***This is not a guide for medical emergencies. Dial 15 on any phone for a medical emergency.
Sick and Confused In France
When we arrived in France back in 2011, the challenge and newness of figuring out how to navigate our new life was fun and exciting.
Then my husband got sick. The kind of sick that leaves you bedridden. And then it wasn’t fun anymore…
We had so many questions!
- Do we go to a hospital?
- Do we find a French doctor?
- How do we find a French doctor?
- Do we call a doctor and make an appointment or just walk in?
- Will our travel insurance cover our visit?
We eventually figured it all out.
****Updated for 2019***
This post is updated as of 2019 because a few things have changed since 2011.
As the old saying goes, all roads lead to Rome. Below are suggested paths you can take to get help for what ails you if you find yourself unexpectantly sick in France.
Start At The Pharmacy
Unless you’re bleeding from your eyeballs or mortally wounded, consider going to a pharmacy to speak with a French pharmacist who may be able to prescribe something for you immediately.
Pharmacists in France have years of extensive training and are qualified to diagnose and give out general medical advice beyond what a pharmacist in the US or Canada is qualified to do.
For example, pharmacists in France are trained to diagnose mushroom poisoning and will even help you identify if those wild Mushrooms you picked in the forest are poisonous.
In places where there is no doctor nearby, the local French people have no choice but to talk to their local pharmacist before going to see a doctor.
Pharmacies are easy to find and abundant in France. Just look for the green cross which is often lit up and blinking.
Finding a doctor in France and making an appointment
If you have something more serious or if the pharmacist can’t diagnose you than by all means see a doctor.
Here are six ways you can find a doctor.
1- French hotel concierge: If you’re staying in a hotel, ask the concierge for help finding or recommending a doctor.
2- Tourism Office: Find the nearest tourist office and ask them for a list of doctors.
3- Ask someone: Ask a neighbour, a pharmacist or even a stranger as you are walking down the street. You can also try asking small shop owners along the road. People are more helpful than you realize.
4-Embassy: Call your nearest embassy or check their website to see if they have a list of doctors. (sometimes they have them listed by their ability to speak English— but not always).
5- Google: Type “Find a doctor near me” and start digging through the results.
6- Doctorlib: An online portal which lets you search for doctors based on your location and make a doctors appointment. You’ll have to create an account before you can finalize your rendez-vous.
How to make an appointment to see a doctor in France
Once you find a doctor, call them up and make an appointment or walk to the office and make an appointment if you’re not comfortable speaking French on the phone.
In some cases, you may be able to see the doctor that same day or the next. If the doctor is extremely busy, they may not have anything for a few days. In that case, see if they can recommend another doctor or a doctor who takes walk-ins.
Not all doctors take appointments.
Some clinics take walk-ins only. Our first three doctors didn’t take appointments and it was a love-hate relationship.
This is how it works.
You show up and walk straight into the doctor’s office. Sometimes there’s a doorbell you have to ring to get buzzed in.
You then walk straight to the waiting area and wait. If there are 15 people already sitting in the waiting room then you have a long wait ahead of you. Sometimes you get lucky and there are only 2 people waiting. Either way, you have to wait until for someone to come in and ask “who is next?”.
How much do doctors visits cost in France
If you need to see a general practitioner it will cost 25€: Bring cash because not all doctors accept credit cards.
Getting A Prescription Filled
If the doctor gives you a prescription for medication, take it to any pharmacist/chemist.
Tips if you don’t speak French:
Getting sick in France or anywhere while travelling is going to be stressful especially if you don’t speak French.
According to our doctor, French doctors must take some medical classes in English as part of their medical training but that doesn’t mean you should expect them to speak English fluently.
Be prepared to explain your symptoms in case they don’t speak English.
- Go on to Google translate and translate your symptoms into French. This is what my husband did when we first arrived in France before he learned to speak.
- Bring someone who can translate.
- If you have a phone with data, download a speech to speech translator app on your smartphone to translate your words on the fly. I did this in Thailand to communicate with people in a pinch. Try google translate first.
Good luck and stay healthy.
Here is some French vocabulary that may come in handy.
- Doctor clinic/office: le cabinet –>[Luh- Ka-bee-nay] not les cabinets which means toilets.
- Gernal Practitioner: Médecin généraliste—>[uhn-med-sen zhen-ay-ra-list]
- Doctor: un médecin–> [uhn med-sen]
- Medecine: médicament—> [meh-dee-ca-mon]
- Sick: malade –> [mah-lad]
- Pharmacie : Une pharmacie –> [oon farm-assee]
- It hurts here: J’ai très mal ici –> [zhay tray mall eesee]
- We need to find a doctor urgently. Nous avons besoin de voir un médecin au plus vite. C’est urgent.
- I need to make an appointment with the docter: Je voudrais prendre un rendez-vous avec le médecin.