Chronic illnesses and living in France

Hi I am an outsider in the sense that I am still living in the UK, however, I have itchy feet to get a life in France and have put it off for years due to all the long-term illnesses I get treatment for in the UK. I have the lung condition, COPD, which is one of the main reasons I would love to live by the sea in perhaps the SW of France (near Narbonne...), the sea air would be great for me. I also have epilepsy, controlled well by medication, and acid reflux also with medication. SO - anyone out there with any of these illnesses and managing to get good longterm treatment in France? For example, for epilepsy, is Tegretol Prolonged Release available in France (it isn't in Spain...)? And does anyone live in the SW and get good hospital care for lung conditions like bronchiectasis/COPD? I also have to live on benefits (a bit of a minefield at present as they are being chopped for disabled people here and I am wondering what the situation would be for my case if I went to live in France?) I would appreciate any feedback about what I could expect if I ever moved to Narbonne or thereabouts for health reasons. I am not due state pension for quite a few years in the UK as well. I speak fluent French (well, not as fluent as the French, but I could get by I think).

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My husband was already an insulin dependant diabetic when we came to live here in 1999. At that time it was more complicated to join the health system as we were below retirement age so we allowed for medication from our budget. We made sure we brought 6 months supply with us and booked a return trip to the UK to coincide with the need for a new prescription, in case we were having problems registering. As it happened we were lucky. A change brought about by an EU directive meant we could register during our first year, as I believe is the case again now in 2016. The care my husband has received way outpassed the care he received in the UK. Here he is an individual and all his personal problems resulting from the condition are dealt with within days, not months. Most checks are routine and either 6 monthly or yearly. The communication between the GP and the consultants is exemplary.Prevention, rather than cure, is the philosophy here. His control has never been better. . In addition all his treatment related to diabetis(heart, eyes, feet,) are included in the 100% refunded package.

We xertainly have no complaints regarding health care but for any newcomer my advise would be the same. Read up about the systems first, know where you will fit in and ifyou need xrugs or treatments when you first arrive, make sure you have included them in your moving costs.

Peter makes a good point in that you cannot assume the change from UK to French care will be seamless.

My limited experience of the French system is that it is excellent however it was not easy to get into it (perhaps a lesson for the NHS).

You will need to think how you might cope with any 'blips' and, as someone else mentioned, make quite sure that the local officials understand and agree the arrangements .

I applied for French medical insurance but having never worked here, despite being a property owner for 20 years I was asked to pay the equivalent of two years income tax based on my highest years of earning in another country. The paperwork was daunting.
I actually agree with this demand, but when I did the cost benefit analysis it seemed I was better to continue with my private insurance in Switzerland.

Shirley - Knowing how deeply you think about the condition of living outside one's culture - I sympathise. I myself sometimes wonder about my own future were my wife to leave me. I am 82 and without any real ailments - But how long is the future?

Family and friends are so very important to us (and them) and we must treasure them. We must cultivate them. It is perhaps the most important activity. The difficulty to communicate is very hard when one speaks in a foriegn tongue and even harder to listen. But so many French people are kind and if I may quote Shakespeare 'The friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel...' All a bit pompous but it is true..

Jacqueline, if you want more information on ALD and CMU go to the Useful Links page (see link at top of page) and click on the Health section. It's all explained there. Along with a lot of other things about the French health system.

Martin I agree with all that you say but how will the system react to an individual arriving with a chronic disease?

Obviously Jacqueline will not get any cover for some time - 6 months? - whilst she is covered from the UK NHS but after that? Will she be required to contribute to the system first? and if so for how long?

I do not know but it seems to me that Jacqueline should be very sure about what is available and on what conditions, if any, before making what may be an irrevocable move.

I really do not know the answer but well I have raised my concerns.


ALD = affection longue durée & getting it means you have 100% free cover for all related medical treatments from the French National Health Service.

