Contract Types and Levels at the UN

PLEASE NOTE: This is an outdated post by now! The newer version of this post is here:

Lately there were some questions on UN contract types and their meaning so I will try to summarize the situation as I see it. For everything I say, remember, that I don’t work in HR and also that this is my personal view of the topic. I don’t pretend to cover all aspects of this topic but if you feel that I should add something, please leave a comment below.

Contract Types

The first thing is that there are very many different kinds of contracts in the UN. In fact many people lost track of what the exact differences between the contract types are and I experienced examples where even the same contract type had different meanings in one organization. I guess the easiest distinction for now is the duration the contract is intended for.

Permanent Contracts
On the top of the list for this are the “Permanent Contracts” that the Secretariat offers. However to my knowledge these contracts are only given out to people who successfully competed in the National Competitive Recruitment Examinations (NCRE). So unless you fulfill the criteria to compete in the NCRE you can neglect this contract type.

Fixed Term Contracts
Next in line are “Fixed Term Contracts” those are the typical jobs that you find all over the system. The duration of any contract is usually a year or two and even though it is sometimes stated differently in the legal fine-print these contracts are pretty good in terms of job security since most of these contracts are renewed without too many questions asked. An interesting curiosity with Fixed Term Contracts is that some of these can be project-funded. These contracts have then slightly different terms and benefits.

Temporary Contracts
Temporary contracts such as “Assignment for limited durations (ALD)” or “Temporary Fixed Term (TFT)” are still staff contracts but are clearly time-bound and typically don’t carry all the benefits of Fixed Term contracts. And even though these contracts can be extended there is usually a limited (e.g. 3 or 4 years) after which the same person is not allowed to be on the post any longer. If you are on an ALD and you hit the limit you have to take a “Break in Service” of a time determined by the organization.

Consultant Contracts
In this category things get really messy. First of all there is a very wide variety of contracts available and then the conditions for these can be quite different. Then, some organizations see consultant contracts not as HR contracts and governs them under the organizations procurement rules. Typically these contracts carry little employee benefits. Consultant contracts are time-bound, often short-term and often have break in service rules, too. The usually allow for more flexibility in salary negotiations. Examples for these contracts are the “Special Service Agreements (SSA)”, “Individual Contractors Agreement (ICA)” and others.

Contract Levels
Within all these contracts different levels apply. Roughly there are two big categories. The first is the General Services category (sometimes also referred to as Local) up to ICS 7 and then the Professional (or International) category usually starting at ICS 8/9. The basic logic is that certain jobs don’t require an international. For example it doesn’t really make sense to pay a lot of money to employ an administrative clerk on an international level since there are usually skilled people for this job locally available. If you are on a national contract you can expect to stay in the country and you will not be required to move. If you are on an international contract you can be re-assigned to any other place in this world easily (a fact that is often forgotten and that regularly leads to conflict if one actually tries to re-assign internationals).
The line between these two categories is not always easy to draw. For instance there is a major difference between Copenhagen and New York where many nationals in Copenhagen execute jobs that would be on an international level in New York. As a rule of thumb jobs that require a Master’s equivalent degree are international whereas local jobs required secondary education or Bachelor’s degrees.

For an overview over what the level and the contract type equivalents roughly are please check out the UN Job List Search page (scroll down). To estimate what your Salary could look like use the UNDP Salary Calculator.

52 responses

  1. Hi Sebastian, great post as always.

    RE categories: during my time at WFP HQ in Rome local (“General Service”) jobs were only available to those who had the right to work in Italy. If GS jobs were open worldwide I am sure that they would receive many applications from abroad, even given the lack of relocation and other benefits – people just want to work for the UN.

    What is the reason for the restriction? It makes me think that perhaps there was a political motive, maybe to ensure that some local labour is taken on. If that is the case, the European Union messed things up a little – the WFP GS staff is thronged with nationals of all the other 26 EU countries, exercising their right to free movement of labour within the Union.

  2. Hi Filip,

    I think that one has to be seen the other way round (and again, put my disclaimer on it, I’m not a legal expert either 😉 )
    If you employ people in a country you firstly have to abide by the country’s rules. Now, the UN is different and has a lot of exceptions which are usually regulated via a host agreement with the country that the UN is in.
    If you follow the logic that national staff should not be recruited internationally it makes sense to use the national rules for employment. From this perspective it makes sense that there is no exemption from national work permits for national staff. From this perspective I don’t think it is a political move to actively exclude people. But then again, I’m not a lawyer so take this with a grain of salt…

    Cheers, Sebastian

  3. Hi

    could someone explain to me wath is the difference betwen P and L contract categories.



