The Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ) is a good opportunity for internationals, also from non-EU countries, to gain professional work experience in Germany. We explain everything you need to know about the Voluntary Ecological Year for internationals.
Voluntary Ecological Year: What is it?
The Voluntary Ecological Year is a volunteer program in which young people from all over the world work on nature conservation and ecology in Germany.
A typical setting for a participant from abroad in a voluntary ecological year (FÖJ) in Germany would involve living and working in an environmentally focused organization. The participant might be placed in a city like Berlin, Munich, or Hamburg, or in smaller towns or villages such as Freiburg, Marburg, or Münster, where the focus on environmental sustainability and green living is strong.
Duties and daily tasks during the FÖJ would depend on the specific project and organization. Common tasks may include maintaining and preserving natural habitats, assisting with environmental education programs, conducting research and data collection, working on sustainable agriculture, or supporting public outreach and awareness campaigns. The goals of these projects would typically revolve around protecting the environment, promoting sustainable living, and raising awareness of ecological issues.
Throughout the FÖJ, participants would be expected to use various instruments and procedures to achieve project goals, such as employing ecological monitoring techniques, conducting fieldwork, or utilizing educational materials and methodologies. The learning experience would be hands-on, enabling participants to gain practical skills in environmental conservation and related fields.
The participant would likely work within a team of colleagues, ranging from fellow FÖJ volunteers to experienced professionals in the environmental sector. These diverse connections would foster a collaborative and supportive environment, enhancing the overall experience.
As for living arrangements, participants might be provided with shared accommodation or a host family, depending on the organization and location. Meals could be communal or self-catered, often emphasizing locally sourced, sustainable food options. Participants receive a modest allowance to cover basic living expenses, but additional personal costs would need to be managed independently.
After completing the FÖJ, various career paths could open up both in Germany and abroad. Participants may pursue further education in fields such as environmental science, conservation biology, or sustainable development. Alternatively, they could seek employment within environmental NGOs, government agencies, or private companies focused on sustainability. It is common to start a vocational training or studies in Germany.
Why is there something like a FÖJ in Germany?
The Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) in Germany was established to promote environmental awareness, provide educational and personal development opportunities for young people, and support ecological projects throughout the country. The FÖJ program aims to engage and inspire young individuals to contribute to environmental conservation and sustainable development, while simultaneously fostering a sense of responsibility and commitment to protecting the planet.
Germany has a long history of environmentalism and a strong focus on sustainable living. The FÖJ program aligns with these values by offering young people a chance to be directly involved in environmental initiatives, thereby empowering them to make a positive impact on the world around them. Through their participation, FÖJ volunteers not only acquire hands-on experience in the field of ecology but also gain a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the environment and the importance of sustainable practices.
Moreover, the FÖJ serves as a platform for personal growth, as it encourages young people to step out of their comfort zones, work in diverse teams, and develop valuable life skills such as teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. The program also helps participants explore potential career paths related to environmental conservation, providing practical experience that can be beneficial for future educational or professional pursuits.
How old do I have to be for a Voluntary Ecological Year in Germany?
You must be between 16 and 26 years old. You cannot start the year if you turn 27 during the time. In addition, you must have already completed your compulsory education. If you are an international, you must be 18 years old in most cases and 26 years old at the most. If you are older than 26, you may be eligible for the Federal Volunteer Service.
What are the professional requirements for the Voluntary Ecological Year?
In many cases, no special previous knowledge is required. You can therefore apply even without previous professional experience or expertise in this field. However, it may be that providers of an FSJ position are looking for a specific applicant profile. You can see this in the respective advertisement. It is important that you are interested in the topics of nature conservation and environmental protection and that you are willing to commit yourself to this for a whole year.
Can I participate in the Voluntary Ecological Year as an international?
Yes, you can also participate in the Voluntary Ecological Year as an international: It doesn’t matter which country you come from. First you have to find a place for a Voluntary Ecological Year, then you can apply for a visa at the German Embassy / Consulate in your home country. As an EU citizen you can of course also do a Voluntary Ecological Year in Germany and you don’t need a visa.
