Working overseas

There is plenty of valuable advice available if you are considering working abroad

Many recently qualified veterinary surgeons express an interest in working overseas as a volunteer to expand their knowledge and expertise and give something back by helping a community.

The BVA Overseas Group has a lot of first-hand advice and guidance from vets who have worked in often challenging circumstances to help you decide where you want to go and more importantly, be fully prepared.

Before considering a post overseas

  • Speak to someone who has done similar work
  • Check on the credentials of the organisation you want to work with
  • Familiarise yourself with the country where the work is to be done, including its cultural traditions and languages(s)
  • Make sure you are mentally and physically fit for the responsibilities and lifestyle involved

The Overseas Group can usually put you in touch with someone who has served as a volunteer and, even if this has not been with your organisation or in the country in which you intend to work, such exposure is invaluable. Always try and get an independent assessment rather than relying on online research.

Advice on working in different countries, their visa and other requirements, can be obtained from the relevant embassy or from gov.uk

Read the rest of this article by John E Cooper DTVM FRCPath FIBiol FRCVS and Margaret E Cooper LLB FLS

Practical guidance on working overseas

Before considering a post overseas by John E Cooper DTVM FRCPath FIBiol FRCVS and Margaret E Cooper LLB

EMS overseas by the BVA Overseas Group

Cat neutering programmes by Jenny Remfry VetMB BSc PhD MRCVS on behalf of SNIP International

Street dog population control by Kathy Anzuino BVM&S, CertWEL, MRCVS

Donkeys by Joe Anzuino BVM&S MRCVS, The Donkey Sanctuary

Contributing to animal welfare in developing countries by Sean Wensley BVSc MSc MRCVS

Taking medicines overseas by the BVA Overseas Group

Equipment – when working in the field by John E Cooper DTVM FRCPath FIBiol FRCVS & Zoe Belshaw BA VetMB MRCVS

Importing animal products from abroad for research purposes in the UK by Adele Williams BVSc MRCVS

Personal safety guidelines adapted by SPANA from the Guidelines for US Peace Corps workers in Morocco

Health and safety by Margaret E Cooper LLB FLS

Insurance by BVA / Lloyd & Whyte Ltd

North Africa by Michael Crane

Nepal by Sue Guthrie BVetMed PhD MRCVS

India by Jack Reece BVSc BSc MRCVS

China by Zoe Belshaw BA VetMB MRCVS

Peru by Zoe Belshaw BA VetMB MRCV

Frequently Asked Questions

After qualifying I'm considering volunteering as a vet abroad. Would you recommend this or do you think I should get some experience in the UK first?

If you feel you need a break or you are very confident of your skills a short-term position overseas might be appropriate. Otherwise, it might be sensible to get some general practice experience and earn some money which you could then use to fund some overseas work

I’m a recent graduate with a few months’ experience working in a small animal practice in the UK. Would spending time abroad doing voluntary work - and perhaps the odd locum job - make it difficult for me to get a job when I return?

It depends on what you want to do when you come back. Veterinary employers like to employ people with a broad knowledge of the world and UK practices want competent, empathetic, trained vets. Travel is rarely held against you as long if you can show you used your time wisely and appropriately. The only reservation is that sometimes employers think you may want to go off again after a few months’ work.

If you are considering a more specialised internship/residency then more time in practice before you leave would be prudent as such positions are very competitive and attract people with considerable knowledge and experience.

Can I undertake locum work overseas as a new graduate?

Most locum agencies usually recommend two years post graduate work – but it would be best to check with the agencies direct.

I’m not British but have been studying at a UK vet school. Can I still receive help and advice from the BVA when I return to my home country? And can I still be a BVA member?

Yes. As you have studied for a degree entitling you to membership of the RCVS you are eligible to become a BVA member (see member benefits).

Much of the help and advice BVA offers is for members only. However you can keep in touch with overseas related issues through the Overseas Association - an informally structured networking group of veterinary surgeons, students, nurses and others who have an interest in overseas veterinary-related activities (mostly in developing countries). Regular newsletters and updates are circulated to members by email.

