Social security

Coverage for employees, students and pensioners

As the French social security system is highly complicated and changes regularly, we can't give complete and comprehensive details here. However, we provide an overview with the most relevant information for foreigners coming to France.

EU/EEA citizens are usually covered in France by their home country's systems. If you're going to be resident in France, you should register in the social security system.

Non-EU/EEA citizens must have a residency permit to be eligible for social security coverage in France. For more information about residence permits, see our guides in the legal section.

Introduction to the French social security system

There are several schemes in France (régimes obligatoires), you will need to work out to which category you belong:

  • general scheme (régime générale) for employees, covering over 80% of the population
  • autonomous schemes (régimes autonomes) for non-agricultural self-employed or professions
  • agricultural scheme (régimes agricoles) for people working in agriculture
  • special schemes (régimes spéciaux) for specific categories, like civil servants

We focus on the general scheme only, as this concerns the majority of foreigners working in France. This scheme insures for sickness, maternity, industrial accidents and occupational illnesses, disability, old age and widowhood, death, family benefits, unemployment insurance and supplementary pension. You will find more details on this scheme in the following article. Details on health insurance can be found in our health section.

Social security for employees

When you start working in France, your new employer will register you with the URSSAF ( Union de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d'Allocations Familiales) www.urssaf.fr .

This institution manages both social security schemes and unemployment insurance. The employer will also register you for pension contributions.Contributions to the social security scheme are based on your earnings through automatic deductions from salary. They are split between contributions from you and your employer

When registered, you will receive a certificate of affiliation to the social security system with your social security number and Carte Vitale. You will need to find the local CPAM (Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie), which will be your interface with social security system. Your local CPAM depends on the place of your residence and is easy to find out online at www.ameli.fr .

The general scheme covers all salaried and similar employees (when not in a special schemes provided that their contributions are up to date). Dependents (spouses and children) are covered automatically. Foreign workers seconded to France by an employer whose registered office is outside of the country are usually not subject to the general scheme. This category of workers maintain their own social security schemes, unless coming from a country that has a bilateral agreement with France.

1. Sickness insurance

Health care: All legal residents in France, i.e. employed, unemployed, pensioners and their dependents, are entitled to benefit from the French health care system. The way it works is you pay for their treatment and then ask for reimbursement. You are given back a percentage of the amount, depending on the type of treatment (ranging from 100% for emergency treatment down to 65% for a course of antibiotics). For more details, consult our Health section.

Daily allowances: Employed people (that have been contributing to the social security system) usually receive 50% of their average gross daily pay over previous three months when they are ill. This starts from the fourth day of their absence from work. Usually, employers continue to pay all or part of salary and directly receive refunds for the daily allowance from social security.

2. Maternity benefits

Heath care: 100% of all costs related to pregnancy and childbirth are covered. This includes costs for all treatment prescribed in the prenatal and postnatal period, including: medical, pharmaceutical costs, hospitalisation and examination.

Daily allowances: All pregnant employees have rights for a daily allowance during maternity leave. The amount depends on the average daily pay over the preceeding three months to the leave. Maternity leave lasts a minimum of sixteen weeks. Up to six can be taken before the due date (la date présumée) as prenatal leave ( repos prenatal). If the baby is late, leave is extended automatically and is not deducted from the total. The remainder of the sixteen weeks are taken as postnatal leave ( repos postnatal). The employee can decide to shorten maternity leave, but eight weeks are mandatory (six being after the birth). After the third child an employee can get longer maternity leave: 8 weeks before the date of birth and 18 after.

3. Industrial accidents and occupational illnesses

This insurance covers accidents at or travelling to/from work and occupational illnesses. Your employer should be informed as soon as possible, with full information as well as names/addresses of witnesses of the event (if appropriate).

Health care: Medical and pharmaceutical costs, hospitalisation, appliances and prostheses are all free of charge (except of cases where these exceed approved rates). Vocational training or functional rehabilitation may also be paid for.

