Can I buy health insurance as a long-stay visitor in France?
April 4, 2012 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American living in France on a long-stay visitor's visa (I'm here as an artist in residence working on comics in Angoulême). To get my visa, I had to prove I had health insurance. At the time of my visa application, I had American health insurance which covered only emergencies abroad, so I assumed that if anything came up, I would pay out of pocket here in France and then, well, go home if anything really grave came about. I also bought travelers insurance from World Nomads to cover repatriation (necessary for the visa). Now, because of reasons that I wont go into here, I have lost my American health insurance and am left with only the travelers insurance, which is really not sufficient. I'd like to stay in France and am planning to renew my visa for another year, so I want to make sure everything is in order. I'd also like to be covered! Is it possible to buy French health insurance as a foreigner who is technically a "non-resident"? I've googled a bit and found some links to various companies who seem to do just this, but I would like to hear from others who have done the same or who know something about it.
posted by minicloud to Travel & Transportation around France (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What is the French name of your visa/card? (I'm having a hard time understanding which you could have from your description, and the type you have will have a bearing on the options open to you.)
posted by fraula at 3:34 AM on April 4, 2012

Just realized there is generic info I can give, but I don't know if it applies in your case (which is why my previous question): if you're being paid in any way (income), and paying taxes, you already have the right to French universal health coverage, because you're already paying for it. In which case, check with your nearest caisse d'assurance maladie to ask them how to go about getting a carte vitale (national health coverage card). The thing is, the only "visa" I'm familiar with for someone in your situation – more than 3 months in France – is the carte de séjour: renewable, lasts 1 year, and requires an initial visa (the thing stuck to your passport, which is not equivalent to the carte itself). And for non-EU residents, getting that carte de séjour requires you to have an income... The only exception I can think of is for a student situation, but you don't seem to be a student?

The outside health insurance thing is for the visa itself, which is what gives you the right to be on French soil while the application for the carte de séjour is being processed (assuming that's what you have). Once you have the longer-term carte, the outside insurance isn't required (unless things have changed in the 5 years since I last had one). I didn't have outside health insurance for 10 years after my initial visa.
posted by fraula at 3:46 AM on April 4, 2012

Response by poster: Hmm...I have the second visa you mentioned although I have not yet gotten a carte de sejour because I was told by the people who run my residency that I did not need one. But now I am beginning to question whether they knew what they were talking about. I have an income which is from the US (I had to write a letter stating I would not seek employment in France) as I am working as a writer/artist for American publishing companies.

So I better go on down to the préfecture right away then...oops.
posted by minicloud at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2012

Yes, that all sounds quite strange... I'm not an immigration lawyer or anything, but as soon as you get past the 3 months of presence in France, as a non-EU citizen (this might be where your residency people got mixed up, they may be used to dealing with EU citizens), you do need a carte de séjour, yes. Try phoning the préfecture first to double-check? Things like this do sometimes change. Catching my bus home now so have to go but will check in again later.
posted by fraula at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2012

Best answer: OK, home now. Some helpful links:
- Visa moyen séjour is what I'm guessing you have because it's the longest one a non-EU citizen can get, but is still only good for 3 consecutive months (as I suspected, that hasn't changed).

- After those three months, as a non-EU citizen (btw EU citizens don't need visas in the first place), you need to get the 1-year carte de séjour. It's renewable.

- Income taxes are paid to the country you reside in, NOT the country of the company that's paying you – otherwise there'd be tax havens amok :) (You didn't ask this, but I'm mentioning it because this is how you get health care.) This is résidence fiscale in French, and, translating/summarizing from that link, is established after remaining in France for at least 183 days, hotels included.

The préfecture is generally (though it REALLY depends) helpful to people who make an effort to straighten things out and who know they should pay taxes, so giving them a phone call to ask what needs to be done will hopefully be fine for you. Worst comes to worst, you may need to leave the EU briefly and re-enter in order to get a new visa during the time it takes to process a carte de séjour.

Feel free to send MeMail if you want to ask me anything, btw. American in France for 13 years all told now. (So long that I recently turned French!) Been through a LOT of immigration, health care and work situation hoops myself.
posted by fraula at 9:37 AM on April 4, 2012

Just popping in to point out that there is an English-language website and telephone advice service for l'Assurance Maladie. I haven't called the English-language one, but the French-speaking operators were really helpful. They specialize in knowing about your rights to health insurance.
posted by whatzit at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2012

Response by poster: This has been immensely helpful. Thank you both! It was hard enough trying to get answers in order to get the long stay visa, as no one at the French consulate would take a phone call. This will help me get to the bottom of things!
posted by minicloud at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2012

no one at the French consulate would take a phone call

The story of my life! My experience with OFII and the Prefecture de Police is that they do not answer the phone, the recordings send you to other useless phone numbers that eventually send you back to the number you started with, and if you ever do get a person on the line they will give you the wrong information.

At least in Paris, you get your questions answered by email within 1 business day. Give it a shot!

YMMV based on location: OFII in Calvados answers the phone straight away and would probably help someone who walked in.

But anyway, Assurance Maladie and other health-insurance organizations come second only to the library in my ranking of favorite government bureaucracies to deal with in France.

posted by whatzit at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2012

whatzit, I never got through on that line to Assurance Maladie when I had cause to a year or so ago, so I don't know if it works. But I agree, I did find them very helpful when I contacted them by email, as far as I remember in English. (My French isn't up to much, but I did try some of the correspondence in French.)

For context: I get European healthcare providers to pay for treatment given to their residents who received NHS care while travelling in the UK. Assurance Maladie compare very well with providers or insurers in other countries.
posted by ambrosen at 3:19 PM on April 4, 2012

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