France has excellent health care and it is open to all. Care is not rationed out and you are guaranteed care regardless of your ability to pay or pre-existing condition.
If you have to have medical care and don’t speak French, ask the provider who is treating you if they speak English. Many doctors and pharmacists do, although mostly in larger cities.
Traveler’s health insurance
Be sure to check with your provider at home before your trip to ascertain coverage abroad. If necessary, consider purchasing traveler’s health insurance. Note that most travel insurance covers incidents like trip cancellation and lost luggage, not necessarily health care costs. Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travelers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even if at a public hospital.
Write down vital information and keep it in your wallet during your trip. That should include your name, address, address where you’re staying during your trip, emergency contacts, and any important medical conditions or prescription drugs that you’re taking that health care providers might need to be aware of if treating you.
Getting medical help
Call 15 – this is the national emergency number for medical aid. It will get you the SAMU service, with an ambulance (Service d’Aide Médical d’Urgence – or Medical Emergency Aid Service). Be prepared to indicate exactly where you are located, and the circumstances of the incident. If using a pay phone, you don’t need a phone card to dial ambulance. If you can’t find a functioning pay phone, go into a pharmacy and they’ll call emergency services for you.
You can also call 3624 (75 in Paris) for SOS Médecins and they will come to your hotel or apartment 24 hours a day. It is composed of doctors who are on-call, and the price is around €50-70 for the visit. You will have to pay in cash or by check (in euros) at the time of the visit. The doctors are French but when you call, you can ask if they have an English-speaking doctor. It’s not guaranteed, but many French doctors do speak varying degrees of English.
Don’t wait for compassion
Lastly, French medical care providers don’t provide a lot in the way of bedside manner. There’s not a lot of hand-holding so don’t be too concerned if the health care provider isn’t showing a lot of compassion. It can be off-putting for those who aren’t used to it, but it’s a different health care model. Patients are expected to be pro-active, so don’t be shy about asking questions and getting detailed explanation, if necessary.