure and its cost. For example, prosthetic device and orthodontic treatments are poorly reimbursed.
- Healthcare costs related to Covid-19 (click to read more)
Schengen visa and health insurance
Public health insurance covers long-term residents living in France. People wishing to travel to France on a Schengen visa for less than three months should take out Schengen visa insurance before leaving for their short-term expatriation.
What about private health insurance in France?
The vast majority of French people take out a local private health insurance subscription (mutuelle/complémentaire santé) individually or through their company to improve reimbursement rates for medical costs not covered by public health insurance. The cost of such private health insurance policies mainly depends on age; annual contributions can vary between €300 and €1700.
While these complémentaires santé contribute to higher coverage of medical expenses (especially for dental and optical care), they do not compare with international health insurance solutions that are specifically designed for expatriates.
What are the limitations of French public health insurance?
- Freedom? Not always: Although patients are theoretically free to choose their health care provider, since 2004 they must follow the coordinated care pathway (parcours de soins coordonnés) in order to be fully covered. They are required to register with a primary care physician (médecin traitant) and to consult him/her before visiting a specialist.
- Limits to medical expenses’ coverage abroad: unlike international health insurance, the ‘assurance maladie’ does not cover all your medical expenses unconditionally anywhere in the world.
- Partial coverage for optical and dental care
Foyer Global Health: the expats’ health partner in France
Regular health insurance policies (‘assurance maladie’ or ‘complémentaire santé’) are not tailored to the expat lifestyle. Whether you’re in France for a few months or for several years, Foyer Global Health offers you tailor-made medical insurance solutions!
What can you expect from us?
- Total freedom: wherever you are, we don’t ask you to choose between good health coverage and a good healthcare provider. You are truly free to choose the doctor/the medical facility you want.
- Medical repatriation, transport and evacuation included
- Tailor-made services: we cover your medical needs
- Comprehensive health cover wherever you are: you benefit from our holistic healthcare insurance solutions available worldwide
- 100% digital experience with unlimited access to multilingual health experts available to answer your questions 24/7
Essential, Special or Exclusive ? Our experts are here to help you choose the best international
insurance plan for your new life in France. To get a free quote, click here!
 Institut Sapiens, Sécuriser et améliorer notre système de santé, 2020, https://www.institutsapiens.fr/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Comment-ameliorer-notre-systeme-sante.pdf
Direction de la sécurité sociale, Les chiffres clés de la sécurité sociale 2019, https://www.securite-sociale.fr/files/live/sites/SSFR/files/medias/DSS/2020/CHIFFRES%20CLES%202020%20ED2019.pdf
DREES, La Complémentaire santé, Vue d’ensemble, Fiches thématiques, Édition 2019, https://drees.solidarites-sante.gouv.fr/sites/default/files/2021-03/ve-9.pdf