French Health, Travel, Insurance, and Safety Advice
France ranks 16th in the world for ex-pats looking for a retirement destination. It is the 4th most popular destination in the world for American students studying abroad. And the capital city, Paris, is the third most visited spot in the world. With cosmopolitan cities, medieval villages, and legendary wine regions, France is one of the most popular expat destinations in the world. On the other hand, according to the Global Peace Index, France is ranked 51 out of 163 countries and has the lowest rating of all countries in Europe. So before you run away to a lavender field in Provence, France, take a moment to review important travel and health insurance advice.
French Health Care and Insurance Options
France has excellent health care. It is first in the world in the World Health Organization’s ranking of healthcare efficiency. The country operates on a system of universal health care funded by taxation on salaries.
Health care services are not limited to French citizens. As of 2016, anyone who has resided in France as an ex-pat in a “stable and regular manner” for three months and intends to legally remain in France on a permanent basis is eligible to apply for public health care coverage. As a result, there is now a new application process for ex-pats.
This new system, Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA), replaces the previous Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU) The previous system required residency of 1 to 5 years. There was also a paper-work laden annual renewal process. The implementation of PUMA, with shorter wait periods and more streamlined management, is good news for ex-pats living full time in France! An international health plan would still be required if you need worldwide coverage.
Insurance Coverage for Ex-pats in France
In addition to standard travel papers, including identification, proof of address, and proof of income, ex-pats need extra documents. You need to prove your intent to reside in France permanently. This means that ex-pats are expected to reside in the country for at least half the year (or 183 days) to be considered a permanent resident. You can help support your claim through registration in community classes and recreation leagues and enlisting as a volunteer.
As well, ex-pats have additional responsibilities before they apply. Everyone must register with a primary care physician. You’ll need this proof when applying at your local CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie) office.
Of course, there is some fine print… Expats can only apply to the PUMA program if they’ve been in the country for less than five years, do not have paid employment, are under retirement age of 65 years and do not receive a pension from a European country. Non-European students who are older than 28 years with no salaries and British early retirees are also eligible if they receive no salary.
You apply for your national health insurance card, the carte vitale (green card) once your insurance has been approved and activated. This means that that you’ll avoid having to pay up front and in cash for services.
Extra Insurance Considerations
Of course, no health care system covers every single circumstance. Most people in France pay for supplemental private insurance, referred to as mutuelle, in order to offset additional health care costs.
France currently operates on a reimbursement program. Therefore, you pay for the cost of your treatment and then apply for reimbursement. A regular doctor’s visit is just 23 Euros and typically 70% of that cost will be returned to you. This system is being phased out. As a result, by the end of 2017, most doctors will bill the government or health insurer directly.
If you need global coverage, your application is rejected, or if your time in France will amount to less than 50% of the year, you will require privately held international health insurance to cover your needs.
Travel Insurance for Visitors to France
As stated above, France has both excellent medical facilities and, at the same time, is one of the riskier places to visit in Europe due to above average crime and risk of terrorism. A good travel insurance plan for visitors to France will include coverage for trip cancellation, terror and lost or stolen items. For a list of recommended providers, see a Comparison of Trip Cancellation Plans.
Vaccines And Food Safety in France
There are no mandatory vaccinations for travel to France. All travelers should travel with updated routine vaccinations, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and a yearly flu shot.
Rabies is present in France. Adventure travelers who plan on exploring French caves should speak with their doctor about a preventative vaccine.
Food and water safety standards in France are similarly high as other developed nations. Tap water is safe to drink. Pregnant women should speak with a physician to see if there are any restrictions for consuming French unpasteurized cheese.
Emergency Assistance in France.
Hotel Dieu: Adjacent to the Notre Dame Basilica in central Paris, this easy-to-find hospital is well regarded and has experience treating tourists.
The American Hospital, on the outskirts of Western Paris, is a private bilingual facility. It is more expensive than other health care providers in Paris, but their familiarity with American health insurance procedures may make you feel more comfortable.
Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades, Paris’ leading pediatric hospital, is a teaching facility affiliated with the University of Paris. It is the oldest pediatric hospital in the world.
The University Hospital of Bordeaux receives top marks as the best French hospital. Rounding out the top 5 are CHU Lille, CHU Toulouse, Strasbourg University Hospital, and the Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris.
Furthermore, the service SOS Médecins provides house visits with a doctor for 50-70 Euros, 24 hours a day. This means you don’t have to leave your house when you’re feeling unwell. It is perfect for non-life threatening emergencies.
Finally, in French pharmacies, staff can treat minor medical concerns. They can also provide extra help, such as requesting an ambulance. The staff can also recommend a number of assistance programs, including:
- Protection Civile Paris (List of French emergency services, in French)
- SOS 112 Europe (EU-wide emergency service number)
- SOS Help (English-speaking listening & counseling line)
Embrace The French Lifestyle
People in France rank 10th among all nations for life expectancy. Thus, for ex-pats looking for a permanent relocation, you couldn’t ask for a healthier spot to enjoy the finer things in life. Make the most of your new home-away-from-home and embrace the French joie de vivre!