Can a FÖJ be a good pick for internationals?
A Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) can be an excellent choice for international applicants for several reasons and at different stages of their lives. Some key factors that make FÖJ a good pick for international participants include:
- Passion for environmental issues: If an international applicant has a strong interest in environmental conservation, ecology, or sustainable development, the FÖJ provides a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in these areas, contribute to meaningful projects, and make a positive impact on the environment.
- Gap year or career exploration: The FÖJ is particularly well-suited for individuals who are taking a gap year between high school and university or considering a career change. It allows them to explore various aspects of environmental work, learn new skills, and make informed decisions about their future education or career paths.
- Personal and professional development: The FÖJ offers a chance to develop valuable life skills, such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability. Working in diverse teams and engaging with local communities also helps international participants improve their intercultural competence, which can be beneficial in both their personal and professional lives.
- Language and cultural immersion: For those interested in learning the German language and experiencing German culture, the FÖJ offers an immersive environment to practice the language and gain insights into the country’s customs, traditions, and environmental values.
- Networking and future opportunities: The FÖJ can be an excellent stepping stone for future educational or career opportunities in Germany or abroad. Participants have the chance to build a professional network within the environmental sector, which can open doors to further study, internships, or job prospects.
An ideal time for an international applicant to consider a FÖJ might be after completing high school or a university degree, during a gap year, or when contemplating a career change. Participating in a FÖJ during these transitional periods can provide valuable insights and experiences that help shape an individual’s future path. It allows them to explore their interests and passions, develop essential skills, and create a solid foundation for pursuing further education or career opportunities in the environmental sector or related fields.
In summary, a Voluntary Ecological Year in Germany can be a great pick for international applicants who are passionate about environmental issues, looking to explore potential career paths, or seeking personal and professional growth. The FÖJ offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the German language and culture while making a positive impact on the environment and gaining practical experience that can be beneficial for future endeavors.
From our point of view, the Voluntary Ecological Year has the following advantages:
- you are often in the fresh air
- furthermore you can get acquainted with the topics of environmental protection and nature conservation: these are growth topics!
- you work with interesting and motivated people
- with your work you do something good for the common good
- you will be covered by all German social insurances (health insurance, unemployment insurance, pension insurance and nursing care insurance) as well as occupational accident insurance
- you learn things that you can use later in your studies or job in Germany
- as an international you can also take your knowledge back to your home country and contribute to environmental protection and nature conservation there
From our point of view the Voluntary Ecological Year may also come with some disadvantages:
- The number of volunteer positions in the field of Voluntary Ecological Year is limited in Germany: There are significantly more places for a Voluntary Social Year.
- you often get only a financial support of about 400 € per month. From this, however, you have to pay parts of your living expenses. Although organizations may cover accommodation, food, clothing, etc this is not a big some for living in Germany.
- Sometimes the places are far away from bigger cities.
- There is not always an offer for you to improve your German language skills professionally and on site every day, so some switch to learn German via an app.
Places of work
FÖJ positions are often available in the following areas:
- Churches and church institutions
- Kindergartens, schools
- District offices, counties, cities and municipalities
- Clubs and associations in the field of environmental protection and nature conservation
- National parks, environmental stations
- Educational institutions in the field of environment and nature conservation
- Hunting associations
We also find it interesting to work for special-purpose waste management associations: there is often a greater need for personnel here, and these municipal institutions may be able to help you start dual vocational training or dual studies here later on.
Questions and answers
What is the Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) in Germany?
The Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ, short for “Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr”) is a German voluntary service program that offers young people aged 16-27 the opportunity to work in environmental and nature conservation projects for a period of 6 to 18 months. Participants gain valuable practical experience, learn about ecological issues, and contribute to the preservation of the environment.
How do I apply for a Voluntary Ecological Year in Germany?
You can apply for a FÖJ by visiting the official website of the program in your federal state and filling out the online application form. You may need to submit additional documents, such as a CV, cover letter, and references. Make sure to apply well in advance, as there may be a limited number of placements available.
Can non-German citizens participate in the FÖJ?
