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Frequently asked questions
Can I apply for a specific job on the website?
Generally we recruit volunteers to a recruitment pool based on a skill area, rather than for specific jobs. We can then match our volunteers to roles where their skills can be most effectively used to achieve sustainable development.
However we do have a certain number of highly specialised placements that are ready and waiting to be filled. These require specific skills and sit outside the range of roles we typically recruit for. These are listed on the niche roles page.
Can I apply to work in a specific country?
Usually not. We recruit volunteers to a recruitment pool, rather than for specific roles. We then match our volunteers to roles where their skills can be most effectively used to achieve sustainable development. We do, of course, take your preferences into consideration but we ask volunteers to be as flexible as possible.
I'd like to volunteer in a different sector than my profession. Is this possible?
VSO needs many different skills working to help end poverty, and most of our placements usually ask for you to be a professional with at least two years experience in your current role (often more). Your transferable skills may fit this requirement and it doesn’t hurt to find out by contacting us, but realistically, we’re looking for someone to fit a specific professional criteria.
How do I apply?
The first step in applying to volunteer with VSO is completing the online registration form. This gives you the opportunity to tell us more about yourself, including relevant skills, experience and qualifications.
If you have any questions about applying, please call us on 020 8780 7500.
Why do I have to fill out a registration form first?
We use the registration form to assess your skills, experience and qualifications so that we can make a decision on whether you would be suited to a VSO role. This will save you the time in having to fill out a full application in order to get a decision quickly.
What if I am interested in VSO but don't want to volunteer yet?
When you apply to VSO, you must be ready to leave within 18 months. If you’re not, you can still fill in the online registration form now so that we have your details on record and can stay in touch with you. Or you can hold off applying until you are ready to volunteer. The application process can take between four and nine months, so please factor in this timescale when thinking about volunteering with us.
What is the process from application to placement?
The various stages of the application process are shown on our application page. First you will need to fill out the online registration form. This allows us to assess:
- whether your skills and experience are needed for our overseas programmes
- that you meet the minimum requirements for the roles available
If you meet these criteria we’ll invite you to provide additional details via a full application, which you can also complete online.
At this point, if we think we have a suitable role for you, we will invite you to a preliminary interview followed by an assessment day at our head offices. The assessment day will involve a variety of group activities and an individual interview.
If you are successful, we’ll allocate an adviser to help you find the right role. We'll also give you training both before your departure and after you've arrived in the country where you'll be working. When matching you with a role, we'll try to accommodate your personal preferences.
How long does the selection process take?
There is no set time to how long it can take to find a placement for you, but we normally say between 6-18 months from application. Of course there is an urgency as people need your help today, but the most important thing is VSO finding the RIGHT placement for you - and the people you’ll be helping. This may take a little time, but it’ll be worth the wait.
What financial support will I receive?
The financial package for volunteers includes:
- return flights to the country in which you’ll be volunteering
- accommodation for the duration of your placement
- a living allowance to cover your daily expenses
- a volunteer allowance to cover some of the costs in your home country, which will be paid quarterly while you are in placement
- medical cover for the duration of your placement
- visas and work permits - all arrangements will be made by VSO
- holidays - guaranteed minimum of three weeks per year (not applicable to specialist assignments (three to six months).
What if I get sick when I'm on my volunteer placement?
Your health and wellbeing are important to us. We have comprehensive medical insurance and procedures put in place for all of our volunteers. During your placement, you will normally consult local doctors about health problems.
Each of our country offices has an appointed medical adviser, usually a local doctor or nurse, whom you can consult with (contact details will be provided during your in-country training). You will also receive the VSO country office’s emergency contacts and medical emergency procedures, together with a list of recommended doctors, clinics, dentists and pharmacies in your region.
If a decision is made to evacuate you for medical reasons, we will using the best available emergency services to evacuate you to a hospital with better facilities. This may not be in your placement country. All volunteers are covered for medical repatriation except for medical emergencies resulting from hazardous sports.
Please note: our medical insurance policy requires you to have medical clearance from our medical advisers and to take the preventative measures we advise, for example, against malaria.
What about security in the country I am working in?
There are risks in every country in the world, but we monitor risks where we work, brief our volunteers appropriately and have systems in place in case of security problems. You will not be asked to work in any area where there is immediate danger from war, civil unrest or natural disaster. In this way we hope that our volunteers will have the best prospect of contributing to sustainable development.
