It’s important to know who to call and what number to dial in emergency situations, especially when travelling to other countries, because accidents happen when we least expect them and need fast thinking.
Although some countries use the same hotlines and emergency numbers, many do not.
If you’re travelling to France and wondering, “What is 911 in France?” you should know that 911 is not the official emergency number in France.
In this article, you’ll learn the most important European emergency number equivalent of 911, which you can use throughout the EU.
You’ll also learn the local French emergency numbers in France and when to use them.
Make sure to save these numbers in your phone or memorize them so that you can get the help you need if the worst happens.
What is 911 in France?
When it comes to emergencies, everyone in the United States and Canada knows that no matter what the emergency, whether you need a police officer, an ambulance or the fire department, you’re supposed to dial 911, the universal emergency number. In the UK, you have to dial 999.
You may be tempted to dial 999 or 911 in France, but please don’t, and here’s why.
What happens if you dial 911 from a phone in France?
Nothing will happen if you dial 911 in France on a fixed-line.
While it’s true that many modern mobile phones may reroute your call to the local French emergency number if you dial 911 or 999, the phone manufacturer has to program a cell phone to work that way. If it’s not, nothing will happen.
That’s why it’s always best to memorize the local emergency numbers rather than taking a chance.
Why doesn’t France use 911: A brief history of 911 and 999.
Before the 1930s, centralized or universal emergency numbers didn’t exist.
In an emergency situation, people had to dial “0” for the operator, who then would redirect the caller to the appropriate emergency service. Or they had to remember the direct local number for local medical emergencies, the police department, and the fire department.
- 1937: London UK deployed the first single universal emergency hotline number, 999, which is still used today.
- 1959: Winnipeg, a province in Canada, adopted the UK’s 999 emergency number.
- 1968: The US saw the value in having a single dedicated universal emergency number and established 911, first in Haleyville, Alabama, then in Alaska.
- 1972: To be consistent with their neighbours in the United States, Canada switched over from 999 to 911. Mexico also switched over from 066 to 911 in 2016
- 1991: The European Union adopted 112 as their equivalent to North America’s 911 and the UK’s 999.
The French 911 equivalent for emergencies in France is 112.
France and all European Union member countries have adopted 112 as their universal emergency number.
It’s free of charge to use anywhere in the EU, regardless of whether you’re connected via a landline, payphone, or mobile phone.
The EU member states using 112 include Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, the Czech Republic and Sweden.
European 112 day is 11 February
Dial 112 in France for all emergencies
|European Union emergency number
|Works throughout the EU and many non-EU countries
When you dial 112 in France and the EU, you’re put in touch with an operator from the country where you’re located in the local language. If you’re calling in Spain, the person will answer in Spanish. If you’re calling from France, the person will respond in French.
Once you have a 112 operator on the phone, in addition to explaining the emergency, you may have to tell them who you are, your address, and your phone number if possible.
Do not call 112 for non-medical emergencies. If you need to find a doctor in France or need non-life-threatening medical aid, read this.
Here’s a complete list of all countries where you can dial 112.
Will the 112 operators speak English?
According to the European Commission digital single market website, 112 emergency call centers can answer in 40 languages thanks to interpreters. But it depends on the area.
If you’re in Holland, where many people are fluent in Dutch and English, you’re pretty much guaranteed that someone will be able to speak English. In other countries, such as France, the 112 operators may be unable to speak English if you’re in a rural area.
Five local French emergency numbers in France you should know!
Although France adopted 112, the EU’s universal emergency number, it kept its local emergency numbers for the police department, fire department, and medical emergencies.
All calls placed to emergency numbers in france (and Europe) are free, and work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. They should also work on mobile phones with no sim card and when locked.
There are three separate emergency numbers in France for three different types of emergency services, plus a fourth emergency SMS number for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
|French medical & ambulance service
|French Fire Department / Fire Brigade
|Emergency SMS for deaf & hard of hearing
Now, let’s review each emergency number and when to use them in France.
Local emergency telephone numbers in France
There has been an ongoing debate as to whether France should abandon local emergency numbers and just use the universal emergency number.
Advocates against abandoning the local French emergency numbers argue that you will get a faster response than dialling 112.
Advocates for using 112 argue that it’s easier to just stick with one universal number rather than 3 or 4.
If you’re a tourist, especially if you don’t speak French, I highly advise sticking with 112 in emergencies. However, if you can speak some French, it may be worth learning them.
Let’s go over what to expect when you call one of the three main French emergency numbers and the emergency number for the deaf and hard of hearing.
1) Dial 15: Ambulance & Medial Emergency (SAMU)
SAMU is the Urgent medical aid service you dial in France If you have a medical emergency.
|SAMU: Ambulance & Medical Emergencies
|SAMU stands for (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente)
The SAMU dispatch centre is a team of doctors and assistants who answer field calls and determine the best course of action.
- Offering care or advice over the telephone.
- Directing callers to go to the nearest doctor, clinic or hospital.
- To dispatch an ambulance or response vehicle.
Examples of when to dial 15 to get a hold of SAMU.
- If you need an ambulance, the operator will assess the situation and redirect your call to an ambulance transport service.
