It is never fun to become ill, but it can become a real problem when you are abroad and don’t speak the language fluently.  Should you become sick in France, here are a couple of useful things to know…

■  Pharmacists are highly trained medical specialists who are entitled to give medical advise. Do not hesitate to ask them for their help before you go see a doctor.

■  You can see any general doctor for a cost of about 22 Euros. You may get reimbursed by your health insurance if they cover international travels.

■  Most French doctors will offer extended hours, and will make house calls for an extra fee. SOS Medecin will send a doctor to your house in less than one hour (Paris – tel: 01 47 07 77 77 around 70 Euros).

Pharmacies in France

Drugs are not sold in supermarkets but in a totally separate shop called “une pharmacie.” You can recognize it by its green cross.

Pharmacies are typically open from 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday to Saturday, and close during lunch time (12PM-2PM) and on Sunday. However, everyday there is “une pharmacie de garde,” to be used only for emergencies, when treatment should not be delayed, and open all day and all night. In the countryside, they take turn, so the list is usually displayed on the window of any pharmacy, or available at the hospital, a doctor’s office,  a fire station, or police station.

There is usually a beeper by the side of the pharmacy, call, and the pharmacist will come down.

Here is a site (in French) with the list of off-hours pharmacies in the Paris regions.

Prescription drugs in France

A lot of over-the-counter medicine is available by prescription-only in France. And brand names are often different, although more and more US brands are now available in France. So it’s a good idea to pack an emergency kit with your common medicine so you don’t have to worry if you catch a cold…

If you are staying for a longer duration and need to have a precise medicine prescribed to you, doctors have a big book which lists the main ingredients of a drug and its French name, so they can help you find the French equivalent to your regular drug.

For medical emergencies in France

■  You can walk in any French hospital in case of emergency, go to “les urgences,” they will treat you first, then talk about money.

■  Should you need an ambulance, call “le SAMU” (call on the phone the 15) or “Les Pompiers” (fire-brigade, phone 18) – these numbers are call free, and would work from any phone.

■  SOS Dentiste (Paris only) tel. 01 43 37 51 00

■  SOS Help (English-language crisis line) tel. 01 46 21 46 46

English Speaking hospitals in the Paris region

■  the American Hospital, 63 blvd Victor Hugo 92202 Neuilly, Tel. 33-(0)1 46 41 25

■  the British Hospital, 3 rue Barbès 92300 Levallois Tel. 33-(0)1 46 39 22 22