  4. Hello,
    i have always wanted to understand the post levels i see in un vacancies,thanks to you i know what some of them mean now.
    I just applied for a vacancy with post level NOB,what does it mean??????????????

  5. Hi Victor

    In my understanding, L-Posts are project funded posts and translate to a 200 Series contract. They are almost the same as the 100 Series contracts and also in the Fixed Term category. The exact differences can be explained by HR and are in details as the (sometimes?) the order of retention etc. But in my mind they are virtually the same.

  6. Hi Adedoyin,

    the way I understand National Officers (NO contracts) the work like Fixed Term contracts but are open only for nationals of the country the are advertized in. I believe (and again I’m by no means an expert in this area) that they carry not as much benefits as Fixed Term contracts but are not international contracts, in other words NOs are typically not reasigned to other countries. NOB should be on a P3 level (roughly) but as a general hint – know what you apply to! You can save yourself and the organisation the effort if you know and understand specifically what you applied to!

  7. Hi all,
    What is the different in salary and benefits b/w a P-3 and a L-3? For how long can the contract (L-3) be extended? Does it only last accordingly to the project budget?

  8. Hi!
    When you say the local contracts do not carry all the benefits and entitlements of the international ones, would that also mean that if a local goes to an international contract, he/she starts with a “clean slate”? I.e. you’d have to resign from the local contract and entitlements such as leave will be paid out? Or would it be carried over to the next contract? BUT then what about limitations such as I think for the first two years of contract you can only accumulate 45 days….but if you left with say 60… what happens?
    Same question for what if a person goes from series 100 to series 200?

  9. Hi Chantal,

    good questions 🙂 I would ask them to my HR adviser 🙂
    Seriously, it varies quite a bit from organisation to organisation. Often times you start from a clean slate and I’m not sure what can be paid out. In terms of total leave days there is usually a maximum of 60 leave days one can accumulate. Depending on your contract type every year in March/April or when your contract years you normally lose all your leave above 60 days…

    100 to 200 series contract or vice versa should not be an issue.

  10. Hi,
    I would like to know the equivalent of a ALD3 Local Contract to a NO (National Officer) contracts. Possible to that ALD3 Local = NOC ?


  11. What do the following post levels mean?
    a) ALD
    b) SB-C
    c) NO-B
    d) SB3/III, this one says ‘service contract’, under contract type

  12. Hi Angeli,

    ALD is a temporary assignment (see above)

    SB are service contracts, similarly to SSA (see above) but usually limited to national staff and with some slightly different benefits. Those are not staff contracts.

    NO-B is a National Officer level B – a national staff contract approximately ICS 9 equivalent (don’t quote me I’m not working in HR!)

  13. Thank you Sebastian for the precious info!

    What about SC-5 / UNDP Service Contract, do you have any idea about this?

    Many Thanks!

  14. Does it help to join the UN on a non-staff contract to maybe secure a staff contract later. In other words does experience within the UN system, even as non-staff, help in your chances when applying for a staff/professional vacancy?

    • It’s not a clear-cut easy answer. There are many who made it via non-staff contract. But then there are many who remained on a non-staff contract for years. If you ask me, I would chose a professional level non-staff contract over a fixed-term GS level contract but both is not ideal at all.

    • SB is a Broadbanded Service Contract. It’s not like an SSA (or IC in the new terminology) but it is a local project staff contract with some limited benefits. It’s a broadbanded contract type so it could be higher than a GS3 but I’m not perfectly sure about that.

  15. Thanx for sharing that great info. I wanna know that i am newely appointed as united nations peacekeeping police advisor. We have the term of contract for 1 year,but, 1. if i want to extend it what would be best procedure? 2. And if i want to be permanent employee of united nations what should i follow?

    • Dear Zahid,

      I’m not sure which procedures apply for peacekeeping policy advisers. If you get a regular Fixed Term Contract you may(!) be extended depending on performance, need and available budget but that’s not a guaranteed given. If you want to become a Continuous Staff Member (what used to be a permanent contract) the most “safe” way to achieve that would be to pass the YPP (Young professional programme) of the UN. This, however, is extremely competitive and very hard to get (Also, keep in mind, I’m NOT the UN so I can’t give you definitive answers.. Good luck!

