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You can save thousands on dental work by heading abroad - but watch out for the pitfalls

Travelling to other countries for medical treatments that are costly and poorly reimbursed by France is becoming increasingly popular, but you should always seek out a reputable specialist firm 

Visiting Hungary for dental work, or having laser eye surgery in Turkey, is worth looking at for the thousands of euros that can be saved – and there are now several specialist French firms that help with the organisation.

Most importantly these companies can help you select a good doctor and clinic but some firms also provide an “all-inclusive” service, right down to booking the flight and hotel, if you wish – not so much “medical tourism” as “medical package holiday”.

French social security reimbursements are available for care within the EU if it is of a kind usually provided in France – but only at a set percentage of the standard state tariffs for the procedure.

In theory, you do not need prior authorisation from Cpams unless a hospital stay is involved - but it is probably best for peace of mind to speak to them.

You should then keep the invoices for the treatment you paid for so you can reclaim from Cpam on your return.

In areas considered mainly aesthetic however Cpam refunds are either non-existent or very low.

Hence the popularity of travel for procedures like laser eye surgery, breast augmentation and hair transplants (not reimbursed) and adult orthodontics (token reimbursement compared to real cost). Care outside the EU cannot usually be state-reimbursed.

As for mutuelle top-up insurance, this can be highly variable in terms of what and how much it will cover (basic ones may just give “100%” of the standard state tariff) and it may not be available for procedures that are not state-reimbursed – you need to check your policy.

However, although it is not state-reimbursed, a recent study showed that most of the popular top-ups do cover laser eye surgery.

While some people opt to travel for care in EU countries like Hungary some other places like Tunisia and Turkey are also popular.

As an example of savings, a ceramic dental bridge of three teeth on two implants (€196 state reimbursement) would cost about €5,000 in France, but can be from €2,000-3,200 elsewhere.
Laser eye surgery of the kind most often done in France costs about €2,750 in France and from €950-1,320 abroad (Turkey is especially popular). A breast augmentation is €4,000-6,000 in France and from €1,950 elsewhere (Tunisia is the top choice for this).

While savings are clearly available, just googling for clinics can give a confusing number of choices, which is why using medical tourism services, which build relationships with trusted clinics, is increasingly popular.

These firms, like Esthetic Planet, Novacorpus, Smile Partner and Ypsée, promise good standards as well as offering guarantees for aftercare in the event of something going wrong.

You might assume such services involve mark-ups that detract from savings, however Esthetic Planet director Pierre Hollenbeck said this was a misapprehension.

He said the clinics pay them a commission. “It’s simple maths for them – they get more clients than if they were on their own; we know the market and are at the consumer end. Our service to the customer is actually free. However we are independent; we work with many clinics and doctors and our interest is in getting the patient the best service because if there are problems they come back to us.”

He said Esthetic Planet makes no profit on accessory elements like a hotel. “People aren’t stupid – with the internet they could see if we were selling it at a mark-up,” he said.

However he said people can just book the healthcare element if they do not want any extras. “Our main job is to make sure the healthcare professionals we offer to our customers will keep the prices and quality they promise and that they aren’t just a pretty picture on the net.

“We have seen clinics which look great on their website but when you visit you realise one room is done and the rest is still being built! The clinics we submit to you have been verified and we visit them.”

Guarantees are included, he said. While some firms promote optional insurances, Esthetic Planet does not find these useful, he said. “We ask our clinics to give a pledge that they will provide retouches if it’s justified – and it does happen occasionally, even with the best cosmetic surgery in the world.”

Before deciding what to do, enquire from Cpam (or see and your mutuelle as to what you are entitled to in reimbursements, as they can be complex, especially for dental work.

For example, while an implant is not state-refunded, a crown on implants is, done in the EU. Some mutuelles reimburse ordinary implants nonetheless (up to a set maximum per implant) but if you opt to have a crown on implants outside the EU, they may not.

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