France is supposedly the land of romance, wine, and good cuisine. If this reputation has enticed you to visit, or even move, you might be wondering what French healthcare is like. Vineyards and snails are nice, but you’ll want to know that you’re safe in case the worst were to happen.

Coming from the UK, you might have gotten used to the NHS. But does France’s government cover the same functions that the NHS does? Or will you need private insurance?

If you’re just after the numbers, you should know that 96% of France’s population uses the country’s public healthcare system, which might tell you how ingrained and reliable it is. So reliable, in fact, that it ranks number one in some studies done on the best healthcare systems in the world.

But this doesn’t mean that private insurance doesn’t have its place in France – over 40 million French citizens are enrolled in private insurance. To find out more, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Healthcare in France by region
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    % of French citizens with health insurance
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    Average life expectancy (in years)
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    Average no. of days before surgery in public hospital

How does healthcare work in France?

France’s healthcare system is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, in the entire world, let alone Europe. Their public healthcare system is mandatory for any citizens, and covers around 70% of medical services, as long as you’ve been living in France for at least three months.

The remaining 30% will need to be paid for out of pocket, and includes things like chiropractors or long-term hospital stays. It’s possible you could go through your whole life in France without needing private insurance to cover this 30%, but you never know.

Oftentimes, a drawback of public healthcare is the long wait times. While you usually won’t be able to walk right into a doctor’s office, the ratio of GPs to the general population is relatively high, with 3.4 doctors to every 1,000 citizens, meaning wait times aren’t interminable.

France Country

You'll need your health to fully explore the French countryside

Is French healthcare free?

French healthcare is in a bit of a between state. While the quality is absolutely top-notch, it’s not entirely free like some other European countries. Rather than doctors and hospitals simply being funded by the government directly, patients are instead reimbursed by the government.

Like we mentioned above, some long-term or less essential treatments aren’t covered by the government scheme, so healthcare isn’t completely free like some other countries. Still, the most daunting and expensive treatments are usually covered, so you shouldn’t have to worry if the worst comes to worst.


Healthcare in France after Brexit

Since Brexit, the relationship between the average British national and the rules of the EU have been a bit hazy. You couldn’t be blamed for being a bit befuddled, so let's clear up that confusion.

After you complete your move to France, you must get health insurance. You can get this cover from the state, but it won't be free.

As explained by the UK government, the cost to access healthcare from the state is covered jointly by the state and you, through patient contributions called co-payments.

This means you might have to pay for some treatments before you receive them. The French national insurance fund, Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie, will repay you for part of the costs later.

You'll be able to access healthcare in one of these ways:

  • making French social security contributions, either through your employer or as a self-employed worker
  • registering a UK-issued S1 form with your local healthcare office
  • using your European Health Insurance Card or UK Global Health Insurance Card, if you're only staying in France temporarily

Once you start working in France – or after you've been a resident in the country for more than three months – you can apply to be covered by the national healthcare system, known as Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMa).

You'll need to call 112, or 15 for specific health emergencies.

Health insurance in France

No one wants to pay for health insurance, but sometimes it’s necessary. As efficient and premium as the French healthcare system is, you might want to be on the safe side and spring for some insurance.


Do I need health insurance in France?

Unlike some countries, in France, you could certainly get away without investing in health insurance. Obviously it’s another safety net, so if you can afford it, you might as well go for it, as it can come in handy when push comes to shove.

Just like in the UK, private health insurance is a good option for those who can afford it, as it allows you to receive faster treatment and to further customise your plan. But if you’re not too eager to drop cash on something you don’t see as strictly necessary, then by all means, stick to the public system.

But people certainly still use private health insurance, and if you're so inclined, you can too. Check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.


Health insurance for holidays in France

If you’re not thinking of staying in France, but instead you’re just passing through on a holiday, you might be wondering if you need to get some special kind of travel insurance to make sure you’ll be okay if the worst was to occur.

When the UK was part of the EU, British citizens could have easily gotten their hands on something called a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for free. Now that the UK has left the EU, however, there are questions as to whether or not this will still function.

If you have a card and you’re worried about it working in the near future, put your mind at ease. All registered EHICs will retain full functionality until the UK officially leaves the EU at the end of 2020.

But after that? No one knows. As mentioned in the BBC article linked above, the UK will need to negotiate terms with other countries when the time comes.

While the EHIC allows its holder to experience the full capacity of every participating European country, it’s possible that the post-Brexit negotiations will lead to different countries having different rules regarding how UK nationals can access their healthcare. We’ll update this page once those guidelines have been established.

A 2019 survey found that a third of respondents had given up on a health-related treatment due to long waiting times for an appointment in France.

Paris France

We couldn't write an article about France without throwing in the Eiffel Tower

Health insurance in France for EU citizens

But if you’ve found this page not as a UK resident but as an EU one, you might be looking for the rules regarding how you can access France’s healthcare system. If you jumped to this section without reading the previous one, allow us to explain the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

This is a free system where you can apply for a card that entitles you to use another European country’s health system while you’re visiting. Since it’s free, you might as well get your hands on one if you’re thinking of travelling within the EU, since it could save you a lot of trouble if something goes wrong during your trip.

Health insurance for British expats in France

If you’re an expat looking to settle down in France, you’ll be happy to hear that legal expats have absolute free reign within the healthcare system just like any other citizen of France. But there is a single small catch!

New citizens of France need to live there for three months until the public health coverage kicks in. Not the worst wait in the world, but if you’re disaster prone, you might want to nab some short term private health insurance to cover that period.

French Pharmacy

French pharmacies might need you to pay out of pocket, so private insurance can help you out

How much is health insurance in France?

On the topic of insurance, you might be wondering how much private insurance is. After all, while it isn’t crucial for your wellbeing most of the time, it can come in handy, especially in those first three months if you’re just starting to live there.

Average cost of private health insurance in France

In 2018, an estimated 40 million people in France owned a private health and medical insurance policy. It’s still a decently large element of the health system overall, and is necessary in covering some things like more cosmetic or long-term treatments.

We’ll split them into two categories, since individual plans and family plans are usually two different beasts. However, the real cost of either will hinge on whatever you decide to include in your plan.

For a family

A family insurance package has an average monthly cost of about 90 euros. We say “about” because it obviously depends heavily on how many family members will be covered under the plan, but 90 is a good baseline.

For an individual

French health insurance has an average monthly cost of 40 euros per individual. Again, it’s not essential, as most things are covered by the government, but if you’re looking for that extra bit of safety, this isn’t a wallet-busting price.

In conclusion

French healthcare can be a bit finicky, as rather than the government paying for it directly, you’ll need to be reimbursed for any eligible treatment. This can be a bit annoying, as reimbursement rates can be affected by any number of things and maybe take some time.

However, these small hiccups shouldn’t get in the way of this being an astonishingly good healthcare system. The quality of their healthcare is second to none, and the fact that you can experience this healthcare while saving your money, means that you could do a lot worse than France.

But if you're the kind of person who thinks you can never have enough safety nets, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Further reading

If you’re eager to read a bit more about France, here are some recommended articles:

15 Things to Know Before Moving to France

7 Best Places to Live in France