CMU = couverture maladie universelle

What is CMU? > This is the French State Universal Health Coverage. Not private like BUPA.

The Clinic of Breath is at an altitude of 1200 metres above sea level. They say>


  • The average altitude of 1200 meters, OssĂ©ja

    • Due to a decrease in density, the air flows into the bronchi better what constitutes an undeniable advantage for all diseases obstructifves
The work of the ventilatory pump is reduced. It consumes less oxygen and more lead available for the rest of the body and more particularly for the muscles. This parameter therefore promotes the exercise training, the cornerstone of rehabilitation.
Private Messaging is fine.
Wish you Well.

Hi Jacqueline,

I have been living 11 years in a village at a height of 666 metres in the Pyrénées-Orientales. A few years ago I was diagnosed with COPD. The COPD is accepted for ALD. I am with CMU & have a top-up insurance.

Apart from medicines ( Spiriva & Onbrez ) I have twice been sent for spa treatment ( at no cost to myself. Last summer I also attended the Clinique of Breath ( This was for a month and again at no cost to myself.


  • Medical specialists (pulmonologists, addictologists, allergists, sleep specialist, nutritionist and neuropsychiatrist)
  • Specialists in exercise physiology
  • Research fellows (Research Laboratory ministerial authorization No. 11071S)
  • Nurses,
  • Therapeutic education teachers
  • Psychologists,
  • Pharmacist and pharmacy preparative
  • Laboratory technicians,
  • Of physiotherapists,
  • Teachers in adapted physical activity,
  • Dieticians,
  • Medical and administrative secretaries,
  • Hoteliers agents,
  • Service agents.


  • Personal respiratory rehabilitation and group level,
  • Retraining for a progressive exercise (cycling, carpet)
  • Adapted physical activities (walking, water sports, step, play golf motor ...)
  • Personalized therapeutic education program
  • Nutritional support,
  • A possible psychological support to help you accept and manage your illness,
  • Exploration and treatment of sleep disordered breathing if necessary,
  • Aid smoking cessation if necessary.

I strongly recomend La Solane for COPD - I don't believe you will find anything like it in the UK. There they diagnosed that I should take supplemental oxygen when physically active. I will be going there again this autumn.

On my return a organisation, APARD, immediately supplied me weekly with liquid oxygen at no cost. Recently this was changed to an oxygen concentrator to allow me to travel by plane.

Let me know if I can be of any help.

My experience in France is of fast and excellent care. One Sunday when I was writhing in agony with kidney stones (I recognised the symptons) I phoned one of the emergency numbers to establish which of the several cliniques and hospitals "urgence" departments I should go to here (Montpellier). The one suggested was on an almost door-to-door tram route from my flat. When I said that was good, and that I'd go by tram, I was told that there was absolutely no question of doing that and that an ambulance would be sent. It arrived within 10 minutes. Once in the UK when I had blood dripping from one ear, I phoned an A & E department, I was told I must make my own way there - which included a change of buses. After waiting three hours in an overcrowded waiting room, I was ushered into a cubicle where a nurse asked me where had the dog bitten me. She had got the notes for another patient. It took another quarter of an hour before they married me up with guy who had blood coming from his ear. Enough said.


Hi Jacqueline

Thank you but you must understand I am no expert on these matters and good to read how well Jo Blick has been treated but then she worked before sadly becoming partially disabled. I agree that my experience of the French medical system is far superior to that of the UK, not technologically but just better organised.

If you do decide to come to France my other counsel, is first choose an area and talk to the local officials. I have lived in a smallish village and now close to Ste Foy and in both cases there are regular visits by Social Security where you can get advice on the very issues that are concerning you ratrher than rely on anecdotal evidence. In Ste Foy, they come twice a week and the officials are always delighted that any "English" person speaks any French at all!!!

