information for global expats

Health Emergencies for Expats in France

Submitted: October 2013

In an emergency, dial 112 (European emergency number). Otherwise, call 15 (urgent care service) or 18 (firefighters). If you can’t speak French, say it straightaway.

Alternatively, you can call your doctor’s out-of-hours service, if there is any.

SAMU and firefighters


In theory, the urgent care service (SAMU) is the competent body for health emergencies in France. Any call to 15 is promptly responded to by a call centre, the manager of which may (or may not) decide whether to send an ambulance. On the other hand, firefighters should be called when there is an accident, such as a road accident, a heart attack, or if someone’s condition has gradually deteriorated.

In practice, the French feel free to call fire fighters for any emergency. This is largely because firefighters are so well-trained the French perceive hardly any difference with the SAMU. There is also a common belief that firefighters deliver a better and faster service. As a result, firefighters make 9,600 a day while the SAMU only receives 2,500 calls per day.

Official guidance

According to the French authorities, the SAMU must be called if you have a life-threatening emergency, or if you don’t know who to turn to.

Hospital emergency rooms

In an emergency, you should go to a public hospital rather than a private clinic.

It is always advisable not to be alone at the hospital. Thus, you should call somebody to come with you to the hospital as soon as possible, preferably someone who speaks French.

Once you reach hospital, you must register yourself at the reception of the emergency room. The procedure is very straightforward, especially in life-threatening emergencies. Just show up your health card or a certificate of entitlement (attestation de droits) at the reception. Proof of ID may also be requested.

Waiting times

Waiting times at the hospital emergency room should be reasonable, but they depend on how busy the hospital is and on how urgent the doctors believe your case is.

Your level of priority should be determined beforehand by a nurse. This nurse can:

  • make some basic primary care before taking you to the waiting room (e.g. applying a dressing or a splint)
  • ask you if you have a pre-existing condition or any other precedent in your medical history
  • check your vital signs.

Cost of emergency treatment

Healthcare is not free in France, and this includes emergency care and ambulances. However, emergency care expenses generally qualify for reimbursement from French social insurance.

You may have some out-of-pocket costs (ATU fee), but they should not exceed €25.32. A public hospital should not refuse to treat you if you are unable to pay upfront.

If you can timely show your health card and your insurance details, you may have nothing to pay at all.

General rule to avoid hurdles

As long as you are on the French territory, you should always carry with you:

  • proof of ID (passport, national ID card or a French driving licence)
  • health card or EHIC, and
  • insurance details.



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