Who can join a voluntary youth service?

All young people can take part in voluntary youth service regardless of their school qualification if they have completed full-time compulsory schooling (after nine or ten years of schooling depending on the federal state) and are under 27 when they finish service.

Young people from abroad can also participate in the FSJ/FÖJ programme (“Incoming”). They need to have a residence permit that allows them to take up employment. International volunteers can generally also be granted a temporary residence permit specifically allowing them to participate in a volunteer service.

In addition, young refugees who have claimed asylum in Germany can perform a youth voluntary service if they meet certain requirements.

In what fields can youth voluntary services be performed?

According to the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (JFDG), voluntary services mainly aim to promote young people’s “educability”.  At the same time, they are a special type of civic engagement.

When performing a Voluntary Social Year (FSJ), young people are active in common good-oriented facilities. Typical places of work during a Voluntary Social Year include:

  • outpatient and inpatient geriatric care facilities,
  • hospitals and clinics,
  • home care providers and rescue services,
  • residential institutions and sheltered workshops for people with disabilities
  • child day care facilities
  • schools
  • sports clubs
  • theatres and museums

When performing a Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ), young people are engaged in facilities that are active in particular in:

  • nature conservation and environmental protection
  • education for sustainability
  • ecological farming
  • animal husbandry or
  • corporate environmental protection.

Places of assignment in the youth voluntary services

Every place of assignment must be affiliated to a superordinate agency and as a consequence be accredited by this agency. The place of assignment is the facility where the volunteers work (for instance a home for people with disabilities, an environment centre, a contact point for homeless people). It provides guidance to the volunteers in performing their activities. The agency is the institution responsible for the lawful implementation of the Voluntary Social Year. The agencies are contractual partners of the volunteers; there commonly is a tripartite agreement together with the respective place of assignment. It is in particular responsible for providing training and guidance to the volunteers during their service.

What activities will I carry out during my youth voluntary service?

The task assigned to the volunteer will depend on the place of assignment.

The youth voluntary service is neither an employment relationship nor a training relationship, but it is an educational year by law.

The Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services calls it “predominantly hands-on auxiliary activity” which does not give rise to an employment relationship. Thus, volunteers’ activities are labour market-neutral.

Moreover, it is mandatory for the place of assignment to designate an educational instructor for the technical instruction, training and guidance of the volunteers. The instructor ensures guidance and support of the volunteers and teaches them know-how, skills and competences for everyday working life; during the Voluntary Social Year / the Voluntary Ecological Year also with respect to the training and career path. It is important for young volunteers to participate in periodic discussions and in team consultations to encourage their involvement at the place of assignment.

Even though the relationship between volunteers and the place of assignment and/or the agency is not an employment relationship, the voluntary service in Germany is by and large equivalent to an employment relationship as regards the labour-law and health and safety at work provisions. The relevant occupational safety and health regulations apply, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Act on the Protection of Young People at Work and the Maternity Protection Act. The provisions of the respective host country apply in the International Youth Volunteer Service (IJFD).

Accompanying seminars during the youth voluntary service

Volunteers are legally required to attend an introductory, an interim and a concluding seminar of a minimum duration of five days each for the Voluntary Social Year / the Voluntary Ecological Year in Germany. A total of 25 seminar days during a 12-month Voluntary Social Year / Voluntary Ecological Year are compulsory. They are organised by the agencies that the places of assignment are affiliated with. If assignments are concluded or extended beyond a period of 12 months, at least one additional seminar day shall be provided for each month of extension.

What is the duration of a youth voluntary service?

The Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Ecological Year and the International Youth Volunteer Service are, as a rule, carried for a period of twelve consecutive months, but for not less than six months and not more than 18 months.

The exact period will be contractually agreed between volunteers and the place of assignment.

How many hours per week do I have to work as part of the youth voluntary service?

The working time depends on the working times of the respective place of assignment. As a rule, it is all-day work during the Voluntary Social Year / Voluntary Ecological Year / International Youth Volunteer Service.

The labour-law and health and safety at work provisions of the Act on the Protection of Young People at Work apply to young people below the age of 18 (e.g. no night work, longer holiday period(s), dedicated rules on breaks). During the Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Ecological Year, time spent attending the seminars counts as working time.

Volunteers can carry out a Voluntary Social Year or a Voluntary Ecological Year on a part-time basis if they have a justified interest in carrying out part-time voluntary service.

All working times below the regular working time at the respective place of assignment and which, at the same time, exceed 20 hours per week, count as part-time voluntary service.

Whether there is a justified interest in part-time voluntary service will have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

There is a justified interest, for instance, if volunteers

  • have to take care of a child or a relative
  • have health impairments and cannot serve the regular daily or weekly working time
  • make use of educational or qualification services, including participation in an integration course under the Residence Act which conflict with full-time voluntary service or
  • cannot carry out full-time voluntary service for comparably serious reasons.

The justified interest has to be proven by presenting appropriate evidence. There is no legal entitlement to reducing the daily and/or weekly working time, but only the possibility of such a reduction if there is agreement between volunteers, agencies and places of assignment.

Is the youth voluntary service paid?

Youth voluntary services are a special type of voluntary engagement and thus they are carried out free of charge. This means that no wage/salary is paid. However, volunteers receive pocket money for their service.

Pocket money during the Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Ecological Year

The Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services specifies a ceiling for pocket money for the Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Ecological Year. It amounts to six per cent of the contribution assessment ceiling in the statutory pension insurance; in the year 2022, that is 423,00 euros per month.

Additional services

The places of assignment and/or agencies of a youth voluntary service can also – besides pocket money – provide board, lodging or commensurate financial compensation. Respective benefits are agreed upon between volunteers and the place of assignment and/or agency.

Social insurance

Moreover, you have social security insurance coverage during the Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) and the Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ). This is particularly important if you become ill or have an accident.