Volunteer in Mexico
Embrace and experience a new culture by volunteering in Mexico
- Embrace your humanitarian side by setting off on a trip of a lifetime to Mexico
- IFRE has been maintained a great reputation amongst volunteers since 2006
- Most affordable volunteer abroad in Mexico programs; start at just $258
- Give back to less fortunate and redeem endless rewards from your experience
Do you want to experience a vibrant culture in a beautiful setting, while lending a helping hand? Explore the Mayan, discover the diverse landscapes of Mexico and give back to those less fortunate by joining one of IFRE’s volunteer opportunities in Mexico.
Over 40% of Mexico’s population lives in poverty with over 10% in extreme poverty. Free education and healthcare are essential in the fight towards combating poverty, and in turn, education plays a role in protecting Mexico’s breathtaking natural landscapes and diverse cultures. Help change the lives of disadvantaged communities and enrich your life by volunteering in community and conservation projects, including medical projects, special education, and sea turtle conservation.
These projects can be combined with learning Spanish and travelling to see some of Mexico’s highlights. Request more information now to plan your next volunteer vacation!
Volunteer Work Projects and Locations
IFRE's Mexico volunteer program supports local schools, NGOs and conservation efforts. Volunteer projects are available in Melaque, Bucerias and Campamento Majahuas. In IFRE's volunteer Mexico program, you can use your skills, talents and experiences for the benefit of children, disadvantaged communities and conservation program.
Volunteer Program Fees & Dates:
Volunteer Program Dates
Most programs are available year-round. We recommend volunteers begin their placements on a Monday, scheduling their arrival and departure on the weekends. However, due to flight availability, particularly traveling internationally, start dates are flexible.
We ask that all volunteers ensure to communicate their arrival and departure plans clearly to their country coordinator to ensure transportation and accommodations are properly arranged.
Volunteer Program Fees
IFRE Volunteers strives to provide the lowest fees along with transparency to all of their volunteers!
- Affordable fees
- Registered non-profit for tax deductible fees
- Transparent transactions ensures volunteers they know where their money goes
- Proven quality and safety
IFRE Volunteers is proud to offer the world’s most affordable fee for international volunteering and as a 501(c)3 organization, your program fee will be tax deductible.
We are proud to focus on the humanitarian aspect of our business, not on profit. We strive to maintain affordable cost, particularly for volunteers; we recognize the value of your donated time and efforts.
We remain devoted to maintaining both the quality of the program and the safety of all volunteers involved.
IFRE fees comprise of two separate fees:
- Application fee of $299 USD (covers advertising, staff/office expenses, etc.)
- Weekly program fee paid directly to your project (covers room/board, field support, etc).
You will pay your fee directly to host families and projects. In this way, what you pay will go directly from you to the people who deserve it (not for profit).
|Weeks||Teaching English||Special Education||Sea turtle conservation|
- Mandatory Comprehensive Travel Insurance $3.49/day
Program Fees Cover:
- Accommodation (host family or camp)
- Food (3 local food a day)
- Airport pick up)
- Program Orientation
- In-country support
- Personalized project
- Pre-departure information
- Certificate of completion
- Fundraising ideas and letters
- Discount for returning volunteers
Program Fees Exclude:
- Personal expenses on soft drinks and foods
- Daily transportation
- Airport return transfer
The volunteering programs in Mexico fees will cover expenses that will begin on the first day of the program (usually the first or third Monday of the month) to the last day of the program. If you arrive before the first day of the program or you decide you stay beyond your program’s last day, you will be responsible for the additional expenses, which would typically be around $30 a day for room and meals at a hostel.
Arrangement of Room/Food/Supervision
IFRE manages living accommodations, provides meals and supervision for volunteers for the entirety of their stay in Mexico. During the volunteer period, volunteers will stay either with a host family or in a tented camp in the sea turtle project. Our host families in Mexico are wel-screened and they will offer you a safe and secure place to stay. Staying with a host family is also a wonderful opportunity to immerse in local language and practice Spanish. In the sea turtle project, volunteers will stay in tented camps inside the project and very close to the beach. There will be project staffs to prepare your meals and guide you through the project.
Unless otherwise specified by the volunteers, the main meal is served around 2 pm, usually consisting of various versions of a meat/chicken dish, served often with rice and beans or salad/other vegetables. Fish and shrimp are also popular with some families. Breakfast is often eggs/tortillas, fruit/yogurt or cereal and fruit, depending on the volunteers preferences and the host family.
Throughout the volunteer project, our local staffs will stay in contact with volunteers either with face-to-face visits or via email/telephone. IFRE's main office is in Melaque and our in-country coordinator serves as a point of contact for local volunteers. With longer placements, we visit our volunteers every 2 weeks (when possible) and volunteers are always welcome at the local office. If project placement is local, we request that volunteers stop by the office once a week to keep us posted on how they are doing with their home stay and project. If project placement is very far from our main office, then our local staff members maintain communication by either email and/or phone and the local project director serves as a volunteer's contact.
