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5 steps to take care of yourself: a guide

1) How to get your "carte Vitale"

The carte Vitale is the smart card that certifies your registration with the French National Health Service. This individual, free card is used to cover part of your health care costs in France. All beneficiaries of the French National Health Service are entitled to one.
You can obtain your own carte Vitale once you turn 16 (15 in some cases), and on your 18th birthday, at the latest. Before this, you are a “beneficiary” meaning that you are attached to your legal representative (parent or legal guardian) for the coverage of your health care costs.

To apply for your carte Vitale, you must first create an account on You will be asked to provide your social security number. Be sure to provide the social security number of the person you are still attached to (parent or guardian). Then select the “Mes démarches” (My procedures) section, then “Ma carte Vitale” (My Carte Vitale), and “Commander ma carte Vitale” (Order my Carte Vitale), and follow the instructions.

The carte Vitale is the same size as a credit card and can easily fit in your wallet. You should bring it with you every time you see a health professional, including doctors, pharmacists, dentists, at the hospital, etc., in order for you to be rapidly reimbursed (within a week):

  • The first part, known as the “mandatory” portion, is covered by the French National Health Service,
  • And potentially a co-payment if you have subscribed to a mutual health fund (also known as supplementary health insurance), or if you receive solidarity health coverage.

Find out more on the page "If you’re properly informed, you can seek treatment at the right price".

Why, when and how should I update my carte Vitale? What should I do if my carte Vitale is lost or stolen? This information can be found on

Your social security number can be found on your carte Vitale. This is the individual insurance identification number that has been assigned to you at birth, and you will keep the same one for your whole life.

2) Choosing your primary care physician

The primary care physician is your doctor of reference. They provide your regular care, medical check-ups and centralize your medical records (examination results, diagnoses, medication, etc.) They are usually general practitioners, in a private practice, hospital, or health center. This is the person you must see first (there are a few exceptions, which we discuss below) to comply with the coordinated care pathway (below as well).

From 16 years old, everyone must have their own primary care physician. You are free to choose your doctor and this is a personal decision, but the chosen doctor must agree to perform this role.

Quick tip: To find a health professional on the basis of their specialty, location, prices or working hours, go to (in French).

Once you have chosen your primary care physician, you must declare this to the French National Health Service via the “Déclaration de choix du médecin traitant” (Declaration of choice of primary care physician) form for an optimal reimbursement. You can change primary care physician at any time.

3) Complying with the coordinated care pathway

The coordinated care pathway means that your primary care physician is responsible for the coordination of your health care.
This means that you must see this doctor before any specialist, except for gynecology, ophthalmology, oral medicine, and psychiatry appointments, for which you can contact a specialist directly.

With the exception of these four specialties, if you directly see another doctor without a referral from your primary care physician, a smaller portion of your health care costs will be reimbursed by the French National Health Service.

► Follow the coordinated care pathway, the optimal reimbursement of your health care costs depends on it!

4) Choosing a health professional, the website of reference for health care, provides a directory of health professionals where you can narrow down your search by specialty, location, working hours, and fees applied. Keep in mind that not all health professionals apply the same fees (learn more here), depending whether they are registered under sector 1 or sector 2, and this has an impact on your expenses! (in French)

5) Forward the treatment form

The “feuille de soins” (treatment form) is the document sent to your health insurance organization to obtain the reimbursement of your medical fees. On the treatment form, the health professional provides all the information relevant to the consultation: their contact details, your marital status, the date of the consultation, the procedures performed, and the fees paid.
When you bring your carte Vitale to each appointment, it will be updated by the health professional electronically. Your physician will then provide you with a paper treatment form for you to fill out, sign, and send to your health insurance organization.

Good to know: how to receive health care abroad

If you plan to visit one of the countries in the European Union, Switzerland, or the United Kingdom, be sure to apply for your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) no later than 15 days before your departure. This card will ensure optimal reimbursement of your health care costs. If you do not have the card with you, you will have to pay the full amount of your costs upfront.

Like the carte Vitale, the EHIC is personal and free. Unlike the Carte Vitale, it is valid for two years. Don’t forget to renew it if needed.

To get one, all you have to do is apply for it online from your CPAM office, or from the Social security for self-employed workers if you are self-employed, or the MSA if you are an agricultural worker, around three weeks before your trip.

Are you leaving soon? Don’t panic: a provisional replacement certificate will be rapidly sent to you, while you await your EHIC.

For a trip outside of the EU, we recommend that you take out an assistance or insurance contract covering the duration of your trip. In some countries such as the USA, Canada, or even certain Asian countries, health care costs are very expensive.

To learn more about the coverage of your health care costs abroad, go to the Ameli website (in French).