Emergencies in France: what to do and what to say – A guide for tourists


Last Updated: August 29, 2022

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emergencies in France

Imagine yourself lounging in the Tuilerie garden, eating macarons, when disaster strikes… Nobody wants their time in France to be tainted by the memory of a bad situation, but emergencies can happen anywhere at any time.

When you find yourself in a foreign country, it is better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely it might be. If you know what to do and what to say when disaster strikes, it won’t be nearly as scary.

Here is everything you need to know and what to say in case of an emergency in France.

1. Emergencies in France: How to Call for Help

First things first: unless you are superman - good for you if that’s the case - you cannot act alone. In the event of an emergency, always try to get the attention of those around you. It will help to keep them safe themselves and limit the danger. They can also help you to deal with the situation.

If you are not comfortable speaking in French, you might find someone that can help you translate and explain what happened to the authorities and first responders.

Au secours!Help!
Aidez-moi! Help me!
C’est une urgenceIt’s an emergency
Appelez (la police, les pompiers, le SAMU)Call (the police, the firemen, the paramedics)
Il y a eut un accidentThere was an accident
Attention!Watch out!
Arrêtez-vous !Stop !

2. General Safety Measures and Useful Phone Numbers in France

What to do in case of an emergency in France?

If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in France. The same safety rules you should always follow still apply in a foreign country.

If you find yourself in a difficult situation, remain calm, and assess the potential danger for yourself and those around you. Let the professionals do their job and call the appropriate emergency phone number. 

The Law of Murphy struck and you are out of cellphone data? Good news! Emergency phone calls are free. No cellphone? Ask someone around you, or use the victim's phone. If you are on the highway, you can also find emergency phone boxes every two kilometers. They are orange and located on the side of the road. They can also be found in some public locations like metro stations.

When calling, speak clearly, and state the following:

  •  Your name and a phone number on which the rescue service can get in touch with you in case you get disconnected
  • Your exact location, with the address and how to access it. If there is a code to access the building or elevator, don’t forget to mention it
  • The nature of the emergency. Describe exactly what happened
  • The number and condition of the victims. Indicate their age, their sex, and their current position. If you or someone around you did something to help, mention it as well
  • Any imminent risk for yourself or others
  • Always wait until the rescue service hang up first to finish your call

Emergency phone numbers in France

There are different emergency phone numbers which you should call in specific situations in France.

  • 112 = European emergency phone number.

If you can only remember one phone number, this is the one. It is available everywhere in Europe, and the respondents usually speak English if you are not comfortable in French. It will connect you automatically to the rescue center closest to your location. 

However, depending on where you are, it could be the firefighters, the emergency medical assistance service, or the roadside emergency services. These services are connected, and they will be able to connect you to the appropriate department, depending on your emergency. Nevertheless, you could be losing precious time. If possible, call the specific emergency service instead.

  • 18 = the fire brigade (les sapeurs-pompiers)

The firefighters are in charge of all non-medical emergencies, such as a road accident, domestic accidents, a fire, etc. They are also trained in first aid treatments to assist potential victims while waiting for the paramedics. In the countryside, in particular, they are often the first ones called on the scene.

  • 15 = the emergency medical assistance service (le SAMU or Service d’Aide Médicale d’Urgence)

Call the paramedics for any medical emergency. They will coordinate with the appropriate services depending on the gravity of the situation. You will be able to discuss with a doctor 24/7 if needed, but the SAMU will also send an ambulance if necessary.

  • 17 = the police (la police)

The police should be called to report a crime, a fight, etc. Depending on where you are located, you will be connected with either the Police Nationale – usually in urban areas – or the Gendarmerie Nationale – in rural areas. If you are planning on staying in the same location for a while, it is a good idea to note the direct phone number to your local police or gendarmerie station.

3. What to Do and Say if You are Sick or Hurt in France

Getting sick or hurt is the most likely emergency you will encounter while in France. Yes, it sucks, but you are in good hands.The country is well-equipped with a strong health care network.

It is more prudent to check before traveling abroad if your health insurance will cover you while you are out of the country. You can also purchase travel medical insurance before leaving. However, a visit to the doctor in France, even without insurance, is unlikely to break the bank. You will have to pay a fee usually between $20 and $50 off-pocket.

If you regularly use medication, make sure you have enough to cover the duration of your trip and find the French equivalent with the help from your primary doctor. It never hurts to carry a well-stocked first aid kit with you as well.

However, if you find yourself in a situation that requires additional assistance, you have several options while in France. Depending on the gravity, you can go to the pharmacist, call a doctor or head for the emergency room.

Going to the pharmacy

Can you still manage to get up and walk? Great! Head to the pharmacy. You will find one in most places in France, even in small villages. A green cross identifies them.

Not only you will you get your medication right away, but French pharmacists are highly trained professionals and can give medical advice on the spot for most common ailments. You will be back to enjoy everything France has to offer in no time.

Pharmacies are usually open Monday to Saturday, between 9.30 am and 7 pm. Many take a break for lunch between 12 pm and 2 pm. However, you can still find pharmacies open outside of regular business hours. In large urban areas, some are open 24/7.

There is also a system that guarantees that at least one pharmacie is open in the general area. The pharmacies de garde are open all night and on the weekends. They rotate every day. You can find out which one it is on a sign in the window of any pharmacy or by calling ResoGardes at 32 37.

Le pharmacien/la pharmacienneThe pharmacist
Où est la pharmacie la plus proche?Where is the closest pharmacy?
Une pharmacie de gardePharmacy on-call
J’ai mal ici I’m hurt here
Une ordonnanceA prescription

Going to the doctor

The pharmacist couldn’t help and recommended that you see a doctor? As a tourist, you may not know where to start. The good news is that many doctors will see you, even if you are not a regular patient. Some doctors only take walk-in appointments. Bring cash, since not all doctors accept credit cards.