Project Location and Free Time
For volunteers in teaching and special children project, you will work and stay with host families in and around the small towns of Barra de Navidad or Melaque. Barra de Navidad is located on the western coastline of the Mexican state of Jalisco. It has a population of 7 thousand and offers beautiful unspoiled beaches, fabulous restaurants, and friendly people. During the free time, volunteers can swim in nearby beach, surf, boogie board, cycling, horse ride, fish and snorkel. Melaque is located only 2 miles northwest of Barra de Navidad and shares the same long curving beach. Besides Melaque, the schools are located in Emiliano Zapata, and the tourism students study at Jaluco. Both towns are just 5 minutes from Melaque.
The orphanage project is located in the town of Bucerias. Volunteers in the project will stay with host families in the same town. The turtle conservation project takes place in Campamento Majahaus. The camp is quite isolated, so free time is often spent resting, reading, walking (the beach and lagoon are beautiful) or playing games with other volunteers such as volleyball, football etc. It is also recommended for volunteers to alternate rest time from the camp, splitting the group into two (depending on number of volunteers), and allowing each group to take 2 -3 days break in Melaque or Puerto Vallarta (both places are 2 hours bus ride from camp); costs for food, travel and accommodation during breaks will be at the volunteers’ expense and are therefore optional.
Major FAQ- Mexico
- Room and Food
- Arrival Information
- Climate of Mexico
- Health and safety
- About Mexico volunteer program (In General)
What kind of food do we eat in the project?
Within the Sea Turtle Conservation project when there are fewer than 6 volunteers in the camp at once, volunteers and staff prepares their own meals, taking turns to cook. Breakfasts could be eggs, cereal, fruit etc; lunch is usually the main meal of the day, and then a light evening meal (sandwich, soup etc). Facilities at camp are basic and any chilled foods are kept in an icebox.
For all other projects in Mexico, volunteers can expect to be provided authentic Mexican fare for 3 meals a day prepared by their host family – this generally includes a sack lunch for volunteers to take to their project with them.
Does the project have internet? Electricity?
With the exception of the Sea Turtle project, there is electricity available. The camp at the sea turtle project has a limited supply of electricity that is utilized for lighting the camp at night and charging small devices. Internet is also not available at the camp unless you have arranged to have it on your cell phone. All other project will have internet available on site, or nearby at a local internet café.
Do we get hot shower in our accommodation?
Yes, there is a shower at the sea turtle camp, which uses water pumped up from the lagoon.
All other accommodations will have showers and western style restrooms available.
Is it safe to keep our items in the camp or accommodations?
It is not recommended to bring expensive items to the camp, mainly because of the salt in the air from the ocean, but also there is no place to lock things up. However, there is always someone in the camp. All of our host families are closely screened for safety and security, but volunteers should never travel with large sums of money or valuables.
Is water safe to drink or do we need to buy bottled water?
You will be provided with drinkable water in camp. Volunteers should be conscious of the water they are consuming while traveling in Mexico and be prepared to purchase bottled water.
Is it an issue if I am vegetarian?
Any dietary restrictions should be noted to your country coordinator prior to your arrival. While staying with Host Families it is easier to accommodate these needs, where as if you are staying in the turtle camp it may be more difficult.
Do the members of the project speak English?
Yes, there are members of each project that speak English.
If I arrive with my friend, or girlfriend/boyfriend, can we stay together?
Yes, however please note the in advance to your country coordinator so proper accommodations can be arranged.
What are the bathrooms and toilet facilities like?
Basic, similar to those in America.
What are the laundry arrangements?
There are laundry facilities in town available for your use in all placements, or you can discuss compensating your host family for assistance doing your laundry.
Can I use appliances if I bring them from my home country?
Depends on where you are travelling from, Mexico and America utilizes the same plugs.
What bedding materials like? Do I need to bring sleeping bag?
Sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner, as well as travel pillow will be necessary for camping at the Sea Turtle Project while linens will be provided by the host family.
Which airport do I need to fly in?
Depending on which project you are traveling to you will either fly into Puerto Vallarta Airport (Turtle Conservation & Children’s Home) or Manzanillo Airport (Teaching English & Special Education).
Do you organize airport pick up?
Yes, that service is available. Volunteers will receive information regarding their transportation from the airport included in their detailed project information.
Where do I go from airport?
For the Turtle Conservation Project, if you arrive before 1pm you can have transfer straight to turtle camp. Volunteers who arrive after 1pm usually spend the night in Puerto Vallarta or Bucerías and transfer the following day – please discuss this with your coordinator before booking. For all other projects, you will be transferred to your accommodations.
What happens if I missed flight or arrived late?
You will receive complete contact information for your coordinator included in your project details, if there is a delay in your arrival, please contact them immediately so that they can arrange the schedule accordingly.
Who will come to pick me up? How do I recognize the person at the airport?
Usually your coordinator, but you will be notified in advance if someone else if picking you up. Your coordinator will either send you a photo and request one from you or have a sheet with your name on it.
