Nothing separates the French more than the health care system. While it is hailed as one of the best systems in the world, your perception of it will depend upon how much you pay. Yes, you have to pay for healthcare in France. Or rather: healthcare mutual insurance.

Essentially there are two levels of cover: standard and ‘complémentaire’. Both levels cover you for life-saving and compulsory health care (such as vaccinations). Included too is free maternity care and child care up to the age of eighteen.

When I say ‘free’ – that means free provided you fill out all the right forms at the right times!

The real difference between the two levels comes when you need ‘non-essential’ care. Those with complémentaire can visit the doctor with wild abandon and pick up most of their medicines and health treatments at no extra charge. Those without must pick up the extra cost.

But there are flaws in this system. The ‘extra’ in the case of pharmaceuticals is dictated by the French state, which sets the tariff for each purchase; but in the case of healthcare itself – doctors and dentists can charge whatever they like over and above the recommended government tariff. Which means in practise – if you do not have complémentaire and say, go to an expensive gynaecologist during your pregnancy, you will only be entitled to a refund of the recommended government tariff – which may be well below that of the actual consultation fee.

In contrast, if you have complémentaire, expensive healthcare providers and hypochondria you are likely to become a severe strain on resources … and the tax payer. Word has it that the health system is broke for precisely this reason – because France is a nation of hypochondriacs.

If you don’t have complementaire, you will have no idea how much things are going to cost until the bill is handed over, or rather: until you get a statement from your mutual company telling you how much you have or have not been refunded.

But complémentaire doesn’t come cheap. So if you are prepared to shop around and ask the right questions, being ‘sans complémentaire’ may well save you a fortune.

Don’t worry – I haven’t charged you for this advice. Next time maybe.