About these FAQs
These FAQs complement the publication 'Your Pay and Benefits at MSF: A Guide for International Field Staff'. We recommend you read the publication before these FAQs.
If you don’t find the information you need either in the Guide or in the FAQs below:
- For general questions about the remuneration system: submit your question here
- For questions about your personal situation: contact your contracting section or operational centre to find out who to ask.
Global Base Salary
The global salary grid is the salary grid that sets the global base salary of every MSF international field staff member, according to the job they do.
The global salary grid:
- Has seven levels + indemnity level
- Has an entry, mid and upper point for each salary level, to allow MSF to reward staff as they gain experience in their job
- Is set in Euros and converted to contracting currencies once per year (so salaries do not fluctuate during the year)
The global base salary may be complemented by a home-based top-up, depending on the staff member’s country of domicile. See below.
There are two main factors that help MSF define the global salary grid. They are:
- International NGO salary market data: each year, consultancy firm Birches provides us with global, international NGO salary information for a range of jobs. MSF aims to position its salary grid modestly compared to the international NGO market.
- MSF remuneration principles and reward policies: these values influence how we design and maintain our salary model, including where we position our salaries compared to the international market, how we value experience and loyalty, and how modest salaries should be, among others.
Budget considerations are also taken into account for annual decisions on salary adjustments and in the event of any changes to remuneration system policies.
In MSF’s previous remuneration system, there were only three salary levels. With the introduction of the current system, the number of salary levels increased to seven. This enabled us to better differentiate salaries between key types of positions whilst retaining simplicity, which is essential for the system to function efficiently. Having one salary level for every function level would have been inefficient to administer, whilst offering few real benefits to staff.
With the current set up, at least 94% of international field staff receive salary levels 2 and above, and the vast majority move to a higher salary level when they change jobs. This is because natural career progression typically is not from one function level to the next, but up several function levels e.g. from Nursing Team Supervisor (function level 8, salary level 1) to Nursing Activity Manger (function level 10, salary level 2).
The current global salary grid amounts are available on this website.
The global salary grid amounts are defined in euros, MSF’s common currency, however currencies of payment vary between contracting sections. The International Office therefore provides each contracting section with total salary amounts converted into the local currency, once a year. Salaries in local currencies therefore do not fluctuate during the year.
The current international pay and benefits system (also known as IRP2) was implemented across MSF in July 2014. Any staff member that joined MSF since July 2014 has a contract (and salary) based on the current system.
For the majority of staff members who were already working for MSF in July 2014, the transition to the current pay and benefits system resulted in an increase in salary (compared to the previous system - IRPI). However, for some, the change would have resulted in a salary decrease. In these cases, MSF committed to guarantee the previous (IRPI) salaries until the staff members’ salaries under the current system (IRP2) surpass them.
When you sign a new contract with MSF, a process called ‘scaling’ assesses your previous experience to ascertain:
- how much relevant experience (international NGO field, MSF national field or MSF HQ) you have, to determine your indemnity period (if you haven’t completed this yet)
- how much experience you have doing the ‘same’ job as the one you will do internationally for MSF, to determine your position within your salary level.
Scaling will be done by your managing or contracting section, based on common MSF scaling guidelines. An MSF HR staff member uses information from your curriculum vitae, your completed ‘scaling form’ and supporting documents, and makes careful judgments to measure your prior experience.
It is the period of time at the start of employment as an MSF international field staff member that the staff member receives a fixed initial starting salary (lower than a level 1 salary), irrespective of the job they are doing.
The duration is a maximum of 12 months (i.e. 12 months’ work, as time between contracts does not count), but may be less if you have previous experience working in the field with another NGO, as an MSF national staff member or MSF headquarters staff member (see below for further explanation).
The indemnity period comes from MSF’s principle of ‘volunteerism’. It is intended to remove economic barriers for people to volunteer with MSF, whilst at the same time being modest enough to help foster a culture of humanitarian motivation and distinguish salaries between short- and long-term involvement with MSF.
- Experience as an MSF international or national field staff member in any job will count to your indemnity period at a rate of 100% (i.e. for every month you work in the field for MSF, you will be one month closer to completion of your indemnity period).
