Medical Assistance in France
No one goes on holiday expecting to need to see a medical professional but it can happen. This page provides some guidance on what you need to do should you be in a situation where you need medical assistance while in France.
Emergency numbers in France
On our first cycling trip to France, we came across a situation in the mountains where two walkers had become trapped on a cliff. There were a few people who had heard their whistle and had stopped including us. We ascertained that they were stuck and needed assistance but given none of us were French we didn’t know what number we should call. Thankfully a camper van stopped and knew that the emergency number in France is 112. In fact, this number works across Europe and is the best one to use from a mobile phone for any type of emergency. The services have translators so the inability to speak French will not pose any problems. Ultimately the walkers were rescued and all ended well but it was a lesson we learnt and we made sure we had that number in our phones.
You never know when you may require medical assistance and it helps to know where you can go for help. Obviously, in an emergency situation, you would dial 112 but not every situation requires an emergency response.
It can happen
On our last trip, we had a situation of a very painful scratched cornea thanks to a bug flying into Bella’s eye while cycling. After some googling about the issue, we thought a trip to the doctor would be the safest thing to do. But how did you do that? Was there even a doctor in town? Did they speak English? Some more googling ascertained there was a doctor in town and off we set.
We walked into what looked like someone’s house and into a tiny waiting room with no sign of anyone anywhere. Other people started arriving and finally, a door opened and someone came out and the doctor then pointed to one of the other people waiting and they went in. This happened a second time and we figured they must have had appointments and left. We later learnt that this was a walk-in clinic and we would have been seen.
Given it was late in the day we figured we would try again in the morning. We spoke to our host the next morning who was very helpful and gave us directions to a medical centre in a town 27km away. She also wrote the words in French the doctor needed to know.
All is well
With the bikes loaded up and ready to go we then had a stroke of luck. One of the other guests in the B&B was a doctor and had overheard us talking about the matter at breakfast. He had a look at the eye and told us it would be painful for a couple of days but needed no other medical intervention. So we set off on our planned route for the day and all was well. A day to two later the eye was fine as he had said it would be, but lesson learnt and hence this page of information. You just never know.
Options for medical help
If you need medical assistance there are a few ways of going about it. If your issue is relatively minor you could try a pharmacy. Pharmacists have a high level of training and may be able to assist and are generally open most days and across a range of hours. If this does not work a doctor is next on the list.
Finding a doctor is the first challenge. Google is a good option here and it helped us. Another website you can try is doctolib.fr which is a French web listing of doctors by area. You simply type in the name of the town or city you are in and a list of doctors will be shown. A benefit of this site is that you can filter results to include only doctors that speak English. The site itself is in French only so you need to select the “Langues Parlées” tab and select “Anglais” as the language spoken. The site will also show if there are appointments available and how much it will cost. Generally, a visit will cost €25.
The staff at your accommodation can be another fantastic resource to help you if online does not work or you do not have access. We definitely found this invaluable given they are locals who live in the place permanently and were more than willing to assist. If accommodation staff are not available or do not speak English then the local tourist office could also be of assistance. Many embassy websites also provide a list of English speaking doctors and is worth looking into as well.
English speaking medical providers
While many people in France can speak some English you should not assume that you will be able to deal with fluent English speakers especially in the more rural areas of France. Having to navigate the medical system in a different language is challenging. Thankfully, however, there are tools to help as listed on our page about speaking French. Apps like Google Translate or iTranslate can translate a conversation from English to French and visa versa providing both parties with information in their native tongue. They can also help navigate a French-only website so you can understand what it is saying. As mentioned above hotel staff or tourist offices may assist and your embassy may provide information on its website to help.
If you find yourself needing a dentist in an emergency you can follow the same advice as for finding a doctor. The doctolib.fr site also lists dentists and is a handy resource.
If you are taking medications make sure you bring enough supplies for your trip as well as the prescriptions and name of drugs should you lose them. Up to 3 months supply of medications for personal use can be brought into France without needing to have a prescription. However, if you have medication containing narcotics or psychotropic ingredients you must have a prescription from your doctor to prove they are for your medical use.