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How can you reduce the cost of volunteer abroad?

Volunteer Abroad

There is no getting around the fact that volunteer abroad is expensive. If you do research online, you will find that program fees range from $300-$3000. This does not include the cost of your airfare, visa, vaccination, travel insurance and spending money. However, this is not a reason to panic or feel discouraged. Using just a few helpful tips, you can reduce the cost of volunteer abroad . In this article, we will explain to you how you can save money when it comes to volunteering abroad!

First, you need to know the total cost of volunteering abroad .

So, what is that magic number to the right of the equal sign that will determine if you can afford to volunteer abroad? If you’ve researched the cost of volunteer abroad, you’ve probably come across program fees advertised by volunteer organizations. However, do keep in mind that there are other expenses of volunteering abroad in addition to this fee that you need to factor into your budget.

Program Fees

Your program fee is the weekly fee that you pay to the volunteer organization. It generally covers accommodation, some meals, project expenses, airport pickup and insurance, although inclusions vary from program to program. It also covers the salary paid to your in-country coordinator and local staff members.


Program fees almost never cover airfare, and this will probably be your second biggest expense. Airfare can range from $500-$2000, depending on the location of your home country and volunteer abroad destination, airline chosen, and the time of year.


Volunteering abroad usually means traveling to a developing country with various health risks. You must protect yourself by getting the proper vaccinations, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and your doctor. The cost of vaccination varies according to your personal health and vaccination history and the country you’re traveling from (what the local rates are where you live, etc.).


Many countries require that you get a visa prior to entry. Some countries like Tanzania have a volunteer visa or a special permit, and other countries such as South Africa will grant automatic 3 month tourist visas upon entry if you are from the UK, USA or select other countries (meaning you’re exempt from needing to apply for a visa). Depending on where you are volunteering and how long you intend on staying, visa costs will vary.

Related to travel items

You will undoubtedly need to do some pre-trip shopping. Packing lists for developing countries can be quite extensive, ranging from the usual tourist gear (camera, electric adaptors, backpack) to outdoor/wilderness specific items such a mosquito net, flashlight or binoculars. Depending on where you are traveling to and what you already have, this could be a big or small investment.

Pocket expenses for travel/food

Depending on the cost of living in your volunteer destination, it’s a good idea to have $50-$200 set aside for food, travel and entertainment. Your program fees will likely include about 2 meals per day with your host family, but you will surely want to get out and explore the area on the weekend or your days off. You might have to figure out your own lunch on days you’re volunteering.

So how can you reduce the cost of volunteer abroad?

The only way to significantly reduce the cost of volunteer abroad is to cut expenses in all categories (program fee, visa, airfare, vaccination and pocket money). There’s not much you can do about any potential visa fees, but you can try to save money in the other areas.

Tips to reduce your program fees

Selecting the right affordable organization is the first step in planning your volunteer abroad experience, and probably the most important one in terms of saving money. The good news is, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for a good deal; your goal should be to find the best priced program with good ratings and online reviews.

Research first for price and inclusions

Research the internet, find volunteer organizations and write down their prices and what they include, making sure to find and add any hidden costs. Select the top 3 organizations based on your research and compare them to one another. Determine which ones have interesting projects in a country you’d really love to volunteer in.

Let the online reviews speak for the organization

Read what others are saying about the organizations and their experience on projects, and understand that not all reviews will be positive. If you read a negative review, how does the organization respond to it? Are they aggressive or apologetic? Take particular note of what volunteers are saying about the projects in your country of choice.

Check if your program fee is Tax deductible or organization is 501C3.

Tax deductibility means that you can most likely deduct your program fee from your income when filing taxes at the end of the year. This could really save you money on volunteer abroad; check your total income and find out how much of the program cost, if any, you can write off. Even if you can only save $200 on a $1000 program, it’s still worth looking into. Consult your accountant about the total amount you can save.IFRE volunteers is a 501 C 3, which means we give you a tax exemption letter to volunteer, so you can get a portion of your money back when filing your tax forms.