Daily allowances: The allowance is paid from the first day of incapacity of working. It is equal to 60% of gross daily pay for the first 28 days, and up to 80% after (within the limits defined by social security).

Pensions: If you remain permanently or totally incapable of working, you may be eligible to receive a pension. In case of death, your spouse (in some cases, children or parents of the deceased) may receive the pension. Pensions and allowances are payable even if you subsequently move to another EU county.

4. Invalidity insurance

This insurance compensates for a reduction in the ability to work and the consequent loss of earnings. It may be awarded on a temporary basis and reviewed at any time. To be eligible you must fulfil the following conditions: (1) medically assessed as at least two-thirds disabled; (2) aged under 60 - if older, the old-age pension scheme applies; (3) registered in and contributing to the social security system - normally for more then 6 months; (4) willing to undertake any required medical examination(s).

This insurance gives you the right to receive a pension calculated on the average of your highest 10 years of annual income. If you are in paid employment, this pension is paid at 30% of this average. If not in paid employment, the pension is equal to 50% of this average. The pension can be higher if you need day-to-day third-party care. In addition, you are entitled to 100% reimbursement of all heath care costs.

5. Old-age and widowhood insurance

There are basically two kinds of old-age insurance benefits, contributory, (including old-age pensions) and non-contributory.

(a) Contributory pensions

Old-age pension: Eligibility is not automatic - pension applications should be submitted six months before the retirement date. Pensions are calculated by age, length of career, salary levels and related contributions. You can retire from the age of sixty and the basic qualifying time is 37.5 years of employment - if you have less than this the pension is adjusted downwards. You can make additional contributions (up to the equivalent of three years) to increase the amount of the final pension.

The periods of salaried employment in other EEA countries are included. The basic old-page pension is calculated using an average of a number of highest paid annual salaries (the number of years varies). The percentage paid of this average varies between 25% and 50% (maximum).

Widowhood pension: Awarded to widows/widowers aged more then 55 years, this can be up to 54% of the pension of a deceased spouse. It is a means-tested pension ( pension de réversion).

There is also a widows/widowers pension for permanently disabled persons ( pension de veuve ou de veuf), which does not have a minimum age requirement.
Pensions for non cadres (non-executive employees) are managed by CNAVTS (Caisse Nationale d'Assurance Vieillesse et de Travailleurs Salariés) - information available on www.cnav.fr  (in French).

(b) Non-contributory pension benefits

This is a means-tested allowance, the following criteria are taken into account: (1) over 65 years old - or 60 if incapable of working; (2) resident in France; (3) income below a certain level; (4) employed or self-employed for a certain minimum length of time.

Types of benefits include: allowance for mothers ( allocation aux mères de famille), supplementary pension, life annuity ( secours viager), special old-age allowance and
supplementary allowance provided by the old-age solidarity fund (for people with the lowest incomes). Information can be obtained from the FSV ( Fonds de Solidarité Vieillesse): www.fsv.fr  (in French).

6. Death

Death insurance provides a lump-sum payment to dependents of an insured person at the time of their death. Payment is made to the spouse, unless divorced or separated, when it can go to children or parents. It usually is equivalent to 90 days of basic daily pay. Claims should be submitted with a death certificate, the deceased's insurance card, a certified statement of his/her wage or salary, a family certificate ( fiche familiale d'état civile) and, if appropriate, documents certifying dependence on the deceased.

7. Family benefits

Family benefits are paid to families with one or more dependent children under certain conditions, which include:

  • a household income under certain level
  • children under 20 years old, not working or being paid less then 55% of SMIC (minimum guaranteed wage).

If the family has three or more children, the amount increases when children reach the age of 11, and again at 16. To be eligible, both parents should be resident in France. Some allowances can be paid, even when your spouse resides with your children in another EU state. If s/he works, this does not apply as the spouse's state of residence is responsible (in some cases, however, you are eligible to receive a supplement in France).

