In this guide we walk you through the process of getting a carte vitale, from determining your eligibility to receiving your card.
What is the carte vitale?
The Carte Vitale is a health insurance card that is part of France’s national healthcare system. Introduced in 1998, it allows for direct billing between healthcare providers and the social security system’s medical branch. The card features the insured individual’s name and photo, along with an electronic chip that stores information such as their identification number, address, and health insurance coverage details.
Healthcare providers use the card to bill the national health insurance fund directly for medical services rendered to the cardholder, eliminating the need for patients to pay out-of-pocket. However it can take a couple of weeks to receive reimbursement.
Step 1: Determine your eligibility
The first step in getting a Carte Vitale is to determine if you are eligible. Anyone who has been legally resident in France for three months or more is eligible for a Carte Vitale.
There are different pathways to joining the health service depending on whether you are working or self-employed, or retired. If you fall into none of those categories, you can join the Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA). This offers the most basic level of health cover, available to foreigners who are not in work.
Step 2: Gather the necessary documents
Once you have determined your eligibility, you will need to gather the necessary documents for your application. For your Carte Vitale application, you’ll need:
- Your French social security number (“numéro de sécurité sociale”). Temporary numbers can be used
- Your ID / passport
- Your birth certificate your parents’ names on it (“avec filiation”)
- A copy of your long-stay visa (for non EU citizens)
- Proof you have lived in France for more than three months (i.e. proof of residence (“justificatif de domicile”) or an employment contract / payslips)
- Your French banking information (“RIB”)
Social security number
Your French social security number is a 13-digit number that identifies you within the French social security system. If you are employed or self-employed in France, your employer or the SSI will provide you with a social security number. If you are retired and receiving a pension from another EU country, you may receive a social security number when presenting your S1 form to your local CPAM office. You may be issued a temporary social security number initially while still in the process of registering with the French social security system.
Remember to notify CPAM of your permanent number when it arrives.
ID / passport
You will need to provide a copy of your ID or passport as proof of identity when applying for a Carte Vitale.
Birth certificate with your parents name on it (“avec filiation”)
You will need to provide a copy of your birth certificate “avec filiation” when applying for a Carte Vitale. This means that your birth certificate must include the names of both of your parents. You may also be asked to translate the document
If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to provide a copy of your long-stay visa when applying for a Carte Vitale.
Proof of residence
You will need to provide proof that you have been legally resident in France for at least three months when applying for a Carte Vitale. This can include documents such as utility bills, rental contracts, or bank statements showing that you have been living in France.
You will need to provide your RIB (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire) when applying for a Carte Vitale. Your RIB is a document that contains your French bank account information.
Step 3: Apply for a Carte Vitale
After gathering all the necessary documents, you can apply for a Carte Vitale. You can’t actually apply online; you have to print off the form, and either post it to your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM for short) or make an appointment to deliver it personally.
Applying through your employer
If you are employed in France, your employer will register you with the French social security system and you will automatically be enrolled in the French healthcare system. You will receive a social security number and will be able to apply for a Carte Vitale
Applying as a self-employed individual
If you are self-employed in France, you will need to register with the social security system for self-employed individuals (Sécurité Sociale pour les Indépendants or SSI) to be eligible for a Carte Vitale. Once registered, you will receive a social security number and will be able to apply for a Carte Vitale.
Applying as a retiree
If you are retired and receiving a pension from another EU country, you may be eligible for a Carte Vitale through the S1 form. The S1 form is a certificate of entitlement to healthcare in another EU country. You will need to apply for an S1 form from the social security institution in your home country and present it to your local CPAM office in France.
Applying through PUMA
If you do not fall into any of the above categories, you may be eligible for a Carte Vitale through the Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA). PUMA offers basic health cover to foreigners who are not in work. To be eligible, you must have been legally resident in France for at least three months and meet certain income requirements.
Step 4: Wait for your application to be processed
After submitting your application, you will need to wait for it to be processed. The processing time may vary depending on various factors. However you can expect it to take up to 6 months unfortunately. Some receive it sooner than that.
Some people have a difficult time dealing with the bureaucracy when trying to get their carte vitale. CPAM sometimes requests additional documentation, which must be sent by post. This can extend the process and make it quite painful.
They offer an English helpline, which often has no delay in reaching an agent due to the low volume of English speaking callers. You can call it on
0811 363 646 if you have questions about your application.
While waiting for your carte vitale, you can still be reimbursed after a doctor’s visit. Your doctor will give you a document that you must fill in and send by post to your local CPAM office. It may take 2 weeks or more to receive your reimbursement.