- If someone is unconscious, suffocating, bleeding, or seriously wounded in an accident, shooting, etc.
- If someone has a heart attack.
- Asthma attacks
- If you’re intoxicated
- Mushroom poisoning.
- And all other medical emergencies.
Dial 15 If you need to see a doctor on Sunday or a bank holiday
If you need to see a doctor on a Sunday, a bank holiday or during hours when doctor offices are closed, you can dial 15 and request a “Medicine de Garde” in your area.
Medecin de Garde = Doctor on Call Duty
You can also look for a local doctor on duty yourself by contacting SOS Médicins.
SOS Médecin sends doctors directly to a residence instead of sending an ambulance. They operate 24/7 and work closely with the public French emergency services (ambulance, fire brigade, hospital).
Each area has a different number. For instance, here are the numbers for doctors on duty in Paris.
Here is a link to the SOS Médicin website to locate a doctor in your area of France. You’ll have to make an account. Once you have an account, you can also download the app onto your phone.
2) Dial 17: French National Police:
17 is the French emergency number you call to contact the police in France to report a crime or emergency.
|French Police Department
In France, the police are responsible for maintaining public order and safety.
Dialling 17 puts the caller in contact with the emergency police services nearest you, which can either be the Gendarmerie Nationale or the Police Nationale.
When to dial 17?
- If you’re the witness or victim of a violent or aggressive crime.
- If you witness someone trying to commit suicide.
- If someone is trying to break into a house.
- When someone tries to steal or damage a vehicle.
- According to the official French government site, you should dial 17 or 112 in case of a terrorist attack!
For Non-Emergencies in France:
If you have a non-emergency situation, Do not dial 17. Instead, look up the phone number of the nearest police station, “le commissariat de police or gendarmerie.”
3) Dial 18: Fire Department:
The Fire departments in France (sapeurs-pompiers) often have a dual role in responding to emergencies, not just fires.
|French Fire Department
The fire departments in France work closely with SAMU and are trained and equipped to provide emergency medical services, including responding to accidents and injuries just like ambulances. This is especially common in rural areas where fewer dedicated ambulance services may be available.
When we lived in a small French village, a little boy around ten years old had a bad fall down a hill on his bike. A bunch of people, including myself, rushed to his aid, but I was astonished when a woman yelled out for someone to call the fire department, who showed up about 15 minutes later.
Firemen in France even save cats.
Les images émouvantes d’un chat sauvé ce matin à Roubaix
Le félin était coincé dans une fenêtre oscillo-battant de l’habitation.
⚠️ Asphyxie ou fracture de la colonne vertébrale, tels sont les dangers en de pareilles situations pour nos animaux. pic.twitter.com/UDKZU6F0aq
— SDIS 59 (@Sdis59) June 13, 2020
Examples of when to call 18 for the French fire department
- Gas leak
- Burn victim
- A traffic accident, etc.
- Cat in a tree (or stuck on a balcony)
- When a kid biffs down a hill
- In a life-threatening situation or when a rescue is needed.
- If people are trapped and need to be evacuated from a building, house, car, etc….
- When something is on fire: a building, a car, a forest, etc.
SMS 114 (For the deaf or hard of hearing)
|Emergency SMS number for
the deaf and hard of hearing
You can reach this unique French emergency number via SMS or Fax. Who uses fax anymore?
When a caller sends an SMS text to the emergency 114 number on a mobile phone, the call will get redirected to the national relay center at the University Hospital Centre of Grenoble.
Callers can also talk to someone via video and communicate through sign language.
Specially trained deaf and hearing professionals then process the message and contact the appropriate emergency services: police, SAMU, fire department or gendarme.
114 is also helpful in a situation where you can’t talk. Such as if you’re choking or hiding under a bed when there is an intruder, and you don’t want them to hear you.
How much does a medical emergency cost in France?
Medical services in France and the EU are free of charge to anyone who is part of the French healthcare system and to Europeans with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), so remember to take it with you when travelling. The EHIC card will simplify the paperwork and help you get refunded for any public health care expenses.
For anyone not from the EU, you may be charged if you are transported by an ambulance or emergency vehicle. Fees vary, but they won’t be in the thousands. You’ll need to contact your travel insurance company to see what your health insurance will cover and how to get reimbursed.
The same is true if a doctor on duty / SOS médicin makes a house call. Fees range from 35 euros to 85 euros for a visit, depending on the time of day. For example, house calls are more expensive after midnight than house calls made in the afternoon.
Wrapping up French Emergency Numbers in France
Remember, if you need to call an emergency number in France, dial 112, which works anywhere in France and the EU.
If you would rather call the local emergency numbers in France directly for faster service, dial 15 for medical emergencies, 17 for police and 18 for the fire department, but be prepared to speak French.
And finally, don’t take a chance and waste your time dialling 911 in France because it may not work.
|French medical & ambulance services
|French Fire Department / Fire Brigade
|Works throughout the EU and many non-EU countries
|Emergency SMS number for the deaf and hard of hearing
In addition to 15,17,18,115, and 114, there are other emergency numbers in France that address a wide range of emergency needs, such as a child abduction hotline, a suicide hotline, marine emergencies, and other various specialized services.