Healthcare in France for British pensioners: Your rights

Zorica Lončar
27.05.21
4 minute read

Dreaming of retiring in France? While you make your preparations for moving across the Channel, one of the most important things to look into is healthcare.

Access to quality healthcare services is crucial at any age, but it’s even more essential as you get older. Moving to a new country often means unfamiliar processes and languages, which can make it tricky to access healthcare among other services.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about healthcare in France for British pensioners. This includes how the French healthcare system works, your rights to access state healthcare and how to register for medical care in your chosen region.

We’ll also touch on private health insurance cover, which you might want to arrange before you travel. If you need to pay a premium to an overseas insurance provider, or make any other international payments ahead of your move, it could be a smart idea to use Wise.

Open a multi-currency Wise account and you can send money overseas for tiny, transparent fees and the mid-market exchange rate.

But first, let’s focus on healthcare in France for UK retirees.

How the French healthcare system works

France has a high quality healthcare system, one that is often included in the top 10 in global healthcare rankings¹.

The Protection Universelle Maladie or PUMa system is accessible to all citizens and run by the Ministere des Solidarites et de la Sante (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health). In France, public and private doctors, hospitals and specialists are integrated into one network.

Access to state healthcare is through mandatory state health insurance contributions. These are taken from your salary as an employed or self-employed worker. You can also have optional private health insurance or top-up policy known as a ‘mutuelle’ for costs not covered by the state.

But some sort of health insurance is mandatory in France, whether state or private.

Is state healthcare free in France?

No, state healthcare isn’t free, but costs are subsidised by the state. The patient may have to pay upfront for some healthcare services, then claim the money back from the French national insurance fund - the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM).

The amount of reimbursement varies depending on the service. So, for example, some prescribed medications are covered up to 100% of the cost, while reimbursement for a visit to the doctor is usually around 70%². The remainder of the cost is covered by the patient.

Can I access state healthcare in France as a British pensioner?

Now for the important part - whether or not you can access healthcare services in France as a British expat, especially after Brexit.

The good news is that once you’ve been living in France for three months, you can apply to be covered by the state healthcare system.

As a retiree, you’re not likely to be employed and making social security contributions through your salary. This could mean that you need to pay into the PUMa system yourself. You can do this, or there’s another option we’ll look at in just a moment which could mean free healthcare for British pensioners in France.

To register for state healthcare in France, here’s what you’ll need to do

  1. Apply for PUMa at your local CPAM office.
  2. Get a temporary social security number - this can take up to three months
  3. You should then receive a document known as a ‘attestation de droits à l’assurance maladie’, which confirms your right to French state healthcare.
  4. Apply for your ‘carte vitale’, your French state healthcare card - this can unfortunately take up to 6 months (but you should be able to use your social security number to access healthcare in the meantime).
  5. Remember to take your ‘carte vitale’ to all doctors appointments, pharmacy visits and other medical treatments.

Receive a UK state pension? You could get free healthcare in France

Another option to cover the costs of healthcare for UK retirees living in France is something called the S1 form.

If you receive a UK state pension and are now a French resident, you may be eligible to state healthcare paid for by the UK government³. This could mean at least some health services in France will be free or low fee.

More information is available on the UK government’s website, but the general process for applying is to complete an S1 form and register it at your local CPAM office in France.

Save money on healthcare costs in France with Wise

If you’re super organised and are already arranging health insurance cover for your move to France, before you’ve even left the UK, we have a handy tip for you.

Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money to France and all over the world for small fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. This could make it much cheaper to cover health insurance premiums, or whenever else a payment needs to cross international borders.

You can also use Wise to save money once you’ve moved to France. If you have any upfront doctors fees or medication costs to pay, you can use your international Wise debit card and the currency will automatically be converted to EUR at the real, mid-market exchange rate. There are no foreign transaction fees to worry about, only a tiny fee to convert the currency.

Join Wise and start saving today


So, that’s pretty much it - all the essentials you need to know about healthcare in France for British pensioners. We’ve run through how the French healthcare system works, and how you can access it as a UK expat living in France. Hopefully, you should now have all the info you need ahead of your big move. Good luck!


Sources used for this article:

  1. Commonwealth Fund - healthcare systems ranked
  2. Expatica - health insurance in France
  3. Gov.uk - healthcare for UK nationals living in France

Sources checked on 11th May-2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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