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Germany

2. Voluntary Activities

2.5 Cross-border mobility programmes

Last update: 27 March 2024
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  1. EU programmes
  2. Other Programmes
  3. Legal framework applying to foreign volunteers

EU programmes

For young Germans planning to complete a volunteering placement abroad, the EU programmes, namely Erasmus+ Youth and European Solidarity Corps (ESC), are particularly relevant.

Erasmus+ Youth: Youth exchanges 

The German National Agency implementing Erasmus+ Youth is JUGEND für Europa. Funding is available for exchanges between young people aged 13 to 30 from programme countries. These short-duration exchanges enable young people to develop intercultural skills and experience what it means to be European. 
In addition, German National Agency is a partner of the RAY network - Research-based Analysis and Monitoring of the European Youth Programmes, which monitors the implementation of the programme actions. The RAY network consists of 35 national agencies and research partners.

European Solidarity Corps (ESC)

The European Solidarity Corps was introduced with the aim of strengthening solidarity across Europe. It is implemented by JUGEND für Europa, the German National Agency for the ESC. Under the ESC, young people receive funding so they can take part in volunteering activities, solidarity projects, internships and jobs.

Other international programmes

weltwärts

weltwärts, the development volunteer service, is a Federal Government programme and is managed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, BMZ). weltwärts was launched in Germany in 2008 as a volunteering scheme for young people aged between 18 and 28.

The funding regulations pertaining to the implementation of weltwärts 2024 (Förderleitlinie zur Umsetzung des entwicklungspolitischen Freiwilligendienstes weltwärts 2024) describe the objectives and general terms and conditions of the programme, training and guidance, the so-called South-North component (Süd-Nord-Komponente - a mechanism to facilitate the placement of volunteers from developing countries in Germany), support activities for volunteers and returnees, and legal and financial matters.

The North-South component is available for assignments in countries that are listed in the DAC list of developing countries and regions. In some countries, weltwärts is not available owing to difficult conditions or the security situation on the ground.

The 2022 volunteer survey, which forms part of the weltwärts quality system, had the following outcomes in regard to the target groups specified in the funding guidelines (Förderleitlinie): 

  • 70% of interviewed North-South volunteers began their placement immediately after leaving school.

Since the end of 2013, weltwärts has also been open to volunteers coming from abroad to work in Germany under the incoming mechanism known as the South-North component (Süd-Nord-Komponente). Following a pilot phase from 2013 through 2016, in 2016 the South-North component was included in the weltwärts programme.

kulturweit

kulturweit, a cultural volunteering programme, is run by the German Commission for UNESCO. It receives funding from the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt, AA). kulturweit was established in 2009 and is aimed at young people aged 18 to 26. It is based on the Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr., FSJ) scheme as stipulated in the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Jugendfreiwilligendienstegesetz).

The unique feature of kulturweit is its focus on cultural and educational policy. Placements are possible in the DAC list of developing countries and regions. In some countries, kulturweit is not available owing to difficult conditions or the security situation on the ground. The organisations that implement kulturweit are:

The foreign chapters, branch offices and departments of the implementing organisations provide volunteer placements in the countries in question.

In March 2019, kulturweit was extended to include a new programme focus. Under the subprogramme naturweit, young volunteers can complete placements at UNESCO natural world heritage sites, geoparks and biosphere reserves worldwide, including others, to develop their understanding of the close relationship between humans and the environment.

In 2013, kulturweit adopted reporting guidelines (Leitlinien) entitled “Reporting fairly” (Fair berichten). It aims to assist volunteers in reporting on their experiences responsibly. Fair berichten has been an established part of kulturweit’s educational programme since 2013.

