Carte Vitale: How It Works And How to Apply As An Expat
Whether you’ve just landed in France or you’ve been settled in for a couple months, you may have already had to maneuver France’s healthcare system. And after all those feuilles de soins come in, you may be wondering: can France help me cover any of this?
The answer is yes, and its name is the Carte Vitale.
Keep reading to find out how even the newest expat in France can apply for this nifty French social security blanket.
What is a Carte Vitale?
This little green and yellow card with a microchip allows you access to the French healthcare system. It allows you to be reimbursed for things like doctor or specialist appointments, prescriptions at the pharmacy, or hospital visits.
France requires every resident over the age of 16 to have one.
If you’ve already had an appointment or picked up a prescription of some sort, and if you’re not already covered by outside insurance, you probably had to pay the cost upfront.
Doctor’s appointments in France are very accessible and will charge you as little as 25 Euros: but applying for a Carte Vitale can erase most, if not all, of these costs altogether. It’ll make your life a whole lot easier if you’re a long-term expat, and you’ll start feeling a little more like a French citizen, too.
Do you need a Carte Vitale?
Let’s start from the top: do you even need to apply for this? It all depends on what kind of expat you are, and what kind of health insurance your home country offers while you’re abroad.
Cartes Vitales for European expats in France
If you are a European expat living in France short-term (see: three months or less), you may already be covered by your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
That’s great! This will cover you the same way a Carte Vitale would cover a French citizen.
You are eligible to apply for the Carte Vitale either if:
You’re staying in France longer than three months
You become a French resident.
Cartes Vitales for Non-European expats in France
If you are a long-stay expat from a country outside of the EU, you may be covered for basic costs already, depending on where you’re coming from. The healthcare system in France will allow you to apply for the Carte Vitale, though, if you have been living here for more than three months
After three months you are also eligible for PUMa (Protection Universelle Maladie, i.e Universal Health Protection), which you can apply for first. This is the general umbrella of health insurance within France that has been simplified to cover anyone who becomes a French resident.
France requires you to have been in the country on a “stable and regular basis” during those three months and stay for at least 183 days per year. You will also have to prove that you’re legally allowed to be living in the country. If you wish to apply for PUMa, the application is available on Ameli, France’s health insurance website
Note that you will then have to pay contributions to Urssaf (Union de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et D'Allocations Familiales) or have them taken out of your income tax return for PUMa coverage.
Other Types of Expats/Permanent Residents in France
If you are a permanent resident in France but are unemployed or of pension age, you’ll have to pay a “cotisation” fee to apply for your Carte Vitale. The amount will depend on your financial situation (i.e. income earned), but the average amount is around 8 percent.
Children ages 16 and older can apply for their own card or register themselves on their parent or guardian’s card.
What does the Carte Vitale cover?
While you can use your Carte Vitale to cover some of your appointment costs (such as regular doctor's appointments, scans and prescriptions), it will only cover about 60-70% of them.
Additional private insurance (L’Assurance Complémentaire Santé) can be purchased to cover the rest, or be paid out of pocket.
What do you need to apply for a Carte Vitale?
Get your dossier ready. For your Carte Vitale application, you’ll need:
- Your numéro de sécurité sociale (French social security number)
- Your ID / passport
- Your birth certificate avec filiation (your parents' names on it)
- A copy of your long-stay visa
- Proof you have lived in France for more than three months (i.e., proof of residence or an employment contract / payslips)
- Your RIB (a.k.a your French banking information)
Be aware that you may have to translate some of your official documents into French for them to be accepted. Don’t jump the gun, though: if you need to find a translator after you’ve arrived in France, an official list is available at your local town hall (or mairie).
It’s best to contact your local CPAM (Caisse Primaire D'Assurance Maladie) office, who will be processing your application, and ask them exactly what they need from you and which language will be acceptable.
How do I apply for a Carte Vitale?
Once you have everything together, head over to Ameli, France’s health insurance website. After you make an account, click “My Carte Vitale,” and then “Order My Carte Vitale.” Follow the instructions from there.
If you need any help, Ameli’s telephone number is 0 811 36 36 46. The line is available Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. They have English-speaking agents as well as French ones.
I’ve completed my Carte Vitale application. Now what?
Congrats! You’re that much closer to receiving a little French social security.
You'll receive a temporary insurance number in the mail first. Getting your real card can take between a couple weeks to a couple months, so be patient. You'll also receive an attestation de droits (certificate of rights) with your temporary number. You can show this to your doctor at appointments and it will be treated as if it were your official Carte Vitale number.
The CPAM will then mail you your permanent number and ask for an official photo to add to your card. You can do this on the Ameli website. Once you upload a headshot to the site, you will soon receive your brand new Carte Vitale, specific to you, in the mail.
Keep in mind: your Carte Vitale is not some sort of magical credit card. When you present it to your medical practitioner, it enables you to later receive reimbursement from the Carte Vitale’s insurance fund, instead of having to manually submit those pesky feuilles de soins (the paper receipts your doctor gives you at the end of your visit) to receive the same reimbursement. You should receive your reimbursement in a week’s time.
After you receive your Carte Vitale
It’s best if you register yourself with a French doctor if you’re planning on staying in France long-term. Not doing so puts you at risk of paying higher fees, or being reimbursed at lower rates.
To register, you’ll need the Cerfa form (Déclaration de Choix du Médecin Traitant). Both you and your doctor will need to complete and sign it. The doctor will also need to stamp it to make it official. Once that’s done, send it to your local CPAM office. This ensures that your reimbursements go directly to your bank account, and you can see the end of those feuilles de soins.
And don’t worry: no medical information is stored on the card, so no one will know anything about your appointments except for you and the doctor you’re seeing at the time. You can access your appointment record on the Ameli website, as well as all of your reimbursements. Your card will have your address and French social security number stored on it, though.
There is no expiry date for the card, but you must update your information after a significant life change (i.e., change of address, change of marital status). A good rule of thumb is to check in with your card once a year, to ensure your personal information is all up-to-date.
But there you have it -- enjoy your health insurance freedom with your newfound Carte Vitale!