Nervous about finding a new doctor in France? Learn where to look, what to expect, and how to prepare for your first appointment.
While it may not be the most fun part of getting settled, navigating the French healthcare system is essential to your new life in France. Thankfully, the country’s universal healthcare system is among the world’s highest quality and most affordable.
However, the paperwork and terminology can be intimidating, even for the most seasoned expat. There’s much to figure out, from dentists to hospitals and emergency rooms. If you need a doctor in France, this article has information on the following:
- Doctors in France
- Who can see a French doctor?
- Finding a doctor in France
- Registering with a French doctor
- Making a doctor’s appointment in France
- French medical specialists
- How much is a doctor visit in France?
- French health insurance
- Getting prescriptions in France
- Medical tests in France
- French emergency doctors
- Making a complaint about doctors or specialists
- Useful French medical vocabulary
- Useful resources
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Doctors in France
There were 214,200 practicing doctors in France in 2021 according to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (in French). This number includes 94,538 general practitioners and 119,686 specialists.
Like in many countries, more doctors are specializing, with fewer going into general medicine. This has made it more difficult to find a family doctor in some areas of the country.
Traditionally, most doctors in France run their own small practices alone or with one or two other doctors. However, centres médicaux where multiple doctors are on staff are becoming more common.
Who can see a French doctor?
Both residents and non-residents can see a doctor in France, with the only difference being out-of-pocket costs. A routine consultation costs between €25 and €55, depending on the specialty of the doctor and treatment. The state covers 70% of this cost for French residents, but not for tourists or visitors.
Therefore, if you’re only staying a short while, you may wish to sort out extra coverage. Depending on the length of your stay and your type of visa, the best option may be a global health insurance company.
When you become a French resident, you will apply for your carte vitale (health insurance card) and use it for all your medical services in the future. Short-term tourists will need to take their passports as a form of ID.
Finding a doctor in France
Everyone in France is free to choose their own doctor, regardless of where they practice.
Like most things these days, finding a doctor in France usually begins online, either by website or mobile app. Some of the most popular directories include:
These directories list a doctor’s name, specialty, address, phone number, whether they accept the carte vitale, and the rates they charge. However, these sites do not include reviews from other patients. For those, your best bet is a Google search or speaking to other expats either in person or on a local social media community.
Around Paris and in the South of France, for example, the search for a physician is easier thanks to a greater density of médecins généralistes (general practitioners). If you live there, you’re more likely to find a doctor currently accepting new patients.
Finding English-speaking doctors
If you prefer a personal recommendation, there are several Facebook groups for expats living in the country, like Americans in France or Expatriates in Paris and Suburbs, where people often give suggestions.
Registering with a French doctor
You aren’t required to register with a doctor in France, but it does come with significant financial benefits.
If you declare a doctor as your médecin traitant (primary care physician) and use them to coordinate your care, you’ll be reimbursed at a much higher rate for your medical costs (70% for most consultations). If you don’t declare a doctor as your médecin traitant, you will only be reimbursed a maximum of 30% with your carte vitale.
Finding a médecin traitant
It’s easy to register a doctor as your primary care physician in France. During your appointment, you can simply ask the doctor to be your médecin traitant. If they accept, they’ll submit the necessary information to your Caisse primaire d’assurance maladie (CPAM) online for you or give you a form to fill out and mail into your CPAM. You’ll need your social security number (or your carte vitale) to register.
A doctor does not have to accept your request to be your médecin traitant. Their online profile will generally state if they’re taking on new patients. If they have no online presence and you’re calling to book an appointment over the phone, you’ll be asked whether you’ve seen the doctor before and they’ll let you know if they aren’t taking on new patients.
Family members can share the same primary care physician or have their own doctors, but each person must register with a primary care physician individually. There’s no way to register the whole family as a unit.
Depending on where you live, you may have to call around to find a doctor who is taking on new patients. This usually isn’t a problem in Paris, but in other cities and in more rural areas, a shortage of médecins généralistes (general practitioners) means that a lot of practices are full. So, don’t get discouraged if it takes you a few calls to find a doctor.
