How to Volunteer with the United Nations

Become a United Nations Field Volunteer

If you're selected for a UNV position, you'll sign a contract that stipulates your length of service.
If you're selected for a UNV position, you'll sign a contract that stipulates your length of service.
Siri Stafford/Getty Images

More than 7,500 people serve in United Nations volunteer posts each year. They fulfill one of three basic roles: peacekeeping, development or operations. More than 67 percent of volunteers come from developing countries, and 40 percent of those serve in their home countries.

If you have prior experience working in a developing nation, you have a better chance of landing a volunteer position with the United Nations. You should also be able to answer "yes" to all of these questions:

  • Are you at least 25 years old?
  • Do you speak English, French or Spanish?
  • Do you also speak the language of the country where you'll be assigned -- Arabic, English, French, Spanish or Portuguese?
  • Have you earned at least a bachelor's degree or a technical diploma?
  • Can you pass a medical screening?

If you meet all of these requirements, your next step is to go to the UNV Web site. From there, you can browse the job categories and locations to find out which openings fit your interests and skill set. To serve in your home country -- and more than 40 percent of field service volunteers do -- you'll apply at your local UNV or UNDP office. If your burning desire is to serve in a country other than your own, you'll begin the application process online at the main UNV Web site. You'll have to write an essay and undergo a stringent background check.

If you're selected for a position, you'll sign a contract with the UN that stipulates your length of service, usually one to two years. The contract is renewable based on available funds. You'll receive a stipend for yourself and up to three dependents from the sponsoring partner organization to cover your living expenses. You also get a lump-sum payment to offset the cost of your medical insurance or care.

You'll report to the organization that listed the job opening, which may be a grassroots organization or even a national government. You will work on specific development projects, such as teaching people how to prevent HIV and AIDS or promoting peace through conflict resolution training in a country that's recovering from civil war.

Occasionally, you may find a short-term assignment that lasts two to 12 months. These are special assignments; to get one, you need to have experience with disaster or electoral assistance or human relief. To apply for one of these opportunities, you'll contact the Special Operations office in Germany directly.