How to Become an International Volunteer

An international volunteer from Chile worked with sea lions at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
A veterinarian from Chile volunteered at Golden Gate National Recreation Area and helped with sea mammal rescues.

NPS Photo.

Wondering how to become an international volunteer in US national parks? The National Park Service manages more than 400 national parks within the US and its territories. If you are not a US permanent resident, you may be able to volunteer with National Park Service’s International Volunteers in Parks (IVIP) program, which is managed by the agency’s Office of International Affairs.

Getting Started

Getting ready for an international volunteer position requires advanced planning and time. Allow at least two to three months for the entire process, including finding a volunteer position, filling out the proper forms, and applying for a visa (usually a J1 visa). It is also important to coordinate with the National Park Service’s International Volunteer Coordinator who will help you throughout this enter process.

It is important to read the entire step-by-step process below, which the International Volunteer Coordinator will also help guide you through. We can only accept applicants who meet Department of State Requirements for a J-1 or F-1 visa.

Who Can Be an International Volunteer?

To become an IVIP with the National Park Service, you must:

  • be either a university student majoring in natural or cultural resources or another park related subject (i.e., teaching, communications), or...

  • a professional working at a national park, protected area or cultural site

  • speak English.

  • have resources to support yourself financially, which may include your travel, housing, food, and other personal needs. (Some parks may have housing available.)

  • agree to return home after your volunteer program to share your new skills.

Steps to Apply, Find an International Volunteer Position, and Obtain a Visa

To become a volunteer through the IVIP program, follow the steps listed below in order. Please note that foreign nationals currently in the US may have a different process.

The National Park Service’s International Volunteer Coordinator will navigate you through the process of becoming a volunteer, including finding opportunities, going over required documents and insurance, and coordinating with the national park hosting you.

The International Volunteer Coordinator will help determine if you are eligible for a J-1 visa for volunteering with the National Park Service by assessing your background, interests, budget, and professional and immigration history. (You can also be eligible with an F-1 visa if you are already attending university in the US.)  

You will be asked to submit the following to make that determination: 

  • copy of passport  
  • resume or CV 
  • official copies of university transcripts, university degrees or proof of employment 
  • proof of outside personal funding, if any, that will be used to support the program (bank statements, notice of scholarship or government funding, or signed letter from an employer stating support for a volunteer program) 
  • English Proficiency Test Results (if not your first language)   

If you meet the requirements to receive a J-1 visa or already have an F-1 visa, the International Volunteer Coordinator will help to find a national park to host you. You can also search for open volunteer positions on and share your preferences with the International Volunteer Coordinator. 

The International Volunteer Coordinator will then contact the park about the volunteer position. If the park agrees to host you as a volunteer, the International Volunteer Coordinator will contact you with an offer. Please wait to make travel plans until you have been notified because there is no guarantee of your selection for the volunteer position until the offer. 

Before the National Park Service can sponsor you for a J-1 visa, you must submit proof of medical insurance to the International Volunteer Coordinator. The medical insurance must meet these US State Department requirements:  

  • Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness 
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000 
  • Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000 
  • A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness 

Since the National Park Service is a J-1 visa sponsor, we are able to issue a J-1 visa certificate called a DS:2019 form. Once you submit your medical insurance, the International Volunteer Coordinator will send you a J-1 visa certificate. You must have this form to obtain the visa. 

Go to the US Embassy’s website in your country and fill-out at the DS:160 online application. You will need the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number, which is on the upper right corner on the DS:2019 form. After you are finished, make an online appointment with the US Consulate. Plan ahead as it may take four to six weeks to obtain an appointment.  

Got to your appointment with the US Embassy You will need to take your DS-2019 form to the interview, which the Consulate will use to process your visa. 

Once you have your visa and start date for your position, arrive at the park. Your volunteer coordinator will notify the International Volunteer Coordinator of your arrival.  

Last updated: May 5, 2023