© Brendan Bannon
22 Sep 16 18 Nov 19

Working overseas: FAQ

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

Working for MSF

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 don't have this we can't accept your application.

If you're not a UK resident contact your nearest MSF office in order to apply for a position.

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. You're expected to attend in person. We don't cover travel costs at this stage.

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

What can I expect from MSF while working overseas?

Travel costs 

We'll cover all travel costs to and from the project where you'll work. This includes all flights (based on economy class fares).

Accommodation 

Accommodation will be provided in the project, as well as during travel to and from the project where required.

Safety and security 

Your safety and wellbeing is very important to us. You'll be fully briefed on this prior to travelling to a project.

If you need to leave a project early for reasons related to safety and security, your own wellbeing, or for any other reason, we'll always organise and cover transport back home.

Travel and health insurance 

We provide travel and health insurance for all our international staff.

What are the criteria to work for MSF?

Detailed criteria can be found on the role description pagesWe can only accept applications from people who meet our strict requirements and applications must be made online.

We need to be very selective. Our shortlisting is based on:

  • who meets our criteris and
  • who has the specific skills we need in our projects at the time

The specific skills we need changes depends on the projects that we're working in. These needs and our projects can change quickly.

Eg: If you're a nurse and meet our criteria but lack experience in:

  • infectious diseases
  • A&E
  • intensive care
  • obstetrics
  • nutrition
  • paediatrics
  • or operating theatre.

you may still be unsuccessful.

What kind of people work in the field for MSF?

We recruit medical and non-medical staff to work in our 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.

Do you recruit people from the military?

Our policy is that if you've been employed in the armed forces you can apply for MSF roles two years after leaving the military.

Contact us for our Armed Forces policy if you need more information.

Can you work for MSF if you're a member of the territorial army?

We don't accept anyone who's 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 if you are simultaneously a member of both a military organisation and an independent humanitarian one.

As an independent humanitarian organisation we observe strict impartiality and neutrality in all our operations. These principles would be compromised if its active field staff were also members of a military organisation.

As an independent humanitarian organisation we have to be able to send our 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.

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

Having a criminal record won't necessarily bar you from working with us. It depends on the nature of the position and the circumstances and background of your offences.

As an organisation we use the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to assess applicants' suitability for positions.

Please ask for our policy statement on the recruitment of ex-offenders for more information.

Do you recruit operating department practitioners (ODPS)?

We don't recruit Operating Department Practitioners (ODP), unless you're also a qualified nurse.

Do you recruit dental hygienists/therapists?

We don't recruit dentists.

Do you recruit paramedics?

MSF does not currently recruit paramedics for our pool of international staff.

MSF works in many different contexts and the vast majority (often around 90%) of our workforce is made up of locally recruited staff. In locations where we need paramedical skills these positions are filled by locally recruited staff, trained and supervised by medical doctors or nurses. While we value the skills and expertise of the paramedical profession, we do not have opportunities for them as paramedic in our international teams. However, if you have significant international experience, and technical, administrative or management skills, you may fit the criteria for one of our non-medical roles in logistical or coordination positions.

Do you recruit physiotherapists?

No, we don’t. 

You could have a look at Handicap International or International Committee of the Red Cross to see if they are currently recruiting any physiotherapist roles.

Do you recruit photographers?

Read our guidelines on being a photographer for MSF.

I don't meet your criteria, can you recommend another organisation for me to try?

Yes we can! Try contacting these overseas organisations to gain more experience.

How many members of staff work for MSF?

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

Medical students and volunteers

Do you take junior doctors?

We have a minimum requirement of one year's experience post F2 through a combination of the following:

  • a training programme
  • medical experience
  • NGO experience
  • 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 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.

Do you facilitate elective placements for medical students?

Unfortunately we can't 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's important you are at a stage of your career where you feel comfortable with this.

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 

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 or Arabic.

Do I need experience of working abroad?

It's 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.

Do you provide gap year placements?

No we don't provide gap year placements.

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. Visit the volunteers and internships page for more details.

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 don't have the time to support these.

We recommend a number of publications which explore the issues surrounding humanitarian aid. 

These include:

  • the history of humanitarian aid
  • international and humanitarian law
  • neutrality and advocacy
  • the role of the media.

Application requirements for medical professionals

How qualified do I have to be before I can work 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).

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

We recieve a large number of applications every year, so it's unlikely you'll be accepted to work with us if you don't meet the essential requirements for a role. 

We need to be very selective. Our shortlisting is based on:

  • who meets our criteris and
  • who has the specific skills we need in our projects at the time

The specific skills we need changes depends on the projects that we're working in. These needs and our projects can change quickly.

May I request placement in a specific country?

It's not possible to honour specific country requests. We recruit applicants into a pool before matching them to a specific position based on their skills, experience and background.