If my assignment begins on Monday, when should I arrive?
Start dates are flexible; please agree upon dates with coordinator before booking flights.
If I want to arrive earlier than when my assignment begins, where do I stay and who will organize the accommodations? Does it cost me extra?
Volunteers who arrive prior to their start date are responsible for arranging their own accommodations, however if they are staying in a home stay, they may be able to arrange for additional days at an affordable rate and should contact their coordinator to do so.
Who will bring me to the airport for my departure?
Airport drop off is not included, volunteers are given instruction on how to get to the airport.
Can you help us arranging our flights? Do you recommend any cheapest flights to fly to Mexico?
No, volunteers must arrange their own flights.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Reasonably, as long as you follow basic guidelines and avoid known troublesome areas.
What are safety measures you take for the volunteers? How can you guarantee volunteers’ safety?
While on their project, volunteers are always with a staff member. Volunteers who choose to travel after their project do so at their own risk.
How can you help volunteers in case of emergency? Is there someone we can get hold of in case if we need immediate help or support?
Volunteers are always provided with contact information for their country coordinator and instructed on measures to take in case of an emergency.
Is it safe to travel alone?
Reasonably, as long as you follow basic guidelines and avoid known troublesome areas. We urge our volunteers to use common sense and take certain precautions while traveling to any new country.
Are ATMs easily available?
Within the sea turtle placement, there is very little cash needed and an ATM available in the nearest town. For all other projects, volunteers will have access to ATM’s and banks.
Where should I exchange my money?
It is a good idea to arrive with Mexican Pesos. Once here you can withdraw money from ATMs in pesos or exchange dollars in banks/money exchange.
How much money should I bring with me?
For camp, you require very little extra money (aside from the project fee). Approximately $200 pesos per week is usually enough (approx $13USD). You are provided 3 meals a day at all placements so the amount of money you will utilize depends on your spending habits.
What does the weekly program fee cover?
The program fee for all programs in Mexico cover your accommodations, 3 meals a day, coordination fee and a donation to your project.
Is it safe to carry cash with me?
It is safe to carry small amounts of cash, but large amounts are not needed.
How do I contact to the local coordinator?
You will be provided contact information for your country coordinator prior to your departure for Mexico.
How do I contact my family and friends once I arrive in Mexico? How can my family members contact me?
You can call using local pay phones or internet (only available about once per week while in the camp).
Can I bring my mobile from my home country? Does it work?
Yes, as long as you have a roaming plan, but it is very expensive to make/receive calls and send text messages etc.
Please provide detailed information on year round climate in the country which consists season you have, average temperature and average rainfall in each month.
June/July usually dry and hot
August-November is the rainy season with lots of rain and very warm temperature day and night (up to 37°C)
December -February little to no rain, very warm during the day and much cooler at night.
What are the principle health risks in Mexico? Is there any mandatory vaccination we need to take?
There is no malaria, although Dengue Fever is present. No vaccination, just precautions against mosquito bites, such as long sleeves and long pants in evenings, as well as using closed footwear and insect repellent.
What kind of gifts would be appropriate to bring for the project?
Notebooks and pens are great for recording data at the Sea Turtle Project, as for all other projects we recommend bringing a gift representative of your home country or you to share with your host family or students.
Could you please provide me the packing list?
All volunteers are provided with a detailed packing list in their placement details.
The Complete Guide to Volunteering in Mexico
Thinking about volunteering in Mexico, but don’t know where to begin planning your adventure? This handy ebook guide contains all the information you need to choose the right organization; find the perfect volunteer project in Mexico, prepare for both your placement work and free time activities, and learn what to expect in day to day life.
Welcome to Mexico
Hola Amigos/Amigas! Known for its tacos, tequila and sombreros, Mexico has made its mark on the world map, but it has lots more to offer than these things. As a volunteer in Mexico you’ll discover the hidden depths of this wonderful country for yourself.
In Mexico, You can taste exquisite cuisines, see colourful costumes, explore an ancient culture and enjoy many fiestas, as well as visit any or all of the 33 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mexico has something to thrill and delight everyone.
Mexico has an unstable economy, resulting in poor living and health conditions and less educational opportunities for people in many areas of the country. Volunteers who have the desire to help improve and develop facilities and resources, or offer support to communities in need will thrive during their volunteer experience in Mexico.This is an excellent opportunity to give something back to the world, while creating positive changes for those in need and exploring the landscapes, cultures and character of Mexico.
Why volunteer in Mexico?
Mexico is a great country to volunteer and travel in. From nature to culture, and food to people, there are many reasons to join a Mexico volunteer program. Here are some of the most popular:
Traditional food and beverages
Volunteering in Mexico lets you experience authentic versions of national specialities which have rightly become popular all over the world. In Mexico, you can taste the unique flavours of tacos, tortillas and tamales, all packed full of flavour and spices.