- Experience working internationally in the field with another NGO: counts at a rate of 50% e.g. for 12 months of such experience, the indemnity period would be reduced by 6 months
- Experience as an MSF HQ staff member in any job: counts at a rate of 50% e.g. for 12 months of such experience, the indemnity period would be reduced by 6 months
MSF recognises experience working and living in contexts that were largely unfamiliar to the staff member, traditionally abroad and in developing countries, for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are operational with humanitarian, relief or development programs. Although not NGOs, UN and governmental aid agencies are included in this definition due to the similar nature of activities in countries of operations. MSF excludes experience in developing countries in the private sector.
It is also essential that the person was stationed in the location in question for the duration of the assignment. Repeated visits to the field do not count; physical presence must be continuous. The concept of international aid worker has become synonym of leaving your home and job to respond to those affected by conflict, emergencies and natural disasters in a spirit of solidarity with the populations affected.
After completion of your indemnity period (or 12 months of work as time between missions doesn't count), you will automatically start to be paid the salary level for your job.
Our international field staff members come from more than 140 countries, but also work in a global market of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Applying MSF’s principle of equity to salaries therefore requires the right balance between the international NGO salary market and the local labour market in an employee’s place of domicile.
The purpose of this top-up is to help account for the wide variances in local labour markets in people’s home countries. In addition to salary variances, home country costs often continue while you’re on a field assignment and it’s where you will incur costs when you return.
Read more on the history of the current international remuneration system on the homepage of this site.
The home-based top-up is a fixed amount (not job dependent) that varies per country of domicile. To determine which countries receive a top-up and the top-up amounts, MSF looks at local labour market information for the different countries from which MSF employs people. This data is provided to us annually by consultancy firm Mercer and covers more than 140 countries.
We compare Mercer data with average MSF total pay for salary level two (including global base salary, loyalty bonus, per diem and accommodation on mission). When the 25th percentile of salaries in a local market is higher than MSF total pay a top-up is paid to staff domiciled there. There is a calculation used to define the exact top-up amount.
Typically, the higher the salary market, the lower MSF salaries are positioned compared to local salaries (and thus, the greater the need for a top-up). Currently, international staff members from 26 countries receive a top-up. You can see a list of the countries currently receiving a top-up here.
The top-up is also paid during the indemnity year (for those same 26 countries), however the amount is 23% lower than the regular top-up amount for each country.
If salary data from Mercer doesn’t exist for a certain market, MSF examines other sources of information, including salary benchmarking studies performed by MSF Norway (where there is a dedicated Benchmarking Unit for MSF).
MSF defines your place of domicile as the country in which the heart of your personal vital interests is located. It’s usually the country where you have chosen to live on a more permanent basis.
There are many factors that help define your domicile, which can include where you pay taxes, where you own or rent a house on a long-term basis, where you’re legally able to work, where your dependent family is located, where you would want to be repatriated to in case of a medical evacuation, where you’re enrolled to vote, or where your bank accounts are located, among others.
Your place of domicile will be defined before you sign your first contract with MSF.
Your place of domicile can change if you permanently change the country in which your personal vital interests are located. If this happens, it may impact the setup of your contract e.g. the country your contract is issued by and therefore your social benefits and some insurances, along with home-based top-up and home base for travel. Usually, such changes take place between and not during field assignments.
For Medical Coverage, Short and Long Term Disability, Life Insurance (All Causes), Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D), and Lost and Stolen Luggage/Items Insurance, MSF is covered by Allianz, administered by MSH.
Note: Two contracting sections use different providers for all or part of the coverage:
- MSF USA for medical coverage (through Cigna)
- MSF Switzerland (all areas): when the expat is a Swiss resident, check with the HR Admin unit at OCG for details.
For Medical Evacuation/Repatriation, MSF contracts the services of a specialised provider, currently ISOS, used by all OCs under one global agreement.
If you are on an international field staff on a field contract with MSF, you are covered by insurance for the duration of your contract. Your medical cover continues for three months after the end of your contract:100% medical cover and for short term disability the level of benefit payable will be set at a rate of 60% of the relevant Reference Salary.
MSH: Every MSF international staff member covered by the provider MSH will receive login credentials to the MSH insurance portal (login via the Participant’s Pages). Here you will be able to read the insurance policies you are covered for, as well as make medical claims or contact MSH directly for more assistance (with the exception of dental claims, which you can contact your HR field administrator about).
Claims for lost or stolen luggage or personal items can also be made to MSF through a claim form (unless they happen during your flight, in which case the airline is the first line for making a claim).