My other counsel is to check if there is a "Clinique" as distinct from a "Centre Hospitalier", the former being privately owned and the latter state owned. There is no difference in terms of cost but in my experience the "Cliniques" are closer to BUPA style care. Having said that they do not offer the full range of services of the State hospitals so treatment for your condition may not be available in the "cliniques" but worth a check.

When I was on the receiving end of a 32 session radiotherapy course, I was collected and driven to the centre, about 1 hour away. The taxi/ambulance waited for usually about an hour pending the treatment and then brought me home. That was a great help and I improved my French at the same time besides finding routes and restaurants I did not know!

Hello, we have a group called Disability Bites here on SFN, could do with more members!


I find the French benefits system better than the British one. I worked here for 3 years before becoming disabled. I am only partially disabled, and receive the lowest rate, level 1 = 280 euro a month "pension d'invaliditie" which is much better than the ÂŁ18 a month I would be entitled to in the I have parking permit, which I would not get in the UK, as I can walk further than 50metres. how mean are the British government!

I find the prospect of needing elderly care here FAR less frightening...all ,their care homes seem very well-staffed, well-built, and much cleaner. The hospitals are also better.

Treatment is much easier to get and faster.There are very few waiting lists, and they are much shorter.

Physiotherapy is always on offer easy to get, you just go to your GP, get a prescription and go shopping for a Kiné! wonderful! You can ever be sent for a "cure", which is a few weeks at a the GP. this is a common prevention and used a lot for ALD = affection longue durée, which is what you will need to register as once you have moved...see CPAM about this, if employed or unemployed or the RSI if you are self employed.

You will also need to register disabled with whatever local MDPH, you are near "Maison Departmentale des Personnes Handicappée", and be prepared for strangely antiquated attitudes to're not expected to work, or to want to, or to go out or have a life. You will need to fight for it if this is what you want. I advise living near a town as transport is an issue for disabled people. Look at whether the local buses take may need one. Ours don't here in the Vienne!

The disadvantages are red-tape - so I advise to make sure you always have access to a scanner, scan every letter you write or receiveand NEVER throw anything away marked "ATTESTATION"!!! also, be prepared to send important things by very expensive Lettre Recommandé, as French civil servants frequently ignore ordinary post.

Have a good back-up computer storage system and an easy to follow computer filing/naming system, then you won't need boxes and boxes of papers, just print out what you need, when you need it.


I am not competent to comment on your illness, though my treatment by the French health service has been outstanding.

But and it is a very, very BIG but, I am fairly certain but others please correct me if I am wrong, unless you have contributed to the Health system through taxation and social charges, you will NOT get any treatment without paying for it. Whilst you can take out insurance that is very expensive.

I am 100% sure you will NOT be refused treatment, but I am more or less sure you will have to pay the full cost. A know a Brit locally who goes back to the UK for cancer treatment as he was declined "free" treatment in the UK. I suspect, but do not know, that he has never paid into the system and this can get nothing out.

Assuming I am correct, you should try and get advice before you leave the UK the only difficulty that many on this blog have reported is that the answer depends on where you live, who you speak to and how hard you are willing to battle.

I hope it works out well for you.


Great link Terry. Very informative.

Jacqueline, can't remember if I already gave you this link which will take you to an EU booklet giving full details in English of the French Social Protection System.

It can also be found on the Useful Links page under Health while this link

is to an English language booklet on family and other support allowances in France. It's also on Useful Links, currently under Childcare but, once I've finished a major overhaul of the page, it will also be in the Health section.

And so do I! Thank you Brian. I shall look at the web sites you mention.


An excellent posting with which I personally concur with 100%.

Who can not be sympathetic to instances like that of Averill's. She simply wants to enhance her life by moving to France and then what happens - the Social Security support from the UK Government which should care for her is cut short.

A little explanation of terms for those who are not familiar (I am not sure myself of the complete range!)

IB=Incapacity benfit ---replaced by ESA = Employment and Support Allowance

DLA= Disability Living Allowance replaced by PIP = Personal Independence Payment.

