Can I Work Internationally with a Degree in Social Work?

It is possible to work internationally with a degree in social work, but there are definite challenges with this unique career. Below introduces critical information that will help students obtain a global position within the field of social work.

Intense Competition

International social work jobs that pay a full salary are very rare, so the competition is fierce. The majority of organizations that post social work and international humanitarian positions do not have the budget to pay foreign social workers or even host them as volunteers. This is especially true in developing countries with high unemployment because these jobs should be done by locals. There is a small job market niche with non-government organizations (NGOs). These organizations will receive thousands of applications from qualified candidates from all over the world. Local competition for a job may be intense, but international competition is even more intense. Social work candidates must have the right skills, degree (please see: Best Top 10 Online Sociology Degree Programs) and experience to secure employment.

Social Work Degree

A master’s in social work (MSW) is the minimum degree required for international social work positions. Students should ensure that their programs include classes regarding advocacy, empowerment and social processes. Learning about diversity, social justice and cross-culture psychology is a must. It is highly recommended that students focus on a social work degree specialization, such as geriatrics, children or community. A child and youth concentration will prepare social workers to promote healthy development and sustainable environments, while a community concentration will focus on how to develop local business and organizational leadership.


Anyone with limited social work experience can volunteer with a local organization to build up experience. The organization will ideally offer social work support and services to immigrants and vulnerable populations. Even better, the student should consider volunteering in college through a study abroad program. International volunteering will provide the student with the foundational skills and experiences needed to excel as an international social worker. Students should have at least two to three volunteer experiences, even if they are only a few weeks in length. Volunteering during a natural disaster, locally and globally, exemplifies the dedication and character needed to be a good social worker.

Cultures and Languages

Students who want to become an international social worker must have extensive experience and an understanding of different cultures and societies. Students should study their target country and ascertain their current social needs and political climate. Being able to demonstrate working knowledge of complex geopolitical issues and emerging social justice problems is an excellent way to ace an interview. Also consider focusing your job hunt in your specialization area. Students who have a medical background should focus on developing countries that have limited health care resources, while a developing country that is enjoying stability and prosperity will need consultants and policy advisors.

As a final thought, students who desire to work internationally with a degree in social work should also consider volunteering with the Peace Corps or working for the U.S. Foreign Service.