If you’re already a social work professional or working toward a degree, you know the great reward – though often fraught with frustration – of working with and helping people, whether it’s in the area of child protection and welfare services, adult mental health, human rights or labor issues, or helping to improve literacy, health, and career training for the poor. You probably already know, too, that social work is not a field in which many get rich, and that’s doubly true for most social work jobs abroad. In most areas of the world, working in social work provides much more than financial gains. Social workers are instead a very dedicated group of professionals devoted to helping
Why Work Abroad
The advantages of social work jobs abroad can outweigh the lack of a financial reward. Success -- and the satisfaction that comes with it -- in all fields of social work is dependent on the knowledge of, and familiarity with, human behavior. Challenging yourself to learn in a different cultural context through social work abroad will widen your perspective and experiences, show you new ways to practice old skills, and show you how other professionals treat seemingly universal problems and conditions.
There is a worldwide need for social workers, and the geography often depends on the specialty in the field of social work.
Africa. The west African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone are reeling from the Ebola epidemic, and need help from social workers in all areas, but especially those with experience in mental health and survivor issues and the ability to educate others about the treatment of these issues. In many African countries, such as South Africa, where the HIV/AIDs epidemic has left a multitude of orphans and street children there are opportunities for international social work jobs in mentoring, counseling, and educating local children. Rwanda also needs counselors, teachers, and job training experts, as survivors of the war of genocide that killed more than 800,000 people attempt to rebuild their lives.
The Caribbean & Latin America. The needs of much of this region are linked to long-term poverty and a lack of access to health care, clean water, adequate housing, and education. Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere when a major earthquake struck in 2010, increasing its need for every type of social service, especially social workers with some fluency in Creole or French. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, still rebuilding from civil war a generation ago. Relief agencies in Nicaragua recruit international social workers with expertise in fair trade, agriculture, and public health services. In Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the poor, especially indigenous people in rural areas, are often forced into near slave labor and need social and legal assistance. Those who fulfill international social work jobs in these nations can also help provide more educational opportunities and job training.
Europe. The U.K., and especially London, are excellent starting places for someone recently graduated with a social work degree, because you can submit an application through the General Social Care Council, the governing or licensing body that sets standards for social workers in the U.K., and be matched to a social work job that fits you best. This council also makes sure international social workers are guided through the necessary paperwork and permits. Social workers with a specialty in elder issues and care are in demand throughout England, as well as in France too.
Asia & Oceania. There is also a shortage of qualified social workers in New Zealand, in part because of a new government emphasis on child protective services and a fairly recent emphasis on improving the welfare and socio-economic position of the indigenous Māori population. China is an emerging market for social work jobs abroad too. As the country undergoes its transformation from an agrarian-based society to a mostly urban population with a free market economy, the need for social workers is expected to boom -- far more quickly than its supply of trained professionals.
Salary & Affordability
Paid international social work jobs – especially those on the grass roots level – are highly competitive and hard to land, mainly because NGOs and humanitarian organizations are stretched thin on personnel and funding and cannot afford to recruit, host, subsidize, or pay workers unless they fill a very specific and usually highly-skilled niche. Social work job candidates most sought after are those who already have several years of experience in their own countries, and some international volunteer experience. Often, the first step toward a career in international social work is getting a foot in the door as a volunteer.
In the U.S., the U.K., Australia or Western Europe, a social worker with a Master’s degree or who is a licensed clinical social worker and has some experience can expect to find a starting social work job in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 a year, a child protective services worker between $25,000 and $47,000 a year, and a school social worker or drug abuse counselor (in the public field) somewhere between $25,000 and $47,000 a year (keep in mind all salaries are dependent on specific locations and experience).
Social workers see the world through a unique perspective -- need. The opportunity to obtain international social work jobs and study how other cultures perceive the problems of humankind is invaluable. Whether you’re working in social work abroad with refugees in a war-torn area, providing natural disaster relief, working in a school, a slum, or a hospital, you’ll be working with -- and for -- people who see the world differently, approach problems differently, and react differently to situations. The result will be both educational and rewarding.