International Youth Voluntary Service (Internationaler Jugendfreiwilligendienst, IJFD)

The International Youth Voluntary Service (Internationaler Jugendfreiwilligendienst, IJFD) was established in late 2010 by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ). The regulations on the implementation of IJFD (Richtlinie zur Umsetzung des Internationalen Jugendfreiwilligendienstes) dated 20 December 2010 (last amended on 02 February 2021) stipulate the circumstances under which IJFD takes place in regard to volunteers, training and guidance, organisations, places of assignment, agreements, certificates and references, insurance for volunteers, completion of IJFD as an “alternative service” (Anderer Dienst) abroad, and data protection.

IJFD is aimed at young people who upon embarking on their placement have completed full-time compulsory education (depending on the state, aged 15 or 16) and who upon ending it are still under the age of 27. The decision to accept minors on the scheme is taken by the IJFD organisation in question.

An IJFD placement can be completed anywhere in the world, provided the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) has not issued a travel warning for the country in question or if there are no other security concerns. IJFD placements are diverse, with volunteers working in the social, cultural, sports or environmental field or in education or peace projects.

The BMFSFJ collects statistics charting the development of the scheme.

Organisations wishing to offer an IJFD placement must apply for accreditation with the Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben, BAFzA). This requires them to be non-profit, a legal entity, domiciled in Germany, and have prior experience of offering volunteer placements abroad. In addition, they must have developed an educational concept and comply with IJFD guidelines. Likewise, the places of assignment abroad to which volunteers are to be seconded must be accredited by BAFzA.

 

Franco-German Volunteer Service (Deutsch-Französischer Freiwilligendienst)

The Franco-German Volunteer Service (Deutsch-Französischer Freiwilligendienst, DFFD) is offered by the Franco-German Youth Office (Deutsch-Französisches Jugendwerk, DFJW/FGYO). In 2007 DFJW was commissioned by the governments of France and Germany to create a Franco-German volunteer service. Since then, DFJW has coordinated DFFD together with France’s Agence du Service Civique.

DFFD is aimed at young people aged 18 to 25, regardless of educational qualifications or social background. In accordance with DFJW guidelines it aims in particular to reach out to young people who owing to their economic, geographic, educational, social, cultural or health status find it difficult to access schemes such as DFFD or require special needs assistance to do so.

DFFD ties in with France’s Service Civique and most of its activities are also linked with Germany’s International Youth Voluntary Service (Internationaler Jugendfreiwilligendienst, IJFD). The scheme is mutual in nature – one German and one French volunteer are sent at the same time to the respective other partner country. Over the course of their placement the volunteers take part in a number of accompanying seminars, where they are supervised by a Franco-German team.

Typical areas of assignment for DFFD volunteers are schools, universities, social services, environmental, sports and cultural projects, at regional authorities or at DFJW offices. The application process differs depending on the field of work and in some cases, a certain level of foreign language proficiency may be required.

As DFFD ties in with France’s Service Civique and Germany’s International Youth Voluntary Service, organisations offering placements must be recognised by the competent authorities. On the French side, organisations must be recognised by France’s Agence du Service Civique. On the German side, the organisations are accredited by the Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben, BAFzA). The places of assignment in France, too, have to seek BAFzA accreditation. Organisations offering placements are required to write a report and submit it to the offices in charge of them.

Legal framework applying to foreign volunteers

The prerequisites for participating in a volunteering scheme in Germany depend on the criteria of the volunteering programme in question. In some cases these prerequisites are developed together with partner organisations abroad. Typically, applicants must provide proof of residency that allows them to work in Germany. Applicants from non-EU countries require a visa which must be applied for in their home country. Visas may be issued specially for participants in a German volunteering scheme. A police clearance certificate from the applicant’s country of domicile may also be required. Depending on the type of placement, applicants may have to demonstrate basic German language skills.

Volunteers from abroad may apply to Germany’s statutory or government-sponsored volunteering schemes (e.g., Federal Volunteer Service/Bundesfreiwilligendienst, European Solidarity Corps/Europäischer Solidaritätskorps, Voluntary Social or Ecological Year/Freiwilliges Soziales or Ökologisches Jahr, weltwärts, kulturweit, Franco-German Volunteer Service/Deutsch-Französischer Freiwilligendienst). In some cases, special funding is available. The eligibility rules for foreign volunteers vary.

