No 911 in France? MUST know French emergency numbers explained

police man, fire fighter and doctor standing in Front of Eiffel tower

You never know when you’ll need to call for emergency assistance. Sorry but dialling 911 in France won’t work. Here’s a list of the four most important French emergency numbers in France, plus a quick guide on which one to call and what to expect. Make sure to input them into your phone or memorize them.

Why it’s important to know your French Emergency numbers in France

French emergency numbers on red background

Emergencies happen when we least expect them, and they need fast thinking.

If you’re in an emergency situation while travelling anywhere abroad, you’ll need to know how to contact an ambulance, the police or even the fire department. But different countries have different emergency numbers. 

Unlike the United States, Canada, the UK, and many other European countries, which have a single emergency phone number, France has three separate emergency phone numbers for three different types of emergency services plus a fourth number that serves all of Europe.

Knowing what the emergency numbers of France are ahead of time could mean the difference between life and death. 

A brief history of emergency numbers

Everyone in the United States and Canada knows that you’re supposed to dial 911 in an emergency, but that wasn’t always the case.

Before the 1930s, there were no centralized standard emergency numbers. People had to dial 0 for the operator or the number of the nearest police station or fire department for any emergency.

The first country to deploy the single emergency services phone number in the world was the UK, in London on July 1, 1937. That number was and still is 999.

911 wasn’t established in the United States as the single number for reporting emergencies until 1968. First, in Alabama, then Alaska. From there, it spread. 

Canada saw the value of using a single number for emergency services and adopted 9-1-1 as their emergency phone service in 1972.

Does calling 911 in France work?

If you’re from the US or Canada, you might be tempted to dial 911. Don’t, 911 in France doesn’t always work!

First of all, if you dial 911 in France on a fixed line, nothing will happen.

SOME mobile phones in France are programmed to redirect your call to the local emergency number of France, but not always. Phone manufacturers have to program a mobile phone to work that way.

Nothing will happen on a cell phone that IS NOT programmed to redirect you to a local French emergency number.

So again, don’t rely on 911 in France. Please memorize the local emergency numbers when travelling and or input them into your phone. 

What Are the 4 French emergency numbers in France?

All calls placed to an Emergency number in France (and Europe) are free, and they work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. 

15, 17, 18, and 112 are the four main French emergency numbers in France. There is also a fifth SMS for the deaf and hard of hearing which I’ll explain at the end of this article. 

There are actually many more emergency phone numbers in France, such as suicide hotlines, poisoning hotlines, and child abduction hotlines, among others. But these are the main ones you should be familiar with. 

Local French
Emergency number
Emergency Service
15 French medical & ambulance services
17 French police
18 French Fire Departement / Fire Brigade

 

Emergency number European Union emergency number
112 Works throughout the EU and many non-EU countries

A quick guide to the emergency numbers of France

As I stated before, different countries have different emergency numbers. However, many countries in the EU and some non-European countries have adopted an international emergency number.

That number is 112.

 If you can remember only one emergency number while travelling in France and the EU, make it 112.

Dial 112 (European Union emergency number)

Emergency number European Union emergency number
112 Works throughout the EU and many non-EU countries

cell phone on red background with EU emergency number displayed which can be used in France and all of the EU

Adopted in 1991, 112 is the European Union’s equivalent to North America’s 911 and the UK’s 999. 112 is accessible free of charge anywhere in the European Union, regardless of whether you’re connected via a landline, payphone, or mobile phone.

112 is primarily used for people travelling to other EU countries who don’t know that country’s emergency numbers.

The EU member states using 112 are: 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.

112 has also been adopted in some non-EU countries such as Russia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Tanzania, and South Korea. It even works in the United Kingdom, along with the British emergency number, 999.

Many countries automatically forward the 112 emergency number to local emergency numbers. For instance, in the US and Canada, 112 forwards to 911 on GSM carriers only, including AT&T and T-Mobile. Here’s a complete list of all countries where you can dial 112

Why call 112 instead of local French emergency numbers?

wood blocks displaying 112, EU Emergency number also good in France

French people have been discouraged from using 112 within France as a replacement for dialling 15 (medical aid), 17 (police-rescue), or 18 (fire department). 

In a 2018 survey, only 39% of people polled in France even knew that 112 existed or that they could dial 112 anywhere in Europe. French people are more familiar with America’s 911 than with 112. 

There have been rumblings about pushing 112 as France’s single emergency call number to eliminate confusion. Something that has already happened in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Romania, and Holland. However, some are against a single emergency phone number. They argue that having separate numbers for emergency services provides a faster, more targeted response. 

What to expect when you call 112

When you dial 112, 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 answer 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. 

Will the 112 operators speak English?

