Home Healthcare Healthcare Services Doctors in France: appointments, prescriptions, and more
Last update on December 07, 2021
Written by Alesa Gawlik

Nervous about going to the doctor in France? Find out where to find one, what to expect, and how to prepare for your first appointment.

It may not be the most fun part of expat life in France, but learning to navigate the French healthcare system is an important part of your new life. Thankfully, France’s universal healthcare system is among the best and most affordable in the world. Although the terminology and paperwork involved can be a bit confusing, the rest is relatively straightforward.

However, even for the most seasoned expat, it can be a steep learning curve. Indeed, there’s a lot to figure out, from dentists to hospitals and everything in between. But, if you’re in need of a doctor in France, this article has information on the following:

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COVID-19 in France

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations.


Doctors in France

As of January 2021, there are 214,200 doctors in France below the age of 70 according to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques. This includes 94,538 general practitioners and 119,686 specialists, not counting oral surgeons.

carte vitale with insurance paperwork and money

Like in many countries, more and more doctors in France are specializing, with fewer and fewer going into general medicine. This has made it more difficult in some areas to find a family doctor.

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 access doctors in France?

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 a significant portion 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 expat-friendly health insurance.

When you become a resident, you will apply for your carte vitale, the French health insurance card, and will use this card 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.

Like most things these days, finding a doctor in France usually begins online. Some of the most popular directories are Doctolib (in French), Keldoc (in French), RDV Médicaux (in French), and the government’s healthcare portal, Ameli (in French).

Doctolib website on computer screen

These sites list a doctor’s name, specialty, address, phone number, whether they accept the carte vitale, and the type of 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 in-person or look on a local Facebook group for suggestions.

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), meaning more who accept new patients.

Elsewhere in France, it can be much more difficult to find a doctor taking on new patients.

Finding English-speaking doctors in France

Both Doctolib (in French) and Maiia (in French) offer the option to search their directories by language spoken. The Australian Embassy has also published a helpful list of English-speaking doctors in France.

Nothing beats a personal recommendation though. There are several Facebook groups for expats in France like Americans in France or Expatriates in Paris and Suburbs where people are happy to share their suggestions.

Registering with a doctor in France

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 GPs are full. So, don’t get discouraged if it takes you a few calls to find a doctor.

Using an online doctor in France

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 appointment in France

Many doctors in France now offer online appointment scheduling through the most popular healthcare platform, Doctolib (in French). 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.

medical center in france

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. Like nearly everyone else in the country, 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 Christmas.

What to expect when visiting a doctor in France

Before going to your doctor’s appointment, make sure to grab your carte vitale (or photo ID if you don’t have one) as well as your checkbook or cash. Many doctors in France don’t take credit or debit cards for payment. Their online profiles, such as those on Doctolib, usually advertise the forms of payment they accept.

Doctor’s offices in France are typically very small, often converted one- or two-room apartments. More often than not, there’s no receptionist and you’ll simply let yourself in and take a seat in the waiting room. Whenever they’re ready, the doctor will come out to get you. Plan on waiting 15-20 minutes to be seen.

Once the doctor calls you in, you’ll go into their office and sit down 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.

male doctor giving female patient a check up

The physician will typically say “Je vous écoute” (I’m listening) or ask “Qu’est-ce qui vous amène?” (What brings you in?). Now, you’ll need to explain the reason for your visit in detail. Doctors in France don’t ask many questions, so be sure to bring up anything you want them to know or check.

If you require a physical examination, be aware that the doctor typically won’t leave the room if you need to undress. You won’t be offered a gown either. After the exam, you’ll get dressed and sit back down at the doctor’s desk. They’ll then update your chart and write prescriptions for any medications, medical tests, or referrals to specialists. Keep in mind 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 visiting a doctor’s office

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 between €35 and €85 depending on the time of day (with late night and early morning being the most expensive), most of which is reimbursed with a carte vitale.

Phone and online consultations have also become widely available since the beginning of 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.

Medical specialists in France

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 GP. In fact, the state only covers 30% of the cost for a consultation with a specialist if you aren’t referred by your GP.

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 stomatologists 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 a consultation with your GP is necessary before seeing a specialist, visit the French state healthcare website (in French).

Finding a specialist in France

Medical specialists in France can be found in the same way as general practitioners. The websites Doctolib (in French), Keldoc (in French), RDV Médicaux (in French), Maiia (in French), and the French government’s healthcare portal, Ameli (in French) all offer the option to search their directories by specialty.

Doctolib and Maiia also let you search by language to help you find an English-speaking specialist in France.

Cost of doctors and specialists in France

The cost of seeing a doctor in France depends on whether the physician is registered as a Secteur 1, Secteur 2, or non-convetionné medical professional:

  • Secteur 1 doctors in France 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 have been referred by your GP.
  • Secteur 2 doctors in France can charge fees that are higher than the government-set rates, but only within 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 in France can charge as much as they like. Care from these doctors is only reimbursed by the state at a rate of €0.61 for GPs and €1.22 for specialists.

These categories apply to both general practitioners and specialists.

Carte vitale, French health insurance form, euro notes and change

Secteur 1 GPs 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.

See the French government’s website for more details on the cost of doctors in France.

Health insurance in France

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. Psychology is not covered.

Mutuelles (private health insurance companies) offer complementary insurance to cover medical costs not reimbursed by the state.

Some of the largest French health insurance companies include:

Learn more about health insurance in France.

Private doctors and specialists in France

The closest thing to private doctors in France are doctors operating as non-conventionné. These practitioners don’t adhere to the rates set by social security and charge as they wish for their services. The state reimburses a maximum of €1.22 of the cost to see one of these doctors or specialists.

Although the concept of a separate, private healthcare network doesn’t exist, there are two different types of hospitals in France: privately run cliniques privées and public hôpitaux.

Doctor prescriptions in France

Doctors in France don’t hesitate to prescribe medications. A prescription often includes over-the-counter medications and items like bandages or nasal sprays so they can be covered by your insurance.

A pharmacy in France

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 (sold under the name Doliprane), are available without a prescription in France. You do have to go to a pharmacy to get them, however, as supermarkets in France don’t sell any medications.

Medical tests in France

Doctors write prescriptions 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.

Biomedical laboratory in France.

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 (a follow-up appointment) with your doctor.

Emergency doctors in France

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 (in French) 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 SMS

Making a complaint about doctors or specialists in France

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 phrases

  • 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

Useful resources