Are there companion animal opportunities in the developing world, other than neutering?

Many opportunities with companion animals in the developing world involve neutering, either through rescue organisations and sanctuaries or trap/neuter/release programmes. Other medical and surgical skills may be required depending on the organisation. Worldwide Veterinary Service organises placements for vets, vet nurses and students and also runs Animal Birth Control (ABC) courses in India.

For qualified vets, salaried veterinary positions sometimes arise for street dog population control schemes. Assistance is also occasionally requested from the UK for surgical specialists for short term work, particularly in private veterinary practices in middle income countries interested in developing their services, or through university veterinary faculties.

Opportunities also exist for qualified vets to work in zoonotic disease epidemiology, especially rabies (e.g. salaried posts for vets sometimes arise with development organisations).

If volunteering abroad is it best to go with a well established organisation?

If you have no personal experience of your destination country then, yes. It is wise to check out any organisation carefully and to consult volunteers who have recently worked with the organisation.

Are travel grants available to students to do clinical placements abroad?

Yes. Many travel grants are offered to undertake research projects abroad or to attend educational courses but some permit students to do clinical placements overseas. The Zebra Foundation, for example, will award grants to vet students who wish to practice at an institution specialising in zoological medicine. See details of grants available to vet students.

What is the Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA)?

The CVA is an association of over 50 national veterinary associations from developed and developing countries. Most are developing countries and within the Commonwealth but also includes countries such as Rwanda and Afghanistan. Most of the CVA’s practical help in villages is delivered by the national veterinary association.

What is the World Veterinary Association (WVA)?

The WVA is a federation of over 80 national veterinary medical associations throughout the world, established in 1863. It is the internationally recognised representative of global veterinary medicine and is committed to unifying the veterinary profession worldwide. The WVA works in the best, long-term interest of veterinarians, clients and world society and it has collaborative agreements with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The WVA promotes animal and human health and wellbeing through sustainable and humane use and management of animals, and it contributes to the protection and sustainability of the environment.

What is the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA)?

The WSAVA's primary purpose is to advance the quality and availability of small animal veterinary medicine and surgery. It fosters the exchange of scientific information, both between individual veterinarians and between veterinary organisations. WSAVA is an international network of 76 member associations and affiliated organisations, representing over 70,000 veterinarians globally.

Do I need to be a BVA member to get assistance from the BVA Overseas Group?

No. The purpose of the Overseas Group is to link the BVA and its members with veterinary associations, organisations and individuals throughout the developing world, and we therefore rely on our wider network of contacts to enable us to:

  • promote animal and human welfare in the developing world
  • encourage and facilitate the provision of veterinary services in the developing world, and
  • facilitate transfer of knowledge and expertise to and from the developing world

Whether you're a BVA member or not, you can keep in touch with overseas-related issues by signing up to the Overseas Association - an informally structured networking group of veterinary surgeons, students, nurses and others who have an interest in overseas veterinary-related activities (mostly in developing countries). Regular newsletters and updates are circulated to members by email.

If I move to Australia or North America can I still do continuing professional development that counts towards my CPD hours in the UK?

Yes, CPD can be done anywhere and still count. For further information on CPD visit the CPD for vets section at RCVS

Can I do my Professional Development Phase (PDP) abroad?

Yes. You just log on as you would in the UK. For further information about PDP see the CPD for vets section at RCVS

I’d like to work with wildlife abroad. What is the best way to get into this field?

Volunteer or even be prepared to pay your way. You are in competition with young vets from many countries including those from the countries where wildlife is found. You will stand the best chance if you can show that you already have wildlife experience and training. If you have no such experience, acquire some while you wait for an opportunity – for example, by working with your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. Consider doing a postgraduate qualification such as the MSc in Wild Animal Health at the Royal Veterinary College/Institute of Zoology.

Overseas veterinary associations

If you are thinking of working overseas we would encourage you to join the local veterinary association. They provide a good introduction into the veterinary profession of the country as well as useful contacts and resources.