Voluntary development work abroad and social insurance


If you are living in Ireland and have spent time working in a developing country, you may qualify for credited social insurance contributions for the period you spent working abroad and any preparatory period beforehand. Under the Volunteer Development Worker (VDW) scheme these credited social insurance contributions are called VDW credits and have been in place since 6 April 1983.

Social insurance contributions entitle you to a range of benefits that are administered by the Department of Social Protection. VDW credits are normally fully reckonable, that is, they are treated as paid social insurance contributions. Therefore, on your return to this country, VDW credits can help you to qualify for certain social welfare benefits and pensions.

Also certain qualifying conditions for entitlement to Maternity Benefit, Health and Safety Benefit, Jobseeker's Benefit, Illness Benefit and Treatment Benefit have been relaxed for returned volunteer development workers (VDWs).

Who is a volunteer development worker?

The Department of Social Protection classifies volunteer development workers as people working temporarily outside Ireland in a developing country on volunteer terms and where their work has been arranged by or through:

  • A non-governmental agency in Ireland
  • A governmental or non-governmental agency in any member of the European Union
  • Directly with the government of the developing country.

Volunteer terms means that the salary or wage you receive for the work undertaken is consistent with local rates of pay in the developing country.

Members of religious orders whose work involves pastoral duties are not considered to be volunteer development workers for the purpose of this scheme.


In order to qualify for VDW credits, you must be a volunteer development worker as defined above. You must also satisfy the following conditions:

  • You must be over 16 years of age
  • You must have been resident in Ireland immediately prior to taking up the employment
  • You must be employed under conditions of remuneration (pay in return for work) similar to the local conditions applying in the developing country
  • You must have paid a minimum of 104 weeks social insurance contributions (PRSI) at Class A since starting work.

If you have less than 104 Class A contributions paid Comhlámh will pay Class A contributions for you to bring your total up to the required 104. Where there are 2 consecutive tax years in which no contribution has been paid or credited immediately prior to you going abroad as a volunteer development worker, Comhlámh will pay Class A contributions for the first 26 weeks of your assignment. (Different rules can apply to civil servants.)

Scheme's 5-year limit

VDW credits can only be awarded for a maximum of 5 years. Different periods of work as a volunteer development worker (VDW) are aggregated for the purpose of calculating the 5 years. For example, if you were a VDW for 3 years previously, and wish to go abroad as a VDW for another 3 years, you will only qualify for VDW credits for 2 years of your second assignment.

Where the period of your assignment abroad exceeds 5 years, you will, where possible, be awarded VDW credits for the period that is most beneficial to you.

Career breaks and social insurance contributions

Volunteer development workers who avail of career breaks from their normal employment in order to work abroad should contact their local social welfare office or Intreo centre if they are not re-employed immediately after their assignment ceases.

The general rule is that returned volunteer development workers are entitled to claim Jobseeker's Benefit if the period of their career break has expired and there is no work available from their previous employer. However, if the period of the career break has not expired, you will not be entitled to claim.

How to apply

You can apply for credited contributions by completing Form VOL DEV 1 (pdf). Completed forms should be returned to your sending agency, which will in turn forward it to Comhlámh. Ensure that you quote your correct Personal Public Service Number (PPS Number) when you complete the form.

Comhlámh then validates the credentials of the sending agency and verifies that you are working overseas on volunteer terms.

Following validation, Comhlámh contacts the Special Collection Section of the Department of Social Protection and the period of your assignment is noted by this office.

You can find more information about the Volunteer Development Worker scheme on the Department of Social Protection website.

Where to apply

Special Collection Section

Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection

Social Welfare Services Office
Cork Road

Tel: (01) 471 5898 (If calling from outside the Republic of Ireland please call + 353 1 471 5898)
Locall: 1890 690 690 (Note: the rates charged for using 1890 (Lo-call) numbers may vary)


12 Parliament Street
Dublin 2

Tel: +353 (0)1 478 3490

Page edited: 16 December 2014