The 112 operators may or may not speak English, depending on the country. 

If you’re in Holland, where many people are fluent in Dutch and English, yes, someone will speak English. In other countries, such as France, the 112 operators may not be able to speak English. 

According to the European Commission digital single market website, calls can be answered in 40 languages thanks to interpreters. I haven’t tested this because it would be unethical to call 112 in a non-emergency situation just to see if it was true. This brings me to my next point. 

Only call 112 for emergency services:

Marseille police on rollerblades standing in front of a salon de thé

Here are some examples of emergencies.

  • In a life-threatening situation or when a rescue is needed.
  • When something is on fire: a building, a car, a forest, etc. 
  • If someone is seriously wounded in an accident, shooting, etc. 
  • If someone is unconscious, suffocating or won’t stop bleeding. 
  • If you’re the witness or victim of a violent or aggressive crime. 
  • If you witness someone trying to commit suicide.
  • If people are trapped and need to be evacuated from a building, house, car etc.
  • If someone is trying to break into a house.
  • When someone tries to steal or damage a vehicle.
  • Mushroom poisoning.

Local French emergency numbers in France

The following 3 French emergency numbers only work in France. Each one is for a specific reason. Here is a description of each service, when to call them and what to expect. 

1) Dial 15: Ambulance & Medial Emergency (SAMU)

SAMU is the Urgent medical aid service you dial in France If you have a medical emergency.

Emergency number SAMU: Ambulance & Medical Emergencies
15 SAMU stands for (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente)

French ambulance with two paramedics standing in front

The SAMU dispatch centre is a team of doctors and assistants who answer field calls and determine the best course of action. 

These include:

  • 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 you’re bleeding badly.
  • If someone has a heart attack.
  • Asthma attacks
  • If someone is hurt badly
  • If you’re intoxicated
  • And all other medical emergencies.

If you need to see a doctor on Sunday or on 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

SOS Médicins

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. 

3) Dial 18:Fire Department:

The French fire department (sapeurs-pompiers) in France isn’t just for fires.  They work closely with the SAMU and employ professional, health, medical and volunteer brigades.

Emergency number French Fire Department
18 SAPEURS-POMPIERS

Cartoon drawing of a French fire department with French flag

You can call the fire department for medical emergencies, report a dangerous situation, or a traffic accident involving people or property. Firemen in France have even saved a few cats.

When we first moved to France, a little boy around ten years old had a bad fall down a hill on his bike. People rushed to his aid, and a woman yelled out for someone to call the fire department. I was really surprised when they showed up 20 minutes later. 

Examples of when to call 18

  • Fire
  • Gas leak
  • Burn victim
  • Electrocution
  • A traffic accident etc.

2) Dial17: French National Police:

If you need to report a crime or emergency, you can contact the France police by dialling 17

Emergency number French Police Department
17 POLICE SECOURS

police municipale of La Garde France

In France, the police are responsible for maintaining public order and safety.

Dialling 17 puts you in contact with the emergency police services nearest you. These can be either the Gendarmerie Nationale or the Police Nationale.

If you have a non-emergency situation, Do not call 17. Instead, look up the phone number of the nearest police station, “le commissariat de police or gendarmerie.”

SMS 114 (For the deaf or hard of hearing)

Emergency SMS number for
 the deaf and hard of hearing
114
www.info.urgence114.fr

poster for the emergency sms number for deaf and hard of hearing in France

You can reach this unique French emergency number via SMS or Fax. Who uses fax anymore? You can also talk to someone via video call and communicate through sign language. 

The SMS messages sent to 114 get redirected to the national relay center at the University Hospital Center of Grenoble.

Specially trained deaf and hearing professionals then process the message and contact the appropriate emergency services, police, SAMU, fire department or gendarme.

I can see this number being useful in a situation where you can’t talk. Such as if you’re choking. 

How much does it cost?

Medical services in France and the EU are free to anyone 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 Emergency numbers of France

To wrap up these French emergency numbers, here they are again. 112 works anywhere in France and the EU.

If you would rather call the local French emergency services directly for faster service, dial 15 for medical emergencies, 17 for police and 18 for fire the fire department.

And remember, don’t rely on dialling 911 in France because chances are it won’t work. 

Local French
Emergency number
Emergency Service
15 French medical & ambulance services
17 French police
18 French Fire Departement / Fire Brigade
112 Works throughout the EU and many non-EU countries
114 Emergency SMS number for the deaf and hard of hearing
Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I’m A Bilingual North American With Thai And French Canadian Roots Who's Been Living In The South Of France For Over 10 Years. I Love Writing Weird, Wonderful, Interesting, Forgotten, And Fascinating Articles For Intellectually Curious People Amazed By France, French Culture, And World Travel.

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