Voluntary Social Year vs. Work and Travel

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Working and living abroad will enrich your life and your personality in so many ways. Most young people carry out a living and working abroad experience straight after school and it is likely that if you do so, you’ll never have lived on your own before. That means that in doing so you’ll become independent, grow as a person and learn intercultural skills. In fact, getting to know new people and learning the culture of a country is a very important soft skill. Depending on the destination and your intention, you’ll probably learn or improve a foreign language. These are all factors that enhance your personality and will help to boost your employability at a later stage.


Have you always dreamed about a work experience abroad? There are so many different options and the web is overloaded with information surrounding this topic! We’ve put together a short summary on very popular options relating to travelling abroad either for work and travel or just to spend a year devoted to enjoyable social experiences.


Work and Travel

Work combined with travel is the cheapest way to spend a long period abroad. You travel through one or more countries and earn your travel expenses by jobbing directly on site (sometimes referred to as job-hopping). Work and Travel offers you the opportunity to get to know the country and its people off the beaten tourist track.

You can carry out Work with Travel in many countries, for example Australia, the US, Canada, England, Italy or New Zealand (and everywhere else too!). The job opportunities range from harvest work to hotel work as a chambermaid for example. However, the jobs are often competitive and poorly paid. In most cases, your salary doesn’t cover the complete costs of your stay and you have to pay out of your own pocket. With that in mind, having financial backup is necessary for your Work and Travel adventure.

The most important requirement for a Work and Travel stay abroad is having an appropriate visa. Usually this is called the Work and Travel Visa. This visa allows you to stay in your chosen country and entitles you to work in the country at the same time. In order to get a Working-Holiday-Visa you have to fulfill different requirements depending on the country of choice. If you would like to carry out your Work and Travel in Europe (and you have your place of residence in Europe) you don’t need a visa or work permit. Having the necessary language skills will help you to find a work placement. In some jobs, you'll be expected to communicate in the  country's language.


Voluntary Social Year

The Voluntary Social Year offers young adults (who have completed compulsory school and have not yet reached the age of 27), the opportunity for personal and professional orientation. You can start your Voluntary Social Year directly after finishing your A-levels and before your Bachelor's degree or between your Bachelor and Master's degree.

If you would like to gain experience abroad during your studies through a voluntary social year, you must clarify with your university whether you need to have your leave granted for the period. You can also conduct voluntary service in your home country as well as abroad.

Usually a voluntary social year lasts 6 to 18 months, in exceptional cases up to 24 months. As a participant of a voluntary social year you’ll receive small remuneration. In most cases, this does not exceed 350 € per month. In return, you are also covered by social insurance and receive some board and lodgings.

If you enjoy working with people or animals, want to get involved with others or want to experience a taste of a social profession, a voluntary social year could be just the right thing for you! During the time, you’ll develop your social and professional skills and gain your first practical experience. Social commitment is usually very well received by potential employers. If you spend a voluntary social year abroad, you’ll not only meet new people but also get to know a foreign culture and improve your language skills.

While with a voluntary social year you’ll be engaged at a specific destination and work placement for the timeframe you decided on, work and travel offers you the possibility to move to numerous destinations and work for only a certain time at a workplace. Depending on your personal preference, both types of work experiences will enrich your personal growth and you can gain meaningful experience in so many areas.


If you'd rather not waste time taking a gap year (or a few months away from study) and you want to combine your work experience abroad with education, you might be interested in an Erasmus+ or Turing internship. For further information read our article about Work and Travel vs. Erasmus+ Internship. Useful information regarding the Erasmus+ application process can be found in our guide for Erasmus+ funding applicants  and our Handbook for Erasmus+ Project Management & Execution.