A young Bangladeshi woman is talking to a Red Cross aid worker at a field hospital.

Become an aid worker abroad

Photo: Emilia Kangasluoma / Suomen Punainen Risti

Every year, the Finnish Red Cross sends out more than two hundred experts in various fields to the world. They form part of the Red Cross chain of aid and work in cooperation with the local, regional and international aid community.

The expert assistance provided by the Finnish Red Cross is always based on humanitarian needs.

Aid workers bring strong expertise in their respective fields to international aid work and are committed to operating in accordance with the principles and guidelines of the Red Cross.

The Finnish Red Cross maintains an aid worker reserve that supports both its own and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s ability to respond to humanitarian needs. The aid worker reserve includes approximately 700 active members.

The aid workers’ field of work covers the whole world. When necessary, the members of the aid worker reserve support domestic preparedness and assist in large-scale accidents and disturbances.

International assignments

Aid workers are mainly selected for assignments from the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve.

The Finnish Red Cross looks for professionals for the reserve who are ready and available for short-term assignments in humanitarian aid operations. The Finnish Red Cross sends expert assistance to international operations and maintains a network of professionals trained to work in disaster preparedness units.

Aid workers are also placed in long-term positions. Experts in various fields sent by the Finnish Red Cross support the partner associations of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the planning and implementation of development co-operation.

Furthermore, the Finnish Red Cross strengthens the operational capacity of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement by funding strategically important expert tasks of the ICRC and the IFRC.

Aid workers are also recruited from outside the aid worker reserve on a job-by-job basis. You can find the open positions on the career website.

Applying for the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve

The application period is held 1–2 times per year. The applicants selected will be accepted for IMPACT training, which is an introduction to the international activities of the Red Cross. After completing the training, they will be admitted to the aid worker reserve.

Professionals living in Finland and those living abroad who have a strong connection to Finland can apply for the reserve. The applicants selected must have the education, skills and language skills required for the international tasks of the Red Cross.

Learn about the tasks of international aid workers and their requirements, as well as the general minimum requirements for admission to the reserve.

General requirements

Minimum criteria for applicants for the aid worker reserve:

  • Commitment to the values and principles of the Red Cross’s international aid work.
  • University degree and at least three years of applicable work experience after graduation or strong professional competence through several years of work experience.
  • Fluency in spoken and written English. Skills in other languages used in international aid work (French, Arabic, Russian, etc.) is considered an asset.
  • A category B driving licence and ability to drive (manual transmission).
  • Good basic IT skills, fluent command of at least Microsoft Office 365 basic software in the Windows 10 environment.
  • Ability to adapt to situations and circumstances that may change abruptly.
  • Ability to cope with uncertainty, modest living conditions, hurry and pressure.
  • Ability to understand different cultures and ways of doing things.

Relevant international experience, skills in training and facilitating and experience in associations, particularly knowledge of the Red Cross, are considered assets.

Aid workers’ professional competence areas

Red Cross Health stations sent to disaster areas need staff with versatile experience in primary health care, acute health care in a hospital setting, first aid and treating different patients of different ages. Staff are also required to have expertise in health education and its organisation.

Red Cross field hospitals need staff with strong and versatile experience in special health care in their field (e.g. surgery, deliveries, childhood diseases) who are able to work in tasks outside their own area of expertise in different wards. In the field hospital, work is focused on employing clinical skills, work organisation and teaching local colleagues.

Teams working in conflict areas, such as surgical teams, require skilled experts that are able to apply their skill sets to changing circumstances. See also ‘Highly-educated people with language skills wanted.’

In the field of health care, we are looking for general practitioners and medical specialists (infectious disease physicians, emergency physicians, gynaecologists/obstetricians, paediatricians, anaesthetists and surgeons in particular), public health nurses, midwives and nurses (theatre, anaesthetic and paediatric nurses in particular), medical laboratory scientists and radiographers, pharmacists, physiotherapists with experience in treating trauma patients in outpatient clinics and inpatient wards as well as psychologists with experience in milieu therapy based crisis relief.

Comprehensive clinical skills are very important in patient work, because work is often carried out in changing roles and circumstances lacking in the tools and staff characteristic of Finnish health care. Health care professionals must be ready to work with diverse groups of patients – that is why other skills in addition to expertise in a specialised field are also required.

Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) professionals, such as psychologists, nurses specialised in mental health / psychiatric nursing and other psychosocial support professionals, are also needed in disaster situations.

We are looking for professionals who are able to assess the psychosocial support needs of an individual and their family as a result of a conflict, natural disaster or other crisis (e.g. serious illness, victim of violence) and plan and organise measures to meet their needs.

The Red Cross disaster units do not provide psychiatric treatment, but rather psychosocial support and psychological first aid, mainly provided by local workers and volunteers. Those in need of multidisciplinary assistance and long-term therapy are referred to other operators for further treatment. A key part of the work is the training of local workers and volunteers, as well as cooperation with other organisations, authorities and communities.