Every year, the Learning and Helping Overseas Association (Arbeitskreis Lernen und Helfen in Übersee e.V., AKLHÜ) compiles statistics on the volunteers who come from abroad to participate in one of Germany’s state-run or state-funded volunteering schemes. 66% of incoming volunteers are women. Most volunteers come from Madagascar, Indonesia, France, Colombia or Georgia. Their main fields of activity depending on the programme. While Federal Volunteer Service and Voluntary Social Year volunteers are typically placed in projects for people with a disability, European Solidarity Corps volunteers are mainly active in child and youth services.

European Solidarity Corps

Young people wishing to volunteer in Germany with the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) must be ordinarily resident in an ESC programme country. Young people from a non-EU country may require a visa; they should verify the applicable visa rules ahead of applying.

All young people participating in the ESC are covered by health insurance during their volunteering activities. This insurance runs until two months after the end of their activity, although participants are required in some cases to initiate the policy themselves. The cost of the insurance is covered by the European Commission.

weltwärts

Young volunteers travelling to Germany under the South-North component (Süd-Nord-Komponente) of the weltwärts programme must apply for a visa, for which the weltwärts Coordination Office (Koordinierungsstelle) may be able to issue a letter of support to be presented to the German embassy in the applicant’s country of residence. However, these letters are not equivalent to an invitation. These may be issued by the receiving organisations.

Volunteers working in Germany under the South-North component are liable to social insurance contributions in Germany. Formally speaking, they are classified as volunteers under the Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) as defined in the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetz, BFDG). South-North volunteers are covered by the following types of insurance: statutory social insurance (gesetzliche Sozialversicherung), accident insurance (Unfallversicherung), which is provided by an employers’ liability insurance association (Berufsgenossenschaft), professional liability insurance (Betriebshaftpflichtversicherung), and private liability insurance and accident insurance (Privathaftpflicht- und Unfallversicherung). In some countries, to obtain a visa it may be necessary for applicants to provide proof of travel health insurance for the trip to Germany and back. All social insurance contributions are paid by the host organisation or the volunteers’ place of assignment.

Weltwärts also covers the costs of accommodation and meals, a monthly allowance, travel expenses to the placement site and any vaccinations required to work at the site. In order to make the weltwärts assignment as inclusive as possible, costs for resources, medical care or personal assistance are covered for people with particular needs.

Deutsch-Französischer Freiwilligendienst

Volunteers with the Franco-German Volunteer Service (Deutsch-Französischer Freiwilligendienst, DFFD) are subject to the funding regulations (Förderrichtlinien) of the Franco-German Youth Office (Deutsch-Französisches Jugendwerk, DFJW/FGYO). Legally speaking, for young French volunteers, DFFD is a form of French service civique. It is open to all young people who are ordinarily resident in France, plus to all French citizens who are temporarily not resident in France. Young people who have neither French or another EU nationality may require a visa to enter Germany.

As part of the DFFD scheme, volunteers receive a monthly allowance, in addition to cash or non-cash benefits for accommodation, transport and meals. They are also covered by basic social insurance through the Agence du Service Civique. The sending organisation is responsible for health, accident and liability insurance cover.

Incoming Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) and Youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste)

Germany’s Bundesfreiwilligendienst (Federal Volunteer Service) and Jugendfreiwilligendienste (youth voluntary services) (Voluntary Social Year or Voluntary Ecological Year) are open to young people from abroad, too. A condition of participation is that volunteers’ subsistence is guaranteed without recourse to public funds. Under Section 19 (c) para. 1 of the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz), they may be granted a residence permit specifically for their placement under these volunteering schemes. Foreign volunteers are covered by the place of assignment through statutory pension, accident, health, nursing care and unemployment insurance. They receive pocket money as well as cash or non-cash benefits for accommodation and meals and, where necessary, work clothing.