Travel in a group and ask for discount

If your friend(s) is also interested in volunteering abroad, you can apply as a small group and request that the organization give you some kind of discount. Even though at IFRE we offer the world’s most affordable fee program, we will still extend a discount of $50 each if you travel with one or more friends. This is the perfect opportunity to encourage the people closest to you to make a life changing decision to volunteer, and perhaps get a buddy for the road.

Check for last minute deals or specials

Many volunteer abroad organizations offer special promotion or last minute deals, so definitely check them out and see if the projects interest you.

How to reduce airfare when volunteering abroad

  • Buy your ticket in advance – do not wait until the last minute. This universal piece of advice is to always start looking a few months in advance, if possible.
  • Travel during the off-season. As much as you might want to traverse Africa during safari season or volunteer in the summer when you have a break from school, these are generally more expensive times to travel (although southern hemisphere countries such as Brazil may be cheaper in the summer, because it’s winter there). Perhaps you can get a decent deal at the tail end of a good season, or if you book far enough in advance. Try to find a healthy compromise between a good ticket price and a desirable time to be in that country.
  • Create a deal alert in Google and be on watch duty. This is simple, you can go to Google alerts https://www.google.com/alerts and in the “create an alert about” box you enter the words you want to get notifications for, which could be “good airline deals from Chicago to Kenya,” for example. The “show options” feature will allow you to monitor how often you get the alerts. Once this is set up, you will get email alerts periodically based on new searches that relate to your topic.
  • Check for last minute airfare deals or specials. Don’t think we are trying to confuse you; of course the best prices are usually found in advance, but airlines do occasionally run last minute specials so be on the lookout!
  • Fly with a low cost carrier such as Spirit Airlines, JetBlue or Southwest. However do be advised that some of these discount airlines (particularly Spirit) will charge you extra money for everything, even for small check-in and carry on luggage. Make sure to look for hidden fees.
  • Shop around for the lowest fare. Popular sites include Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz.
  • Consider flying into an alternate airport that’s closer to your destination. For example, in Costa Rica, it’s cheaper to fly to Liberia than San Jose if your volunteer project is in Guanacaste.

How to reduce the vaccination cost

If you’ve already selected a program, the Center for Disease Control (CDS) website is the best source for information on vaccines needed for your project destination:http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list . First, check to see which vaccinations you’ve already had and whether your current health insurance plan covers the ones you need. Consult your primary doctor if you don’t have a record of your immunizations. Most health insurance companies will cover basic vaccinations such as tetanus, diptheria and pertussis, and polio booster shots, which you might need. In some rare cases your insurance company might cover a rare travel-specific vaccination such as yellow fever.

In general, try to stick with a state or county health clinic, as opposed to a more costly private health clinic which is almost never covered by insurance. For US residents, the CDC site offers this directory if you wish to access your state’s department of health website. This is always a good place to start if you want to save money. Travel clinics can be found in online directories such as American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene or Yellow Fever Vaccination Clinics , which provide addresses and phone numbers to clinics directly.

How to reduce other costs of volunteer abroad

We’ve covered the big and unavoidable expenses, but there are still ways you can save in smaller areas such as passport fees, telephone/communication and travel items.

Travel Items (Clothing, electronics, outdoor gear, etc.)

It’s important to bring what you think or know you’ll need – items that are either unavailable in your host country or exorbitant in price; electronics, for example, tend to be very expensive in Central America, so don’t forget your iPhone charger(s) when traveling to Costa Rica. On the other hand, the only thing worse than over packing is overbuying before you travel, particularly if there are certain items that you can find real cheap in your host country. Do some research on this before you leave. Clothing can be cheaper in certain Asian countries, so you might be able to skip that trip to the fancy mall at home and wait to buy some artful summer clothing in Thailand.


Thanks to Skype, Facebook phone, FaceTime and Viber, you now have the privilege of free video chat with anyone in the world, as long as you have Wifi. We do recommend you get a local phone number in your host country to communicate with people there, such as your project coordinator, host family, new friends, etc. But, the days of expensive calls home are over, so use the internet to your advantage.


You can save money on your passport by applying in advance, and not at the last hour. There are a lot of online “middleman” companies that charge a service fee for easy and fast passport applications. Make sure to go to an official state or government site to avoid third party agencies. US citizens can click this for more information.

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