Working in France? Understanding URSSAF


Whether you’re seeking a job, working in France, setting up a business, or just signing on as unemployed you’re bound to come up against the edifice which is French administration. Excellent as it is, the social security system – or “la sécu’ as the French prefer to call it – is a fearsome minefield of bureaucracy. Covering accidents at work, invalidity, death job related illnesses and retirement, this nationwide system is obligatory for all persons employed in France and whilst it is extremely effective, it is also one of the most expensive systems in the world.


Paid by private persons, associations, employers, companies, craftsmen, tradesmen, the State and local authorities, cotisations or social charges are managed by different departments who all adhere to rules laid down by the main social security office, known as URSSAF (Union de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d’allocations familiales).

If you are in salaried employment your employer will register you with the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance-Maladie a week or so after you start work and cotisations, amounting to about 20 to 25% of the net wage, will be deducted each month at source. This is then topped up by an additional 35% to 45% contributed by the employer.

Social security for the self-employed is now dealt with by the RSI – Le Régime Social des Indépendants. You can expect to be paying a minimum of €1,550 in the first year. Although the amount due is calculated on a annual basis, it is contributed in four quarterly payments.


The Sécu is divided into four sectors, known as regimes, which offer health insurance, pensions, unemployment benefits and family income support to four main employment categories. These régimes are:

-The régime général which concerns 80 % of French citizens and covers salaried employees in trade and industry.

-The régime agricole which is for farmers, field workers and anyone who works in the agricultural sector.

-The régimes spéciaux covering various different categories of employment, from civil servants to railway staff.

– The différents régimeswhich is for workers not covered by the other three, and the self employed.



The Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie des Travailleurs Salariés (CNAMTS) is the national healthcare caisse for salaried employees.

Contributions from the self-employed go to one of 31 Caisses d’assurance Maladies Régionales (CMR) which are controlled by the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie des professions indépendantes (CANAM).

Reimbursements for medical treatment are paid out by the Caisses Primaires d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) and family income support is dealt with by the Caisses d’Allocations Familiales (CAF).


With 105 offices around the country, the Union de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d’allocations familiales is supervised by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Social Affairs and run by representatives of labour unions, the State, and employers. URSSAF’s role includes collection of funds, control of contributions and dealing with litigation.


Since 1999 the Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU) provides free health cover for those who earn less than an established minimum per annum. The CMU is also available to non-Europeans who have entered France legally and who have lived continuously in France for more than 3 months.

The CMU is available to people with limited resources. The ceiling is calculated on the number of people living in the household and vary each year. Even if a person exceeds the ceiling, they may still benefit from the CMU by paying contributions (normally 8%).


If you’ve been laid off, or reached the end of a fixed term contract the first thing to do is register with the Pôle Emploi.

Take all your wage slips, identity papers and proof of your address (usually an electricity bill) along with you. It will take about two weeks for your eligibility to be assessed, and it will done on the basis of the amount of hours you have worked. You will only be deemed eligible for benefits if you’ve worked full-time for at least three consecutive months.


The system is based on solidarity between generations: those who can no longer earn a living themselves are financed by contributions from workers and employers.

According to recent figures the average retirement age in the UK is 63.6 years, whereas in France this figure is 59.2, with only 15% of people between the ages of 60 and 65 still work.

In France you can retire at the age of 60 but in order to qualify for a pension (up to 55% of your former salary) you need to have worked for at least 40 years. Under EC regulations, however, if you work, or have worked, in other EU countries you can combine contributions in order to qualify for a state pension here in France.


-A Comité d’entreprise(C.E) is a legal requirement in France for companies which employ more than 50 people. Employers give money in the form of a grant to members of the CE who negotiate special perks, such as voyages at discount prices, reduced theatre tickets and children’s summer camps, for employees.

The local “inspection du travail” can provide useful advice about employment rights.

If you are in receipt of sickness benefit in the UK, you may be able to transfer payment to France. Ask at your local BA office in the UK for further information.


URSSAF: Includes a chart showing how the social security system is organised.
POLE EMPLOI: is a one-stop shop when you are unemployed

With thanks to Heidi Fuller-Love and Julia Jones of Bright Jones Law Firm (Toulouse)

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