When I first thought about writing this article I honestly debated writing:
Why? Because the administration system in France is a huge headache. It’s also frustrating enough to make a saint swear. It took me TWO YEARS to get my carte vitale and I nearly turned grey over it. BUT…if you live here you NEED this card. It could, literally, save your life.
So…let me tell you these vital steps to follow to a) save yourself a LOT of time and b) help you successfully get your card without turning grey. Before even starting the process however you must understand that, it takes 6 to 12 months to get your health card. But hey, let’s make it closer to 6 than 12.
1. Update about the Carte Vitale: (added October 2018)
Major new laws were passed in 2016, which now means it is easier for foreigners to apply for state healthcare in France. As the Expat Assure blog explains “The Protection Maladie Universelle (PUMA) now grants all residents in France, including expats, easier access to healthcare in France as long as they have lived in the country for three consecutive months on a “stable and regular basis” and will continue to do so for at least 183 days per year in the future.
The requirements for expats and residents in France to qualify for healthcare are now more simplified, as healthcare access will now be an automatic right of all residents (including in overseas territories of France). However, the PUMA system is still new, and despite it seeming a lot simpler for expats, it will be likely to undergo some teething problems for a while.”
However, the good news is, you don’t have to have three months of payslips anymore to be able to apply!
2. Contacting CPAM
To contact the assurance maladie call 36 46 from Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm. Make sure you know the department you live in (92, 75, 94 for example) and that you have your social security number close at hand, you’ll need it to get the information you require! When you call 36 46 you’ll be connected with an adviser. You will need to ask them what documents you need to send to be able to start the carte vitale process. It’s important that you type your correct department when the automated message asks you. Why? Because different office’s require different documents…some are more strict than others.
HERE’S A TIP – If you are lucky enough to live INSIDE Paris you will be offered the possibility of speaking to an adviser who speaks English. If you live in the suburbs, you unfortunately do not have this possibility. If you do live in the suburbs and are nervous about speaking to the adviser in French, ask a friend or colleague to call on your behalf. All you need to do when you first call is find out which documents you need to send to YOUR specific health office so they will usually agree to give this information to your friend or colleague.
3. Now what do I do?
SO, after you know which documents you need to send and you have been here for three months consecutively log on to ameli.fr to find out where your nearest health office is. Click on vous êtes assuré, then in the top, left hand corner you will see a tab named Votre caisse. After clicking on this tab you’ll be asked for your postal code which will lead you to a page with the office’s contact details. You will find the office’s address and phone number. This is where you need to send your documents. You can also go directly to your nearest health office to drop off the documents, however some offices insist that documents are sent by post.
4. How do I send my documents?
Go in Person
The best way is to find your nearest office (you can do this using ameli.fr) and drop the documents off in person. To find your nearest office, go onto ameli.fr and click on VOUS ETES ASSURE(E), on the next page that appears you will see VOTRE CAISSE in a blue tab in the top left hand corner. Click on this and enter your post code. The next page that appears will tell you which caisse to go to and give you their opening hours and contact details.
Send the documents by post
However you can also send your documents. If you choose to do this you MUST send them par lettre recommandé avec avis de reception, this means that if the office doesn’t receive your documents they will be sent back to you. It also means that if they do receive them, you will get a copy of the note they signed, confirming the reception of your letter. KEEP THIS. Office’s often lose or misplace documents. This little piece of paper proves you sent the documents and when they received them, so it can be very useful.
Sending something par lettre recommandé is of course, like most things in France, not very straightforward. Even now, I often get confused about how to attach it to my letter and how to correctly fill it in. You must ASK. The people at the post office have always been really helpful when I’ve asked, probably because I flutter my eyelids and play the damsel in distress card but that’s beside the point. It is always better to ask and get help, than do it wrong and end up wasting money on a letter that, if done incorrectly, will most probably go astray.
5. The Waiting Game
After you have sent all your documents to your local office, you simply have to wait. If any documents are missing then you will receive a letter asking you to send the missing document(s). Letters from the assurance maladie take a long time to get to you (on average 10 to 14 days after it was written) so don’t waste any time, send the missing document(s) as soon as possible.
6. Photo time!
Once they have all your documents you will receive the final letter, which asks you to send a passport photo back to the office. The rules for an “acceptable” photo are very strict, you’re not even allowed to wear earrings. It’s over the top, it’s unnecessary, but it’s the rules. Do your photo according to the strict rules and you will soon after (usually within on
e month) receive your card and your official social security number. Et viola!! Hooray! Open the champagne, you have your health card!
7. Don’t forget when you receive your card you need to go online and print out a “declaration de choix du medecin traitant”. You will not be reimbursed if you go to any or different doctors. You must go to the GP you declared to assurance maladie. Click here to print a declaration, fill it in and send it back to your health office. Do this as soon as possible when you receive your card.
Important things to remember:
- With a temporary social security number, given to you with your new job/school, you can apply for the carte vitale.
- 36 46 is NOT a free so call from a landline and you will be charged at a normal rate. This is important as you could be on the phone for a long time!
- Do follow up calls. Call the assurance maladie hotline every so often just to get an update on your application. This is crucial as they may have forgotten to send you a letter or not gotten a response to the “urgent” email they sent. This happened to me and I lost months because of it. CALL THEM REGULARLY, I’d say call about once a month.
- Of course you have to be legally in the country to apply. Either as an EU citizen or as a citizen with a residency visa/permit.
- Get your birth certificated translated into French by a verified translator. If the translator is not verified, the translation will not be accepted. Check out this website if you’re looking for a verified translator in Paris http://www.cetiecap.com/
- When you call to ask which documents to send, make sure you ask if you need to send copies or the original. I lost SO MUCH TIME over this because I didn’t realise they needed an ORIGINAL birth certificate. Save yourself time and unnecessary stress, ask them. They won’t just tell you unfortunately, they presume you already know. OF COURSE, WE TOTALLY UNDERSTAND FRENCH ADMINISTRATION THAT EVEN THE FRENCH DON’T UNDERSTAND!
- If I haven’t answered your question, check out Expat Assure’s blog on the same topic. It’s full of very useful information!
Last but not least, if you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve been through this process and I know how confusing it can be, just trust me when I say, it’s all worth it in the end!