Frequently Asked Questions - In-country volunteering
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Becoming an in-country volunteer
When will the Australian Volunteers Program start mobilising large numbers of volunteers overseas? (updated October 2021)
The Australian Volunteers Program remains committed to mobilising larger numbers of skilled Australian volunteers when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
The global situation remains uncertain, especially with regards to international travel. Any decisions relating to sending Australian volunteers overseas will continue to be made in close consultation with DFAT Canberra, the Australian High Commissions and Embassies in the countries we operate in, and International SOS, our safety and security provider.
The safety and wellbeing of Australian Volunteers Program participants and staff is our highest priority and will guide our decision making.
While the Australian Government has announced that Australian borders will re-open in November 2021, volunteer deployments will not resume at scale immediately. There are a range of complex contexts and considerations in each country that we operate in.
We are closely monitoring the local situation in each country, including COVID-19 infection rates and response capacity (testing procedures and health care resources) and vaccination levels. The health and safety of local communities remains an important consideration, and it is critical that the program does not place further pressure on local health systems.
Additionally, every country has their own government-mandated entry requirements that we must comply with. There are also logistical challenges such as lockdowns, travel restrictions (inbound, outbound and internal), quarantine requirements and flight availability.
As a result of these considerations, our processes are risk-focused, phased and vary according to the unique and rapidly changing circumstances in each country.
You can also support our partner organisations right now through remote volunteering. Check out the latest assignments.
How can I become an in-country volunteer?
We are currently supporting a small number of Australians to volunteer in-country. These volunteers are involved in national responses to COVID-19, predominantly in the health/medical field.
These assignments were created in partnership between the national governments of these countries and DFAT, and are addressing an essential response to COVID-19.
These roles are not advertised. Where possible, we will contact potential applicants from our Talent Pool.
I'm not an Australian citizen. Can I volunteer in-country with the Australian Volunteers Program?
Program volunteers must be Australian citizens or holders of a Permanent Residency Visa of Australia, or New Zealand residents in Australia with a Special Category Visa (SCV).
Refer to the Passports, Visas and Work Permits section of the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for details to consider when applying.
Before you go
How long before I begin my assignment?
Expect to depart for your assignment between three-to-four months after being selected as the preferred volunteer. It takes time to process your visa and to receive appropriate medical checks and vaccinations.
As the volunteer, it is up to you to ensure that checks and pre-departure activities are completed in a timely fashion so that you are ready to begin the assignment on the start date.
What should I take with me?
We will put you in contact with current and returned volunteers, and our in-country team. Alongside your own research, these people will guide you with what to pack and what to leave at home.
Can I bring extra baggage?
The Australian Volunteers Program will reimburse any excess baggage up to a total weight of 30kg per participant (e.g. if an airline allows one 23kg bag and your bag totals 30kg, the program will reimburse the extra 7kg). The program will not reimburse overweight baggage charges if excess baggage was not arranged by you prior to flying. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Should I take work resources with me?
You are encouraged to make use of the resources provided by your partner organisation. You should be provided with adequate tools to get the job done. Once you’re put in touch with your partner organisation you can discuss easy-to-pack resources like online learning materials, software and document templates.
How long will it take to get my visa?
Every country has their own visa requirements. If you are the preferred candidate, further information on visas will be made available to you during the onboarding process.
I will not be in Australia prior to the start of my assignment. Can I fly directly to my assignment from elsewhere?
All travel arrangements covered by the program have Australia as the point of origin. You can mobilise from overseas, but these costs are not covered by the program. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Do I have to attend the Pre-Departure Briefing?
Yes, satisfactory attendance at a pre-departure briefing is a mandatory component of the selection process unless you have previously attended an Australian Volunteers Program pre-departure briefing within the 12 months prior to your mobilisation.
There is no flexibility around the Australian Volunteers Program pre-departure briefing dates, which are held monthly. You will need to arrange your schedule to ensure you can attend. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Do I need to have a first aid certificate before I go on assignment?
Yes, possession of a current Level 2 First Aid certificate is a mandatory requirement for acceptance on assignments greater than six weeks in duration. This is so that you can manage risks to your own health and others while on assignment. A card or certificate of attainment, dated within three years of the start date of assignment is to be submitted before an offer of an assignment can be confirmed.
If you don’t have a current certificate, you will need to obtain one. Qualified paramedics, medical doctors, and nurses can request an exemption from this requirement. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Will I need to quarantine at the start of my assignment?
Many countries require inbound travellers to complete a mandatory quarantine or self-isolation on arrival in-country. This varies between countries and the situation is constantly changing. Speak with your Onboarding Coordinator and in-country team for current information about arrival, quarantine or self-isolation arrangements.
What hours will I work?
Working hours for Australian volunteers are the same as for full-time local employees in your partner organisation, usually Monday to Friday. Please refer to the details in your position description.
What is the accommodation like?
Volunteers primarily choose their own accommodation in line with what is considered safe and secure in the context they live in. This is very much dependent on the specific location of the assignment, transport facilities, whether the accommodation is shared, and whether the partner organisation supplies accommodation.
