July 23, 2007

Gateway to France: Finding the right health insurance plan

One of the requirements for getting a long-stay visa (which lets you apply for a carte de séjour once you get here) is to provide proof that you have health insurance coverage for the first year after your arrival in France. In the past we have purchased travel health insurance for longer trips out of the country, but this visa process required an insurance plan on a completely different scale. We weren’t quite sure where to start looking, so I turned to the ever-faithful Google to see what I could find out.

Just typing in “expat health insurance france” got me to a lot of Web sites of companies that seemed to be able to provide what I needed, but none of them gave clear information about what type of plan exactly suited our situation. Wading through insurance terms and language at the best of times is difficult for me, but to try to make sense of this information without knowing the ins and outs of the French system was highly daunting. Plus, most of these companies asked you to fill out an extensive questionnaire, which included a lot of personal information, before they would give out even basic information about plans and prices. It all just seemed unnecessarily complicated, and I kept looking for a Web site that would give me some general guidance without my having to initiate anything at the start.

I found what I was looking for when I came across the Web site for Exclusive Health Care, a company that operates in France but has ties to insurance underwriters in the UK. I liked it immediately because the site seemed more personal and more open about what is required for expats moving to France. I was especially interested in the information they provided about their Gateway Plan which seemed to suit our situation perfectly. It provides what they call “catastrophe” insurance, basic coverage for emergency situations plus a few other services. The term of the coverage is for one year, but it is intended to be a stopgap for new residents waiting to enroll in the French health care system (you can only apply for this after three months of residency). Once new residents obtain insurance through the state system (known as Securité Sociale), the remaining balance on the plan is rolled over into what is called a “Mutuelle,” an add-on type of insurance which reimburses you for the percentage of health fees not covered by the Securité Sociale.

The Gateway Plan seemed like the best option for us, and as we had limited time to secure proof of insurance before our visa appointment at the French consulate, we hoped that it would not take too long to process our application. One thing that made the process go faster was that we already had an address in France (which they requested on the application form), having decided to find an apartment before we submitted our visa applications (see Finding an apartment in Paris). Despite a little bit of miscommunication at the start, and with a few worried emails and phone calls on our part, Exclusive did come through for us in time, and the documents they provided were exactly what the Consulate agents needed. We were also pleased that although we had to pay half of the yearly premium up front in order to receive our insurance policy documents, we didn’t have to pay the balance until we arrived in France and our insurance coverage officially took effect.

As we continue our stay here in France, I’m certain we’ll have more questions and confusion about our health insurance status, but with the Gateway Plan we’ve found the right solution for the time being.

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