How To Work For An NGO Overseas (Complete Guide)

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Many people take jobs with NGOs because they want to work abroad. Of course, it’s fantastic to have a career that helps other people and allows you to build experience in your chosen field but having the opportunity to live and work overseas is really one of the best parts of working in the NGO sector.

If you already work for an NGO, or are thinking of joining the sector, and want to work overseas, we’ve put together this complete guide for you.

Why Work For An NGO Abroad

When deciding to work for an NGO overseas, the first thing to think about is why.

All NGO jobs are competitive. International positions with NGOs are even more competitive. However, there are a number of good reasons why, especially if you already work in the NGO sector, you should apply for overseas positions. These include:

  • Gaining new work experience
  • Developing your career
  • Living and working abroad

Let’s briefly go over each of these…

New Work Experience

A first reason why you should work for an NGO overseas is because it will give you new and valuable work experience. Although you may have many years working for NGOs in your home country, taking an international position means you need to adapt your skills to a different context. This can be very interesting and hugely rewarding.

Many NGOs have international positions that aimed at expatriate staff. This means taking a job abroad for an NGO often gives you access to new roles and the chance to take on jobs that you may not easily be able to do in your home country.

Career Development

A second reason why it is good to take an international position with an NGO is because it will definitely help develop your career. Overseas work in the NGO sector is highly sought after. NGO’s value people who have worked in multiple countries as it allows them to have gained a range and depth of experiences across multiple contexts.

In many NGOs, to reach senior management level you will need experience working abroad. If you can get a job overseas with an NGO it massively boosts your CV, and helps you get a more senior position in your home country later in your career.

Living and Working Abroad

A third reason why it’s great to work internationally for an NGO is because you get the experience of living and working abroad.

Many people find living and working overseas for a few years highly rewarding. You get to experience a new culture, make new friends, and explore the world. Living overseas is often a great adventure and getting a job with an NGO abroad is a great way to experience life as an expatriate.

Qualifications and Experience Needed To Work Overseas For An NGO

Now we know there are several good reasons why you should take a job overseas for an NGO, let’s look at how you get one.

If you want to work internationally for an NGO, you will need the skills and experiences that NGOs look for when recruiting for overseas positions.

Qualifications

NGOs usually require a master’s degree for their jobs. This is especially true for overseas roles. NGO jobs abroad are usually in more senior positions. They will look for candidates that have a relevant masters, and you will see this as a common criteria on job adverts for international positions with NGOs.

As well as having a relevant master’s degree, depending on what position you are applying for you, you are likely to need further formal qualifications.

For example, technical roles, including on medical, nutrition, shelter, livelihoods, protection and water and sanitation projects, NGOs will require qualifications proving you are trained to work in that area.

If you are looking to work in a what is known in the NGO sector as a generalist role, then a relevant masters for the position will suffice. Examples of generalist roles include in project management, logistics, finance, HR, grant management and security.

In addition to your formal qualifications, it can be great to do online training on topics relevant to the NGO sector. These are often free and can be done in your spare time. They will add to your CV and show an NGO that you have the knowledge they need to work abroad.

Skills and Experience

As well having the right qualifications, NGOs will look for people with the skills and experience they need when recruiting for overseas roles.

NGO jobs abroad are often in more senior positions. Most NGOs only deploy management or director level roles overseas. This is because they are looking for an experienced member of staff to lead their work in their overseas programmes. More junior NGO positions almost always go to people from the country in which the project is ran.

If you want to work abroad for an NGO, begin by building a career in the NGO sector in your home country. A few years working either in an NGO HQ, or on an NGO project, will give you strong credentials when you are applying for overseas work.

If international work for an NGO is your aim, focus on jobs in your home country that are relevant to overseas work. Programme and programme support jobs tend to be the main roles NGOs deploy overseas. Taking a job for even a couple of years in these areas in your home country, before applying to work abroad, will help your chances of landing an international job.

Attitude

Finally, NGOs are careful about who they send overseas. It costs NGOs significant funds to pay for staff abroad. On top of your salary, NGOs will often provide flights, accommodation, visas, health insurance and sometimes a bonus if you are working in a dangerous location. NGOs can not afford to send staff abroad who do not have right attitude, or who are seeking to work overseas for the wrong reasons.

If you want to work abroad for an NGO, make sure you are the kind of person who likes adventures, can cope in sometimes difficult scenarios, does not easily succumb to culture shock and is able to solve problems. Present yourself to NGOs as level-headed, calm, and able to use your initiative.

NGO roles abroad are competitive, as we said. Your chances of landing one will increase if you can show an NGO you have the right attitude for international work.

NGO Online Courses

If you are looking to work for an NGO, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the NGO sector and gives a clear breakdown of the skills needed to get an NGO job. It also provides valuable information on how to successful apply for positions within NGOs. Click the link to be taken to the course’s page.