I may need a ‘no criminal convictions’ letter to apply for employment when I return home. Can VSO provide this?
On your return, you might apply for a job that requires confirmation of good conduct while you were in your placement country. Where appropriate, we will provide a letter stating that, to the best of our knowledge, there are no criminal convictions nor proceedings pending from your time in placement. This is usually accepted.
Some organisations, particularly those that work with children, insist on a letter from the local police in a volunteer’s placement country. Furthermore, some embassies require a letter from the police before issuing a residency visa. It can be practically impossible to obtain this document once you have returned home. If you think you might need this document at some point in the future, do try to obtain it from the local police before you leave your placement country.
Does VSO pay my pension while I volunteer?
No, unless you work for the NHS and are leaving your job to volunteer.
NHS employees can preserve their membership of the NHS Pensions Scheme while they volunteer, with VSO making small pensions contributions direct to the NHS Pensions Agency while they are away. For more detail see the Department of Health website.
All other public sector, and private sector, employees are encouraged to speak to their relevant pension scheme to find out how their pension will be affected whilst volunteering overseas. VSO does still offer all other financial benefits (see above).
If you are a volunteer who departed before 31 March 2011 and joined the Public Pension Scheme, read our FAQ document for more information.
Do I need to fundraise?
Yes, as part of your experience and journey with VSO you will be asked and supported to do some fundraising toward a target of £1,500.
Fundraising by volunteers like you provides much needed income for our programmes. With the money you raise we can together, help even more people out of poverty and make a bigger difference to their lives.
The Department for International Development (DFID) VSO’s major donor, is keen to see us develop our voluntary income as their grant is declining over the next three years. DFID has capped its grant at 40% of the organisation’s total income. Therefore, if we are to receive the current level of grant we need to raise an additional £15 million over the next three years.
Fundraising can also help us to talk through volunteers and deliver important messages into our UK communities. Therefore, your support in fundraising is invaluable to VSO.
How do I find out if you need my skills?
Take a look at our Opportunities section to see what skills we need. We recruit skilled and experienced professionals from a range of backgrounds, including education, health, business, IT, communications, fundraising, marketing, community workers and natural resources.
Demand for skills can vary, so this section has the most up-to-date information about your skills area.
I’m not sure volunteering is for me. What other ways can I get involved with VSO?
You can get involved with VSO in lots of other ways including campaigning, setting up a local group, fundraising and by making a donation.
Where can I get more information?
How recent does my experience need to be?
Our partner organisations ask that any experience that you have that is relevant to the role is not more than five years old.
Can I volunteer with my partner?
We can place volunteering couples and families in standard volunteer roles (1-2 years) and we do have many couples overseas. However, options can be more limited and it can take more time to find suitable roles. We often encourage couples to be prepared to have one partner volunteering and the other going as a non-volunteering partner seeking their own work overseas where possible to ensure maximum flexibility.
Due to their shorter length, we currently can't place volunteers with partners to short-term specialist assignments.
Couples where both partners are volunteers
If you and your partner work in similar fields such as education or medicine, the chances of finding two roles in the same location are increased. However, it can be more difficult to place a couple with very different skills in the same region or even the same country. In this case, matching you both to suitable roles could take a very long time. Your prospects of going overseas are much better if one of you goes as a volunteer and the other as a non-volunteering partner.
Couples where a volunteer is accompanied by a non-volunteering partner
We can’t provide financial support for volunteer's partners who are not VSO volunteers, but we do assess and CRB check partners at VSO’s expense, and provide access to some of VSO's training courses for a small fee.
Can I volunteer if I have dependent children?
Placing volunteers with dependents can be difficult. Even where it is possible, taking children to a placement can present many additional practical difficulties. Education and childcare are often expensive overseas. Access to medical facilities can be limited and the quality of healthcare is not comparable to that available for children in a developed country. We can provide more advice on considerations when you apply.
If you feel that you have considered all the implications of taking children to a placement, we’re happy to consider your application.
Can I still volunteer if I've retired?
Yes, you can. A number of volunteers choose to volunteer after retirement and we welcome applications from experienced professionals up to the age of 75. Older volunteers are valued by local employers for their patience, self-assurance and resourcefulness, as well as for their professional skills.
For most jobs you’ll need to have recent work experience, and be kept up-to-date with developments in your skill area. All volunteers, whatever their age, will be asked for medical information when they apply and if necessary will need clearance from our medical unit before they can volunteer.