More adventurous eaters can enjoy dishes like Maguey worms and fried grasshoppers. Of course Mexico is also home to the popular alcoholic drink of tequila, but refreshing cold soft drinks are also readily available from street carts.
UNESCO World Heritage sites:
Mexico is steeped in natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and historic sites, and is home to 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites. From Mayan ruins, ancient cities, archaeological sites, prehistoric caves and pre-Hispanic cities, to natural reserves and landscapes; Mexico is a country which really deserves to be explored.
As a volunteer in Mexico you'll have the perfect opportunity to travel and discover everything on offer for yourself.
Mexico is blessed with breathtaking coastlines, mountain ranges, volcanoes, forests/jungles and national reserves, along with Agave plantations, deserts, caves, canyons and waterfalls. When volunteering in Mexico you will be overwhelmed by the amazing natural landscapes that will both surround and captivate you.
Unique cultures and celebrations:
Influenced by Aztec, Mayan, Iberian and the modern day, contemporary Mexico offers a heady blend of diverse cultures in one amazing country. Home to 52 indigenous groups, Mexican culture varies from region to region. This makes travelling in the country an exciting and fresh experience.
During a volunteer placement in Mexico you will get to immerse yourself in these different cultures, and be fascinated by their traditions, music and cuisines.
Adventure: If you are looking to experience a bit of adventure while undertaking your volunteer placement then Mexico will not disappoint. From the mild to the extreme, you will be able to experience it in Mexico.
With water-based adventures like snorkelling, diving, swimming and surfing, or active options such as mountain hiking, jungle trekking and rock climbing; there is something available to suit all tastes.
Learn Spanish and embrace the culture: Choosing to join a volunteer project in Mexico gives you the perfect opportunity to learn the Spanish language and also to practice your skills. Plus, living with a host family and working with Mexicans gives you lots of exposure to the unique cultures, traditions, cuisines, music and language of Mexico.
Give a helping hand to those in need: A large proportion of the Mexican population still live below the poverty line, without access to stable living conditions, good healthcare or education. When you volunteer in Mexico you will be providing invaluable benefit to communities in need, while enriching the lives of people in Mexican communities.
Life changing experience: When you volunteer in Mexico and work within Mexican communities you will be exposed to new ways of thinking, living and embracing life, while also enjoying all that Mexico has to offer in terms of adventure, landscapes, history, culture, traditions and cuisines. A volunteering placement in Mexico will be an enriching and life changing experience.
What are some popular volunteer projects available in Mexico?
There are many volunteer programs available throughout Mexico. And every year many people volunteer on various projects that range from working with children to turtle conservation. The following are the most popular volunteer projects in Mexico:
English Teaching Projects
English teaching programs aim to help students in both schools and the general community to develop their English skills. Volunteers on these projects are likely to deal with learners of all ages - from pre-school children to adults - who share the desire to enhance their language skills.
Volunteers will be involved in preparing and teaching solo lessons, assessment, assisting with homework and team teaching with local teachers.
Sadly there are many orphaned children in Mexico. Orphanage projects are set up to provide housing, support, care and learning opportunities for these children. When volunteering on an orphanage project you will carry out general duties of care such as: brushing hair and teeth; washing clothes; providing food and maintaining a clean and friendly environment.
Other possible tasks may involve assisting with learning opportunities, creating a positive and caring environment, offering nurturing support and spending quality time with the children.
Marine Conservation Projects
Marine conservation projects aim to monitor and protect the wondrous and diverse marine life of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Volunteers on these projects get involved in collecting data and monitoring the health of the coral reefs, its marine life and their habitat.
On some marine conservation projects you will also have the opportunity to obtain your PADI diving certificate.
Turtle Conservation Projects
These projects have been set up in Mexico to protect their various species of turtles, as monitoring and protecting their health and habitats helps to create a safe environment where turtles can both survive and reproduce.
Volunteers on these projects will be involved in research, monitoring nesting, rehabilitation, creating safe habitats and both protecting and caring for the turtles' natural environment.
Healthcare and Medicine
Healthcare standards in Mexico may be rising but there's still a long way to go, especially for poorer Mexicans. Wait times for medical assistance can be lengthy, even in emergency situations, and access to qualified medical professionals in the public hospital system is lacking.
Volunteer healthcare and medical projects in Mexico aim to promote better healthcare for all citizens. As a volunteer you will be involved in providing assistance to medical professionals in a variety of tasks, including monitoring and caring for patients and assisting with consultations and medical examinations.
Where are some popular destinations to volunteer in Mexico?
There are many places where you can volunteer in Mexico. However, because of safety issues, the availability of projects, and greater opportunities for travel and cultural immersion, some areas are more popular than others as destinations for volunteers in Mexico. These include:
Mexico City: located 7,240 feet above sea level in the Valley of Mexico, this sprawling and bustling capital city is full of Aztec culture infused with Spanish and contemporary influences. With stories of the past on nearly every corner Mexico City is home to some fantastic old cantinas, museums, galleries, murals, ancient canals, and lots of great shopping and nightlife.
