Important Note: The Voluntern Program is not open to the general public. Access to the program is restricted to school and agency partners only. If you are a school and would like to access the Voluntern program, please contact Experience Education for more information. If you are a student and would like to join the Voluntern program, please contact your school. International applicants, please visit Latitude International.
Voluntern is a term developed by Experience Education to refer to a type of full-time volunteer placement that gives students many of the same work opportunities as they would have had as a language coop intern, but with all placements done at federally registered charities.
We use the word Voluntern to distinguish the experience from the colloquial use of the word ‘volunteer’ which is used to mean either: (1) a casual short term placement for a day or a few hours at (for example) a marathon or film festival; or (2) it’s sometimes used to mean any type of unpaid work.
Voluntern is neither of those, it is instead structured, full-time work in one of 5 different fields. It is hands-on meaningful work, where the Voluntern student contributes to the community while also building their skills set and improving their language.
Voluntern participants are placed for 4-16 weeks at a federally registered charity in BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec.
While Voluntern like all experiential programs, gives students an added opportunity to practice their English/French in a real social context - it should not be considered a language program. Voluntern should be marketed as a tourism program, and on your website, located with other travel, tourism, and activities options, as opposed to being with language coop programs.
The Voluntern program has very open and flexible requirements and can adapt to accept all participants, including those with English or French as a second language, and special needs participants. The three key requirements of Voluntern are:
- Students must speak English or French at an intermediate level or above
- Aged 19 and above (NB: There is no upper age limit)
- Wilderness placement students must be physically fit as the work can be strenuous
- Students must be able to participate in the Voluntern program for at least 20 hours per week, and must be able to financially support themselves for the duration of the placement
Voluntern placements are typically done as ‘pre-placements’, meaning students are placed and apply for their visa at the port of entry when they arrive in Canada. Program terms in our tourism programs are more flexible than in our academic programs, with students able to turn down a placement. Here is the process from start to finish:
- Step 1: 12 weeks or more before placement, student completes application form and submits it to Experience Education EE. Students must choose from the list provided on the program application form. Forms with other fields written in will be rejected, with no chance to re-apply.
- Step 2: EE arranges a Skype consultation with the student. During the consultation a ‘Voluntern Participant Profile’ is completed. EE will use this profile when speaking to hosts. EE will follow up the consult with a ‘welcome email’ which includes a resume template.
- Step 3: EE locates a matching voluntern placement and arranges a meeting time for the student and host to discuss the potential match. If the match is great for both sides, the placement is confirmed.
- Step 4: EE sends the student a placement agreement, and an offer letter from the host company. The student uses the offer letter to apply for their C50 visa, using a regular work permit application form. The offer letter includes a standard paragraph noting the type of visa exemption to be used.
Placements are done in the following fields:
- Environmental Conservation Administration
- Available in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Volunteers work at environmental charities in roles such as fundraising, project development and management, volunteer management, IT support, research, and public relations. No staff accommodation is included in this type of placement.
- Wildlife Protection Administration
- Available in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Volunteers work at organizations dedicating to helping animals. These can include basic operations in the city, but more frequently involve raising awareness of animal issues, and taking care of injured animals that have been brought to the city for specialized care. Volunteer placements are done in animal care, biology research, public relations, IT support, volunteer management, fundraising, and on special projects. No staff accommodation is included in this type of placement.
- Community Services Administration
- Available in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Community service organizations work helping people in Canada, and around the world. These can include first nations charities working on reconciliation, or religious charities helping the poor and hungry. There are many kinds of community service organizations and an almost unlimited number of types of volunteer placement. Past volunteers have done addiction research, psychology research, fundraising, human resources, seniors care, food and nutrition research, financial project management, and much more. No staff accommodation is included in this type of placement.
- Environmental Conservation Operations
- Available in wilderness areas of Vancouver Island, the BC Interior, and the Rockies. Volunteers are placed with organizations doing environmental research and remediation in the wilderness - far from any city. They live at a work site in rustic accommodation and perform tasks such as doing a census of types of plants and trees, working on repairing stream beds, removing pollutants and trash from sensitive areas, and more. Staff accommodation is included in this type of placement.
- Wildlife Protection Operations
- Available in wilderness areas of Vancouver Island, the BC Interior, and the Rockies. Volunteers work with organizations that help injured animals, or that help maintain habitats for animals. Work can include feeding and caring for sick and injured animals, working with researchers cataloging and observing animals and much more. Placements are in wilderness areas - far from any city, with rustic staff accommodation is included in this type of placement.
