For a foreigner living in France, anything involving the administration can be a nightmare. Obtaining a social security number and carte vitale, however, is a particularly daunting task. Pop open any article, or peruse any Facebook groups, and you’ll be met with horror stories about endlessly returned dossiers, lost applications, and years of waiting for a health care card.
Understandably, I was terrified to start the process. Before even submitting my initial application, I had already resigned myself to the fact it’d likely be years before I’d be able to take advantage of my work’s mutuelle, or any of the social contributions I made with every paycheque.
My worrying turned out to be for nothing. To my surprise – and to the amazement of fellow expatriates who’d spent ages trying to get their hand on these items – in three short months I had my permanent social security number, with my carte vitale following weeks after.
Follow the instructions and advice below, and you’ll have yours in no time, too!
Applying for a French Social Security Number
You can apply for a French social security number through one of two ways: through your employer, or on your own. I personally applied through my employer and found that my application was processed faster than people I knew who applied on their own. As such, if you have an HR representative who’s willing to help you out, I would highly recommend going this route.
Through Your Employer
If you have not signed up to the French social security before and/or have no number or carte vitale, it is your employer’s legal obligation to request an immatriculation d’un salarié.
Depending your visa, you will need to fill out one of several forms together with your employer. PDF versions of all forms can be found here.
In my case, my work submitted a request for affiliation d’un salarié étranger employé dans une entreprise située en Île de France. This required them to fill out the form with my personal and professional details, sign it, and send it along with photocopies of the following documents:
- A copy of my passport and visa proving I had the right to work in France,
- My job contract,
- Any pay slips I’d received so far,
- My birth certificate (must be long form in that it shows your parents names and details, and be officially translated in French),
- My RIB.
After completing my dossier they mailed it off on my behalf. My HR representative called once to track the progress of the application around the two month mark, where we were informed it was being processed and that I would receive a letter soon. Three weeks later, I received my permanent social security number in the mail.
On Your Own
As I said above, if you are working in France, your employer should be the ones declaring you to La Caisse primaire d’assurance maladie (CPAM), as is their legal duty. However, I have met dozens of workers whose companies didn’t bother to, or told them that they had to apply on their own.
If you end up going this route, you will need to locate your closest CPAM office and go in person to request a checklist of documents to furnish. From what I have heard, it is near identical to the one mentioned above, with the exception of needing a justificatif domicile as proof of address. In addition, I have heard you need to have at least three payslips before you can make the request.
Checking in on Your Application
Once you submit your request, it is important to check in on its status. I recommend either going to your local CPAM office in person or calling them directly. If French isn’t your strong suit, they even have English speaking telephone operators which you can contact by calling this number: 0 811 36 36 46.
I have heard too many stories of applications being lost, or processed indefinitely, or documents being missing but no one ever contacting them to submit these missing papers. As such, if you find yourself waiting weeks or months, it’s important you check in every now and again to make sure that everything is going smoothly.
Permanent vs. Temporary Social Security Number
So, you finally received a letter back from CPAM. I know it’s tempting, but don’t celebrate just yet – doublecheck the letter to see if the number you received is permanent, or temporary.
For those not fluent in French, look out for the keywords “définitif” and “provisoire” when the letter mentions your number. The former means its the permanent number, while the latter means its temporary.
While I was lucky and received my permanent number on the first try, I have heard the temporary numbers are usually accompanied by requests for further documents. The permanent ones, however, are just stated on a single form, accompanied by the request that you pass it on to your employer.
Still confused as to whether the number you received is permanent or temporary? If it’s permanent, it will follow the INSEE code format: syymmlloookkk cc
- s is 1 for male and 2 for female,
- yy is the last two digits of your year of birth,
- mm is the month of birth,
- ll is department of origin (2 digits or 1 digit and 1 letter for France, 3 digits for overseas),
- ooo is the commune of origin (3 digits for France and 2 digits for overseas),
- kkk is an order number given by the acte de naissance,
- cc is the control key between 01 and 97.
Applying for a Carte Vitale
Tired after the tiresome process of obtaining a numéro de sécurité sociale définitif? Breathe a sigh of relief, then, because in comparison, applying for a carte vitale is a walk in the park!
Shortly after being mailed your permanent social security number, you will be sent another letter containing the application for a carte vitale. It requires you to send a photocopy of your passport, visa, French ID card, or carte de sejour, as well as the completed form which you have to sign and attach a photo to.
The photo demands the same dimensions and requirements as a passport photo – looking straight ahead, hair out of your face, no glasses, no hat, and so on. It can be professionally taken, but I would recommend getting them taken at one of the photo booths found in the metro and many Monoprix stores. It costs a paltry 5 euros and the machine guides you through the entire process so that your photo is guaranteed to meet French administrative requirements.
Once you have your photo, you simply need to affix it to the completed form, sign, and mail it off in the enclosed envelope together with the photocopy of your ID.
After mailing off my application, it took approximately a month before I received my shiny new carte vitale in the mail. If you are signed up to Ameli.fr, you can actually track the progress of the creation of your carte vitale, which brings me to…
Signing up at Ameli.fr
For those not in the know, Ameli.fr is the online destination for managing your social security and health care. On it, you can do everything from setting up your mutuelle and medicin traitant, order a carte vitale or declare it lost, change your address, track payments, and get a copy of your attestation des droits.
Once you receive your permanent social security number in the mail, you can go to the website and request to open an account by entering your number and other personal details. It will immediately recognize your details and send a login code to the address that CPAM has associated with your number.
Around a week after making the initial request online, I received the login code in the mail. Signing up went quickly afterwards and gave me access to all necessary information. As mentioned in the previous section, it even let me track the progress of my carte vitale, to see when they received my application, when they were creating the card, and when they mailed it out.
Be reimbursed while waiting for your carte vitale : feuille des soins
If you have your permanent social security number but are still waiting for your carte vitale, you can still be reimbursed. All you have to do is request a feuille des soins from your doctor, which you can then mail directly to CPAM. They will reimburse you what’s covered by social security directly into the bank account whose details you provided in the initial application.
Just make sure when asking for the feuille des soins that you have your doctor include your social security number on it!
If you are signed up to Ameli.fr at this point, you can even track your payments online. While I personally never did this, having been lucky to receive my carte vitale quickly, I have heard it takes only a matter of weeks to be reimbursed.