Popular volunteer projects in Mexico City are: teaching, working with children, health, conservation and farming. Guadalajara: located in the state of Jalisco, and home to tequila and Mariachi Music, Mexico's second largest city combines old world charm and contemporary chic. It boasts a historic centre with architecturally beautiful colonial building and statues, theatres, churches, galleries, the UNESCO world Heritage site of Hospicio Cabanas, and the largest indoor market in Latin America, Mercado Libertad.
The more contemporary area of Chapultepec offers a great selection of cafes, restaurants, bars and lively nightlife. Guadalajara is a vibrant city full of character and charm, so take the time to explore the city and the surrounding neighbourhoods with their individual charm. Popular volunteer projects in Guadalajara are: General care, sports, teaching and childcare. Oaxaca City- located in the State of Oaxaca and surrounded by mountains, Oaxaca City is considered the safest city in Mexico. With influences from both the ancient world and modern day, the city is home to many archaeological sites and tombs, and offers one of the most diverse and vibrant cultures in Mexico along with some of the biggest fiestas and best cuisine in the country.
Playa del Carmen – located in the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula this third largest city of Mexico possesses European chic, exceptional eating experiences great shopping and nightlife, along with palm-lined beaches and fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities.
Merida – the largest city in the state of Yucatan, Merida is also the second largest historic centre in all of Mexico. Built on the site of an ancient walled Mayan city, Merida is clean, modern, cosmopolitan and safe. It features rich history, and some fantastic galleries, restaurants, boutiques, cultures and traditions, as well as delicious food.
Merida is one of the best places to experience Mayan culture and heritage. While volunteering in Merida be sure to also check out the surrounding areas, where you can discover Mayan ruins and underwater sinkholes, (cenotes).
Which is the best season to volunteer in Mexico?
Mexico has two main seasons; the rainy season - which runs between May and mid-October, and the dry season, which runs from mid-October to April. However, climates do vary drastically throughout the country. Along the coast you are likely to experience warm tropical weather, while the mountainous regions have much colder temperatures, especially in cooler months.
Most volunteers choose to join a project during the summer months. Be sure to check with your organization about the location of your volunteer placement in Mexico to learn more about the climate and temperatures you are likely to experience.
Once you have been accepted onto your chosen volunteer placement you will be excited about the experience ahead, but there's a lot to do before you set off on the journey of a lifetime. Help make your trip planning a smooth and organized experience with this handy list of things to think about.
At the time of writing North Americans, Australians and most EU citizens do not need a visa to enter Mexico, but rules are always liable to change at short notice so it's best to check the current situation with a Mexican embassy or consulate in your home country.Check directly with your volunteer organisation about the current guidelines for volunteering on a tourist visa, or get more details from an official website such as:
To be granted entry into Mexico citizens from all counties must hold a valid passport which has at least 6 months validity following the date of entry. Passports must also have at least 2 blank pages for entry and exit stamps.
Before heading off on your exciting volunteering placement in Mexico it is vitally important that you visit your medical practitioner to find out about any vaccinations you need to help protect against potential illnesses or infections you may be exposed to while in Mexico. Regardless, it is recommended that your tetanus, mumps/measles and rubella vaccinations are all up to date.
Consult your doctor or this site to find out more about both recommended vaccinations and medical advice when travelling to Mexico.
Most likely your program fee will not cover your airfare, so it's best to start looking for a ticket as soon as possible. Finding a good deal on an airfare is not always easy, but with so many airlines offering flights to Mexico you can use these tips to help find affordable flights.
- Look at various airports: Find out where your volunteer placement is located and the closest airport to it. There are many international airports in Mexico, so you may be able to find a direct flight to one outside of the capital at a lower price.
- Receive alerts: Sign up to online airfare search engines to get news on deals and airfare alerts.
- Flexible travel dates: Try to be flexible with your travel dates. Airfares vary in price depending on seasons, the day of the week and often even the time of day. By searching for fares on different days and dates you may be able to score a cheaper ticket.
- Book in advance: If you are lucky you might be able to find a bargain airfare at the last minute, however it is likely that the closer you leave booking your ticket to your departure date the higher the price will be. When you find an affordable ticket book it – don't wait.
- The cheapest is not always the best: A cheap airfare is always appealing but it may come with lots of annoying rules. Many cheap fares do not include any checked in baggage, so you should check out the luggage charges to see if it is really such a bargain price. Cheap fares can also often include multiple stopovers or long layovers, which may be both inconvenient and expensive as you are likely to spend on food and drinks at each stop. Finally, be sure to check the cancellation and change policy fees your cheap ticket comes with. These tend to be either very high or even non-existent on the lowest priced tickets.
So you’re ready to volunteer in Mexico, but are not sure how to raise the finances you need. There's no need to panic, as these days it's easy to set up an online giving campaign to fund your volunteer project. Many people like to donate generously to campaigns which support a good cause, so with some promotional effort you'll be able to spread the word and find them.
