Hospitals in France: Getting Emergency Care as an Expat
If you need to visit a hospital in France, rest assured that the French boast one of the best healthcare systems in the world. There are about 1,400 hospitals in France, and a few bilingual ones to boot.
Here’s what you need to know when seeking emergency care in France.
How do I find a hospital in France?
A hospital in France is called un hôpital, or centre hospitalier. If you don’t know where your local hospital is, you can dial the European Emergency number 112. You can also just dial 15, which will connect you with the French SAMU (service d'aide médicale urgente, or France’s general emergency service) for ambulance/medical services.
There is no public ambulance service in France, but SAMU can arrange a private ambulance to pick you up if required. The costs will be covered by the social security system.
If you don’t speak French, say so right away or just speak English. The operator will most likely be multilingual and understand you immediately. If not, they’ll transfer you to an English-speaker to continue your call.
Hospitals can be found in bigger French cities and towns by following the signs with their specific acronyms. A regional hospital (centre hospitalier régional) is CHR, a specialist hospital (centre hospitalier spécialisé) is CHS, and a university hospital (centre hospitalier universitaire) is CHU.
You’ll also find signs that just say hôpital with a picture of a red cross beside it. You can search for nearby hospitals in France online at hopital.fr.
Keep in mind that not all hospitals have emergency services, so it’s good to check out which ones closest to you offer this service before you go.
You can also go to a privately-run clinic (cliniques privée) for your emergency services. Some of these are approved by the state and are part of the national health service. They are allowed to set their own fees, so they may be more expensive than a hospital visit. However, they may very well be cheaper, depending on the clinic. It’s advisable to do some research on private clinics in your area to get an idea of the different costs.
Can I find an English-speaking hospital in France?
Strictly English-speaking hospitals in France don’t exist, but most hospital staff will know some basic conversational English. However, it’s best to prepare and brush up on some French medical and health terms anyway in order to accurately describe your symptoms.
International hospitals in France do exist, though. One of the better-known hospitals in Paris specifically is the American Hospital of Paris, in the western Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. It is run by the United States government and follows American medical practices. They offer bilingual doctors and staff. Institutions like this are often privately-run, though, so they may charge more than a typical French hospital.
Another option for English-speakers in Paris is the Hertford British Hospital. It is subsidized by the French government and follows British medical practices.
If you’re in Paris or its suburbs, head over to Assistance Publique –Hôpitaux de Paris. They offer an English version of their website and list all the hospitals and ER services in Paris. You can also make appointments for non-emergency situations.
What happens once I enter a French hospital?
You’ll need to present yourself at reception and explain your emergency. You’ll then need to present your proof of health insurance (carte vitale, private insurance, or otherwise) and may also be asked for ID.
In public hospitals, you’ll have the choice of a public or private consultation. A public one is cheaper, but it only lasts around 10 minutes and there is typically a long waiting list. A private consultation will be more expensive, but you’ll receive an appointment much faster and you will be allowed more time with the doctor.
Wait times depend on how busy the hospital is and the urgency of your emergency. A nurse should verify the extent of your emergency before you wait. They will check your vitals and give you any basic care if necessary.
How will I be charged for my hospital visit?
If you showed your carte vitale as soon as you arrived at the hospital, you’re covered under the French social security system. You also may be asked to show a document (attestation) that confirms you are entitled to healthcare in France.
If you don’t have either of these, you can show your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you’re an EU citizen, your CMU-Complémentaire (CMU-C) for those with low income, or proof of private health insurance. If you don’t have any insurance, you will still be admitted and treated for your condition. However, you will be expected to pay for all of it.
Remember that the way the social security system works in France is through reimbursement. If you are covered by France’s social security system, you will only have to pay a small portion of the costs, which are basically just the room and board costs of your hospital stay. If you have additional insurance on top of your social security, that will cover these costs.
Once you are discharged from the hospital, you will receive a feuille de soins, which outlines the costs and procedures done during your stay. You will have to pay this upfront, but will be reimbursed later.
How do I find the best hospitals in France?
Several websites list the best hospitals in France each year. The Ranking Web of World Hospitals is one of them; they compare hospitals within France, and also show their ranking compared to the rest of the world.
Le Point, a weekly political newspaper, is another good resource to check out as they too create a yearly list of the best French hospitals.
Emergency numbers in France
For general emergencies, call the European Emergency number 112. In France, there are three major SAMU numbers you can call for specific emergencies.
- For medical emergencies, dial 15
- For the police, dial 17
- For the fire brigade, dial 18
The French often call the fire brigade for the majority of their emergencies. This is because lespompiers are so well-trained that calling them for help is practically the same as calling the general SAMU responders.
For reference, lespompiers can be called for situations such as road accidents or heart attacks, in addition to fire emergencies.