The easiest way to get in touch with a doctor in an emergency is to call SOS Medecins at 3624. A general practitioner will make a house call, usually within a couple of hours. You can also ask your embassy or the concierge of your hotel for recommendations. Here is a list of English-speaking doctors in France.

Most doctors speak some English, especially in larger cities, but you may need to use Google Translate to explain your symptoms in detail.

Le cabinet medical The doctor's office
Le docteurThe doctor
Un médecin généralisteA general practitioner
Je voudrais prendre rendez-vousI would like to make an appointment
Un médecin de gardeThe doctor on-call

Going to the emergency room

That bad, huh? If you need immediate care, you can walk into any emergency service attached to a hospital. You will be taken in immediately depending on the gravity of your situation.

Emmenez-moi à l’hopitalTake me to the hospital
Le service d’urgenceEmergency room
Un chirurgienA surgeon
Un infirmier/une infirmièreA nurse
Être renvoyéTo be discharged
Une ambulanceAn ambulance

4. What to do or say if you are the victim of (or witness to) an aggression

You were having a bit too much fun, and your wallet disappeared? That guy who was a bit too friendly ended up being a crook? France is not a dangerous country, but you can still be the victim of a crime, from petty thievery to more serious charges.

You may also need to assist someone if you are the witness of a crime.

If you are the victim of an aggression in France, immediately get in touch with the local authorities to report the event. If you do not speak French, you are entitled to an interpreter free of charge. Your declaration will be registered in the police log book. 

You will receive a receipt acknowledging your declaration and stating the place, date and time of declaration and your registration number which you may need for further proceedings.  Your embassy will also be able to advise you on what to do next.

You can file a complaint at any police station if you want to press charges. If you can, get the name and contact information of any witnesses. Try to give as many details regarding the nature and details of the infraction as well as the offender’s name if you know it. 

Gather anything that can help you prove the crime, including medical certificates and bills if medical treatment has already been sought, etc. If you are the victim of physical aggression, police officers may accompany you to a medical examination or direct you towards a medical-legal emergency unit.

You can read more about legal procedures in France here.

Une main courantePolice logbook
Porter plaintePress charges
Un témoinA witness
Un agresseurAn attacker
Une victimeA victim
Je voudrais reporter…I want to report…
Un volA robbery
Une agressionAn aggression
Un violA rape

5. What to do and say in case of a car accident in France

If you are involved in a car accident or witness to one, start by making sure the zone is secured. Put your car blinkers on and ask the other drivers to do the same if necessary. 

Every French car, including location cars, should be equipped with a yellow reflective jacket and warning triangles. Always keep them within reach, not in the trunk of your vehicle. Call the authorities immediately and check for any victim. Don’t move them unless they are in immediate danger (in the middle of the road, for example).

If you were involved in the accident, file an accident report with the other driver and note the name and contact information of any witnesses. Emotions can run high but stick to the facts with trying to establish who was responsible for what with the other drivers.

Contact your insurance within five days to declare the damages. If you are hurt or hospitalized, ask for a medical certificate which you will need to deal with further proceedings.

Un accident de la routeA traffic accident
Appelez une ambulance, s’il vous plaîtPlease, call an ambulance
Un gilet jauneA yellow jacket
Les triangles de signalisationThe warning triangles
Un accrochage A collision
Un constat d’accidentAn accident report
Une déclaration de sinistreDamage report
Une police d’assuranceInsurance policy
Le conducteurThe driver
Le passagerThe passenger

6. What to do or say if you are caught in a natural disaster

No need to feel threatened! Major natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes or damaging earthquakes are virtually unheard of in France. Nevertheless, some parts of the country are regularly exposed to large fires, especially in the southeast of the country during the dry summer months.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in France and usually follow heavy rains.

If you are caught in one of these events, the best policy is to stay informed and to follow the recommendations of the local authorities. Stay where you are until you are notified that you need to evacuate and keep first necessity products, like water and food, nearby.

Un incendieA fire
Une crueA flood
Une inondationA flood
Etat d’urgenceState of emergency
Une évacuationEvacuation
Un abriA shelter

7. What to do and say in case of a terrorist attack

Let’s get things straight. In recent years, France has sadly made the headlines as the location of several large-scale terrorist attacks. Some travelers have even canceled their trip to France because of such events. 

However, as distressing as they might be, such occurrences are extremely rare. The French government has made prevention one of its priorities. The Plan Vigipirate, the national security plan is in place everywhere on the French territory.

You will undoubtedly notice a massive security presence in all the touristy areas, during significant events, and in communication hubs like train stations and airports: that’s what those groups of heavily armed soldiers are here for. 

Nevertheless, it is essential to be informed about what to do if you were caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. The French government provided a helpful infographic about the conduct to adopt in the event of an attack: escape if possible, hide if you can’t, and alert the authorities as soon as possible.

Sorties de secoursEmergency exit
Une explosionAn explosion
Des coups de feuGunshots
Un otageA hostage
Un tireurA gunman
Une bombeA bomb
Une attaque terroristeA terrorist attack

Have you ever had to deal with an emergency while in France? What did you do? Share it with us in the comments!

For  a complete list of phrases you need to travel in France with confidence--from the time you step foot in the airport and even in moments when you encounter an emergency--this phrasebook has got you covered.

About the author 

Alix grew up in the Southwest of France and studied in Paris. She now lives in the United States where she is an active member of the francophone community and never misses an occasion to share her culture.

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