Voluntary Social Service in Germany

A Voluntary Social Service Year is a year full of personal education, social commitment and professional orientation. As volunteers, you support their full-time staff in their work and gain extensive practical experience in a wide variety of social work areas.

You get a first idea of the daily working life and have the opportunity to deepen your interests and discover personal strengths.

Potential employers place great value on applicants’ voluntary commitment and it can therefore increases your chances of finding a training course or working place. It can also have advantages when applying for universities or colleges.

In general the volunteer services are open to all young people who have completed their full-time schooling and who are at least 16 but not older than 26 at the beginning of the service. It is different with the Federal Voluntary Service which is open to all ages.

Typically the voluntary service period is 12 months. However, you can also shorten the service to six months or extend it to 18 months. As volunteer you have a holiday entitlement of at least 24 days within a 12-month service period. FSJ / BFD volunteers under the age of 27 have to work work full-time, BFD Volunteers older than 27 have to work for at least 21 hours a week.

Who can participate?

  • Young people and young adults between the ages of 16 and 26 can do a FSJ or a BFD / people over 27 can only do a BFD.
  • Gender, religion, type of school leaving certificate or nationality are not important.
  • Both services are open to foreigners already living in Germany and to people who come here specifically for this purpose (“incomers”).
  • It is not necessary to have any professional or special training to become a volunteer in Germany, but you should have a good basic knowledge of German, not less than level A1 or A2.

What they offer you

their Voluntary Services offer you the opportunity,

  • to take responsibility
  • to develop you further
  • to get to know social professions
  • to help to shape the society
  • and to experience community


  • you receive a monthly pocket money
  • they take over the contributions for the statutory social insurance for you
  • you have a holiday claim
  • during your Voluntary Service, you will be accompanied by the staff of the accredited agency (=Träger) and the staff of the places of assignments (=Einsatzstellen) 
  • you attend at least 25 training days (for a period of twelve months) and
  • you will receive a testimony for the recognition of practice periods for a study or an training as well as
  • a qualified testimony in the end of your Voluntary Service

Voluntary services in Germany for foreigners (international volunteers)

Participation of foreigners in the German voluntary service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst, BFD), a voluntary social year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) or a voluntary ecological year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ)

Are foreigners allowed to participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ? What are the legal requirements for the occupation of foreigners (international volunteers) in voluntary services in Germany?

Valid residence title

Generally, foreigners are allowed to participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ. This applies to all foreigners regardless, whether they come from an EU member state or a third state. However, for young EU citizens there are fewer obstacles to overcome. They can serve a voluntary year in Germany with no difficulty.

Foreigners from Non-EU states require a valid residence title, usually in form of a visa. This title of residence must allow for employment (see § 4 II 2 German Residence Law, AufenthG). That is no problem as generally any foreigners may receive a residence permit according to § 18 AufenthG especially for the participation in voluntary services. This requires no approval of occupation by the Federal Employment Agency according to § 39 section 1 AufenthG in conjunction with §§ 1 and 9 Beschäftigungsverordnung (Employment Regulation): According to § 9 No. 1 Alt. 1 Beschäftigungsverordnung the voluntary social year and the German voluntary service are statutorily regulated voluntary services.

The place of assignment or the responsible institution respectively often offer support for the request of visas.

Also following a stay as au-pair in Germany a voluntary social year is possible. However, the residence permit has to be requested again.

To EU members applies, as said before, freedom of movement. However, they need to make a living from their own financial resources. They therefore have to check, whether pocket money, meals, accommodation and any other services they receive from the supporting institution of the voluntary service , are sufficient before commencing the voluntary work. They must not call upon social benefits from the German state, even not additionally.

Place of residence in Germany

The foreigner`s place of residence has to be located in Germany at the latest when commencing the voluntary year. The foreigner has to register with the registration office of the responsible community or town.

No work permit required

No work permit is required to participate in voluntary services.

To participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ no approval on occupation by the Federal Employment Agency is required as earnings are not the primary purpose of these occupations (§9 Beschäftigungsverordnung and § 2 Beschäftigungsverfahrensverordnung [Employment Procedure Regulation]) and thereby the Federal Employment Agency has no competence.

Exception: Prohibition to work

Foreigners, who are prohibited to work, are not allowed to participate in voluntary services. The reason for this is that the engagement in voluntary work is bound by instructions and the place of assignment functions as an employer. The voluntary service is therefore regarded as an occupation.

Work is prohibited for tolerated foreigners (§ 60a AufenthG) and asylum-seekers with residence permit (§ 55 Asylverfahrensgesetz [Asylum Procedure Act]) during the first year of residence on German territory. In certain cases a prohibition to work exists for tolerated foreigners also after one year of residence, if the Aliens Department announces a prohibition to work as a sanction according to § 11 Beschäftigungsverfahrensverordnung. After one year of residence the Aliens Department can allow employment for the above named persons, which allows also the participation in voluntary services.