Moving to a new place is a great chance to have new experiences, but it can also mean re-learning how to do familiar tasks from your home country. If you’ve never been to a doctor in France before, you may be unsure of what to expect. Will you be able to communicate with the doctor in French? What exactly should you bring with you, and how much will the visit cost? We’ve put this guide together to help you brush up on some French medical vocabulary and prepare for your doctor’s visit.
Before visiting a doctor’s surgery in France, you’ll need to understand how the French healthcare system works. Here’s a quick summary:
Both French nationals and foreign residents have access to France’s state healthcare system. Expats who reside in France on a regular basis are covered by the Universal Health Protection Scheme (PUMa). Visitors to France can access the healthcare system if they have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). Some people also choose to take out “top-up” private insurance to cover additional costs.
The French national health insurance card is called Carte Vitale. When planning your doctor’s visit, you’ll want to make sure to bring your health insurance card(s) with you. Keep in mind that usually you’ll have to pay upfront for care at GP surgeries (but not hospitals).
You may want to bring a phrasebook or online translator to the doctor’s surgery if you aren’t fluent in French. Below are some common phrases you can use.
> The first thing you’ll have to do is make an appointment
I’d like to make an appointment with [Doctor X], please. → Je souhaiterais prendre rendez-vous avec [le docteur X], s’il vous plaît.
You may then be asked a few questions, such as:
Êtes-vous un nouveau patient ? → Are you a new patient?
Quel est le motif de votre rendez-vous ? → What is the reason for your appointment?
Êtes-vous disponible [mercredi prochain à 16h30] ? → Are you available [next Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.]?
> Once you’ve made your appointment and arrived at the doctor’s surgery, you’ll check in with the receptionist and then sit down in la salle d’attente (the waiting room). When the doctor is ready, he or she will call you in and maybe ask you a few questions, such as:
Quel est votre nom ? / Quelle est votre date de naissance ? → What is your name? What is your date of birth?
Prenez-vous actuellement des médicaments ? → Are you currently taking any medication?
> You’ll then need to tell the doctor about your health issues. There are a few French expressions you can use, starting with:
J’ai mal… → I have pain…
J’ai mal is typically used with a part of the body. For example, j’ai mal à la tête (I have a headache), j’ai mal au ventre (I have a stomach ache), and so on. You can consult a list of body parts in French here.
You can also use phrases like:
J’ai un rhume → I have a cold.
J’ai la grippe → I have the flu.
J’ai de la fièvre → I have a fever.
J’ai vomi [trois fois] → I vomited [three times].
J’ai toussé [tout la nuit] → I coughed [all night].
J’ai éternué [tout la journée d’hier] → I sneezed [all day yesterday].
Once you’ve described your problem, the doctor may give you une ordonnance (a prescription), so you can get un traitement (a treatment).
Because healthcare costs in France often aren’t fully covered by the national system, many expats choose to supplement their coverage with private health insurance. With a private plan like APRIL International’s MyHealth France, you can get access to direct billing with certain healthcare providers. This means you won’t have to pay upfront. You can also enjoy additional services, such as dental and vision care, private hospital rooms, and coverage outside France.
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