Accommodation is very much based on personal taste and some volunteers supplement their allowances to support their lifestyle choices. Fundamental to any choice is maintaining a safe and secure location given the location-specific context.
Volunteers are provided with guides to assist them in this process, as well as assistance from the in-country team.
Do I need to speak the local language?
In nearly all partner organisations, a level of English is spoken, and sometimes it will be the fourth, fifth or sixth language spoken by locals. Unless specified as a pre-requisite, you are not expected to be fluent in the local language. The local level of English fluency and the language acquisition expected of you will vary country-to-country, between partner organisations, from capital cities to rural/remote locations, and of course, who you're talking to.
Learning the local language or dialect is highly encouraged. Many volunteers report that language acquisition greatly enhances their experience and ability to foster relationships.
All volunteers will receive some basic language support during their in-country orientation program. The amount of language training and support provided by the program after the in-country orientation varies based on your country and region. Self-directed learning via apps and podcasts is recommended.
Do I need to abide by the host country’s laws and cultural expectations?
If you are offered an assignment, you will need to sign a Code of Conduct requiring you to follow local laws, so you must be mindful of any laws affecting you, prior to your application.
Some countries have restrictive laws that impact on the freedom of women, LGBTQI+ people and religious expression. In saying this, the program encourages and supports all Australians to volunteer and recognises the value of diverse experiences.
If you have questions we encourage getting in touch with our recruitment team by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I do paid work while I’m on assignment?
No, engaging in any paid work and/or business enterprise for personal gain while on an in-country assignment is not acceptable and breaches the Australian Volunteers Program Code of Conduct.
Can I donate money to my partner organisation?
No, it is against the Australian Volunteers Program Code of Conduct to make a personal donation to your partner organisation while on assignment, as it can have unanticipated negative consequences. There is no restriction on post-assignment donations.
Can I go to a place of worship in my host country?
It is usually acceptable to practice your own faith, provided respect is shown for the local religion/s. Australian volunteers are not permitted to proselytise, that is to preach or attempt to recruit an individual or group to a religion. This includes volunteers who are assigned to a faith-based organisation.
Can I drink alcohol in my host country?
All Australian volunteers and approved accompanying dependants are responsible for being aware of and adhering to the laws of their host country. Laws relating to the consumption, supply, trafficking, or cultivation of drugs – including alcohol and tobacco – vary from country to country.
How do I vote in elections back home?
The Australian Electoral Commission advises that Australian citizens travelling internationally for periods of three years or less can register as Overseas Electors and vote by post in state and federal elections. Please contact the division where you are enrolled and inform them that you are travelling internationally and for how long. You will then be registered as an Overseas Elector. Failure to do this can result in being fined, being removed from the Australian electoral roll, and having to apply for re-enrolment on return to Australia.
What allowances are provided to in-country volunteers?
In general, volunteers will receive the following allowances:
Settling in - To assist with expenses associated with passports, excess baggage, and any other costs associated with your departure and setting up accommodation in your country of assignment. If your assignment duration is six months or less, the program will provide you with a one-off settling-in allowance of AUD$500. For assignments of more than six months, the settling in allowance is AUD$1,000. The allowance is paid prior to departure by direct transfer to your Australian bank account.
Living – To offset daily expenses such as food, internet data, incidentals.
Accommodation - To enable you to access accommodation of a reasonable standard that is considered safe and secure.
Resettlement - A resettlement allowance will be paid at the conclusion of the assignment to offset some of the costs of excess baggage, departure tax, en-route costs and expenses associated with resettling back in Australia. For assignments of less than six months, the resettlement allowance is AUD$500. For assignments of more than six months, the resettlement allowance is AUD$1,000.
Explore the table of current living and accommodation allowances.
When are living and accommodation allowances paid?
Living and accommodation allowances are paid monthly, one month in advance.
What expenses can be reimbursed?
Health and medical
Do I need to have a medical assessment before I go on assignment?
Yes, several medical assessments must be undertaken before you can go on assignment.
As a part of the recruitment process a mental health check, which is undertaken by Response Psychological Services, is required.
Once you have been selected as a preferred candidate for the program, you will be required to complete a health check process which includes:
- Dental health check
- General health clearance and mandatory vaccinations
The clearance process includes the completion of a personal health profile, a review of your medical history via an online questionnaire and, if required, a physical assessment by a doctor.
You are also required to complete mandatory vaccinations prescribed for the location and scope of your assignment before departure. This process is managed by the program’s provider, International SOS. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Will I have to have a COVID-19 vaccine to be able to go on assignment?
The program requires all participants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to deployment, unless contraindicated for medical reasons. Due to the risk that the COVID-19 virus presents to program participants and to the communities in which we operate, any exemption would only be granted on the advice of our emergency assistance provider, International SOS as part of the pre-departure medical clearance process.
COVID-19 vaccinations are now available in Australia for all those undertaking essential overseas travel with an approved outwards travel exemption, regardless of age.
What happens if I get sick on assignment?
All Australian volunteers are provided with 24-hour routine and emergency advice and assistance under the program. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information. Our emergency assistance provider International SOS retains the capability to conduct medical evacuations, however medical evacuations may be delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions and constraints on receiving care.