Yes, non-German citizens can participate in the FÖJ, provided they are residents of Germany and hold a valid residence permit. The program is open to all nationalities, but proficiency in the German language is usually required.
Do I get paid during my Voluntary Ecological Year?
Participants in the FÖJ receive a modest allowance to cover basic living expenses, such as accommodation, food, and transportation. The exact amount varies depending on the federal state and the hosting organization.
Can I choose the type of project I want to work on during my FÖJ?
During the application process, you can indicate your preferences regarding the type of project and the region where you would like to work. However, placements are subject to availability and the needs of the hosting organizations. While efforts are made to match participants with their preferred projects, it is not guaranteed that you will be assigned to your first choice.
Is there a specific starting date for the Voluntary Ecological Year?
The FÖJ typically starts on the 1st of September each year, with some flexibility depending on the hosting organization and the availability of positions. It is advisable to check with the respective federal state’s FÖJ program for specific start dates and deadlines.
Can I do a Voluntary Ecological Year part-time?
The FÖJ is primarily a full-time commitment, requiring participants to work around 38-40 hours per week. In certain cases, a part-time FÖJ may be possible, but this depends on the hosting organization and the specific project requirements. You should discuss your preferences with the hosting organization during the application process.
Are there any educational requirements to participate in the FÖJ?
There are no specific educational requirements to participate in the FÖJ. The program is open to young people aged 16-27 with an interest in environmental and nature conservation. However, some projects may require specific skills or qualifications, so it is essential to carefully review the project descriptions before applying.
Will participating in a Voluntary Ecological Year affect my social benefits?
Participating in the FÖJ should not negatively impact your social benefits, such as child benefits, health insurance, or pension insurance, as the program is considered voluntary service. However, it is recommended to consultwith the relevant authorities to ensure that your individual situation is taken into account and that your benefits are not affected.
Can the experience gained during a Voluntary Ecological Year be recognized for future education or career prospects?
Yes, the FÖJ experience can be a valuable addition to your CV and may be recognized by educational institutions or future employers. It demonstrates your commitment to environmental issues, practical experience in the field, and the development of essential skills such as teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. Additionally, some universities in Germany may award credit points or consider the FÖJ experience as an internship or practical component of certain study programs. It is essential to consult with the respective university or employer to confirm the recognition of your FÖJ experience.
Finding a position for a voluntary ecological year
The easiest way to find an FÖJ position is via the Internet. You can search for this in large private or state job portals. If you already know that you might want to do an FÖJ at the North Sea, you can search for FÖJ positions in Schleswig-Holstein or Lower Saxony. Use Google or Bing or the job board of the Federal Employment Agency.
On Google, we recommend searching for the term “FÖJ”. By this, you will often be shown several hundred different positions directly.
Organisations offering positions
- NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V.) – https://www.nabu.de/
- BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e.V.) – https://www.bund.net/
- WWF Germany (World Wide Fund For Nature) – https://www.wwf.de/
- Greenpeace Germany – https://www.greenpeace.de/
- BUNDjugend (Youth wing of BUND) – https://www.bundjugend.de/
- Eurosolar (European Association for Renewable Energy) – https://www.eurosolar.de/
- Naturfreunde Deutschlands e.V. – https://www.naturfreunde.de/
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) – https://www.giz.de/
- Ökologische Schutzstation Steinhuder Meer e.V. – https://www.oessm.org/
- Jugendwerkstatt “Frohe Zukunft” e.V. –
- Stiftung Naturschutz Schleswig-Holstein –
- Loki Schmidt Stiftung – https://www.loki-schmidt-stiftung.de/
- Bergwaldprojekt e.V. – https://www.bergwaldprojekt.de/
- Auring e.V. (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Umweltbildung im Raum Ingolstadt) –
The website of the German Employment Agency regularly lists several hundred positions for a Voluntary Ecological Year. If you search on this site, you should not only enter “FÖJ” in the search mask, but also write out “Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr”.
As soon as you have found a suitable placement for an FÖJ, you can apply directly to the employer. At the beginning you don’t have to worry too much about questions like visa, blocked account or accommodation. Most providers of an FÖJ in Germany know this well and will guide you through this process.