If you are planning your move to France or have just arrived, you’ll be aware that getting settled in and getting yourself into the system involves a significant amount of paperwork. This may be something you want to tackle yourself. Or, Let the experts help you navigate the complex healthcare system in France. When it comes to applying for a Carte Vitale in France, here’s the low down and why getting help can be a godsend.
Getting your paperwork in order
If you speak good French and are either already very familiar with the administrative context in France, or willing to educate yourself about it, this is entirely possible to do. Even in this situation though, you’ll need a lot of patience and you will need to allow plenty of time for answering follow-up queries from the authorities. You will also need to be prepared to supply additional documentation to support your application.
What is a carte vitale?
One of the most important things to do when you arrive in France is to obtain your Carte Vitale. This little green and yellow card has your social security number on it and will be presented to every health care professional you interact with, from routine GP visits to Accident and Emergency admissions and even at the local pharmacy when picking up prescriptions. Every consultant or specialist will ask to see your carte vitale and it will need to be presented for routine health screening programmes and vaccinations, as well as if you are admitted to hospital for a routine or an emergency procedure.
Am I eligible for a carte vitale?
If you are a resident or plan on becoming one, there are three main ways of accessing the healthcare system and proving your eligibility for care once you are in France. If you are retired and have made all necessary National Insurance contributions in the UK, you can apply for an S1. This also applies in certain specific instances if you’re a posted or frontier worker – living in France but working for certain UK-based employers. The S1 document effectively proves to French officials that your contributions are, or were if you are retired, made fully in the UK.
Since Brexit, these contributions are now exported to France if you move (and can’t then be transferred back to the UK). If you work in France, either running your own business or working for a French or foreign-based employer, you or your employer will pay French social charges, effectively giving you eligibility for access to health and social care in France.
Equally, if you get a refusal for an S1 you would also have rights!
How do I get a carte vitale?
In either case, to obtain this card – and your social security number – you will need to contact your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) in order to process your application. In theory the process of applying is straightforward. In practice, even if you speak a high level of French, it can be complicated and confusing and there will be times it feels as though you’re going round in circles and submitting the same paperwork multiple times. You will be asked for documents to prove your identity, but also documents to prove your right to be in the system. They may not understand your particular situation and try to always
class you as a potential S1 and think you’re not providing them with it.
The cost of care
Until you are in the system, you will be expected to pay for almost every element of your care, from GP visits right up to hospital stays. If you have private medical insurance from your country of origin (usually a condition of obtaining a visa), much of these costs will be covered. In theory, you should also be able to have some health-care fees back-dated to the point at which your application is acknowledged by CPAM, or to the date of your S1. In either case, you will need to retain the feuilles de soins (paperwork issued every time you interact with the system if you don’t present a carte vitale) and any accompanying prescriptions and other paperwork to submit to your insurers for a refund, or to CPAM once you have a social security number.
Once you have your carte vitale, you may want to organise top-up health insurance, known as complémentaire santé, or as a mutuelle. This is very different from the UK and American systems, in that it doesn’t affect the quality or speed of the care you receive at all, it will just cover some, or all, of the costs that CPAM doesn’t, depending on the policy you choose. English-speaking agents aren’t hard to find, but it’s likely you will pay a premium for their service.
Nicola Hughes* runs her own business and moved to France in 2018. She has experience of applying to CPAM for herself, her husband and her young children. (Children under 18 are affiliated to an adult’s account, but from the age of 16 they are eligible for their own card and social security number). She says, “my school-level French just wasn’t up to the challenges of the process really. It was complicated and often involved face to face visits as I just couldn’t navigate automated phone systems and. Even when I got through to someone, I found it hard to make myself understood over the phone.
“It felt endless and it was very lucky that none of us had a health emergency – or even much routine care – while we were waiting as we had to pay for everything ourselves at that point. My daughter was later fitted with a brace and my son needed glasses, all of which would have been really expensive if it had happened before we were in the system. I think doing it all myself probably took at least twice as long.”
A helping hand
If you’re not completely fluent in French, don’t have time to deal with all the administration, or this all sounds a little overwhelming, you may prefer to contact an expert to guide you through the process and to deal with a lot of the paperwork on your behalf. Please Help is a company that specialises in helping English-speaking citizens from across the world to settle in Europe. If you are moving to France, they can take you through the process from start – the visa process, to finish – registering your car, getting your carte vitale, setting you up in the tax system. They help with every aspect of French administration.
Please Help Services
Please Help offer a range of services, from assisting students; retirees and posted workers to relocate, to holding your hand through every step of the house buying process. One of the company’s most popular packages is the Living Silver pack (non-working residents), the Gold pack is for those who are working, self-employed, etc. Designed to help with day-to-day admin when you relocate to France, it includes helping you to obtain your carte vitale. Their current record from application to receipt of card is three weeks. They can also help you organise top up insurance that suits your specific needs. Please Help will mediate between you and the authorities. They will even attend meetings with you or join in phone calls if necessary, and they will deal with translations requirements as required. Their help ensures the whole process goes as smoothly and speedily as possible.
Find out more
If you would like assistance to help you get into the French healthcare system, or with any other aspect of your move to France, visit pleasehelp.eu to find out about the services that are offered to make your move to France the best it can be.