France’s Social Security System: The Basics


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France’s Social Security System: The Basics

If you are living, working, or retiring in France, it’s essential to understand France’s social security system, which provides universal health insurance, state pensions, and other benefits for French residents. Here’s what you need to know.

What is France’s Social Security System?

France has a comprehensive social security system that covers all French workers, citizens, and legal residents for “life risks”. In France, this includes five different areas of insurance:

  • L’Assurance Maladie: Health insurance, which includes access to France’s state healthcare system, as well as maternity and paternity benefits, and insurance in the case of disability or death. Read more about France’s Healthcare System.
  • l’Assurance Accidents du Travail et Maladies: occupationnel accident and illness insurance.
  • l’Assurance Retraite: contributions to the French state pension system. Read more about France’s State Pension System.
  • Allocations Familiales: Family allowances. This includes benefits paid upon the birth of a child, as well as allowances for early childcare, education, and accommodation.
  • L’Assurance Chômage: Unemployment insurance, which includes jobseeker’s benefits (chômage) and the Pôle Emploi jobseeker’s service.

The below video offers a simplified explanation of how France’s Social Security system works.

Social Security Departments in France: CPAM, CAF, CNAV

If you are registered with France’s social security system (more on that in a minute), you may be entitled to any of the above benefits and allowances, depending on your personal and professional situations.

For example, all legal residents in France have a right to essential and emergency healthcare insurance, while most workers will be entitled to paid maternity or paternity leave, and sickness or injury benefits (in the event that you are unable to work). If you have worked in France, you may be entitled to receive a state pension when you reach pension age in France, or unemployment benefits if you are searching for employment. There are also a large number of benefits and allowances allocated to families.

If you wish to claim any of these benefits, it’s important to register with and contact the relevant social security branch to request your benefits. This can get a little confusing, as which branch you need to contact will depend upon the type of claim. Here’s a quick guide to the main departments and their associated websites and branch names.

CPAM: The CPAM or Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie is the department that handles all healthcare, maternity/paternity, and some disability claims. Their website is called Ameli. Your local CPAM will also handle any claims for accident or illness benefits (l’Assurance Accidents du Travail et Maladies).

CAF: The CAF or Caisse des Allocations Familiales is the department that deals with all family allowances (allocations familiales), including childcare (PAJE), school Grants (allocation de rentrée scolaire), housing Benefits (allocation logement), supplementary Benefits (RSA or revenu de solidarité active). Read more about the CAF here or visit their website here.

CNAV: The CNAV or Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Vieillesse is the department that deals with France’s state pension payments. Visit their website here.

Pôle Emploi: The jobseeker’s service is where you can register for L’Assurance Chômage or unemployment benefits. Visit their website here.

URSAAF: URSAAF is the main body involved in the collection of social security contributions from workers, employers, and self-employed workers/entrepreneurs. If you have a question regarding your social security payments, you will need to contact URSAAF. Visit their website here.

You might also come across:

CARSAT: Caisse des Retraite & Santé au Travail is a regional department that oversees the regional CNAV and CPAM.

CGSS: The Caisses générales de sécurité sociale which deal with French overseas departments.

How is France’s Social Security System Funded?

While many countries fund their social security systems through general taxation, in France, the system is funded by compulsory social security contributions or ‘social charges’ levied on all taxable income in France. These are known as contributions sociales or prélèvements sociaux in France, and a portion is paid by each employee and employer in France.

These social charges are collected by URSAAF for workers under the ‘régime général (general regime), which covers most employees, self-employed workers, and businesses. Alternatively, they may be collected by MSA for workers and business owners under the ‘régime agricole’ (agricultural regime), or another URSSAF branch for workers under a ‘régime spécial’ (which applies to certain state jobs such as policemen, teachers, and SNCF workers).

If you are a salaried worker in France, these social security contributions will automatically be deducted from your pay under the PAYE scheme, and a full breakdown of your and your employer’s contributions will be detailed on your payslip. As of 2022, rates are around 22% of your gross salary. If you are a self-employed worker under the micro-entrepreneur scheme, you will pay your social security contributions each trimester – rates are between 12,9% and 22.8% , depending on the type of activity carried out.

Just like income taxes, other types of income are also subject to these social charges at varying rates, including rental income, investments, pensions, and interest on interest.

Read our guide What You Need to Know About French Social Charges.

How to Get a Social Security Number in France

Every French resident should have a social security number (numéro de sécurité sociale), and it is this number that provides access to the social security system. Social security numbers are issued automatically to all French citizens at birth. Foreign workers, expats, and retirees in France, however, will need to apply for a social security number upon arrival in France.

Applications must be made to your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM). Find out how to do this in our guide to Applying for your Carte Vitale.

Using Your Social Security Number in France

Your social security number is made up of a unique series of digits, each of which corresponds to your personal identification. You can see a breakdown of what these numbers mean below:

  • The 1st digit indicates your sex (1 for men and 2 for women)
  • The next two digits indicate the last two digits of the year of birth;
  • The next two digits indicate the month of birth
  • The following five digits or characters indicate: the place of birth (the 2 digits of the birth department code, followed by the 3 digits of the official INSEE common code – or for a foreigner, this will be ‘99’ followed by the numbers allocated to your country of birth)
  • The final three digits are a serial number to distinguish people born in the same place at the same time

Your social security number is used to identify you within the health insurance fund (CPAM) and is issued to you on your Carte Vitale, the social security/health insurance card provided to all French residents registered in the social security system.

You may be asked for your social security number by any of the official social security organisations such as the CAF (family allowance fund), state pension provider, and Pôle Emploi, as well as by your employer, your mutuelle health insurer, and doctor or other health professionals. It’s a good idea to keep your Carte Vitale handy for any health, family, or work-related appointments you have in France.

Family Life in France

Whether you’re moving to France with family or planning to raise a family in France, FrenchEntrée is here to help! Our Essential Reading articles cover everything from maternity and childcare to the French education system to caring for elderly relatives.

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  •  Mary Korol
    2023-05-04 12:16:06
    Mary Korol
    May 03rd, 2023 To Whom it may concern, What is the procedure regarding the final CNAV payments of a deceit person, who resided & worked in France during the late 1940's & 1950's; then emigrated to Canada. Then after retiring applied and received the CNAV French pension in Canada. What must the Estate Trustee do? How, where and care of whom must the funds be directed? Yours Truly, Mary Korol.