Set up your campaign in a professional manner, in a way where your supporters can feel they are having a positive impact on your cause and become part of your experience, as this encourages a higher level of support from friends, family and the general public.
Check out this site for online campaign ideas and getting started on your volunteer Mexico campaign.
Before departing for Mexico get your hands on a copy of a good guidebook and read up on various destinations, (especially the place where you will be volunteering), things to see and do, cultures, traditions, maps and how to get around. Some handy guide books are:
It's also worth getting yourself a copy of a good phrase book, and studying some Spanish before you head off to volunteer in Mexico. Try the:Lonely Planet Mexican Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary
What to pack
So it's not too long now before you set off on your Mexico volunteer experience, which means it's time to think about packing. This will not be the same as packing for a vacation, so use this handy list as a guide to make the process really easy.
Type of placement: This will definitely influence the type of clothing you will need to pack. For a teaching or medical position in Mexico you need to wear neat, professional looking attire, while on a conservation position shorts and t-shirts may be acceptable. Check with your organization about what you are expected to wear during your placement.
Region and Climate: Check where your placement is located, as this is a good guide on what to take. You will want different clothes for a beach, jungle, mountain or city placement, and of course it also depends on the regional climate and the season you will volunteer in. Baggage Restrictions: Check with your airline about weight limits for checked baggage, as this will help you decide what is necessary and what you can leave behind.
Don’t forget these:
- Passport and travel documents (insurance, itinerary, confirmations)
- Credit card and cash (Mexican Pesos)
- Cables, chargers, batteries and adapters for your electrical devices
- Torch or head lamp
- Any required medications
Gifts for the project
A small gift for your project is recommended as a sign of thanks and appreciation. Gifts that you can give could be things that are unique to your home country, or represent your home city/town. If working in a project with children then learning resources, games, books and stationery are always good choices.
Before heading off to volunteer in Mexico you may well experience emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. Knowing as much as you can about your destination and placement will ease some of those pre travel nerves, and help make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible on your arrival.
Here are a few handy tips to help you out.
Get all the details about your project:
Before you embark on your exciting journey to volunteer in Mexico contact your organisation and double check you have all the information you need about your project.
Here are some important things to ask about:
- the location of your volunteer project
- any rules and expectation
- the duties you are expected to undertake
- start and finish times
- what you are required to wear or bring
- how you will get to and from your placement
- airport pick up details
Learn about your host family:
When you volunteer in Mexico will probably be placed with a Mexican host family. They are not only there to provide you with accommodation and meals, as most host families want to help you fully integrate into the lifestyle.
If possible try to establish contact with them before you go. Exchanging photographs and some basic information will create a connection that will smooth over any awkwardness you may feel when meeting for the first time in person.
- where they live
- how many members of the family you will be living with, and their names
- about their interests
- if they have any house rules
Get connected with local support:
Before you leave for Mexico it is important to find out if local or in-country support will be available should you need assistance during your volunteering placement. Call your organization and find out what is available, and get all the relevant contact details for them.
It is also a good idea to contact the local support team before you go. Introduce yourself and forge a positive relationship with those who will be a valuable and helpful resource for any questions, concerns or issues that come up regarding your project or host family once you are in Mexico.
Make the final call:
A couple of days before you leave your home country call your volunteer organization and ask questions about anything you still feel unsure about. Also take this opportunity to check there have been no changes made to your volunteer placement or host family, and that your flight, and airport pick up details are all confirmed.
Your real volunteer abroad experience will start once you arrive to Mexico. The hard work, time and cash you've invested in preparation is going to help make your placement meaningful, however, there are several other things you can do to make sure your time volunteering in Mexico is truly rewarding.
How to make your volunteer experience rewarding
Know what is expected of you: Before you begin your volunteer placement in Mexico it is best to find out exactly what will be expected of you by both by the project staff and your host family. With a clear understanding of any rules and expectations you can avoid any awkward situations which may arise.
Learn the language: At times throughout your placement you may feel frustrated by your weak Spanish language abilities. Knowing even some basics before you go will help you have a more enjoyable experience. Grab a Spanish phrase book or download an app on your smart phone to help you, and make the most of every opportunity to practice speaking with locals.
You will find understanding the language will enhance your experience, and of course learning another language is a reward in itself.
Get to know the country: While volunteering in Mexico make the most of your free time. Get out and explore the diverse landscapes, cultures, customs, history and places Mexico has to offer.
Get to know your host family and locals: Living in a foreign country can be quite a daunting experience, and not knowing anyone may make things difficult at times. Make the most of your host family, local project staff and the locals. Getting to know them opens a window into Mexican culture, and the best local places to hangout. Integrating into a community can make all the difference to creating a positive and rewarding experience.
Remember why you are volunteering: If you are passionate about your project, its mission and the work that you undertake during your volunteer placement you will experience a greater sense of reward. You'll find that even the smallest impact or positive change to a community or individual will be a heart warming moment.
