11. Opticians & Ophthalmic Treatment in France
Opticians are not part of the French health service, and they do not ordinarily undertake eye tests.
They can sell you a pair of spectacles but, unless you have a medical prescription from an ophthalmologist, you will not be eligible for any financial assistance from the social security system.
However, where you have previously received a medical prescription for glasses then, within a three year period, an optician is able to undertake a new eye test and prescribe a new pair to you, for which reimbursement on the usual terms is available.
Some voluntary insurance policies do offer assistance with the cost of glasses purchased without prescription, provided they were purchased from authorised opticians and for existing users. You would need to contact your insurer to find out if this was the case.
An ophthalmologist will be in a position of undertaking a medical examination and providing you with a medical prescription for glasses, or undertaking any other medical treatment that may be necessary. You do not need to go through your family doctor in order to make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist.
A visit to the ophthalmologist is likely to cost anything from €30 to €80 (as most charge fees above the official rate, and it will vary by nature of the consultation), of which only €15 will be reimbursed by the social security system.
Nevertheless, as there is a serious shortage of ophthalmologists in France, you are likely to have to wait a long time for an appointment, and do not hold your breath about the level of reimbursement you are going to get from the social security system for spectacles.
Official rates for glasses and certain other ophthalmic prescriptions have not been increased for many years, so the actual cost glasses or other prescription far outstrips any reimbursement that will be given.
Thus, although most ophthalmic prescriptions are reimbursed at the rate of 65%, the base rate on which they are calculated is so low as to be quite ridiculous, particularly for adults.
In the case of a pair of glasses the reimbursement is likely to be no more than a few euros, although it is a little more generous for children.
It is rare for there to be any reimbursement at all from the social security for contact lenses, laser treatment is not reimbursable, and there are significant restrictions on the types of lenses that are eligible for reimbursement.
If, however, you are on a very low income, and you benefit from CMU Complementaire then all treatment will be provided free of charge, provided it is within upper cost limits.
If you have taken out voluntary health insurance, you should find that your health insurer will have a list of recommended opticians, and by using one of them, you are likely to be be able to buy lenses at a preferential rate.
However, be careful about being offered frames and lenses that are in excess of what you may normally require in daily life. A favourite selling gimmick is to throw in a second pair of glasses free of charge, except that you may have already paid through the nose for the first pair!
An optician should provide you with a written estimate of the cost, and you would be well advised to seek two or three estimates before making a final decision.
Strictly speaking, the French authorities do not permit the sale of spectacles over the internet, despite protestations from the EU Commission that this is contrary to EU rules.
Since 2010 the government have relaxed the rules slightly, by stating that glasses can be sold over the internet, provided the company has at least one optician on the payroll. However, the law on the issue has yet to be changed.
As a result, the price you will pay from a French optician can easily amount to several hundred euros, where the same pair of lens and frames might cost you half as much over the Internet.
Many expats either buy their glasses in their home country, or over the internet, via an English language site, although there are some French speaking sites operating outside of the country.
These sites include Confortvisuel, Directoptic, Easy-verres, Happyview, and Mavue-online.
Clearly, you do not get the professional advice and fitting service you might expect from an optician, and it is difficult to judged the quality of the frames and lenses, but that is a choice you need to make.
The government announced in 2018 that they are to increase the rate of reimbursement for optical treatment, which will be effective in 2019. We will update this page in due course.
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