French Healthcare for Retired Expats
As a UK citizen, you will be used to the provision of the National Health Service. The NHS is free at the point of use and is available to everyone, regardless of status.
The NHS, while it is often criticised for the long waiting lists and top-heavy management, when you no longer have it at your disposal, you will appreciate the wonderful service it provides.
The French healthcare system is widely considered to be far more efficient than its UK counterpart, with far shorter waiting times, a great understanding of complementary medicine and a respect for the holistic approach to healthcare. French doctors are often qualified in other areas of medicine and will happily advise you to have acupuncture or reflexology.
The key difference is the accessibility. French healthcare is not free at the point of use, but rather paid for by a series of expensive and convoluted social charges. Whereas in the UK simply being resident in the country means you are allowed to use the NHS, in France you need to gain official documentation by paying certain taxes to prove that you are entitled to use the system.
Recent ChangesIn recent years, British expats who had retired in France would be provided with healthcare in France after obtaining a certificate from the British government at the department for work and pensions. While this is still the case for people who retired to France before 23 November 2007, for those that moved after this date, it is suggested that you get official advice.
There are a vast number of websites and forums dedicated to this information, but please be aware that the position of the French government has, at the time of writing, yet to be confirmed clearly.
The French health service has undergone a number of changes recently that affect expats more than any other group, with the previous availability of healthcare in France greatly reduced. It is believed that this is because the French government felt that too many expats were using the resources of the health service without contributing to the cost. As many expats retired early, this was certainly the case.
The 'Carte Vitale'Once you have established what certificate and allowances you are entitled to and are officially enrolled in the French healthcare system, you will find that the service you receive is excellent. You will be sent a 'carte vitale' - a green, credit card type card, with your details and a microchip. Guard it with your life, as they can prove impossible to replace.
Although you will need to pay for your visit to the doctor upfront (currently €22, a set charge) and for prescriptions, a large percentage of this (usually between 50 - 80%) will be refunded. You will present your 'carte vitale' to the doctor or pharmacist and, depending on whether your card is the modern version with a microchip, be charged the difference, or the whole amount.
Should you need to attend hospital, your 'carte vitale' will be presented to the receptionist to show you are entitled and charged accordingly. You will find that the hospitals are bright, clean and efficient, with little or no waiting and a friendly, courteous service.