Parisian Living

Sick in Paris? French Medical Assistance 101

by Sylvia Sabes

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

The day we moved to Paris, I had pneumonia and my eight year-old daughter had a confirmed case of strep throat. Snow fell from the sky, the thermostat plummeted to historic lows, and by Saturday morning my very Californian five year-old was sick too. Their Dad was on a plane, flying home from a business trip in Cologne, and through a feverish haze, I went into panic mode.

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

It was the weekend in a foreign country that had been our home for all of 96 hours. I flew down a flight of stairs and asked our concierge what to do. She kindly introduced me to the pharmacist next door, explaining that the French turn to their pharmacist for basic first aid and medical advice before heading to a doctor.

Pharmacists diagnose minor problems, and if you needed to see a specialist, they know the best doctor in the neighborhood for what is ailing you, and in Paris most of them seem to be able to do it in English these days. Have blisters that keep you from enjoying your stay? They’ve got Compeeds that are light years ahead of moleskin. A cold slowing you down? Regular visitors swear by modern French remedies.

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

But even in France, only a doctor can prescribe antibiotics. “You need to call SOS Médecins,” explained the pharmacist. I was surprised by the “SOS.” My daughter was ill, but it was not an emergency. But she patiently explained that they are simply a team of doctors that make house calls. Trusting her, I dialed 3624 and 20 minutes later we had an English-speaking doctor at our door. He did a thorough check-up, took a throat culture, filled out a prescription, and handed me an invoice for 78€.

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

SOS Médecins is a great service that I have turned to time and again. But sometimes an emergency is just that, and an Emergency Room is the only solution. There are public hospitals throughout the city and they are all excellent. In fact, I am writing this post from the ER at the public hospital Cochin after having cut myself with a kitchen knife. I had to wait two hours before seeing someone, but I am now in my own room with excellent wifi access as I wait for my charming Italian doctor to come back with her needle and thread. Most of the doctors I have run into in ERs (and I have run into half a dozen ERs since our arrival!) speak English and are quite thrilled to practice it on you.

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

Now that I live here I have insurance, but as a traveler, make sure your health insurance covers you abroad, or purchase travel insurance of your own. I have been a big fan of World Nomads ever since they medevaced me out of Africa. Pack your contact lenses, extra glasses, and any medication that you require in your carry-on, never under the plane, and bring copies of your prescriptions, just in case you run out of something, break your glasses, or lose an important medication. Some pharmacies are open nights, Sundays, and holidays. And should an emergency ever arise, if you want to be 100% sure that you’ll be treated in fluent English, the private American Hospital in Neuilly will make you feel at home.

When You're Sick in Paris: Practical Advice on Seeking Medical Attention in French Pharmacies, Doctor's Offices, and Hospitals

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Written by Sylvia Sabes for the HiP Paris Blog. All photos by Emma Stencil. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

Written By

Sylvia Sabes

Sylvia is thrilled to be a French citizen, living in Paris where she writes ad copy for brands like Cartier, Hermès and L'Oréal while raising two teens and learning to share life with a Frenchman. You can read more of her adventures in Paris and across the globe on her website, Only In Paris. View Website
Photos By

Emma Stencil

Emma’s love for France began at the age of three when her aunt bought her an IKKS gilet and skirt from Paris. Since then she’s jumped at every chance to travel in Europe. She lives in Versailles and spends her days looking after two French children and lounging at Parisian cafés.

8 comments on “Sick in Paris? French Medical Assistance 101

Thank you so much for this post! I found it when googling what to do when sick in Paris and in need of antibiotics. I called SOS Médecins and they came within an hour. Now my husband is out getting the prescription for me and I hope soon my strep throat will be under control. I am so grateful to you because I wouldn’t have known to call them otherwise.

I can’t believe you mentioned Compeeds. I get a supply of them every time I’m in Paris. They’ve saved my life more than once.

[…] While it is less than ideal, sometimes you do fall ill while you are travelling. The HIP Paris Blog has some excellent hints and tips in their article Sick in Paris? French Medical Assistance 101. […]

It is good that you mention that pharmacists in Paris, and all over France, can give you advice on medication. Here in the US it is unheard of. I always go to them first if we have any health issues when we are in Paris.

Oh the point of my post .. besides kissing doctors .. I loved loved loved the pharmacies in Buenos Aires, they were just like Paris.
You can buy water pills, antibiotics, all sorts of things, over the counter.
Sooo civilized.

This sounds so much like the way life and doctors are in Buenos Aires Argentina. Although most of them spoke perfect English ( My surgeon teaches at NYU ..)
But the charm .. when do you ever go to a doctor in the US and when he comes into the room, he kisses you first. It is enough to make a girl a hypochondriac 🙂

I too had to call SOS Médecins once when I was a teaching assistant and lived in a backyard shed (not even joking) in Val d’Oise. I had a high fever for 3 days and on the 3rd day I needed relief from the superflu. Great service and cheap by American standards! I’m never afraid to get the bill either for medical services in France. I love when I go to the pharmacist and they warn me “ooh, that medicine is expensive.” And it’s the equivalent of $20. I think I’m their happiest customer!

And kind of related, veterinary care in France is top notch as well (at least my vet). We’ve had to call the emergency vet a few times too and they’ve also been great.

Thanks for the love in the related links. Bon week-end! 😉

Great article! What blew me away my first year here was that although I had private travel insurance, I never had to use it. A visit to a general practitioner is 23€, and SOS Medecins are, as you mentioned, about 70€. And can you imagine a doctor making house calls in the US for that amount? Yesterday, I had a dental exam and 360-degree xray for 44€ and a filling and cleaning today for 70€. It’s unreal the difference in cost when you come from the US!

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