We expect candidates to be flexible about where they work so that we can meet the needs of our projects.

However your special skills, languages and restrictions well be taken into consideration in each placement.

Can couples apply to work together on the same project?

We're 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 as vacancies become available at different times.

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'll be on a UK contract. 

If you'd like to work for MSF but you're not a UK resident you can apply through your local MSF office.

Do I need to speak another language to work for MSF?

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.

Applicants who can speak Russian, Spanish, Hindi or Urdu will also be at an advantage. 

How long is a mission or placement?

The length of a first mission is between nine and twelve 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.

How long does the acceptance and matching process take?

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

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.

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 be hectic and you may be required to put in longer hours. However, time is normally set aside for rest and relaxation.

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 you must fulfill.

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 aren't participating in the mission.

We have a very small number of family postings for experienced MSF Country Coordinators for limited periods.

Compensation, pay and benefits

Do your 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.

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
Do I get annual leave while working overseas?

You're entitled to 28 days paid holiday per year pro rata.

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

In the UK we offer a personal pension plan to expatriates after the completion of three months service. Contributions paid by you and MSF build up in your own retirement account.

Our contributions are dependent upon the percentage of salary you choose to contribute.

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

You'll be required to complete a Health Declaration Form and undertake pre-departure health checks with an MSF appointed clinic, who will assess your health prior to going on mission.

All medical information is treated confidentially and won't be shared without your consent.

Am I covered by insurance while I am in the field with MSF?

We'll arrange and cover all your 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.

What if I am injured or become ill?

We arrange insurance cover which care and, if necessary, repatriation for field staff

Career development

Are there any learning and development opportunities in the field?

Yes, MSF is committed to the people that make up the organisation, and we offer learning and development opportunities at different stages of your career with us. There is a variety of options available, from learning on the job to in-house training to (limited) funding for personal training needs.

Pre-departure preparation and induction

All new staff are offered a five-day pre-departure training that will cover some of the basic skills you will need in your first project. MSF UK also offers a two-day induction for all field staff that covers topics like humanitarian ethics and dilemmas, how to prepare for your first project and how to prepare for returning home again.

Learning on the job

In your first role, you will have many responsibilities directly related to the technical skills for which we’ve hired you. Whether these are medical or para-medical skills, or non-medical skills like human resources, finance, engineering, supply, etc. But there are often additional things expected of you; from team management to negotiation, context awareness, and the flexibility to step in to cover other roles. These opportunities will help you develop new skills by learning on the job.

MSF training

MSF offers a variety of in-house training on topics relevant for staff working in our projects, such as technical medical skills, humanitarian affairs, emergency response, water and sanitation, different levels of general management, and security management.

MSF training opportunities are normally available when you are working in an MSF project, or when you are in-between projects. Please discuss this with your line manager in the project or with your HR officer after you’ve passed the recruitment process.

External training

Of course, MSF cannot cover all training needs in-house. We offer our staff different options to fund external trainings for personal development needs, where they align with your role and career plans in MSF. This includes support for professional CPD requirements and medical or para-medical revalidation costs (partial reimbursement as our funds are limited).

Language courses

As MSF works in several French-speaking contexts in West and Central Africa, speaking French is a strong asset for us and a requirement for some roles. Where French is a pre-condition, we expect you to have a strong B1 level.

If you are planned to go to a French-speaking MSF project, we are sometimes able to offer a one- or two-week French immersion course. These offers are made to brush up your skills and boost you to the required level, but you will be required to have brought yourself to a B1 level beforehand.

For more information, please contact your designated Human Resources Officer. If you want to improve your general French language skills on your own, please read the recommendations from Foundation 9, the language school in Brussels with which MSF collaborates.

Are there career development opportunities?

While we offer our field roles as fixed-term contracts based on the period you are needed in the project, MSF does offer many different career opportunities.

If you continue to work with MSF for multiple projects, something we value highly, you will get the opportunity to grow into roles with broader responsibilities. These could be roles responsible for larger teams or multiple project sites. You might manage complex activities and specialised programmes. Or you could progress to managerial responsibilities for all activities in a country as part of a Country Management Team.

People that stay with MSF for longer periods may get the opportunity to take up management or advisory positions in our operational offices. These offices are in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Geneva and Paris. Or a role suitable to you may open in one of our 25 partner offices around the world.

If you would like to read real-life examples of MSFers and their careers, please look at our blog site which has many real-life stories from the field.

If you are interested in a career with MSF, please discuss this at your interview, or with your HR Officer if you are already on our register. If you have further questions, you can also email hr.enquiries@london.msf.org

Questions?

Email hr.enquiries.medical@london.msf.org 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@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.

Responses will be sent within one week.