Frequently asked questions
How do VSO placements work?
We place professional and skilled volunteers with local partner organisations, from grassroots groups to government ministries, to build their capacity and ability. This delivers long-term improvements and helps countries and communities to help themselves. VSO’s volunteers use their skills to improve quality and access to essential services, give people a voice and help influence governments to implement effective policies.
By building local skills and knowledge our volunteers deliver sustainable development, lasting impact and value for money.
As a VSO volunteer you’ll work directly with your local employer, reporting to a local manager and supporting your colleagues’ development. Of course, your local VSO office is always there to support you should the need arise.
What are VSO’s recruitment criteria?
There are some basic requirements you will need to fulfil in order to volunteer with VSO:
- you must have a minimum of two years’ experience in your field, gained in the last five years
- most countries also need an official qualification (usually a degree) to secure a work permit
- our volunteers are expected to have a good command of the English language in order to fully participate in selection, induction and wider programme activities whilst volunteering.
What is the recruitment process?
- Placements are advertised on our website.
- Applicants complete an online application form and attach a current CV.
- The applications are shortlisted and we will respond within three weeks of the closing date.
- Shortlisted applicants are invited to take part in a selection process which will include a combination of activities such as a preliminary interview and a situational judgement test or assessment centre event.
- Following the selection process and reference checks, an offer is made to the most suitable candidate. Other candidates are notified of the outcome and any other placements that may be of interest to them.
- The successful applicant participates in induction activities in preparation for their placement and starts to complete pre-departure checks such as medical and criminal background checks. They also complete any logistical requirements such as the visa application.
How long will the process take?
Once you have applied for a placement, the process will take approximately five months. This is to allow time for volunteers to complete pre-departure briefing, along with all the necessary logistics such as arranging visas, work permits and medical and criminal background checks.
Can I apply for more than one placement?
Yes, however at the point that you accept an offer of a placement you will be withdrawn from any other applications.
Can I fill in the application form in a language other than English?
As English will be the working language in the volunteer placement, it is important that we are recruiting people who have a reasonable level of English. Please make sure to fill in the application form in English.
Where does VSO work?
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, 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.
What expenses will I need to pay?
During your placement, VSO will provide:
- an allowance paid in local currency. The allowance is designed to meet reasonable living expenses in country, and will not be enough for you to expect to send money home
- basic accommodation. This will be shared housing with private rooms
- transportation costs to and from your placement, including flights
- medical insurance
- induction and resettlement support
You will need to be able to contribute towards some of your pre-departure expenses such as travel to and from induction events and some of your pre-departure medical expenses. The overall package of financial support has been designed so that volunteers are not out of pocket through volunteering. However, you should not expect to be able to save money during your time as a volunteer or to be able to meet any other financial commitments.
Can couples volunteer together?
We welcome applications if you are a couple wanting to volunteer together, however we respond to demand from overseas partner organisations, and many of them request only one volunteer. It is rare to receive a request for two volunteers for the same location that will match both of your skills.
Can my family come with me?
It will depend on the placement as some locations may not be suitable for a family. If your partner or children do accompany you to your placement, you will be responsible for any associated costs. This will include pre-departure checks, medical insurance, flights, any additional accommodation needs for your family, and any schooling fees in country.
Can I go home during my placement?
You are entitled to four weeks leave every year. However, we will not cover your travel expenses so if you do decide to use this time to return home you will have to pay for the flights and transport costs yourself.
Can I volunteer for longer than my original placement length?
Many volunteers stay beyond their initial placement duration. However, this will depend on the needs of the organisation and whether they need you to stay longer than planned in order to complete the job or extend its benefits and impact. The country office then evaluates the situation, and a decision is reached by consulting all parties involved.
Alternatively, you can apply for another for another placement in the same country or elsewhere.
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.
Does VSO pay my pension while I volunteer?
Republic of Ireland
Yes, if you work in the public or civil service in the Republic of Ireland. Irish civil and public servants, such as teachers, nurses, doctors and others may apply for the Public Service Pension Scheme for Volunteer Development Workers (VDWs).VDWs are those who work as volunteers and are in receipt of a local allowance. VSO Ireland works with Comhlamh to ensure that volunteers receive their pension entitlements when they return home to Ireland.
Northern IrelandNo, 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.
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.
What skills do volunteers need?
We recruit experienced professionals from all over the world. Our volunteers provide our overseas partners with a wide range of skills and experience in areas such as health, education , advocacy, business and management, community and social development, natural resources, HIV and AIDS, specific technical skills such as civil or industrial engineering, and many others.