In connection with health stations and hospitals, a so-called child-friendly space is usually established, where play and activities are used to promote children’s development and recovery. This activity is led and organised by the worker in charge of psychosocial support.

Learn about the Red Cross’s work related to mental health and psychosocial support:

All health care professionals must have comprehensive work experience, fluent language skills, excellent team work skills and the ability to make decisions independently. Health care professionals also need to be ready to work in a multicultural work environment, with the help of an interpreter, if necessary. Important qualities also include educational, leadership, coordination and training skills as well as a participatory approach to work.

Promoting gender equality, diversity and non-discrimination, taking disabled people into account and involving them and comprehensively understanding vulnerabilities and taking them into account are key themes in all operations, and every professional benefits from knowledge on these themes.

Health care professionals, such as public health work experts, are needed for long-term development co-operation projects in milieu-based health programmes. See section ‘Development co-operation experts wanted’

We are looking for disaster preparedness and readiness workers for comprehensive expert tasks. Disaster Management (DM) experts are needed in operative tasks of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and as support workers in operation coordination. 

Disaster preparedness and readiness experts are also needed to support Red Cross preparedness programmes (so-called Disaster Preparedness / Disaster Risk Reduction, DP/DRR programmes) as part of Finnish Red Cross development co-operation. See section ‘Development co-operation experts wanted’

Aid workers working for preparedness programmes benefit from mastering at least one area of technology, which may be connected to climate change, meteorology, risk mitigation, livelihoods, food security, cash distribution or water and sanitation.

Cooperation skills and the ability to work as part of networks are key. We do not require aid workers to have experience of official duties, but experience from the field is seen as an asset.

Financial administration experts support Red Cross disaster relief operations, long-term development co-operation projects and the development of the financial management and economic sustainability of Finnish Red Cross partner associations.

Financial administration professionals need to have strong competence in bookkeeping and cost accounting. Experience with budgeting is considered an asset. Good training skills, patience, firmness and a healthy dose of insightful common sense are also required. Language skills are an asset (especially French and Arabic).

Suitable professional backgrounds include auditing, business controller duties and accounting. Financial administration professionals must have a university degree (e.g. Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration or Bachelor of Business Administration).

The operating environments and situations are challenging in terms of financial administration. Aid workers must be able to manage the entire range of operations from individual receipts to investor reports. 

Typical tasks for logisticians in disaster relief include setting up warehouses, arranging transport and procurement as well as managing import bureaucracy and various service agreement negotiations. That is why we need logisticians with comprehensive competence who are familiar with procurement. 

Logisticians should master several branches of logistics, such as inventory management, transport management, import/export or supply chain management. They should have a degree from a university of applied sciences.

Information Management (IM) professionals are needed for tasks concerned with data and information collection, analyses, processing, storage, visualisation and reporting to support e.g. decision-making and coordination of operations. 

Typical tasks include planning and supporting the execution of surveys on beneficiaries or collecting data from various sources and refining it into infographics, narrative reports or maps.

IM experts need to have good co-operation and communications skills, a strong ability to analyse qualitative and quantitative data, strong IT skills, especially in spreadsheet computation software and geographic information software, as well as sufficient visual skills to produce infographics and other visualisations. Visit the SIMS network website for more information on IM work at the Red Cross.

We are looking for multitalented people with excellent technical skills and the ability to maintain and repair various devices, pitch tents, build furniture and fences from locally sourced materials, build electrical networks in the field using readymade cables and power rooms as well as participate in the construction of water tanks and networks to support Red Cross disaster relief units. 

Specialised professional competence is especially needed in water treatment and distribution and electric installation. Other technical skills may be acquired through hobbies in addition to studies and working life. 

Technical staff need excellent team work skills and flexibility, independent initiative and the ability to apply their skills and the material at hand in challenging situations. Technical staff are not required to be familiar with hospital equipment as such, because technicians will be familiarised with the devices used in field hospitals during separate further training. 

We are looking for telecommunications professionals to support Red Cross disaster relief units. Our most urgent need concerns radio amateurs with an understanding of how HF and VHF radio waves travel, the ability to install and repair mobile units and base stations and plan radio networks.

The Red Cross organises complementary training on the use of satellite phones and other Red Cross devices, but IT aid workers should already have good knowledge of the Windows operating system and PC computer troubleshooting and repairs.  

They should also be able to build and configure computer networks. They must be skilled in communication control protocols and preferably also databases. Proficiency in programming languages, however, is of little use.

There is a limited number of missions available for ITT aid workers, meaning that proficiency in technology in general is also considered an asset.