Seeing an online doctor
As an alternative to the traditional method of finding your local doctor’s practice, you can also register with an online doctor in France. These online platforms let you speak to a fully-accredited medical professional through video consultations. However, be aware that the healthcare worker may not be able to communicate with you in your native language. Depending on the platform, these online doctors also offer a number of other services, such as prescription delivery and 24/7 access to doctors. Online doctors in France include:
Making a doctor’s appointment in France
Many doctors in France now offer online appointment scheduling through the most popular healthcare platform, Doctolib. It’s easy to create an account and make an appointment, but you do need a French phone number.
Online booking is very common in bigger cities, but in smaller towns, you’ll need to pick up the phone and call around to get in to see a doctor.
Wait time to see a doctor
In larger cities and more populous areas, where there’s a higher density of doctors, you should be able to get an appointment with a general practitioner within the week. In other regions of France, plan on a two-week wait or more.
Don’t forget to factor French holidays into the equation. As is a common practice in France, many doctors in France take vacation the entire month of July or August. They also usually take a week or two off in November and two weeks around the winter holidays.
What to expect during your appointment
Before going to your doctor’s appointment, make sure to grab your carte vitale (or photo ID if you don’t have one) and your checkbook or cash. Many doctors in France don’t take credit or debit cards for payment. Their online profiles usually advertise the forms of payment they accept.
Doctor’s offices in France are typically tiny, often converted one- or two-room apartments. More often than not, there’s no receptionist, and you’ll let yourself in and sit in the waiting room. Usually after 15–20 minutes, the doctor will come out to get you.
Once the doctor calls you in, you’ll go into their office and sit at their desk to begin the consultation. The doctor will first ask for your carte vitale, which they insert into a card reader connected to their computer to access your medical records.
If you require a physical examination, be aware that the doctor won’t leave the room if you need to undress. They may not offer you a gown either. After the exam, you’ll get dressed and sit at the doctor’s desk. They’ll then update your chart and write prescriptions for medications, medical tests, or referrals to specialists. Remember that you may need to push a little if you’d like a referral to see a specialist.
Lastly, it’s time to pay. The doctor will ask if you have a mutuelle (a private, complementary health insurance plan) and then tell you how much you owe.
Alternatives to office visits
Need non-urgent medical care but can’t get to a doctor’s office? Many doctors in France do make house calls. House calls cost €35–85, depending on the time of day (with late night and early morning being the most expensive), and are mostly covered through the carte vitale.
Phone and online consultations have also become widely available since the COVID-19 pandemic. With your local doctor, these typically cost the same as a standard in-office consultation. Specialized online practices may charge additional fees.
French medical specialists
While it is possible to make an appointment directly with a specialist without going through your médecin traitant, the French social security won’t reimburse you as much as if you had a referral from your primary doctor. The state only covers 30% of the cost for a consultation with a specialist if your primary doctor doesn’t refer you.
With a referral to visit a specialist from your médecin traitant, your visit to the specialist is covered to a greater extent (if not fully) by the state and/or your mutuelle.
Gynecologists, ophthalmologists, and dentists are an exception, and are reimbursed at 70% without a referral. Patients under 26 also don’t need to go through their primary care physician to see a psychiatrist or neuropsychiatrist in France. For more details on reimbursements and whether you need a consultation in order to see a specialist, visit the French state healthcare website.
Finding a specialist
You can find medical specialists the same way as general practitioners, using the same websites:
How much is a doctor visit in France?
How much it costs to see a doctor in France depends on whether they are a secteur 1, secteur 2, or non-convetionné medical professional:
- Secteur 1 doctors charge the fixed rates set by social security. Care from these doctors is reimbursed at 70%, if they are your primary care physician or you were referred.
- Secteur 2 doctors can charge higher fees than the government-set rates, but only with reason. Care is reimbursed based on the rate of Secteur 1 doctors, so any difference means a higher out-of-pocket cost to the patient.
