Getting Started with the CPAM System in France

Getting Started with the CPAM System in France

As we mentioned in our previous article, the organisation in France that manages the healthcare system is called CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie). While most villages and small towns will either have a CPAM office or a regular visit from a CPAM representative, in order to get yourself registered, it’s likely you’ll need to go to the main office in the capital of your department.

What you need to do is go to that office (or your could try your local representative office first) and ask for affiliation. If you arrive with most of the documentation they require, you’re likely to leave their office with an attestation provisoire, which provides you with temporary inclusion in the French healthcare system. Having this status will give you the right to reimbursement at the same level as a fully registered member of the scheme. While requirements in departments may vary slightly, here is the basic information you should be armed with for your visit:

  • Proof of identity. For the majority of UK residents, this will be a passport.
  • Proof of address. This can either be the deeds of your house or a rental agreement. In some instances utility bills may be acceptable.
  • Date of arrival in the department.
  • Proof of residency in France for at least 3 months. For this purpose, utility bills are probably best.
  • Marriage and birth certificates for everyone you want to register. You might be lucky here and get away without translating them into French, but it’s unlikely, so you to save yourself unnecessary stress, it’s worth having all of your documents officially translated and stamped before embarking on this (or any other official) process in France.
  • RIB (Relevé d'Identité Bancaire). If you ask at the bank they’ll give you this document, which contains all your bank details and is required for the processing of your reimbursements.
  • Proof of income for the preceding 12 months, no matter where your earnings were made

As we mentioned earlier, you may find that certain CPAM offices won’t ask for all of this information and others will ask for additional items. The best thing to do is double-check on the ‘phone before you go and make sure you have everything to hand.

Once you have satisfied all the documentation requirements, unless there is specific reason that you are refused, you will be fully included in the system and will receive your Carte Vitale, which is a bit like the control card that manages all of your state healthcare information and streamlines your reimbursements.

Choosing and Registering with your GP

Depending on your French language abilities, you may want to seek out a doctor who speaks English. While in the cities, this shouldn’t be an issue; you may well find in the countryside that few GPs speak sufficient English to have a meaningful consultation. What this means is that you may either have to make do with a dictionary and your limited French, together with his or her limited English, or at worst you may need to take someone to the doctor with you to translate. Either way, it’s important that you select a doctor that you get along with and have confidence in.

The best place to start for finding out about good and bad GPs is friends and neighbours, so if you’re sufficiently close to people in France don’t be shy to ask about which doctor they’ve chosen and why. Failing that, if you feel too new in your neighbourhood to speak about something so intimate; then the staff at your local Mairie should be able to give you impartial help.

Most GPs work on an appointment basis, so you should go along and make an appointment with the receptionist so you can meet your new doctor. Even if you’re not ill, it’s a good idea to meet each other and judge whether or not you’ve made the right choice. Particularly in a foreign language, it’s important that you get along with and feel comfortable (at least trying) to make yourself understood. Only by doing this will you feel confident if one day you have a real issue that you need to discuss.

GPs in France work in much the same way as GPs in the UK in the sense that they are your first port of call with any health issues. They are also the person who will decide if you need to be referred for specialist treatment or for further tests and if so, will make that referral. You’re likely to find that your GP will have a good network of specialists that they prefer and unless you have a personal preference, it’s normally a good idea to follow their recommendation (at the end of the day, they’re likely to have worked with these specialists for years and may even have trained or worked together). Learn about French top up health insurance here.

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