© Brendan Bannon
22 Sep 16 13 Feb 18

Working overseas: FAQ

Here you will find answers to the most common questions about working in the field with MSF UK. You can jump to the topic you are most interested in using the links below. 

Working for MSF

1. Do I need to be a UK resident to apply to work with MSF UK?

MSF UK can only accept applications for field positions from UK residents who have a valid permit to work in the UK. If you do not have this we cannot accept your application.

Please contact your nearest MSF office or one of the MSF Operational Centres in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Geneva or Paris in order to apply for a position, details can be found on here.

2. Do I need to be based in the UK to apply to work with MSF UK?

Our recruitment process, tests, interviews etc. take place in London and applicants are expected to attend in person. MSF UK does not cover travel costs at this stage.

It is assumed that successful candidates are based in the UK and available to attend induction, training and briefing. MSF UK can only finance travel arrangements for these events from addresses in the UK.

3. What are the criteria to work for MSF?

Detailed information about the selection criteria and role descriptions can be found on our website:

We can only accept applications from people who meet our strict requirements and applications must be made online.

4. What kind of people work in the field for MSF?

MSF recruits medical and non-medical staff to work in its projects. All of these people bring professional abilities, practical experience, as well as a commitment to and concern for the people they help.

Our projects are manned by national staff with minimal international presence. On average, for every expatriate posted to a specific project there are seven local workers. They provide everything from technical and administrative assistance to nursing and medical skills

Follow the link for more information on who we need.

5. Does MSF recruit people from the military?

MSF policy is that those who have been employed in the armed forces can only apply for MSF roles two years or more after leaving the military. Please ask for our Armed Forces Policy if you require more information.

6. Can you work for MSF if you are a member of the Territorial Army?

MSF-UK does not accept onto its register anyone who is currently a member of the Territorial Army. As a trained reserve force, members of the TA are liable to compulsory call-up to military service under the Reserve Forces Act 1996.

A conflict of interests and loyalties would arise for a member of staff who was simultaneously a member of both a military organisation and an independent humanitarian one. MSF, as an independent humanitarian organisation, observes strict impartiality and neutrality in all its operations. These principles would be compromised if its active field staff were simultaneously members of a military organisation.

As an independent humanitarian organisation MSF has to be able to send its international staff to crisis zones around the world without the risk of those staff being pulled out of their humanitarian mission to serve within the British army.

7. Would having a criminal record bar me from working with MSF?

Having a criminal record will not necessarily bar you from working with us. This will depend on the nature of the position and the circumstances and background of your offences.

As an organisation we use the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) Disclosure service to assess applicants' suitability for positions.

Please ask for our MSF UK Policy statement on the recruitment of ex-offenders for more information.

8. Do you recruit Operating Department Practitioners (ODPs)?

MSF does not recruit Operating Department Practitioners (ODP), unless they are also qualified nurses.

9. Do you take dental hygienists/therapists?

MSF does not recruit dentists.

10. Does MSF recruit paramedics?

Please note that MSF does not currently recruit paramedics. We do not require staff with this profile because we do not run ambulance services in our projects in the field. When patient transfers take place, these are often done in MSF vehicles, and patients are accompanied by MSF nurses and/or medical doctors.

11. Does MSF recruit photographers?

Please read our guidelines on being a photographer for MSF.

12. I do not meet your criteria, can you recommend another organisation for me to try?

If your skills don't match our recruitment criteria, you may like to contact other organisations.

13. How many volunteers work for MSF?

MSF sends out approximately 3,000 international volunteers per year and employs around 27,000 local staff. In addition, there are 33 MSF offices around the world providing operations and support functions which employ over 600 permanent staff. 

Medical students and volunteers

14. Do you take junior doctors?

We have a minimum requirement of one year's experience post F2, be it through a training programme or through medical, NGO or overseas experience.

As we receive many applications, we look for as wide a range of experience as possible. This can be made up of different placements but obviously longer placements may better reflect in-depth experience in working in unstable/difficult situations.

Experience is necessary as we expect a high level of autonomy from our medics in the field.