- Non-conventionné doctors can charge as much as they like. Care from these doctors is only reimbursed by the state at a rate of €0.61 for general doctors and €1.22 for specialists.
These categories apply to both general practitioners and specialists.
Secteur 1 general practitioners charge €25 for a standard consultation. Secteur 1 specialists charge €35 maximum or €55 for psychiatrists and neurologists and €60 maximum for cardiologists.
For example, if you visit your médecin traitant who is secteur 1, French social security will reimburse you €16.50 after your appointment. That means you pay a total of €8.50 for your consultation. Social security also covers 70% of the cost to see a specialist if your primary care physician refers you.
French health insurance
France’s universal public healthcare program, Protection Maladie Universelle (PUMa), means that nearly anyone residing in France for more than three months can register for health insurance through the state. Foreign students are an exception. Most students need to pay for the sécurité sociale étudiante (student social security) to cover their medical expenses in France.
In France, the state covers 70% of the cost to visit a doctor or specialist for individuals registered with and referred by a médecin traitant. This includes annual visits to the dentist and ophthalmologist. Psychologists can be covered if you go through the set procedure, starting with a referral from your primary doctor.
Mutuelles (private health insurance companies) offer complementary insurance to cover medical costs not reimbursed by the state.
Some of the largest health insurance companies covering residents in France include:
Getting prescriptions in France
Doctors in France don’t hesitate to prescribe medications. A prescription may also include recommendations for over-the-counter medication and items like bandages or nasal sprays so they can be covered by your insurance.
You can fill your prescriptions at any pharmacie (pharmacy) in France. Even if your French doctor writes you a prescription for several months of treatment, the pharmacist often only gives you a single month’s supply at a time. The pharmacist makes a note on your prescription and you then return to get your medications for the next month. Don’t hesitate to ask for more at once though if you’re going on vacation or will be out of town.
Common pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are available without a prescription in France. You do have to go to a pharmacy to get them, however, since supermarkets in France don’t sell medication.
Medical tests in France
Doctors write referrals for any medical tests they deem necessary. This can include anything from blood and urine tests to ultrasounds and x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. General practitioners in France don’t typically perform any tests in their offices.
It’s then up to you to find a laboratoire de biologie médicale (medical biology laboratory) or centre d’imagerie médicale (medical imaging center) and schedule an appointment for your tests.
When possible, the testing center will give you your results at the end of your appointment. Otherwise, they’ll call to let you know when you can come to pick them up. Once you have your results, you’ll schedule a consultation de suivi (follow-up appointment) with your doctor.
French emergency doctors
Most doctors in France only see patients Monday through Friday, 08:00–20:00. For non-emergency medical care outside of these hours or on a holiday, you can contact an out-of-hours doctor, a médecin de garde, by dialing 116 117.
The service SOS Médecins also offers 24/7 access to house calls, in-clinic consultations, and telemedicine appointments.
In the event of a medical emergency, you should call:
- 15 – emergency medical services
- 112 – European emergency number
- 114 – emergency number for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, available by text message
Making a complaint about doctors or specialists
Anyone can make a complaint about a doctor in France. To make an official complaint, send a certified letter with return receipt requested to the Conseil départemental de l’ordre des médecins (CDOM). The letter should explain the issues and list the specific articles of the ethics code that were violated.
The CDOM must then hold an arbitration meeting within one month of receiving the official complaint. For more information on the processes, visit the Cleiss website.
Useful French medical vocabulary
- le cabinet médical – doctor’s office
- un rendez-vous – an appointment
- la douleur – pain
- un rhume – a cold
- mal à la tête – headache
- mal à la gorge – sore throat
- mal au ventre – stomach ache
- la fièvre – fever
- la toux – cough
- une ordonnance – a prescription
- le vaccin – vaccine
- une radio (graphie) – an x-ray
- Ameli – French state website with details on healthcare costs, reimbursements, and directory of doctors
- Health insurance for foreigners in France – automated translation of French public services site, explaining your rights and terms
- Center of European and International Social Security Liasons (Cleiss) – a breakdown of the French healthcare system in English