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Social security system in Languedoc
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Social security in Languedoc, France


Sécurité Sociale in LanguedocThe French social security system

La sécurite sociale (la Sécu for short) deserves praise for its all-encompassing reach (it covers health, pensions, unemployment benefit, maternity benefit, child benefit and a host of other handouts).


However, it gets brickbats for its user-friendliness.


Finding your way through La Sécu when you arrive in France is one of the most tedious tasks you’re likely to face. The system is riddled with acronyms and abbreviations (URSSAF, CNAM, CRAM, CPAM, RAM, CMU and CAF are some of the common) which are incomprehensible to the newbie.


Figuring out exactly how to get into the system - and being referred from one unhelpful bureaucrat to another, as commonly happens - is, quite frankly, a pain in the backside.


The problem stems from the fact that everyone is covered by a different agency, according to their individual circumstances, so there is never a “one size fits all” approach you can follow (what worked for one person will not necessarily be relevant for another).


As a Brit, you are not automatically entitled to health cover or social security benefits in France (you can’t get the dole unless you have worked in France, nor if you are self-employed). And although you can enter France freely, if you cannot support yourself or your family, after three months you’ll be out on your ear (understandably, France is keen to avoid any extra charges on a system that is already massively in debt).


Getting into the system: practical steps

Start by contacting the CPAM French Health Insurance Advice Line on 0811 363 646 (open Monday to Friday, 9am – 6pm, it’s staffed by English speakers).


Top this up by reading the info on (most of it is in French but there are some English pages too) and on (some pages in English).


If you have two or more children, you may qualify for family allowance – see for details.


Going to the offices of the organisation in question can sometimes achieve better results than phone calls. Stand in front of a bureaucrat and use “pester power” to elicit the info you need. Don’t be fobbed off when they tell you “oh but you need to contact the CRAM/CNAM/CPAM/” or some such. Ask them to give you the phone number (and address) – better still, ask them to make the phone call for you.


Buy a large folder and keep in it every single piece of paperwork you could possibly need (copies of birth certificates, passports, National Insurance numbers, details of any UK pension schemes, benefits previously received). You will then add all the other pieces of paper that you’ll quickly accumulate, as you enter the French system!


Make this your mantra: “Le français n’est pas ma langue maternelle, j’ai du mal a comprendre, pourriez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plait?” (French is not my mother tongue, I find it difficult to understand, could you help me, please?)


Remember: you have to be in it to win it. Once you’ve gone through the pain of admission, it’s all gain.

Those abbreviations – what do they mean?

URSSAF: a network of private organizations who collect the employee and employer social security contributions which finance the French social security system.

CSG (Contribution Sociale Généralisée, meaning General Social Contribution, a salary deduction collected by URSSAF for the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Employment

CRDS (Contribution au Remboursement de la Dette Sociale, a contribution for the repayment of the French social security deficit (also collected by URSSAF).

CNAM (Caisse Nationale d'Assurance Maladie): part of the Ministry of Health and Social Security, responsible for ensuring that social security policy is carried out on a national level.

CRAM (Caisse Régionale d'Assurance Maladie: regional sickness insurance fund offices which deal with questions regarding accidents at work and retirement and coordinate the actions of local social security offices (see below).

CPAM (Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie): local social security offices (there are over 100 in the country, with at least one for each department) which handle general questions and reimbursements.

CMU (Couverture Maladie Universelle): the agency which covers those on a low wage.

CAF (Caisse Nationale d’Allocations Familiales): family benefit agency





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