We do successfully place older volunteers, however the retirement age, visa policies and cultural norms of the countries we work in can sometimes limit the number of opportunities available to you.
I have a health problem. Can I volunteer with VSO?
Having a current or previous health problem does not automatically mean that you cannot be considered as a potential volunteer. However, overseas VSO posts may be in challenging environments, with limited local medical facilities. It is important that you’re in good physical and mental health when you apply to VSO. Any chronic medical condition should be well controlled and such that you would not require frequent, ongoing medical attention while overseas.
We would encourage you to consider the implications of volunteering overseas on your health. If you have a significant medical condition, you should be prepared that there may be some difficulty in finding an overseas role that we feel would not adversely affect your health, and which can provide an appropriate level of medical support. Unfortunately, in some cases, your options for working overseas with VSO may be limited because of health issues.
If you would like to discuss this further, you can contact our medical unit in complete confidence on 020 8780 7685.
Can I volunteer if I have HIV?
Being HIV positive need not be a barrier to volunteering with VSO.
In terms of medical clearance for an overseas role, we would aim to assess individuals living with HIV in the same way as other chronic medical conditions. We would want to ensure that you go to volunteer in an area which would not pose high risks to your health, and where good medical facilities are available for any follow-up checks or treatment you may need.
Please note that we work in some countries where it is illegal to enter or stay in the country if you are HIV positive. In some countries there may also be a stigma against people with HIV. You’ll need to consider the implications of this when deciding to accept a volunteer role.
If you would like to discuss this further, you can contact our medical unit in complete confidence on 020 8780 7685.
Can I volunteer if I have a disability?
We’re committed to investigating every possible option to enable disabled people to volunteer.
We ask you to tell us about your disability on your application form. When you apply, a placement adviser and our medical unit will work closely with you. They will identify jobs that would be suitable for you before you come to assessment.
Some of the environments we work in are challenging. It may be difficult for us to match your professional and personal circumstances with a volunteer role. We'll make every effort to consider all possibilities and think flexibly to prevent this.
You can request volunteering information in a range of different formats, for example, Braille, large print, and audiocassette. A reader and writer service is available. Sign Language interpreters can be provided.
To discuss disability further, you can contact our medical unit in complete confidence on 020 8780 7685.
What is the day of a volunteer like?
There’s no such thing as a typical day! That’s part of the excitement of volunteering. Your life will become personally and professionally very different to what you know now. What is certain though is that you will be enjoying an all-new culture, mixing in a different community and challenging yourself professionally, in all new ways.
How can I hear directly from volunteers about their experiences?
There are a few different ways you can get in touch with current or returned volunteers.
If you come to a Meet VSO event, you'll get to hear volunteers speak in person about their placement and how it went for them. At the end of the meeting, you'll have the opportunity to meet with the volunteers face to face and ask questions. You can find out more on our Events page
You can also ask volunteers questions online, on our Facebook page. This visited regularly by volunteers so they will be able to reply to your questions if you post on our wall.
There are a number of returned volunteers who have written more extensively about their work. A list of volunteer books can be found on our Amazon page
What countries do you work in?
VSO currently works in over 30 countries in Africa and Asia. We look at each country on an individual basis and assess whether it’s practical for us to operate within our areas of competence, how serious its skills shortages are, and whether our approach could make a significant difference. By focusing our resources, we can maximise the impact our volunteers can make at all levels, from grassroots to government.
Please note that volunteers recruited by VSO UK are not currently able to go to Latin America or the Caribbean.
For more information see where we work
What does a volunteer do when they are not working?
It’s your free time – so you’re free to do whatever you wish! But by choosing to work abroad you’re probably going to want to make the most out of this exciting experience. So that’s why VSO volunteers usually spend their free time exploring their new country, making new friends and generally getting the most of every amazing new opportunity that volunteering brings you.
Which countries do you recruit from?
For long-term volunteer jobs (one to two years) we recruit from:
- across Europe
- Kenya (also covering Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania)
- Philippines (also covering Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, The Kingdom of Brunei and New Zealand)
- India (also covering Sri Lanka)
For specialist assignments (three to six months), we currently only recruit volunteers who are residents in the European Economic Area.
For the ICS programme, you must be:
- aged between 18 and 25 at time of departure overseas
- Are either a UK citizen with a current UK address, an EEA citizen currently residing in the UK, or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Applicants should have been resident in the UK for the last 12 months.
- Have a good grasp of conversational English.
