France is the world’s top destination for tourists as well as a major destination for foreign students, workers, and expatriates from all over the world. An unfortunate but significant number of these visitors may get sick at some point in their stay.
As any long-term resident of France will tell you, the French have an excellent and affordable healthcare system that even extends many of its benefits to visitors as well. However, they do things quite differently compared to most Anglophone nations. Here’s what you should do in case you find yourself ill during a trip to France.
Know where to get help
Assuming you have a limited grasp of French, here are a few options you can try, depending on your confidence in communicating in French, as well as your level of access.
1.) Your Embassy – Your embassy will typically have a list of doctors and other medical professionals who you could contact for this situation. Assuming your embassy did their job properly, these contacts may be able to communicate with you in a language you know.
2.) Your hotel concierge/host – If you’re staying in a hotel, the concierge should have access to a list of doctors. Depending on how fancy or detail-oriented the hotel is, they may even know a doctor who can speak your language.
If you’re not staying in a hotel, your host or landlord should be able to help you out in some way,
3.) Tourism offices/Police stations – if you spot a tourism office, you should give them a try, as they will typically also have a list of doctors on hand. Police stations should also be able to help, but you wouldn’t want to try that unless you’re seriously ill or have an accident.
4.) The “Pages Jaunes” – French people consult their own version of the Yellow Pages for medical emergencies, as many doctors advertise here. Check out the Pages Jaunes and type in “Médecin” (doctor) in the “Quo, qui?” field, and your city in the second field. Check off the box that says “à proximité” to search for doctors nearest to you. The next page should prompt you to choose what type of doctor you need. Choose “medecins generalistes” for a general practitioner or pick a relevant specialist here.
Go to a “Pharmacie” for less serious cases
In contrast to most Anglophone countries, the French typically have Pharmacies almost everywhere. And they’re not exactly like the pharmacies that you’re used to. Pharmacists in France do all the things that pharmacists (chemists, if you’re British) in other countries do. However, they have the qualifications to diagnose medical conditions as well as give out medical advice. The way the healthcare system in France is structured makes the ubiquitous Pharmacie the first stop for all sorts of ailments, ranging from the common cold to food poisoning.
Use Google Translate if necessary
Google translate may not be perfect, but if you’re an English speaker, it’s actually pretty good when translating symptoms and such into French. You will want a doctor who can actually understand English or better yet, your own language, but if nothing else, Google translate will do.
Know how much you might have to pay
Fortunately, healthcare in France is not as expensive as it is in many other developed countries. If you have the “La Carte Vitale” – the French National Insurance card, you may be charged very little, or even nothing. However, even without a card, going to a doctor will cost you the equivalent of €23- €60, which is dirt cheap if you’re going by American standards.
In addition to La Carte Vitale, the French healthcare system also accepts a wide range of 3rd party insurance services, from local “une mutuelle” to international health insurance providers such as from Now Health International. Even with the low cost of medical care in France, having international insurance is still advised for travelers in any case, as even with the low-cost healthcare, being ill could still leave a huge dent in your bank account.
We hope you don’t actually end up being sick in a foreign country, as the experience can be harrowing and confusing, regardless of how well-developed their healthcare system is. That said, we hope this short guide could be of some help, should the worst happen on your trip to France.