15. Do you facilitate elective placements for medical students?

Unfortunately we cannot offer elective placements for medical students. Many of the places we work in are unstable and we try to maintain a minimum international presence. 

Equally, a major part of any role with MSF involves working autonomously and training local staff, therefore it is important medics are at a stage of their career where they feel comfortable with this.

16. As a medical student, what more can I do to prepare myself to work for MSF?

Areas that are of particular interest to MSF are TBHIV/AIDS and nutrition specialists, obstetricians/gynecologists and infectious disease specialists. Training in these areas is highly desirable.

We also look for teaching, supervision and management skills. Fluency in another language would also be valuable, especially French.

17. Do I need experience of working abroad?

It is also essential to have a minimum of three months travel or work experience in a developing country or countries. This can be formed of shorter placements or one longer period of travel.

18. Do you provide gap year placements?

We can only take on people who meet our strict criteria and do not provide gap year placements.

19. Can I volunteer in the MSF office in the UK?

Yes, we accept a number of office volunteers and office interns in our London office, please visit the MSF volunteers and internships page on our website for more details.

20. Can you help me with my research?

MSF UK is a small, non-operational office focusing on recruitment, fundraising and communications within the UK. We receive a huge number of research requests every week and simply do not have the time to support these.

MSF also recommends a number of publications which explore the issues surrounding humanitarian aid, including but not limited to: the history of humanitarian aid; international and humanitarian law; neutrality and advocacy and the role of the media.

Please see our publications page for more help.

Application requirements for medical professionals

21. How qualified do I have to be before I can work for MSF?

To work with MSF, you need to have completed two years at SHO level and we strongly recommend you hold a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H) from either the London or Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, or from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

22. What is the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and how do I get it?

The Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H) is essential for those wishing to work for MSF as a doctor, unless they have significant experience working in tropical medicine. It can be obtained from either the London or Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, or from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The RCP accepts applications to sit the DTM&H examination from candidates who have completed, or are about to complete an approved Tropical Medicine course. These include:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières Course in Global Health and Humanitarian Medicine (GHHM).
  • Glasgow Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene course
  • Sheffield Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene course
  • Oxford University MSc course in international health and tropical medicine
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: DTM&H course or MSc in Tropical Medicine and International Health
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine: DTM&H course, MSc in Tropical and Infectious Diseases or MSc in Tropical Paediatrics
  • ASTMH-approved Diploma Courses satisfying the requirements for CTropMed.
  • Further details are available on the RCP website at: www.rcplondon.ac.uk/diploma-tropical-medicine-and-hygiene


23. I only meet some of the criteria needed, should I still apply?

MSF recieves a large number of applications every year for all roles, so it is unlikely you will be accepted to work with MSF if you do not meet the essential requirements for a role. 

Check the detailed information about the selection criteria and role descriptions on our working overseas page.

24. May I request placement in a specific country?

It is not possible to honour specific country requests. MSF recruit applicants into a pool before matching them to a specific position based on their skills, experience and background. MSF expect candidates to be flexible about where they work so that we can meet the needs of the field. However, special skills, languages and restrictions are taken into consideration in each placement.

25. Can couples apply to work together on the same project?

MSF placements are for a minimum of nine months. Unfortunatley we are usually unable to place couples together on their first mission as individuals are matched to specific vacancies across the world, based on their skills. It can also be difficult to place a couple in the same place at the same time even when they have experience with MSF because vacancies become available at different times. 

26. Could MSF be a sponsor for my visa (now or in the future)?

MSF UK can only accept applications from UK nationals or non-UK national with a residency and eligibility to work in the UK since while working in one of our overseas projects, you will be on a UK contract. 

If you would like to work for MSF but you are not a UK resident you can apply through your local MSF office.


English is the official MSF language. However, fluency in another language will enhance your application and the possibility of placement. At the moment demand is high for fluent French and Arabic speakers because French and Arabic are the predominant languages in many of the countries we where we work. Applicants who can speak Russian, Spanish, Hindi or Urdu will also be at an advantage. 