What happens if I acquire COVID-19?
The rate of COVID-19 community transmission varies globally, and the pandemic continues to be a real threat to personal health and wellbeing in many program countries.
The risk of acquiring COVID-19 may be higher than Australia in some program locations and when travelling (domestically or internationally). Participants must understand this and accept the risks involved when accepting an assignment during the pandemic.
If you test positive for COVID-19 while you are on assignment, the program and International SOS will provide any necessary supports to you, within the limitations of the local government guidelines and health agency requirements. Such support may include medical evacuation back to Australia.
What is covered by insurance?
Overarching travel and medical insurance cover is provided by the program through Corporate Services Network.
The program provides expatriate emergency medical assistance through International SOS during your assignment. This gives coverage in the event of injury, illness, disability and death. Cover commences from the time you depart for your assignment until the end of your assignment and includes approved travel during your assignment. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Where can I find policy details and how do I make a claim?
Who can I speak to confidentially if I am feeling depressed, anxious or otherwise concerned about my mental health?
Response Psychological Services has been contracted by the program to provide confidential counselling for all Australian volunteers. This free service provides you with the opportunity to speak to a psychologist who is experienced in assisting people living and working on international assignments.
Safety and security
What happens if there is a war, unpredictable and violent situation, or natural disaster?
In case of an emergency, the program reserves the right to evacuate Australian volunteers. Decisions about the evacuation of Australian volunteers in the event of war, unpredictable and violent political situations, or natural disaster will be coordinated by the program with the Australian or other diplomatic missions in the host country.
Who should I call in an emergency?
All approved program participants have access to the program’s 24/7 emergency assistance provider, International SOS. Prior to departure, you will be provided with details of how to contact International SOS at any time during your assignment.
Is professional indemnity insurance provided?
Professional indemnity insurance is not provided for Australian volunteers. Consult your partner organisation about the need for professional indemnity insurance for your role prior to your departure, and where required, you are advised to obtain adequate professional indemnity insurance from a reputable insurance provider. Please refer to the Australian Volunteers Guidebook for more information.
Travel and leave
Will I get annual leave? Can I go on holidays while on assignment?
Volunteers are entitled to a minimum of four weeks (20 working days) annual leave per year, accrued on a pro rata basis. No more than 20 days annual leave is to be taken at any one time, and no more than five days should be taken in advance of your accrued entitlements.
You must request approval from your partner organisation and consult with the in-country team when planning leave. The partner organisation is within its rights to request changes to the timing and duration of leave in accordance with its own organisational priorities.
Can I travel while on an in-country assignment?
Some leisure activities and travel may not be possible during the pandemic. You may not be able to visit Australia during your assignment. Discretionary international travel while on assignment is not currently being approved due to the risks presented by COVID-19, including not being able to re-enter your country of assignment.
The program reserves the right to refuse approval for travel to those areas where the security or medical risk is assessed to be too great.
Can I take leave at the end of my assignment?
Annual leave needs to be taken within your assignment dates. If you leave your assignment early, then all allowances stop on the day you cease work, and unused leave will not be paid out. Should you wish to travel at the end of your assignment, this is not considered annual leave and would be at your own cost.
Volunteering as a couple/family
Will the program support my partner or children to come with me?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has placed a temporary pause on having partners or children accompany volunteers as Approved Accompanying Dependents.
Can my partner and I volunteer together?
If you are both successful candidates for roles in the same location at the same time, we will support you to volunteer together. However, we are unable to guarantee that you will both be successful as the selection process for each role is competitive. There are a number of scenarios that can apply for couples, please refer to our Couples Factsheet for more guidance.
Can I take my pet with me?
The program does not have the capacity to support volunteers with pets on assignment.
In medical, political or natural emergency evacuations, people have to leave their pets behind. There's a high risk of suffering to the animal and additional stress to their owner.
The need to care and settle a pet, find suitable accommodation, keep them safe within a developing community environment, and then return them to Australia detracts from your own orientation and could compromise relationship-building with the community and colleagues.
Will I need to quarantine when I return to Australia?
Travellers to Australia may be required to complete a mandatory quarantine period upon arrival in Australia. The cost of mandatory quarantine will be covered by the program. Speak with your in-country team and Corporate Traveller at the time of booking and before departure to understand the current requirements and process.
If you are required to quarantine, you will be provided with a contact person in the Melbourne office, for regular wellbeing checks and assistance with navigating the quarantine and returning home process.
Can I remain in-country, or travel to another country, on completion of my assignment?
If you choose to remain in-country or travel to another country during the COVID-19 pandemic, you accept full responsibility for your health and security from the moment your assignment is complete.
The Australian Volunteers Program cannot accept responsibility for Australian citizens and residents who are not participants on the program.
Should you decide to remain in-country and seek work after the conclusion of your assignment, it is your responsibility to organise the necessary visa and work permits. You will also need to provide your own travel and medical insurance.
You should be mindful that remaining in your country of assignment in paid employment could be perceived as taking jobs from local people, which could endanger the reputation and operating context of the program.