United Nations Volunteers

There isn’t a better way to travel around the world with a purpose than by volunteering! In this series on alternative tourism we are covering popular international volunteering programs for youth to participate in. If you feel that you’re ready to share knowledge with others, learn new skills, and boost your life experience, read on! In this article we talk about the United Nations Volunteers, a program that provides national, international, and online volunteering opportunities in 160-plus countries.


About the program

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Volunteers can contribute their time and skills to international, national or online volunteering opportunities. Each of the types has certain minimum requirements that determine one’s eligibility. The typical duration of an offline program is between six months and one year. Online volunteering opportunities tend to be short-term tasks. Below is the breakdown of four types of volunteering, criteria, and remuneration information.


International Volunteering

International UN Volunteers promote peace and development in communities around the globe. The Program also upholds the ideals and aspirations of the United Nations. The Volunteers come from 160 countries, representing many cultures and backgrounds. Volunteers will work in a multicultural environment and collaborate with local organizations. Various locations may have difficult living conditions and be remote. International UN Volunteer assignments generally run for six to 12 months, with the possibility of extending for one to two years. Short-term assignments are also requested by the partner organisations. 

Application process

International UN Volunteers receive allowances to enable them to sustain a secure standard of living in their duty stations. The first step to volunteering abroad with the UN is to determine whether you meet the minimum requirements. If this is the case, register your profile in our Global Talent Pool. You will then be matched with assignments offered by UN partner agencies. Approximately 2,000 assignments become available per year. 


Main criteria

Candidates must meet the minimum requirements to serve as an international UN Volunteer. Candidates must be at least 25 years old and have proof of a university degree or a higher technical diploma. At least two years of relevant work experience in a professional background and good working knowledge of English, Spanish, or French are required. 

National Volunteers

As a national UN Volunteer, you can share your knowledge of local languages and culture and bring an insider’s understanding of social and economic conditions. Compared with other UN personnel, national UN Volunteers add value with their knowledge of local languages, cultural, social and economic characteristics, and their capacity to work at the local level. Assignments can involve contributing to technical cooperation with governments, community-based initiatives, humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, and electoral and peace-building processes.

Application process

National UN Volunteers receive a volunteer living allowance to sustain a basic, safe lifestyle. This allowance varies depending on location and local living costs. A one-time settling-in grant helps the volunteers meet initial expenses upon arrival at their duty station. Travel and shipment allowances are paid on a case by case basis, depending on the location of the duty station. To search for positions, please refer to the official website.


Main criteria

The minimum age for a national UN Volunteer is 22, and there is no upper age limit. Minimum requirements include having a university degree, a minimum of two years of relevant work experience, and knowledge of English, French or Spanish.


Online Volunteers

More than 12,000 people from 187 countries are engaged in online volunteering every year. Online volunteering allows organizations and volunteers to team up to address sustainable development challenges – anywhere in the world, from any device. Available tasks include technology development, art and design, COVID-19 response, translation, project development and management, outreach and advocacy, administration, teaching and training, leadership & strategy, community organizing, and many more.

Online volunteer
Online volunteer


Application process

Depending on the type of commitment, volunteers can search for opportunities that vary in duration and time commitment per week. An official website allows viewers to filter tasks based on skills, region of the organization, language skills, and Sustainable Development Goals addressed. Most organizations find the volunteers they need within just a few days and close the opportunities to more applications. 


Main criteria

Each opportunity provides a description overview of skills and background expected from a volunteer. Generally, these include a university degree, previous experience, and knowledge of the local language.


Rapid Deployment of UN Volunteers

When large-scale emergencies like the Ebola outbreak, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the Philippines cyclone (Haiyan) occur, a coordinated rapid response is critical to ensuring that the UN system can cope with the most pressing demands and support the local government. UNV is a key partner in delivering humanitarian and early recovery assistance. 

Humanitarian help
Humanitarian help

UNV is re-building its rapid response capacity in the following five areas: protection, information management, logistics, water and sanitation, and monitoring and evaluation. Profiles in high demand include technical specialists (IT, engineering, logistics, transport), legal and medical professionals, political scientists, management, humanitarian affairs, and peacekeeping. UN Volunteers are entitled to receive an allowance to cover their basic needs in the respective duty station as well as other entitlements. 


Main criteria

Protection (Child Protection, Human Rights Protection)

University degree in Law, International Law, Human Rights, International Relations, Social Sciences, or related fields and up to three years of experience with refugees, and/or other people of concern in a protection capacity are required. 


Information management

University degree in Information Systems, GIS, Social Sciences, Statistics, Economics, and up to three years of experience in Information Management with governmental organizations, NGOs, international organizations are required. 



University degree in Business Administration, Engineering, Logistics, Mathematics, and relevant experience in supply chain, surface transport, warehousing, port operations, or air transport are required. 


WASH (Water and Sanitation and Hygiene)

University degree in Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Sanitation Engineering, Geology, Hydrology, Environmental Public Health, and relevant professional experience in water supply, pump installations, and associated works are required.  


Monitoring and Evaluation

University degree in Economics, Statistics, Project Planning and Management, Development Studies, Social Science, and a proven track record in Project Monitoring and Evaluation in a development or humanitarian context are required. 


Organizations around the world greatly benefit from the support UN Volunteers provide both online and offline. Becoming part of the movement is a commitment to providing professional help and working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. 


Find out more about United Nations Volunteers and other opportunities to volunteer!

Photos: Shutterstock / edited by: Martina Advaney


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