Safety while volunteering in Mexico
Mexico has earned a reputation for being a dangerous country and one you should avoid travelling to. Yes, Mexico can be a dangerous country, however it is cleaning up its problems with drugs, crime and violence, and there are now only a handful of regions you should avoid travelling to or through.
Although the majority of Mexico is actually relatively safe, like anywhere in the world it is important to know of any potential risks or dangers before travelling.
Your volunteer placement in Mexico will not be located in any areas which are deemed as being unsafe, and the most popular tourist destinations are located in areas of Mexico that have no travel warnings issued about them.
However, before travelling to Mexico it is important to do some research, and be up to date with current events and situations which may have an impact on your safety while volunteering and travelling in Mexico.
- Passport: Do not carry your passport around with you; instead you should make photocopies of the photo Mexican entry stamp pages and carry these with you at all times. Send a copy of these pages to your family in case of an emergency.
- Credit Cards: Be sure to notify your bank about your plans to travel to Mexico. This avoids your card being suspended while they check out if the card has been stolen.
- Travel Insurance: Before you leave your home country buy a good insurance policy which protects you against any unexpected delays, illnesses or other disruptive situations. Email copies of the company's contact information and policy document to trusted contacts as a backup measure.
- Travel documents: Make sure you have copies of all your travel documents. If you are taking a smart phone take photos of them, or email copies to yourself, family members and good friends, (Useful if you lose access to your personal email.)
- Register details: Before leaving for Mexico be sure to register your travel and personal details with your local embassy in case of an emergency where you need their assistance, or they need to contact you.
Do’s and Don’ts when travelling in Mexico
- Only hail a taxi at a designated area to ensure that you use a registered cab.
- Write down your destination to give to a taxi/bus driver or ticket officer. This avoids any potential language misunderstandings.
- Be aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times.
- Enjoy the local food and beverages.
- Immerse yourself in the unique cultures, traditions, history and fiestas.
- Try to speak with the locals.
- Explore the country and have some adventures.
- Always wear smart business attire for meetings.
- Respect all religious or cultural requests such as removing sunglasses and hats when entering a church.
- Wear shorts outside of beachside locations if you want to blend in with the locals.
- Drink the tap water.
- Disrespect Mexican culture or belief systems.
- Ignore your surroundings. Remain aware of where you are and who is around you.
- Walk around at night on your own, especially if in an unsafe area, or after drinking alcohol.
Once in Mexico you will discover a whole new sensory world packed with unfamiliar sights and sounds. Sometimes you may find this exciting and new, but at other times these experience might get you down.
Parts of Mexico still suffer from bad economic situations, poverty, poor living conditions, beggars and homeless people, dirty streets and toxic odours. This is all part of your Mexican experience, and learning to accept and embrace these differences in cultures will help you to adjust much more quickly.
It is not always easy to embrace a new country, but here are a few things you can do to help your transition and integration go more smoothly.
Research your destination: Before you head off on your volunteer placement in Mexico it is wise to read up on the history, culture, economic situation, laws and current events of the country. This will help prepare you for many situations you may be exposed to, and also provides you with a greater understanding of the country and its people.
Some suggested guides for research are travel guides; Mexico based blogs, previous volunteer reviews of Mexico placements, and current news reports.
Embrace the Spanish Language: If you have no Spanish language skills, or lack the confidence to use what you know, your Mexico volunteer experience is a great opportunity to change this. Spend time listening to and practicing with your host family, they will be more than happy to help you out.
Try to ask for directions and order food in the local language, as like any new skill it takes practice to improve. The more you expose yourself to the experience the more you will improve, and soon the language barrier will not feel so daunting.
Get to know the culture of the people: Part of learning and understanding a new country involves getting to know the people, and their cultures and traditions. Spend time with locals and find out as much about their lives as you can.
Visit rural towns and villages, arts and crafts markets, and ancient tribal areas, embracing each experience as a chance to learn while immersing yourself in daily life. Attend local festivals and gatherings to discover the true essence of the people, their culture and beliefs.
Network and Make friends: It's not always easy to be far away from home, and there will be times when you really need some company. Use your volunteer experience as a way to network and make friends. You are likely to work with other volunteers who are experiencing the same range of mixed emotions, and who are probably also looking for someone to hang out with.Remember you are not alone, so make the most of the opportunity to spend time getting to know your fellow volunteers both during and outside of your volunteer placement. You should also make friends with the local staff, who can help you out by suggesting places to see and do, and giving you advice from a local's perspective.
Things to do in Mexico
Mexico is full of delights, so exploring its extraordinary beauty and history and immersing yourself in the culture and traditions will not be hard. In fact there will be opportunities on nearly every corner.
Whether it is visiting traditional indigenous villages, attending festivals or events, tantalising your taste buds with unique flavours, being mesmerised by archaeological wonders, snorkelling crystal waters and exploring underwater gems, hiking volcanoes or relaxing in natural hot springs: from its cities to its beaches and mountains, Mexico has so much to offer during your volunteering adventure.