To become a VSO volunteer, it’s vital you’re experienced in your professional field and able to train and advise colleagues in your area of expertise. You need to be prepared to work creatively, often with few resources.
Where can I get more information?
Are there any age restrictions?
VSO volunteers range between 20 and 75. Suitability for the role and physical condition are more important than age. As living conditions can be basic, with hot and cold climate extremes, medical checks are required from all volunteers before going overseas.
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.
Your fundraising activities also provide us with opportunities to raise the profile of VSO in your local community. This in turn allows us to recruit more volunteers and raise the funds to support our programmes.
Fundraising can also help us to talk to volunteers and deliver important messages into communities. Therefore, your support in fundraising is invaluable to VSO. Don’t worry, VSO Ireland will support you in your fundraising, be it in terms of public relations and event organising. Please get in touch with us by calling +353 1 640 1060.
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 if I have a personal health problem?
Although it is difficult to generalise, having a current or previous health problem will not always be a barrier to volunteering with VSO. You should be prepared that your medical circumstances will be assessed carefully and on a case by case basis. There may be potential difficulties in finding an overseas placement which can provide you with acceptable health risks and an appropriate level of medical support.
In some case, your options for working overseas with VSO may be very limited because of medical issues, but we would make that clear to you as soon as we could. For more detailed information our 'Volunteering with a medical condition' information sheet.
Why do I need to think about my personal health circumstances at an early stage?
If you are planning to volunteer, VSO needs to be sure that you are fit and healthy enough to do so. Nobody can take up a VSO placement overseas without medical clearance.
Please consider personal health issues from an early stage in the application process. This is especially important if you have a current or previous medical condition, or take certain medication, which may mean that VSO cannot take you on as a volunteer.
Medical assessment and medical clearance takes place later in the volunteer selection process. VSO does not want you to be disappointed and feel let down at the last minute if you cannot volunteer because of a personal health reason. This will be really frustrating if you have already invested a lot of time, energy and money with the selection, fundraising and preparation process.
Please do not fully commit to an overseas placement, resign from your job, rent or sell your home or have your leaving party until you are sure you will get medical clearance!
Why do volunteers need to a medical check to work overseas with VSO?
If you are planning to volunteer, VSO needs to be sure that you are fit and healthy enough to do so. VSO is an organisation which recruits volunteers to work for local partners in resource poor countries. Most volunteers will find themselves living and working in small towns and rural areas of these countries. You will have to get used to a new climate, basic living conditions and a physical environment which may be challenging, and you may face new risks to your health such as malaria, other infectious disease and road traffic accidents. You will also have all the usual health risks that you face in your home country, but you may find your local medical facilities are basic and limited in the care and support they can offer you.
What does VSO's medical check involve?
If you are selected as a volunteer, you will need to go through a medical clearance and assessment process. You will be asked to provide detailed personal health information and have a full medical examination. This will usually be carried out by your family doctor, a travel health specialist or a doctor identified by VSO in your home country.
Your medical information will be reviewed by one of VSO’s medical advisers. VSO medical advisers will decide whether you are medically suitable to volunteer with VSO or whether your medical circumstances are such that you would only be suitable for certain placements. In some cases, it may not be possible to volunteer with VSO because of personal health circumstances.
VSO will be guided by the medical advisers decision when proceeding with your application and finally matching you to a placement, even if their recommendation is different from the opinion of your GP, family doctor or specialist who looks after you.
Medical insurance is only available to volunteers who are medically assessed and cleared by a VSO medical adviser.
How do I know if I am medically suitable for the VSO post that I want to apply for?
There are no hard and fast rules and it may be difficult for you to make that assessment. Decisions about medical suitability depend on your specific medical circumstances and the specific health risks and the available medical support associated with the placement. We suggest you:
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 +353 1 640 1060.
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 +353 1 640 1060.
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 have to provide personal health information and undergo VSO's detailed medical assessment and clearance process. Please seek advice early on from the international medical team on +44 (0)20 8780 7685 or email@example.com.
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.
Which countries does VSO recruit from?
VSO Ireland recruits volunteers from across the island of Ireland. Other VSO recruitment bases operate across the world seeking experienced professional volunteers. Find out where else VSO recruits from
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.
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.
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.
Is there any support available to me when I return from my placement?
VSO understands that returning after your placement can sometimes seem a bigger culture shock to you than going away in the first place. VSO works with Comhlámh to provide support to returned volunteers. We work to help you get references from your placement and we also have a website called Volzone, where employers advertise directly for people with volunteering backgrounds. VSO Ireland will be there for you every step of the way.
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.
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.
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.