This article explains what to expect when you go to the doctor in France. When living abroad, there are many culture differences that might come as a surprise. You would think that going to the doctor is pretty much the same everywhere when in fact there are noticeable differences.
- How to schedule a doctor’s appointment?
- How to find an emergency doctor?
- What to bring to your doctor’s appointment?
- Should you show up early for your doctor’s visit?
- A doctor’s office in France
- The waiting room
- At the doctor’s office
- Talk with your doctor
- How to pay for your visit?
- Medical data storage
- Comparison with the United States
- My experience
Let’s begin with scheduling a doctor’s appointment.
How to schedule a doctor’s appointment in France?
Schedule an appointment at the office
In order to book a consultation with a doctor in France, you can call the doctor’s office directly. If a phone call in French is too much of a challenge for you, using Doctolib to schedule your appointment online is simple.
Enter your city in the Où ? (where?) field and click on Rechercher (search) to get a list of physicians. Select Anglais (English) in the Langues parlées (spoken languages) menu if you want English-speaking physicians only.
Schedule an online video doctor’s visit
On Doctolib, you can book an online video consultation. Check Disponible (available) in the Consultation vidéo (online consultation) menu.
How to find an emergency doctor in France?
After business hours and in situations where you are unable to go to the doctor’s office, you can call SOS médecins for a visite à domicile (house call) at 36 24 (15 cents/minute).
Doctor’s fees vary between 35€ and 70€ depending on the doctor’s sector (part of the fees will be reimbursed by Assurance Maladie). At night and on Sundays and holidays, you can also call le 15 to find a médecin de garde (on-call doctor).
What to bring to a doctor’s visit in France?
Bring your carte vitale if you have one. If you’ve already applied for Assurance Maladie but have not received your carte vitale yet, bring your Attestation d’ouverture de droits (health insurance certificate).
You can visit any doctor in France even if you are not in the French healthcare system. The only difference is that you won’t be reimbursed. A regular doctor’s visit costs between €25 and €50, depending on the doctor’s sector and his specialty. To know more about medical costs and reimbursements in France, read French Healthcare: Get the best coverage.
Most doctors accept credit cards in France but some don’t. Bring your checkbook or some cash to be covered in all cases.
If you recently received your carte vitale and you would like the doctor to be your médecin traitant (primary doctor), ask him during your appointment. The doctor will electronically send the official form to CPAM using your carte vitale.
If you are not in the French healthcare system, you can apply after living in France for three months. Read Apply for carte vitale in three steps to get things started.
Should you show up early for a first appointment?
You do not need to show up early as you won’t have to fill out a dozen pages about your medical history or your health insurance coverage. The doctor does not know anything about the reasons why you see him ahead of time. You’ll have plenty of time to explain everything at the beginning of your visit.
Show up on time, even though there are good chances that you will have to wait.
A doctor’s office in France
Doctors in France practice in different settings:
- cabinet de groupe (medical groups) of 2-3 general practitioners
- maison de santé pluriprofessionnelle (medical group multispecialty care), where you can find general practitioners as well as dentists, nurses…
- cabinet individuel (single doctor’s office)
For your appointment at a multi-doctor’s office, go to the front desk and say “Bonjour, je suis madame Smith et j’ai rendez-vous avec le docteur Martin” (“Hi, my name is Ms. Smith and I have an appointment with doctor Martin”). The receptionist will tell you in which waiting room you should go.
If the doctor has an individual practice, there will be no reception desk. Look for a sign reading Salle d’attente (waiting room). It’s pretty frequent in France that a doctor’s office is located in a regular appartment, in which one bedroom is used as the waiting room while the living room is used as the doctor’s office.
The waiting room
Doctor’s waiting rooms in France are usually minimalist with basic chairs pushed along the walls next to a coffee table with a few magazines.
Greet every one at once with a (not too loud) Bonjour when you enter the waiting room before sitting down. The doctor will come get you when it’s your turn.
At the Doctor’s Office
This is how things go once you enter the doctor’s office:
- Sit down at the desk in front of the doctor
- Hand out your carte Vitale
- Explain the reasons for your visit and answer the doctor’s questions
- Get undressed when the doctor asks you to
- Doctor performs the examination
- Get dressed and sit back down at the doctor’s desk
- Doctor writes your ordonnance (prescription)
- If you don’t have a carte Vitale, the doctor gives you a feuille de soins. To get reimbursed for the doctor’s visit, send your feuille de soins to your local CPAM.
- Pay the doctor by credit card, check or cash
Talk with your doctor
A doctor’s office in France contains at least a doctor’s desk and an examination table. The patient sits accross the doctor’s desk and the visit always starts with a face-to-face, fully dressed talk.