An important note about placements. While placements may include some regular clerical duties, the majority of the work done must be charitable in nature. The example given by CIC, is "teachers assistant supplied by a charitable organization to a school because funds were not available for the school to hire." We take this to mean a volunteer position that would not be done by an employee. So paradoxically, while these placements are with charities, charity management would be one of the few fields not available. Here is CIC again: "An administrator or office manager’s duties in a charitable organization would generally not be of a ‘charitable nature’."
Accommodation (Wilderness Placements Only)
NB: Placements in urban areas such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, do not include staff accommodation. All students placed in cities are responsible for their own accommodation. EE-arranged homestay, and hostel accommodation is available in these cities for a fee, though for longer term stays we encourage students to use resources such as Airbnb.com.
Placements in Wildlife Protection Operations, and Environmental Conservation Operations are done outside of cities, in rural and wild areas and are considered to be *wilderness* placements. Because short-term tourist accommodation is not typically available in wilderness areas, these types of placements will include staff accommodation.
However this accommodation can be very rustic and very basic. In many cases, staff accommodation could be in individual trailers, cabins - or even teepees. In other cases, accommodation is in shared single-sex dorms of up to 4 people, with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. Staff accommodation is arranged at the same time as the wilderness placement and the volunteer will receive information on both once their placement is confirmed.
Staff accommodation is often free - but some hosts charge a small fee of up to $200 per week. We encourage schools to inform students that there is an accommodation fee. If, as in most cases, the accommodation is provided to them at no cost, they will be pleasantly surprised .
Transportation to and from the wilderness placement is the responsibility of the volunteer. Meals are not included, but self catering facilities are available as part of all staff accommodation.
Registration is accepted from partner schools or agencies only. Direct registrations by prospective program participants are not accepted. To register a student or participant, agencies and schools should submit the application to Experience Education at least 12 weeks in advance of their desired start date. The registration email should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and should include all of the following:
- Signed application form. Click here to download an application form.
- Signed program terms and conditions. Click here to download program terms and conditions.
- A note in the body of the email stating the student's name, start date, end date, and proposed arrival date.
After we receive the registration email, EE will contact you (the school or agent) to arrange a time to meet the student and complete the registration process.
Important Note: The following should not be considered legal/immigration advice. This information is intended for agent and school-partners only, it is not intended for use by program participants.
Participants may need a work permit in order to join the Voluntern Program. Many participants use Working Holiday (IEC) Permits, and some use new post secondary Study Permits, however, the vast majority of participants join using a C50 Charity Work Permit. A C50 Work Permit is a regular work permit under CIC's International Mobility Program, with 'C50' being the name of the LMIA exemption for registered charities - meaning that students can apply for the work permit without the charity being required to get an expensive and time-consuming Labout Market Impact Assessment from the government. From Canada’s FW1 ‘Foreign Worker Manual’:
Canadian interests: Charitable or religious work R205(d), C50
Please note that the C50 is not part of the International Student Program, and recent changes to that program have no effect on the C50. The C50 is not a 50:50 visa, no study component is required, meaning that students can study for any length of time (including no studies), and still be able to take part in a C50 Voluntern placement.
The C50 is an employer-specific permit, so participants can only work for the assigned host, and cannot work a part-time job on the side. Lastly, when possible, participants must apply for their C50 Work Permit at the port of entry. Please click here for information on how to apply at the port of entry, including information about required documents. People who are not from visa-waiver countries may apply overseas using a paper form (however it is generally not possible to apply for a C50 electronically overseas).
When volunteers apply for the C50, the immigration officer reviews their volunteer placement offer. In many cases, immigration officers determine that a work permit is not needed and tell the volunteer that the can do their placement on a tourist visa. When this happens, the placement can continue as normal. In other cases the volunteer is issued the work permit, and continues on to do the placement as well. We have no recorded cases of a volunteer being denied a work permit or entry to Canada to do their volunteer placement.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Voluntern program?
- Who is the Voluntern program for?
- What is included in the program?
- What is the refund policy?
- Where can I do my Voluntern placement?
- In which fields can I do a Voluntern placement?
- Can I do a Voluntern placement at a hotel? bank? airline? factory?
- How long can my placement be?
- What projects have past Voluntern students done?
- What will my work schedule be like?
- Can I do studies at the same time I work?
- Do I need a work permit?
- I thought ESL students couldn’t do work placements in Canada anymore. How can I do a Voluntern placement?