Those on contract with MSF USA or MSF Switzerland should contact their HR Admin Unit for details on how to make an insurance claim.
You are covered for the following:
- Short- & long-term disability
- Medical evacuation / repatriation
- Medical malpractice
Read more information here about the pension policy and speak to the HR referent in your contracting section for the specific details of your contract. Also, see below for specific pension provisions for non-contracting resident staff.
At present, each OC offers a retirement benefit to non-contracting residents (see FAQ on contracting below), either in cash or as per its current practice for international staff that are residents in the OC location. Retirement benefits for NCR staff on mission are as follows:
OCA: Provides access to the MSF Holland pension plan.
OCB: Provides access to MSF Belgium’s pension plan with Integrale (an external plan provider).
OCG, OCP and OCBA: Provide a cash benefit with a minimum contribution.
MSF’s goal for retirement benefits is to be able to provide all NCRs, regardless of where they are domiciled or contracted, with a harmonised retirement benefit, which would facilitate their mobility within MSF and make treatment more consistent.
An extensive search for a solution to that would allow for a fully harmonised retirement benefit was unfortunately unsuccessful in 2016-2017. However, the search is continuing.
Yes, you will receive bank/national holidays set by your contracting section.
Circumstantial leave, such as in the event of death or serious illness of particular family members, is determined by your operational center/managing section, since this is the office that manages your assignment.
There is a minimum of 14 weeks of fully paid maternity leave provided in the international staff remuneration policy. It may be more though, depending on the law or customs within your contracting section country. Refer to your contract for more information.
There is no global/international policy regarding paternity leave. Paternity leave is decided by each contracting section based on national law or customs.
The Home Child Allowance (HCA) is financial support for dependent children remaining in their country of domicile. It is a monthly amount paid with the international staff member’s salary (if they are eligible, see below) for dependent children who remain in their country of domicile.
The HCA is provided to staff with dependent children remaining in the country of domicile, and who are:
- engaged as ‘Vocationers’ (except when accompanied by their family), or
- on a Long-Term Assignment contract (i.e. an up-front commitment of 12 months or more), under specific conditions defined by the operational centres
The HCA is specifically set up to facilitate the on-going flexible involvement of Vocationers, and to make it easier for other international staff to undertake certain Long Term Assignment contracts without accompanying dependents. The HCA is not a general family allowance.
The HCA cannot be combined with accompanying dependent coverage within the same assignment. i.e. a person cannot receive a Home Child Allowance for one child while getting the dependent package for other dependents (partner and/or children) in the field.
Further details on the HCA are available here.
All international field staff members are paid base salaries according to the same annual global salary grid (+ home-based top-up, if applicable). If a 13th month salary (or 14th or 15th month, in some countries) is traditionally provided (or legally required), the total annual salary paid will be the same as for other staff (i.e. the monthly amounts will be adjusted accordingly e.g. annual salary ÷ 13).
The specific training opportunities and policies for international field staff vary from one contracting section and operational centre to another. You should contact your career manager or HR referent to find out more about these opportunities.
You can also find the training opportunities provided by your operational centre online, via the links below:
OCB: HR.NET Training Docs Expats
OCG: Learning brochure
Your luggage allowance should be strictly adhered to when preparing to leave on assignment because (even if an airline allows additional luggage or you wish to pay for it yourself):
- your final destination is likely to be in a remote location that requires additional transit by another mode of transportation with limited capacity, such as a small plane; and/or
- if there is any additional luggage capacity provided by the airline, this may be used by MSF for accompanied project shipments
You can read more about the luggage policy here.
The stability of human resources in our field projects is a priority for MSF because it’s ultimately our people that enable us to deliver our social mission. Our special benefits packages have been designed to help attract and retain experienced, skilled and committed staff.
Long-Term Assignment (LTA) contracts are available to MSF international field staff members who are willing to commit to a contract of 12 months or more on a single assignment. You can read more about this contract type here.
There are stricter criteria to become a ‘vocationer’ or ‘emergency team’ member at MSF. These kinds of contracts require MSF experience and are by invitation only. You can read more about this here.
For a table comparing the benefits according to different contracts, see Special Packages in the pay and benefits guide. You can also read more about LTA contracts, Vocationer contracts or Emergency Team contracts here.
The purpose of our special benefits packages is to encourage and recognise the up-front longer-term commitments of staff, which provides our field projects with stability of staffing.