AA=Attendance Allowance - CA= Carer's Allowance.

and of course WFP - Winter Fuel Payment (or allowance) - a 'universal' old-age benefit.

The UK Government has the moral responsibility for caring (at the very least taking an interest in) all British Nationals everywhere. In return the British citizens should take an interest in how the Government is performing. These two ends of the process is called 'democracy'. Averill ought to be able to consult some British politician who should take an interest in her. But democracy is totally dysfunctional so far as British Citizens in Europe is concerned. And not much better in the UK itself!

The EU supports the the principle of the payment of the above allowances - The UK Government resists like hell.

Some few of us have made protestations and some few of us with some legal background won the fight for the payment of the DLA and the WFP Both of these benefits were at first dropped by the UK for aged residents in Europe. Similarly younger people who wanted their aged and ill parents to join them in the EU found the AA was stopped. It was a small group of British expats who appealed to the EU which changed that. - But the UK Government goes on changing the rules to thwart the EU's good intentions (e.g. stopping the WFP for residents in France, and possibly the changes of benefits as above are part of the process - who knows!)- those intentions of the EU are to allow us to live freely throughout the EU with the continuing support due to us from our National Government, as we would receive if we were still living in the UK. For many of us the UK Is responsible in EU law for our social security support. Such is the implication of the words of MMe Reding [MEP for Luxembourg and Vice President of the EU for Justice]. It is largely the British 'red-top' Press which reviles the EU and sets the resident population against the EU.

If the UK via the activities of UKIP exits the EU then more isolationist events can be expected. State pensions could be frozen as happens elsewhere in the world. The law is already in place to enable this were the UK to leave. Vigilance is necessary to avert such evils.

Apathy amongst the expatriates is damaging the prospect of a stable reasonable life for the British Citizen in Europe. People may rant against politicians and their excesses - but it is we who are at fault if we just turn our backs on the political scene. We have to stand up and be counted, and actively protest, and seek to elect the politicians who truly represent us. Some few of us write to politicians, and to the newspapers - but the voice of the expatriate is little heard. Some few politicians are on our side (e.g. Sir Roger Gale, Geoffrey Clifton Brown, and Lord Lexden) -

Remember if you are not a French National (acquired or native) you have no intrinsic right to reside in France. It is the EU regulations which give this 'right'. Do not underestimate the power of the rhetoric of Farage, the Daily Mail, The Sun, to destroy the EU and possibly ruin our lives.

For that reason once again I urge people to sign up to

The organisations concerned are



Hi Averil,

Really sorry to read of your predicament. It is indeed a disgrace that anyone who has spent most of his or her life paying taxes in the UK should be denied benefits when they move to another country. After all, one is less of a drain on UK resources when living abroad than when one is based in the UK.

We do worry about my partner's situation. He has a letter dated 1998 saying that the IB awarded us for life. But I wouldn't trust the powers that be to say that that letter is no longer valid. He has lost the mobility component of one of his benefits and also, as I mentioned here before, his Income Support.

I have yet to start delving into what French benefits he might be entitled - or indeed if my own income can be topped up in any way by France. Neither of us ever worked for firms which had pension schemes and for 15 years before coming to France I worked freelance. I did manage to pay into a small private scheme, but the pension is a pittance. Oops, I've told a lie. One firm which employed me for ten years did have a pension scheme into which I had to pay 20p per week and it paid 20p. I do get ÂŁ27 per month from that.

Otherwise, our income is solely my UK state pension and his benefits.

I do hope you have someone to help you with the necessary wrangling with the French authorities. I've found all the CPAM people extremely polite and helpful, although in the beginning when applying for our Cartes Vitales they got a lot of things wrong.

All the best, Clive

Don’t feel ashamed Averil. As you point out you have contributed and you are entitled to be supported. It’s not your fault that the UK has reengaged (or is trying to) on it’s responsibilities. I’m sure the local folk you are dealing with understand that. Hope you get it sorted quickly.