Field kitchen chefs/cooks must be able to prepare good and nutrient-rich meals from the locally available ingredients for the staff of the field hospital. They must also ensure that the kitchen is hygienic and the staff at the field hospital remain healthy. When necessary, the person in charge of the kitchen will also provide guidance in arranging food for the patients in the field hospital.

Kitchen devices, equipment and plenty of canned food and dried products will be sent from Finland with the field hospital. The person in charge of the kitchen must familiarise themselves with the local selection in foodstuffs and order the ingredients for the kitchen. 

The person in charge of the field kitchen is aided by a sufficient number of local staff, meaning that the person in charge must be able to instruct the staff and work as part of the field hospital team.

The Finnish Red Cross supports the authorities in receiving asylum seekers and refugees. The Red Cross is also involved in similar operations in other parts of the world. The Finnish Red Cross maintains its readiness to increase these operations in Finland and abroad, if necessary.

We are looking for professionals with experience of organising and managing international refugee camp operations and/or reception operations for the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve. Key competence areas include refugee camp, emergency accommodation and/or reception centre planning, organisation and leadership. We value knowledge of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The Finnish Red Cross Field Communication Unit (FCU) produces written and audiovisual content primarily for the use of the Red Cross and media in Finland and abroad. The unit is unique within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

We are looking for multitalented communications professionals with strong co-operation and negotiation skills, in particular. A flexible attitude is indispensable, as work is often carried out in challenging and rapidly changing circumstances.

An audiovisual expert must master both photography and video production (e.g. filming, editing, sound production and post-editing of images). Most tasks at the FCU include video production. We value the ability to experiment with and innovate new concepts (360, VR, mobile videos, etc.) and produce high-quality material even on a tight schedule.

Communications professionals must produce journalistic content at least in Finnish and English, plan and target communications as well as utilise social media. Experience of working in a news room and publishing across multiple channels are considered assets. We value the ability to plan and execute communications training as well as photography and manuscript writing skills.

We are looking for experts in public health work and disaster preparedness and readiness, in particular, for long-term development co-operation work. They should have experience in community-level development co-operation projects and be familiar with global development issues at large.

We stress competence in development co-operation project administration, which includes drafting funding applications and project plans, preparing budgets, project monitoring and reporting as well as assessment. Quality assurance of the programmes is a key component of the work.

Development co-operation professionals always support the local Red Cross or Red Crescent, meaning that we value knowledge of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. 

Promoting gender equality and diversity, taking disabled people into account and involving them, a comprehensive understanding of vulnerabilities and mitigating the impact of climate change are key themes in all our projects, and development co-operation professionals benefit from knowledge on these themes.

Useful qualities also include education and training skills as well as a participatory approach to work. Familiarity with the most important sponsors (e.g. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, EU) is a great asset.

We are looking for university-educated people with versatile language skills who are suited to work as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in conflict areas. The tasks vary and may contain visits to prisoners of war and political prisoners, family reunification assignments, organising the delivery of emergency aid or serving as a humanitarian law expert. 

The university-educated people applying for these tasks must have strong and comprehensive language skills. The primary working languages at the ICRC are English and French, but proficiency in other languages, such as Arabic, Bantu languages, Bengali, Spanish, Hausa, Chinese, Pashto and Russian, is also in demand.

The Finnish Red Cross also posts doctors, nurses and logistics professionals to long-term committee operations. Working for the committee requires a readiness to commit to working for at least six months. Proficiency in one of the languages mentioned above is considered an asset, in addition to English language skills. 

Answers to questions frequently asked by the applicants

Finnish Red Cross aid workers working in international aid are not volunteers, but paid employees working in demanding missions. 

The Finnish Red Cross contributes to disaster relief work abroad by posting professionals from different fields in aid work to support the local Red Cross or Red Crescent. Each year, our professional aid workers also serve in long-term development co-operation projects in support of our partner associations.

On the local level, the global humanitarian aid work organised by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent is based on volunteering. The Red Cross has national societies in 192 countries, with millions of members and volunteers. You can also volunteer for the Red Cross in Finland.

In addition to strong professional competence, we value knowledge of the Finnish Red Cross and volunteering experience in our aid worker selections. That is why we recommend volunteering for the Finnish Red Cross for anyone interested in IMPACT training.

The duration of missions in Red Cross international aid work varies according to need. Most typical missions are disaster relief work missions of roughly 1–3 months or development co-operation missions of 1–2 years. Communications professionals may also be posted to shorter assignments of 1–2 weeks.

Aid workers must remain in the best possible health and shape during their international missions, in order for us to help those in need the best.

The circumstances on missions may be very taxing in terms of work load, rest and food, for example. Disasters also increase the risk of infectious diseases. That is why each international aid worker must consider their own health and well-being carefully.