It is more helpful for our workforce planning when a staff member is able to make an up-front commitment of 12 months (i.e. through a ‘Long Term Assignment’ contract), than if a staff member starts on a shorter length (i.e. Intermissioner) contract and then extends their time. MSF’s policy is to encourage and reward this through a special benefits package.
That being said, MSF also values the commitment shown by staff on Intermissioner contracts who extend their service, and the stability this also brings to field missions. MSF recognises this by providing an additional visit home to those who do so.
Your per diem is a lump-sum intended to contribute to (not fully cover) your basic personal expenses while on assignment. An explanation on the policy and process for defining per diem amounts is available here.
If MSF has agreed to support your family relocating with you, they will receive a per diem, called the Family Field Allowance. You can find out more about this here.
Housing and transportation
Basic and secure living quarters are provided by MSF. In most cases, this will be together with your MSF colleagues; however, the setup depends on the mission.
Since communal living can be difficult for long periods of time, in some missions, Coordinators on longer assignments (usually more than 24 months) may be provided with individual living quarters, where possible. There may generally also be separate housing provided for families, where possible.
In addition to transportation to and from your mission country, MSF also provides all your work-related transportation within your mission country (e.g. from your accommodation to your workplace each day). The means of transportation (e.g. taxi, MSF vehicle, etc) will vary between missions.
Unless you are accompanied by your family, if you go on an assignment more than 12 months long, you will typically have the opportunity to visit your place of domicile (and travel back to your mission country again) at least once.
You can read more details under ‘additional returns’, here. Refer to Family Benefits below for visits home if your family accompanies you on assignment.
Whether MSF permits your family to accompany you to the field will depend on:
- the security conditions in the country you will be working in
- the duration of your contact (typically assignments of more than 12 months in the same mission country)
- your position (typically for Coordinators only)
- the approval of your operational centre.
If MSF has agreed to support your family relocating with you, in addition to the costs of visas, airfares and vaccinations, they will receive various family benefits, such as a field allowance (per diem), individual housing, and school fees or childcare contributions. You can find out more about each of these benefits here.
When possible, MSF issues contracts for international field staff in their place of domicile because this enables staff to benefit from their local social security system. However, in MSF’s current organisational structure, only 19 offices contract staff directly (see below).
If you are domiciled in a country where there is no MSF contracting office, you will receive a contract from the operational centre you’re working for (e.g. Operational Centre Geneva will issue you with a Swiss contract, Operational Centre Paris will issue you with a French contract, etc). At MSF, we call staff that are contracted in this way ‘non-contracting resident’ staff (NCR staff). NCR staff members are paid their salaries in the currency of the operational centre, and receive a contribution towards retirement. Many (but not all) NCR staff members also pay their own taxes.
The five OC sections:
- MSF Holland contracts those with domicile in Holland, and non-contracting resident staff (NCRs) working for OCA
- MSF Belgium contracts those with domicile in Belgium, and NCRs working for OCB
- MSF France contracts those with domicile in France, and NCRs working for OCP
- MSF Spain contracts those with domicile in Spain
- MSF Switzerland contracts those with domicile in Switzerland, and NCRs working for OCG and OCBA (under a separate type of contract and set of conditions specific to OCBA NCR staff)
14 of the partner sections/branch offices:
- MSF Australia contracts those with domicile in Australia and in New Zealand
- MSF Austria contracts those with domicile in Austria
- MSF Canada contracts those with domicile in Canada
- MSF Denmark contracts those with domicile in Denmark
- MSF Germany contracts those with domicile in Germany
- MSF Greece contracts those with domicile in Greece
- MSF Italy contracts those with domicile in Italy
- MSF Japan contracts those with domicile in Japan
- MSF Luxembourg contracts those with domicile in Luxembourg
- MSF Norway contracts those with domicile in Norway
- MSF South Korea contracts those with domicile in South Korea
- MSF Sweden contracts those with domicile in Sweden
- MSF UK contracts those with domicile in the UK and in Ireland
- MSF USA contracts those with domicile in the US
Several factors influence whether an MSF office will contract international field staff. These could include legal constraints (e.g. in some countries it’s not possible to contract a person locally to work in a foreign country) and administrative feasibility (such as whether the administrative requirements and costs to be able to do so are warranted if a country only has a very small number of international field staff originating there).