Some suggestions for things to see and do:
- Visit one or more of the 33 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites around the country
- Take the time to explore Mexico City and its neighbourhoods; rich in history and culture, the city has many stories to tell.
- Taste the regional cuisines and dine in traditional cantinas
- Learn more about tequila by watching the production process of this popular drink – you can do this in the town it was named after
- Visit regional towns and villages to get a glimpse of the real Mexico
- Visit indigenous villages and learn about the customs and cultures of Mexican indigenous community.
- Attend one of the many colourful festivals or events such as the 'Day of the Dead'
- Visit one of the many pre-Hispanic cities
- Watch lucha libre (Mexican wrestling)
- Relax on great beaches then soak up the party atmosphere in Cancun
- Head to Cozumel for fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities
- Hike one of the snow capped volcanoes (Popocatepetl or Iztaccihuatl), visiting 16th century monasteries and indigenous villages along the way
- Enjoy one of the many Pacific or Caribbean beachside towns
- Head to Chichen Itza – a Mayan city built over a thousand years ago
- Be mesmerised by the Mayan ruins in Tulum
- Immerse yourself in the historic city of San Miguel de Allende and relax in the hot springs
When you return from volunteering in Mexico you will probably experience a range of emotions, from excitement about sharing your stories, and sadness at having left your placement, to feeling inspired to continue creating positive change throughout the world.
Share your experiences: Every volunteer wants to share their experience with family and friends. Blogging is a great way to record your highlights, lowlights, favourite moments, details of friends you made, and memories of things you did.Photographs of your destination, project, friends and travel adventures will add color to the stories you posted. If you set this up before you go it will be easier to keep it updated on a weekly or daily basis while you are on your volunteer placement.
Reviews and feedback: To assist your project, the organization, host family and future volunteers write an honest review of your experience, and provide any constructive feedback that will help in enhancing the project or experience.
Continued Support: Find ways you can continue to support your project. This could involve supporting them financially, donating resources or raising awareness of the project by hosting events or campaigns.
Network: Keep in touch with those you met along the way. They will be great contacts for future volunteer placements, career opportunities and even travel experiences.
How will I get from the airport to my host family/volunteer house?
Your booking organization will organise your airport pick up and transfer to your host family or accommodation. It is important that your organization has all your contact details, and that you confirm your flight details with them. Of course if there are any delays or cancellations it is important to inform them as soon as possible.
Will there be volunteer support from staff in Mexico?
Yes, when volunteering in Mexico there will be in-country support available for you. Contact your booking organization before you go to obtain all the relevant contact details you need.
How many other volunteers will be participating with me?
Volunteer numbers usually depend on a number of factors, such as how many applicants the project accepts at any one time, and the season you are volunteering. Summer is generally the most popular month for most people to join projects, so you will probably meet a higher number of other volunteers during this time.
If I volunteer with my friend can we be placed in the same project and housed together?
If you plan to volunteer in Mexico with a friend than yes, it is possible that you can be placed in the same project and with the same host family. It is however highly recommended that you notify the booking organization of these requests during the booking process so that suitable arrangements can be made.
Are meals and housing provided?
When volunteering in Mexico your program fee will generally cover accommodation and meals with a host family.
Do I have to bring my own bedding and mosquito nets?
No, it is not necessary as these things are provided at your accommodation.
What if I don't speak the native language?
Although you should be able to get by without knowing the language it is a good idea to learn some basic words and phrases before you go, either by yourself or by joining a class.
To learn more or improve your language skills take a phrasebook or dictionary with you, download some Spanish learning apps to your phone or enrol in a local language class.
How will I get to my project every day?
This will generally depend on where your project is located. Some volunteers live close enough to walk to their placement, while others need to use local public transport. Check with your organisation before you leave to find out what your options are for getting to and from your project.
What kind of food will I eat while I'm there?
When staying with a host family it is most likely that you will be served traditional Mexican cuisines which may vary from region to region. However, if you have any special dietary requirements let your organisation know prior to arrival, so your host family can cater for your needs.
Does the volunteer project or organization offer treks or excursions?
Your booking organization will not offer organized activities, but it's easy to arrange these things yourself. Get to know the locals and ask them for recommendations on interesting things to see and do, and about the best local and national tour providers.
How many hours per day will I be volunteering?
Usually volunteers will spend 4-6 hours a day at their project, although some may require more or less time. Check with your organization to find out the expected work hours for your specific project.
How much money do I need to bring?
This will really depend on how you want to experience Mexico. Your volunteer project program fee covers your accommodation and 3 meals a day, so you will only need to budget for any personal expenses such as shopping, nights out, public transport costs, sightseeing activities and any travelling around you plan to do. Before you leave work out and cost a rough guide of what you plan to do and budget accordingly.
This free ebook has been written as a general reference source of information for potential volunteers. We cannot guarantee the current validity of the contents as there may be changes in the field, so it should not be considered as a definite or authoritative guide to the subject covered. We will not be liable for any damages if you use this book without verifying the information it contains.