There are over twenty benefits, divided into basically into four areas: birth, education, housing and other. The most important are:

  • family allowances (allocations familiales) awarded from the second child onwards
  • young children's allowance (allocation pour jeune enfant)
  • family supplement (complément familial)
  • housing allowance (allocation de logement)
  • special education allowance (allocation d'éducation spéciale)
  • family maintenance allowance (allocation de soutien familial)
  • new school year allowance (allocation de rentrée scolaire)
  • single parent allowance (allocation de parent isolé)
  • parental educational allowance (allocation parentale d'éducation)
  • adoption allowance (allocation d'adoption)
  • parental care allowance (allocation de présence parental)

Precise information about all aids available as well as about qualifying conditions can be obtained from CAF, the Family Allowance Funds (Caisses d'Allocations Familiales), www.caf.fr  (in French only). The CAF produces a Guide about family allowances (Guide des allocations familiales) which details application procedures.

8. Unemployment insurance

See our section on unemployment insurance for further details.

9. Supplementary pension

The basic old-age pension is increased by the supplementary pension (compulsory for all employed people). Contributions for supplementary pensions and all executive pensions (cadres) produce 'retirement points', which reflect the length of employment, salary levels and contributions. These points are multiplied by a factor (adjusted yearly) to calculate the actual pension amount. You can further increase the pension amount with a supplementary insurance policy (mutual or private insurance).

The supplementary pension is managed by ARRCO (Association des Régimes de Retraités COmplémentaires) - find information (in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese) at www.arrco.fr .

AGIRC (Association Générale des Institutions de Retraite des Cadres) manages both basic and supplementary pensions for executives (cadres) and includes almost 50 retirement pension institutions. More information at www.agirc.fr  (in French).

Coverage for students

Students from the EU/EEA countries do not need to subscribe to the French Social Security System as they remain covered by their home country during their stay in France.

Some non EU/EEA countries have reciprocal agreements that may give you cover - check with your home social services or educational institution. If your country does not have an agreement with France and you are staying for more than three months, you should subscribe to the Social Security System.

You are eligible for the Student scheme ( régime étudiant) if you are:

  • less 28 years old
  • studying at an institution affiliated to the French Social Security System

In this case, you subscribe through one of many student insurance organizations (see our directory) at the same time you enroll. The cost for an academic year is €177 (2003/2004).Your spouse and children are also automatically covered. Through the same insurer, you can also get complementary health insurance ( mutuelle), to pay for part or all of medical expenses not covered by the basic social security scheme.

If you don't meet the criteria above you have two options:

  • CMU (Couverture Maladie Universelle) - free if you fulfil certain criteria (low income, limited resources). Click here to learn more
  • Private insurance - more expensive then the Student scheme

Retired people

Retired people from EU/EEA countries should ask for an E-121 form (if receiving a pension) or an E-106 form (if not yet receiving a pension) from the social security agency in the country of your origin. These cover the person receiving the pension and their spouse (regardless of country of origin) and ensure a basic health insurance cover in France without paying contributions to the French social security system.

Getting complementary health insurance ( mutuelle) is recommendable as this will reduce/eliminate payments for the proportion of expenses not covered by basic health insurance.

Self-employed

If self-employed, you have to subscribe to the régime autonome, register with the URSSAF ( Union de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d'Allocations Familiales, www.urssaf.fr ) and make all required payments.

Health insurance is provided by a specialised insurer under CANAM ( Caisse National d'Assurance Maladie des Professions Indépendants. You also contribute to retirement and invalidity funds - under a common umbrella of CNAVPL ( Caisse National d'Assurance Vieillesse des Professions Libérales, www.cnavpl.fr ).

Self-employed artists (designers, writers, photographs, illustrators, music composers), whose income depends much on royalties, should register with AGESSA ( Association pour la Gestion de la Sécurité Sociale, www.agessa.org ).

Further reading

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