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Volunteering in France: What are the rules and do I need a special visa?

The Local France
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Volunteering in France: What are the rules and do I need a special visa?
A volunteer of the "Banques alimentaires" distribute a food collection bag (Photo by MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP)

Looking to give back to the community in France? Here is what you need to know about volunteering in France and the rules for doing so.

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In France, there is a distinction between the terms benevolat and volontariat.

Bénévoles

Those looking to do occasional volunteering - perhaps helping out at a soup kitchen a few times a month - are considered to be bénévoles.

These are non-contractual volunteers who assist an organisation based on their spare time and availability. The French government does not give this type of volunteering any legal status or protection - the work is unpaid and it is not full-time. These activities are seen as part of one's vie privée (private life), according to France's leading Youth Information Centre, the CIDJ.

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That means that if you are already in France and want to do this type of work you would not need to change your status, even if you are on a visitor visa that stipulates you are not allowed to work.

If you're coming to France and you want to do this type of work, you don't need a special visa, you would just enter on the visa type that suits your status - perhaps a study visa or visitor visa.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

Volontaire

In contrast, being a volontaire is a contractual commitment. While being a volontaire is different from being an employee, it is still seen by the French government as contractual and exclusive. Volunteers typically receive some form of stipend or living allowance - though not a salary.

The volunteer agrees formally to join a mission for a specified amount of time and will usually be expected to turn up at agreed times. The volunteer can break the contract, though they may need to give some form of notice before doing so.

If you are coming to France in an explicitly religious capacity (ie as a missionary or priest), you may qualify for a visitor's visa if you can provide official documentation that you would be exercising your religious duties in France. This visitor's visa would not give you the right to work, however. 

If you are looking to do volunteer tourism - or voluntourism - while visiting France, keep in mind that there may be language barriers and while there are English-language NGOs operating throughout the country, charitable organisations may not be able to offer you the hours that best fit the timeline of your vacation. Try reaching out ahead of your trip to see if it would be feasible.

Volunteer residency permit

The Titre de Volontariat is a temporary residency permit specifically for non-EU nationals who want to volunteer in an official, contractual status with a French NGO (ie be a volontariat).

The volunteer's day-to-day job should involve some social or humanitarian purpose. 

The NGO must, according to the French government, be recognised for serving the public interest. This is defined as being "aimed either at promoting the autonomy and protection of individuals; strengthening social cohesion; preventing or correcting the effects of social exclusion or carrying out solidarity actions in favour of disadvantaged persons residing on French territory."

What are the rules of this permit and how can I apply?

The key thing about this permit is that you must already have a long-stay visa (meaning one that allows you to enter and stay in France for more than three months).

Keep in mind that sometimes people are rejected because the French state judges the capacity of the host organisation to host volunteers and it sets quotas for the number of foreigners who can hold this permit.

The organisation must certify that they have agreed to host you, and they must be authorised by the French government to accept volunteers. 

In order to apply, you must also already have a volunteer contract in place, which you will need to provide as part of your application. 

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READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to get a visitor visa for France

Your application must also include an agreement to leave the country once your contract has ended.

As for the permit itself, it is only issued for the timeline of the volunteer's contract. Thus, if your mission is only nine months, then that is how long your residency permit will be good for too.

The residency permit is issued by the préfecture for the département where the host organisation is located. 

You can find more information on the French government website (in French) here.

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Comments (2)

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Genevieve Mansfield 2023/08/04 09:13
This is a good question, as 'professional activity' can appear somewhat vague. The "Welcome to France" govt website refers to 'professional reasons' as "starting up a business, taking up paid employment". I would point you to the differences between bénévole and volontariat - the latter involves a contractual agreement that is recognised in your status, whereas bénévole does not carry a formal legal definition. The commonly accepted definition, as per 2018-19 bénévole guide, is "any person who freely undertakes non-salaried action on behalf of others, outside his or her professional time and family time". Being a bénévole also does not change one's status (ex. a French retiree volunteering with an association as a bénévole does not lose their status as a retiree or pension payments). In terms of a visitor visa, the questions to ask should be: is this activity paid (whether that be a stipend or salary) and is there a contract involved? Hope this helps to clarify! You can also find more info on the associations.gouv.fr site. Feel free to email us at [email protected]
Richard 2023/08/02 15:22
I have no doubt this article is accurate. However, do you have pointers to the official citations (legal code, secret, etc.) that support this article?
  • Genevieve Mansfield 2023/08/03 12:59
    Hello, thank you for your comment. If you are looking to learn more about the official status of 'volontariat' you should find the Service-Public website linked above. For the 'titre de volontariat' temporary residency permit, you should also find the French government link above.

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