We also think the online course Introduction to NGO Management is a must for anyone wanting to work for an NGO. It goes over how NGOs operate and introduces students to the unique aspects of the NGO sector they will need to know in order to land a job. Follow the link for more information.

Another online course we highly recommend for those wanting to join the NGO sector is How To Design and Fund International Development NGO Projects. Anyone working for an NGO needs a basic understanding of how NGO projects are set-up, and how to input to funding proposals. This course is a must for those wanting to work for an NGO. Click the link to get more information on the course.

Types of International NGO Jobs

Ok, so we’ve looked at why you should want to work abroad for an NGO, and the qualifications and experiences you’ll need to land an overseas job in the NGO sector. Now, let’s look at the different types of international jobs you can do for an NGO.

NGO jobs abroad can roughly be broken down into four categories:

  • Overseas postings
  • Roving deployment roles
  • HQ roles
  • Regional office roles

Let’s go over each one…

Overseas Posting

The first type of job you can do abroad for an NGO is an overseas posting. These jobs are usually stationed in a single location – either an NGOs country or field office. They are set roles with specific tasks and requirements.

An overseas posting with an NGO is almost always a fixed-term contract. This means you will stay in the job for usually six months or a year. You will apply directly for the role. When your contract is over, the NGO may offer you another posting, but they are not obligated too.

Most of the jobs abroad you see advertised by NGOs are what can be described as overseas postings. When you are first looking for international roles with an NGO, apply for this type of position.

Deployment Roles

A second type of international job within the NGO sector is a deployable role. This is where personnel are hired by an NGO to move between countries providing support to their programmes as needed.

Most deployable roles in the NGO sector focus on emergency responses – deploying into new crises to establish an NGO’s projects. However, many NGOs also have staff who deploy between their missions providing technical support and building capacities.

Usually, deployable staff in an NGO work from their home base between missions. They then move to their postings. They often spend between three and six months abroad before taking a break.

If you want to take a deployable role with an NGO, you will likely need some previous experience working overseas in the NGO sector.

HQ Roles

Another type of overseas job in the NGO sector are roles in HQ. Most people who work an NGOs in their HQ come from that country and are not working abroad. However, it is often possible to get jobs abroad working in NGO HQs.

Big international NGOs have HQs based in major Western cities around the world. There are also NGOs all over the developing world with HQs based in capital cities and regional hubs.

Although many NGOs will recruit local people to work in their HQ – often because of visa and work permit issues when hiring foreigners. However, it is still definitely possible to work abroad in the head office of an NGO.

If you want to work overseas in an NGO HQ, you will need some years’ experience in the NGO sector. It would also be advantageous to have a skill set that is hard to recruit for – often in a technical area. NGOs will recruit internationally for HQ roles when they need specific experience and cannot find it locally.

Regional Office Roles

A final type of role you can do overseas for an NGO is in a regional office. Large NGOs will have regional offices that coordinate the NGOs work across the specific region. These offices act as a bridge between the country offices and the NGOs HQ.

Regional offices for NGOs are usually in hub cities. Nairobi Kenya, Amman Jordan, Bangkok Thailand are all common cities for NGO regional offices, although many NGOs use other locations.

NGOs will recruit both locally and internationally for regional office jobs. Most international roles however will be at a senior level. Previous overseas experience in the NGO sector is often required.

Where To Find An Overseas NGO Job

To close this guide, we are going to take a brief look at where you can find international jobs in the NGO sector. Generally, there are three main places to look for overseas positions with NGOs. These are:

  • Online job boards
  • NGO websites
  • Internal recruitments

Let’s look at each these…

Online Job Boards

One of the best places to find international roles in the NGO sector are the main online job boards. The largest ones include:

On these sites, almost all the major NGOs list their jobs. There are a wide range of overseas positions listed on these pages. You can often apply through the site or follow the link to the NGO’s website. On some sites you can filter your search by country, organisation and experience needed. This can really help narrow down your job search.

NGO Websites

Another place you should look for overseas openings in the NGO sector is directly on NGO’s websites. There are literally hundreds of NGOs around the world recruiting for international positions.

Make a list of organisations that interest you and regularly check their websites for new openings. Although most NGOs will also post their jobs on the main job boards, checking their pages directly can be a good way to make sure you don’t miss any new recruitments.

Internal Recruitments

If you already work for an NGO, internal recruitments can be one of the best ways to get an overseas job.

NGO’s often hire staff from within their organisation for international roles. If you already have experience within an NGO, be sure to check their internal job postings for positions abroad.

NGOs will almost always have short-term postings overseas that are only advertised to international staff. These short positions, often from a few weeks to a couple of months, can be a great way to get your first overseas experience in the NGO sector, before applying for longer-term international jobs.

Getting a job in an NGO in your home country, and then after a couple of years applying for short-term international roles, is one of the most common ways that people begin working abroad for NGOs.

If you want more information on how to work for an NGO, explore our list of the top NGO online courses here.

Duncan

Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over 8 years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.