France Offers the Best Healthcare on Earth

Despite their meat-and-cream-rich diet augmented by alcohol and cigarettes, the French have been living much longer lives in recent years. Life expectancy now averages 85 years for women and 78.9 for men. In the past 10 years the number of people living over the age of 100 has doubled, with 24,214 people reaching the three-digit mark.

The low cost of health insurance and the superb quality of care means that France consistently receives high scores in the healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index. And the World Health Organization shares our view.

For those who are paying into the French Social Security System, healthcare is a lot cheaper than taking out private healthcare plans. Costs vary depending on your income, household, and a number of other factors. It’s roughly 8% of your net income above a minimum threshold set by the state and is currently €9,654 ($10,662). Under the state system, you’re covered for 70% of the state-set rates for doctor’s visits and 80% of set rates for hospital visits. Most people then have private insurance (called a mutuelle) to cover any shortfall.

Who is eligible for the French national health system?

France has a universal system of healthcare, called the Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA). This system grants an automatic and continuous right to healthcare for those who legally reside in France in a “stable and regular” manner. This means if you’ve lived in France for three consecutive months and are a permanent legal resident (i.e. you reside in France at least 183 days per year), you’re eligible to apply for public healthcare coverage.

You are eligible to join the system right away if you are legally employed in France and pay into the French social security system.

Because having medical insurance is a mandatory requisite of living legally in France, you must have private insurance if you’re not eligible for the French system. Fortunately, reasonably priced medical plans for expats are available. For example, take a look at Association of American Residents Overseas to assess their varied comprehensive plans. There are also a number of British companies that specialize in providing healthcare for expats.


The cost of a doctor’s visit in France depends on whether you elect to see a médecin non conventionné—that is, a private doctor—or a médecin conventionné—a doctor who works within the French Social Security system. Accordingly, fees can range between $30 to $100 per visit. Note that in France, you can arrange for a doctor to make a house call through a private service called SOS médecins. These visits usually cost a reasonable $50 to $80, depending on the time or day of the week. In France, you pay the doctor in his office as soon as your visit is finished, rather than when he sends you a bill.

If you’re visiting the country and fall ill, you can ask for a doctor recommendation at the tourist office, a pharmacy, or at your hotel. Most professionals speak English. If all else fails, there’s always the embassy or consulate. Unless you’re really off the beaten track, the U.S. and Canadian embassies can provide you with contact numbers for English-speaking doctors in any particular area.

Hospital Treatment

The conditions for reimbursement for medical expenses vary from hospital to hospital. Unless it’s an emergency, you should check the reimbursement conditions before you are signed in for hospital treatment. For instance, your healthcare insurance policy may only cover you for treatment in a public hospital, not in a private clinic.

The French social security system covers treatment in public hospitals and clinics with conventionné status. You’ll be reimbursed 80% for treatment the first month and 100% thereafter. All surgical expenses are reimbursed 100% and certain major illnesses, such as cancer, are reimbursed at 100%. Regardless of treatment and surgery costs, you’ll also be charged a non-reimbursable rate of approximately $20 per day for bed occupancy. At private clinics with non-conventionné status, you’ll be able to reclaim only about 10% of your medical expenses unless you have a mutuelle to cover the difference.