  16. Hi. I am curious about promotions and mobility within the system. I have been offered a P2 step 12, which means I am maxed out, so no within step increases for the duration of my FTA contract. However, what happens after the contract expires? Do I need to look and hope to find another position, or will WFP offer me follow on assignments? And how would I then get a P3 since I would have by that point served two years at P2 step 12 without any increase in pay? I am leaving my government’s service for this position and want to ensure I have job security and promotion potential. thanks in advance.

    • Organisations handle promotions differently. There are organisations that don’t promote at all and the way to get a better job is to apply for a better one. However, there is no “automation” in the system with regards to your steps: If you maxed out the steps you are not required to move on automatically. All it means is that you will stay at a step 12.

      The matter of job security is tricky: Unless you have a permanent contract strictly speaking nothing is secure. However in most cases jobs are decently secure even if you have fixed term appointments only.

  17. I am an [XXX] staff member, and i would like to fill in an application at inspira (a UN career and employment website). i need to know the category of my contract…

    the categories mentioned in the websites are:

    ASG, D, FS, G, I, IFLD, INT, L, LL, LT, NO, NPO, P, PIA, R, S, T, TC, UNV, USG.

    I currently have a 3 year a fixed term contract with [XXX].

  18. Dear Sebastian Rottmair,

    I am a Mongolian, and completed my PhD degree in Economics. Now I am looking forward for my future career in UN or other international organizations. However, in Mongolia, some vacancies are being announced and most of them require work experience. Since I have been studying for long time I don’t have much work experience.

    Hence, just I want to ask you what should I do? What is my best option to start my career in UN family or international organization?

    which of GS or SC contract is more suitable for my further career?

    I am looking forward for your reply,

    Thanking You


    • If you have a PhD from a university that’s on the UNESCO list, then I think that a GS level job is not for you. On the SCs you would need to make sure that it is high enough a job (check the requirements in the job description). However, keep in mind that the UN is also valuing experience and skills and not just academic degrees.

      • Thank you very much Sebastian,

        Yes the university is on the UNESCO list.

        Most of SC8 or other positions require minimum of 4 years experience.

        So, I should start earning experience, which is relevant.

        P1 or no experience required positions are hardly announced. However, the young professional programs can be one option to enter, but the examinations seem tough.

        Best Regards,


        • Yea, I know it is a tricky situation. Some times a PhD is counted as two years of experience so I would apply accordingly. But generally it is true that experience is needed. Good luck!
          PS: Just one last word of caution: don’t assume “it’s easier” to get a post outside the YPP – examination or not, it is very competitive to get any post.

  19. Hi Sebastian,

    The Salary Calculator does not work. Do you have another link whereby I could check out the payment scale.

    Thanks for the good job and keep up


  20. i didn’t find the meaning of “SB3-Peg3”.
    Can you help me, please? I wonder the qualification and the salary.
    Best Regards.

  21. Hi Seb,
    Can a G6 apply to a P3 GTA post within the Secreteriat?
    If affermative, after 2 years is he/she eligible for a P3 permanent post?

    • Sorry, I don’t know the details – there used to be a G to P exam but I’m not sure that’s still around. Typically it is a hard thing to do but if you fulfill the criteria, I wouldn’t see the point of denying you the chance. So I would always try: let them sort you out, don’t do it yourself.

  22. Hi Alex, As far as I understand, you can do the G to P exam after having worked in the GS for 5 years. I think it is officially the YPP Programme but different in that the age requirement doesn’t apply here.

  23. Hi!

    I saw two SB-5 positions,( for the same country and both were similar project positions) but one required minimum of 5 years work experience and the other 7 years. What could be the possible reason for differences in required years experience for the same level of posting?


  24. Hi,
    I have been offered a P3 Step 6 position in New York. Is it possible to negotiate for a better step?

  25. Hi

    I am curious to know what the conditions are for SSA. I have 2 specific questions.

    1. If the SSA is for a 2 month duration in a hazard area at a P level what is the entitlement in terms of hardship and post-adjustment.

    2. Is travel to a duty station considered part of the SSA contract.

    Is there anywhere I can find rules on SSAs in the UN system.

    Please advise


    • I would clarify both questions during the application process. Typically for SSA contracts there are no “additional” entitlements – often all is enclosed in the SSA fee.

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