The old French proverb “Qui n’a santé n’a rien” is similar to the saying “the greatest wealth is health.” As we know, however, access to high quality healthcare varies greatly from country to country. So, it’s not surprising that healthcare is one of the top concerns of foreigners choosing to move abroad.
What do foreigners living in France think about the Best Healthcare System in the World, as ranked by the World Health Organization? We asked several to name the top pros and cons of the French system, based on their own personal experience.
Overall the reaction to our poll was overwhelmingly positive with adjectives like “brilliant”, “fabulous” and “meticulous”. Here’s what else they had to say:
|Speed – Easy to get an appointment, prompt, no waiting||Communication could be better|
|Price – a visit to the generalist is €23!||Over prescription of medication|
|Readily available alternative options like homeopathic medicine||Poor bedside manner/ rudeness|
|Thorough investigatory work||Medical deserts|
French Public Healthcare is recognized for its high quality, speed and affordability. As every resident is required to have medical coverage, expats have the choice of either purchasing private insurance or paying into the public health system. But the care is the same quality for everyone.
Equal access to healthcare is the mission of any public system, which means that scans and diagnostic exams are not reserved just for the wealthy and well-insured. The expats we spoke to were unanimous in their view of how careful and complete medical diagnoses are in France.
“The French system should act as a model for the world,” insisted Ira who is originally from the United States, “Doctors here have come up with solutions to nagging problems that puzzled American GPs. And my one hospital stay was most satisfactory. Yes, some doctors over prescribe, but so do some in the States.”
Karen, who is from Devon, England and has lived in France with her family since 2006 agrees “In our opinion, the French healthcare system has been one of the best in the world. Since being in France we’ve unfortunately had 6 operations between the three of us. My husband had cancer a couple of years ago and the Oncopole encouraged alternative therapies and even told him the taxi drivers (bringing patients home from the hospital) often go straight to a rebouteuse (a healer) after radiotherapy. A lot of doctors practice homeopathy, which is fantastic. I would agree though about the sacks full of medicine given out are such a waste.” And the very good news is that Karen’s husband has been given the all clear!
Eva, a Brit who has lived in the Languedoc for over 20 years told us that being in France saved her husband’s life. “My own experience 5 years ago was second to none! We were in the UK visiting when he started to feel ill (it turned out to be stage 4 kidney failure and stage 5 is dialysis). We couldn’t get a GP to come to the house but eventually got one on the phone who said ‘take an aspirin and rest’. We also went to casualty (ER), but gave up after 7 hours waiting as he was in extreme pain. A few days later we flew home and Tim could not walk, he was admitted to hospital within an hour of arrival in France!”
This is not to guarantee that access to specialized doctors and clinics is uniform across the country. The phenomenon of “deserts médicaux” can be a daunting circumstance for immigrants and locals alike. These are rural areas literally deserted by medical professionals and facilities.
The number of doctors in France has never been so high, with an average of 3.6 for 1000 inhabitants, so the idea of “medical deserts” is considered to be both fact and fiction.* Most authorities agree, however, that the “family doctor” will eventually disappear, especially with the number of baby boomers now retiring. Projects are underway to improve access by developing public transportation and business, cultural and recreational offerings in the areas, incentivizing physicians to set up their practices there.
The French system is also infamous for being complicated, as with most aspects of French bureaucracy. Applying for the coveted Carte Vitale can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially if you’re navigating the waters on your own and don’t speak fluent French. Despite this, the positive aspects of Assurance Maladie seem to greatly outweigh the negative ones.
We at Renestance pride ourselves on staying up to date on healthcare reforms, administrative procedures and all matters concerning the Assurance Maladie system. We share all the pertinent information (and hopefully make it understandable) so you can benefit from the high quality healthcare available here. If you’re interested in learning more about the French public healthcare system, or applying for coverage, stay tuned for our French Healthcare e-books, coming out soon!
*Les déserts médicaux, mythe ou réalité, Les Echos, March 2017
Jennifer was Renestance's Activity & Excursions Coordinator between 2015 and 2020, a bilingual American from Vermont who's been loving her life in France since 1998. She was passionate about sharing her knowledge and allowing you to discover all of the scenic, cultural and culinary wealth of the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
All articles by: Jennifer Rowell-Gastard
Andrew Parkeron 2018-06-05 at 18:15
I’m a Franco-American living in Antibes. I spent most of my professional life running social service agencies in the States. The big difference between France and the USA is that France considers healthcare a right, whereas the USA considers it a commodity, and the difference shows in top-notch treament for everybody in France regardless of ability to pay. Very civilised.
Thanks for the comment, Andrew. That’s a very interesting perspective. Our experience has certainly been that in France they treat the patient first and inquire about payment after, which is the opposite of how it’s done in the USA.
GeAnita E Smithon 2019-09-04 at 18:15
I am single mom with an autistic and seizure 17 year old that will be 18 on our arrival to France and of course we need to have a physicial almost on arrival I am also a Veteran and I am looking into military bases in France what could you share on that subject?