28. How long is a mission or placement?

The length of a first mission is between nine and 12 months for all professions, except anesthetists and surgeons who, due to the intensity of their work, are placed in projects from six weeks to three months.

29. How long does the acceptance and matching process take?

The application process on average takes around four to six months.

30. When is the best time to apply?

You can apply as soon as you have definite dates of availability and normally around eight months before you want to go.

31. What are the working hours in the field?

Working hours vary considerably depending on the project with, on average, one day off per week. Work can frequently be hectic and you may be required to put in longer hours. However, time is normally set aside for rest and relaxation.

32. Are there age restrictions to work internationally for MSF?

There is no minimum or maximum age for participation in MSF projects, although there are other criteria that applicants must fulfill.

33. Can my family accompany me on a mission?

Living conditions in the field (security, housing, etc.) often make it difficult for field staff to be accompanied by children or partners who are not participating in the mission. MSF has a very small number of family postings for experienced MSF Country Coordinators for limited periods.

Compensation, pay and benefits

34. Do your volunteers or international field staff get paid?

International field staff receive an indemnity salary, currently £13,125 per annum to a UK bank account. After one year of field experience the field worker will enter a salary grid, where salary depends on responsibility involved in the field position and also the amount of previous experience. Meanwhile, all the costs in the field would be covered by MSF.

35. Does MSF cover expenses?

MSF covers the following expenses:

  • Return economy air travel for the most direct and cost-effective route between the UK and the project. This may include a stopover for briefing and debriefing in Europe.
  • Reimbursement for the cost of obtaining necessary visas (typically these are paid directly by MSF when organising your visa)
  • Vaccinations not available on the NHS
  • Accommodation and transportation during your contract (including briefings and debriefings).
  • Per diem based on the cost of living in your project country.
  • All training costs if you are placed on one of our preparation courses.
  • Health insurance, including medical evacuations and repatriation, whilst on mission and for up to three months after return to UK.

36. Do I get annual leave while working overseas for MSF?

While you are working with MSF you are entitled to 28 days paid holiday per year pro rata.

37. Is there a pension plan I join while working for MSF in the field?

MSF UK offers a personal pension plan to expatriates after the completion of three months service. Contributions paid by you and MSF UK build up in your own retirement account. MSF UK contributions are dependent upon the percentage of salary you choose to contribute.

38. Is there any health screening before you go to the field?

You will be required to complete a Health Declaration Form and if necessary undertake pre-departure health checks with a travel clinic called InterHealth, who will clear you to go on mission. All medical information is confidential and remains the property of InterHealth.

39. Am I covered by Insurance while I am in the field with MSF?

MSF will arrange and cover you for all health insurance while on mission. This will continue for up to three months once you return to the UK. In the event of medical evacuations, repatriation is also covered.

40. What if I am injured or become ill?

MSF arranges insurance cover which care and, if necessary, repatriation for field staff.

Career development

41. Are there any learning and development opportunities in the field?

MSF strongly encourages people to continue working for the organisation beyond their first mission as their experience is of huge value to the effectiveness of our work. As such we offer various career opportunities to our field staff. You can broaden your professional experience by working in a variety of different projects, and have access to training courses run by MSF and external providers. For more info visit L&D opportunities.

42. Are there career development opportunities?

There are many long term career opportunities with MSF. Gaining varied MSF field experience makes you eligible for field coordination positions or advisory positions in our operation centres. 

If you are interested in a career with MSF you can discuss your options with your Human Resource Officer at interview or email hr.enquiries@london.msf.org.


43. I have another question. Whom should I contact?

For questions about the medical pool not answered in our FAQs, including medical doctors, surgeons, anaesthetists, project coordinators, epidemiologists, HR coordinators, financial coordinators and Heads of Mission, email hr.enquiries.medical@london.msf.org

For questions about the paramedical jobs not answered in our FAQs, including nurses, midwives, mental health officers (MHO), laboratory scientists, pharmacists, logisticians and Water and Sanitation specialists, email hr.enquiries@london.msf.org

Responses will be sent within one week.