It’s polite to address the doctor by his title like for instance “Docteur, je tousse depuis une semaine” (Doctor, I’ve been coughing for a week). Read Doctor’s office French glossary to learn more vocabulary as well as French sentences to use at the doctor’s.
Take the time to explain your situation and symptoms to the doctor at the beginning of your visit. The doctor will likely go over your family medical history with you. Do not worry about using up the doctor’s time, because spending time talking with a patient is part of the regular process in France. You are welcome to talk about any psychological difficulty as well.
How to pay at the doctor in France?
You pay the doctor at the end of your visit with credit card, check or cash. If you are in the French healthcare system, CPAM reimburses you within a week. The money is directly deposited into your bank account. If you have a mutuelle santé, the part covered by mutuelle will also go directly into your bank account (provided your mutuelle is linked to your Ameli’s account).
Under certain circumstances, one can benefit from tiers-payant. Tiers-payant means that you only pay the part not reimbursed by Assurance-Maladie or you do not pay anything at all. Beneficiaries from Complémentaire Santé Solidaire as well as people who have an Affectation Longue Durée (long term illness) qualify for tiers-payant.
Take your prescription to any pharmacy. There is no prescription filling in France and you will get your medication right away. You can only get your medicine for one month at a time in France. Read Medical prescriptions in France to learn more about prescriptions, such as when they expire or how to renew them.
Medical data storage
In January 2022, the French government created a new online system called Mon Espace Santé that replaces Dossier médical partagé. If you are enrolled in the French healthcare system, you can use Mon Espace Santé to store all your medical information (like files and appointments) and manage access to your medical data.
Activate Mon Espace Santé to start storing your medical information in one place.
Going to the doctor in France vs going to the doctor in the US
All-in-one French doctor
In France, the doctor is the one getting you in the waiting room. He usually calls out your name and you might wonder if he’s indeed the doctor because he’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Many French doctors don’t wear white coats.
From the time he gets you in the wating room until you leave the premisses, he’s the one running the show. From taking your vitals or asking you to step on the scale to handling your payment.
There is no nurse or secretary, unless this is a medical group in which case you might pay at the front desk.
Do not (desperately) look for a paper gown
Be prepared to undress and get dressed in front of the doctor. Do not look for a paper gown as there is no paper gown and no curtain. Depending on the reason for your visit, you only keep your undies on or you get to keep your top.
Duration of a visit
It is not unusual for a doctor’s visit in France to last 30 to 40 minutes.
More casual setting
At the beginning of a doctor’s visit in France, you have time to explain the reasons for your visit. You can talk about your mental health. There is a place for chit-chat. The doctor might ask you about where you lived in the United States or tell you about the last time he went there.
My experience in France and in the United States
Let’s get personal for once. Une fois n’est pas coutume, I will share my experience of going to the doctor in the United States versus going to the doctor in France.
My experience in Los Angeles
During my 20 years in Los Angeles, all my doctor’s appointment followed the same pattern. First, I would wait in the waiting room until a nurse calls my name. I would then follow the nurse into a tiny room. On my way there, the nurse would ask me to step on a scale in the hallway (fully clothed and purse in hands). In the tiny room that reminded me of a horse’s stall, the nurse would then take my blood pressure and ask me a few questions. She would write down everything for the doctor.
After she leaves the room, I would undress and put on a paper gown as instructed. I would then wait, listening to other patients talking to the doctor in other tiny rooms. The doctor would then breeze through my room, doing all that needed to be done in a record time. A good part of the visit would be me answering questions to his back as he faces his computer away from the examination table. And he would be gone again. Super fast. I would then head to the front desk to pay for my consultation and get my prescription.
My experience in France
My experience in France is quite different. It is pretty commom to have doctor’s office located in regular buildings. You enter an appartment and go directly to a waiting room, no nurse or front desk unless it’s a medical building with several doctors. The doctor comes get each patient in the waiting room.
Every doctor’s visit usually starts with a chat. The doctor sits on his side of the desk facing you. This is when you get to explain the reasons for your visit. After the conversation is over, you undress (with the doctor in the room) and go lay down on the examination table. There is no paper gown. The doctor is the one taking your blood pressure. After the examination is over, you get dressed in the same room while the doctor sits back at his desk. You sit back down while the doctor writes your prescription. At the end of the visit, you pay the doctor directly and he will usually walk you out.
And the winner is…
Overall, my impression is that I am getting more face-to-face time with a doctor in France. I do not feel rushed and the conversation is more personal. I like the fact that I meet with the doctor while I’m fully clothed and that we get to talk in a casual setting. One thing that can be unsettling at first is undressing in front of a doctor but, like anything else, you get used to it.
You are now ready for your first visit to the doctor in France. To learn how much a doctor’s visit costs in France and how to get the highest reimbursements, read French Healthcare: Get the Best Coverage.