- How do I apply for a work permit?
- How many work permit applications are rejected?
- Can I work at another job with my volunteer work permit?
- Can I join Voluntern if I have a working holiday permit?
- If I am doing my Voluntern placement in Quebec, will I need a Certificat d'acceptation du Québec (CAQ) to apply for a charity work permit?
What is the Voluntern program?
“Voluntern” is a named developed by Experience Education to describe a type of full-time, structured, project-based volunteering at a non-profit organization. It is used to distinguish our program from casual, or unstructured volunteering that is done elsewhere.
Who is the Voluntern program for?
The target audience for the Voluntern program is international students who have a social conscience and are looking to gain professional experience, while also testing themselves in a professional English-language (or in the case of Quebec placements, a French-language) environment.
What is included with the program?
Voluntern program participants receive resume preparation, interview preparation, guaranteed placement, and ongoing monitoring and support. Volunteers who choose wilderness placements (but not those choosing placements in a city) will also receive subsidized accommodation on site.
What is the refund policy?
Please see program terms and conditions.
Where can I do my Voluntern placement?
Voluntern placements can be done in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Additionally, Voluntern has a wilderness option, and can be done in wild areas of BC.
What fields can I do my Voluntern in?
Voluntern can be done in Community Service, Environmental Conservation, and Wilderness Protection. Most students choose to work in Community Service. Fields describes the type of organization in which a volunteer will be placed. However the specific tasks done there can vary widely, and can include duties touching on finance, marketing, public relations, and more.
Can I do a Voluntern placement at a hotel? bank? airline? factory?
No. All placements are done at federally registered charities. To the best of our knowledge, there are no hotels, banks, or factories that operate as charities. People interested in gaining experience at a bank, factory, or other workplace not available in Voluntern, should consider our Career Tours program.
How long can my placement be?
Experience Education sets a cap of 16 weeks for any unpaid program, though special exceptions can be made on request.
What projects have past Voluntern students done?
While Voluntern is limited to 3 very broad fields, there are many more project options available. Projects are individual though and are decided based on volunteer ability and interest, and organization need. Past volunteers have worked on projects such as researching bird biology, preparing a report based on historical and archival research, working with a fundraising department to look at best practices at similar organizations in other countries, working with a volunteer recruitment department to look at ways to better organize volunteer time. Many more options are available, and can be discussed with an Experience Education coordinator.
What will my work schedule be like?
Most volunteers work 20-30 hours per week. Individuals have input in setting their schedules. Some volunteer 2-3 days per week, to give them time to take part in tourist activities or language classes. Others volunteer 4-5 days a week and do a very concentrated shorter term placement.
Can I do studies at the same time I work?
Yes, though you must decide on this and inform Experience Education of your class schedule before the placement search begins.
Do I need a work permit?
In most cases yes. We require that all Voluntern participants apply for a ‘C50 Charity’ work permit. Immigration Canada will make the final determination on if a permit is needed or not. For some volunteers, Immigration has determined that the nature of the volunteer project means that a permit is not needed, and so admitted them as visitors.
I thought ESL students couldn’t do work placements in Canada anymore. How can I do a Voluntern placement?
Voluntern is done under a charity work permit, under Canada’s International Mobility Program. It is not connected to a period of English or French studies.
How do I apply for a work permit?
If citizens of your country can enter Canada without first obtaining a temporary resident visa, then you can apply for the charity work permit at the port of entry. If citizens of your country need to apply for a temporary resident visa before coming to Canada, you should also apply for the charity work permit at the same time. For more information, please see: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/united_kingdom-royaume_uni/visas/work-who_qui-travailler.aspx?lang=eng . All participants in the Voluntern program will receive a supporting letter from their host organization explaining their volunteer duties, and requesting a work permit under the C50 exemption.
How many work permit applications are rejected?
To date, none have been rejected. However some Voluntern participants have been told by Immigration Canada officers at the border, that they do not need a permit, and have been admitted to Canada to volunteer using a visitor’s visa.
Can I work at another job with my volunteer work permit?
No. Charity work permits are typically employer-specific, meaning that you cannot work for anyone other than your listed employer, the Voluntern host organization.
Can I join Voluntern if I have a working holiday permit?
If I am doing my Voluntern placement in Quebec, will I need a Certificat d'acceptation du Québec (CAQ) to apply for a charity work permit?
No. For more information, please see: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france/visas/forms_work-formulaires_travail.aspx?lang=eng