- Are available to volunteer for a minimum of 10 weeks overseas
Two years seems like a long time to volunteer?
While other organisations may send you to volunteer for just a few weeks – the impact this makes against poverty is often only short-term. So if you want to make a real, sustainable long-term change to people’s lives – you’ll need to take a little more time.
But volunteers who’ve experienced two-years in an amazing new environment say the time appears to fly by - so much to do, so much to explore, so many people to meet. And if you think about it, two years is a short investment for a lifetime of memories and the knowledge that you’ve helped change peoples’ lives for the better.
What kind of volunteer roles do you offer?
Volunteer roles (one to two years)
We have standard roles for skilled and experienced professionals of all backgrounds, particularly in education, health and business. These roles are open to volunteers aged between 20 and 75. Standard placements last between one and two years, with the majority of roles being for two years. You’ll usually need a professional qualification in your field and generally a minimum of two to three years’ post-qualification experience. Volunteers need to be ready to volunteer within the eighteen month period in which they apply.
Find out more about our volunteer roles and search for opportunities in your skill area.
Specialist assignments (three to six months)
We have short-term volunteering opportunities for highly experienced professionals who can provide advice at senior levels. Volunteers need extensive professional experience in their field, usually with a minimum of five years' post-qualification experience. Specialist assignments can last from three to six months and volunteers need to be prepared to go for the maximum amount of time.
International Citizen Service (ICS) supports young people aged 18-25 from all backgrounds to make a real difference to some of the world’s poorest people. The initiative is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). VSO ICS placements have been designed to complement the work of our country programmes, recognizing the unique contribution young people can make to the development goals of VSO.
Find out more about VSO ICS
How do families react to such long placements?
Your family will hopefully understand that your journey is not only important to you – but to entire communities in the developing world. What’s more it will provide them with an amazing opportunity to visit you and experience a world they may never have seen otherwise. Just imagine how proud they’ll be of you when they see how you’re helping change people’s lives.
Also volunteering is like any other job – you get time off. So one day you could be in the heat of Malawi helping train people and the next you could be on holiday, back at the family Christmas table eating turkey, sharing your stories and complaining about the cold.
How long does a placement last?
Standard volunteer roles last for 1-2 years, with the majority of roles lasting two years. Find out more about volunteer roles
Specialist assignments can last from 3-6 months.Youth programmes
The International Citizen Service (ICS) programmes for young people aged 18-25 last 10-12 weeks. Find out more on the ICS website
Is there any support available to me when I return from my placement?
VSO understand that returning after your placement can sometimes seem a bigger culture shock to you than going away in the first place. So we have a dedicated Volunteer Return team to support you when you come home. We work to help you get references, find a job, and we have a website called Volzone, where employers advertise directly for people with volunteering backgrounds. We’ll continue to help you for as long as you need us.
How can I request a VSO volunteer to work in my organisation?
Your organisation must contact our office in the relevant country and make a proposal in writing.
The letter should state:
- what you need a VSO volunteer to do
- how it will contribute to long-term development in your area
- what conditions (for example, accommodation) you can offer a volunteer.
- Our programme staff will then visit you to draw up a detailed job description and to gather the required information in full. It usually takes a minimum of six months between receipt of your request and the arrival of your volunteer.
Please note that we can only send volunteers to organisations in countries where we already have a programme. Take a look at where we work.
If you would like to request a volunteer, please call us on +44 20 8780 7500 for the address of the relevant country office. We are unable to provide contact telephone, fax numbers or email addresses of our country offices, as these are reserved for volunteer emergencies only.
Are there any health and safety issues on placements?
VSO will only send you to areas considered safe for volunteers after a full risk assessment by qualified programme officers. Every detail is checked for your piece of mind; even your accommodation is verified by experts.
VSO makes it a priority that all its volunteers are fully prepared and supported 100% during their placement and your safety is paramount to us at all times.
What has happened to Global Xchange?
The Global Xchange programme run by British Council and VSO came to an end on 31 March 2012 on completion of its funding cycle.
The British Council and VSO are proud of the achievements of Global Xchange. The success of the partnership between the British Council and VSO, and the lessons learned from Global Xchange have gone on to inform the UK government’s International Citizen Service youth volunteering programme which VSO are leading on. The British Council, through its Society programmes, will continue to offer opportunities for young people to build their intercultural skills, engage in their communities and network with their peers in UK and other countries.
If you are 18-25 and interested in volunteering, have a look at our new VSO-ICS programmes