Work is often carried out in areas and countries with diseases spread through mosquitoes and diseases that can be prevented through vaccination. Aid workers must be ready to be vaccinated as part of their preparations for their international mission and, if necessary, take preventive medication for malaria during their mission. Vaccinations are an important part of occupational and patient safety for health care workers (including the time after they return home).

War and conflict areas typically have specific health-related requirements, because work is often carried out in places which are far away from suitable health care services and only reachable through difficult passages. Not all Finnish Red Cross aid workers end up working in war or conflict areas, however.

Aid workers must undergo a medical examination before each mission, in which the doctor assesses the person’s fitness for the work specifically in terms of their upcoming mission.

The Finnish Red Cross does not offer internships abroad. The available internships of the Finnish Red Cross in Finland are posted on our website.

Young adults aged 18–28 interested in Red Cross operations abroad may apply for the Finnish Red Cross youth delegate course and advance to youth delegate missions abroad.

The minimum requirements for the Red Cross aid worker IMPACT basic course are 1) a university degree and at least three years of applicable work experience after graduation or 2) strong professional competence gained through several years of work experience. It is advisable to only apply for the aid worker reserve when the minimum requirements for the training are met.

Qualifications and licenses of health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, will be verified.

The Finnish Red Cross posts only professionals with extensive work experience in their chosen field to aid work abroad. When applying for the aid worker reserve, you must have at least three years of work experience after graduation.

If you are interested in international Red Cross operations, but you lack the necessary work experience, we recommend that you focus on developing other skills (e.g. language skills, knowledge of the Red Cross, volunteering experience, relevant international experience, training and facilitating experience, negotiation skills) crucial for aid workers.

If you are 18–28 years old, speak fluent English and have experience with volunteering, you may apply to the Finnish Red Cross youth delegate course and advance on to youth delegate missions.

Due to security reasons, having a driving licence and being able to drive are minimum requirements for the Red Cross aid worker course. You should not apply for the aid worker reserve before you meet the minimum requirements.

Basic IT skills are important in most international aid work assignments. That is why the minimum requirement is mastering Microsoft Office 365 basic software in the Windows 10 environment.

The IMPACT basic course for Red Cross aid workers prepares participants for assignments in international aid work for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. During IMPACT, participants learn more about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. They also familiarise themselves with the Movement’s disaster preparedness work and disaster relief.

The course is multi-professional and contains important basic skills for experts in all fields from the point of view of international aid work for the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

After completing the IMPACT course, participants become part of the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve. The IMPACT course does not guarantee being posted on a mission, but it opens many doors to international aid work missions and further aid worker training.

The need for international aid and the requests put to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement determine when the Finnish Red Cross posts aid workers abroad. Aid worker vacancies are filled based on the skills required for the mission and the person’s suitability for the task, and they are also affected by aid worker availability.

IMPACT is the basic training course for Finnish Red Cross aid workers, after which participants become part of the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve.

Aid workers are selected for international missions from the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve, which is one of the most comprehensive in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and consists of professionals in many fields.

In addition to IMPACT training, the Red Cross offers many other training options for members of its aid worker reserve. In addition to IMPACT, disaster relief missions primarily require two other basic or specialised courses with a duration of a total of 5–10 days depending on the field.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is invested in developing the competence of its aid workers, which means that aid workers may progress and develop into a humanitarian aid project leader through various learning opportunities in the course of their career.

Families may not accompany aid workers on disaster relief missions due to the nature of the conflicts.

Some long-term aid worker missions will allow families to accompany aid workers. The family’s ability to accompany the aid worker is determined based on the safety of the area and duration of the mission.

When disaster strikes, the call to a mission may come unexpectedly and the aid worker may have to leave at a day’s notice. More time will be reserved for preparing for long-term missions.

The Red Cross encourages employers to enable their employees to participate in international aid missions, because we think that serving on an international aid mission supports an employee’s professional development and thus works to improve the disaster readiness and preparedness of the different sectors of Finnish society.

Each aid worker must discuss potential missions with their employer in the time and manner they deem appropriate.

Please make sure that you meet the minimum requirements. If you do not meet all of the requirements yet, develop your professional and other competence and apply only when you meet all of the minimum requirements.

Determine which international aid work task you might be suited for in terms of your professional competence and describe it in your application.

Present your professional and other competence on the application, explain your motivation to apply for an aid worker post with the Red Cross and your availability for international aid missions.

Enter your educational background, work experience and volunteering experience into your REST applicant profile. Describe the competence you have gained through or been able to utilise in your work and volunteer assignments. Your technical professional competence and manual skills should be clearly indicated. When applying for communications tasks, it is important that you attach some work samples to your application.

We receive many applications and unfortunately cannot admit all promising applicants. If you want to re-apply, first make sure that you meet the minimum requirements for aid workers. Also read about the professional competence areas of Red Cross aid workers.

Also consider whether you have described your own competence and motivation well enough on your application and improve your application before re-applying, if necessary.