Guide to Working Abroad: Red Cross

Get your foot in the door of the world’s largest humanitarian network and travel for good.

Working with Red Cross Red Crescent

In 1859, thousands of Italian, Austrian, and French soldiers died at the Battle of Solferino, some because they didn’t have access to immediate medical care. Moved by the carnage, Swiss businessman Henry Dunant worked to set up national relief organizations, known as Red Cross Societies, for soldiers returning from war. Dunant’s movement spread, and in the 1880s, the red crescent emblem was introduced and used alongside the iconic red cross. Today there are 188 individual Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies.

These national societies make up one part of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. The movement also encompasses the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Combined, these organizations form the largest humanitarian network in the world.

Keeping it Real

Keeping it Real

Working or volunteering with Red Cross Red Crescent is as real as it gets. Their main mission is to provide aid through the protection of life and health—and to uphold the dignity of those affected by armed conflict and other disasters. Each branch of the movement has specific objectives, carried out by completely independent teams of employees and volunteers.

National Societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent
National Societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent

Millions of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers work in their home countries across the globe. The American Red Cross (ARC), among other things, provides assistance for victims of natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes. Volunteers work closely with survivors and members of the greater community. This type of volunteering is an essential test run to see if a career in international humanitarian work is up your alley. There are ARC opportunities in communities all across the States.

International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies
International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies

Founded in 1919, the IFRC acts as a parent organization to Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies across the world. Job postings change depending on need, but they range from a Reporting Delegate to a Health Coordinator to an IT and Telecommunications guru. You’ll need experience working with humanitarian organizations (like the American Red Cross) if you want to apply. Postings are located everywhere, from Switzerland to Senegal, and Bolivia to Bangladesh. The IFRC doesn’t assign international volunteerships, or coordinate exchanges between national societies.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

More than 12,000 people work in 80 countries under the umbrella of the ICRC. The Committee coordinates field missions meant to alleviate the suffering caused by armed conflict, and deploys workers to emergency zones at the drop of a hat. ICRC staff members are trained professionals who apply for posts around the world as psychologists, surgeons, translators, and agricultural engineers. They work with local law enforcement to maintain international human rights law, and visit detainees or prisoners of war. The ICRC also oversees a program to maintain water supplies and sanitation in conflict zones under its Water and Habitat Unit.

The Bad News First

The Bad News First

While the intention of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is always to do good, individual organizations have faced criticism for negligence and lack of forethought. The American Red Cross has faced fire for mixing up samples from blood drives, and individual chapters were caught not using 9/11 fundraising money for its intended purpose. International Red Cross Red Crescent organizations have been tainted with similar corruption. Sometimes their efforts can create new problems when staff and local volunteers finish their posts and go home.


….And the Good News

….And the Good News

On the other hand, because Red Cross Red Crescent staff consists of highly trained professionals and local volunteers, any one of their organizations offers on-the-ground, hands-on, and rewarding work. Despite corruption allegations and serious human error, Red Cross Red Crescent work is committed to a deep-rooted understanding of the community it serves.

Working with the Red Cross is a prestigious gig, and can be a perfect fit if you’re looking to settle down abroad. It’s not going to be easy, and you’ll see a lot more blood than cute animals and scenic beaches. But in the end, knowing you’re making an effort to change the world in a positive way, in combination with having the opportunity to travel as a career, is really rewarding.

*OTP is not affiliated with, nor sponsored by, the Red Cross Red Crescent