Traveling abroad and dedicating your time and hard work to a humanitarian issue you truly care about is a truly noble cause. Many non-profit organizations, wildlife sanctuaries, and orphanages depend almost completely on the valiant efforts of international volunteers to operate and continue their important work.
Many prospective do-gooders just beginning their search for the right program look high and low for an opportunity to travel abroad for free. If you have found yourself scouring the web on a similar hunt, you likely quickly discovered that volunteering abroad is not only something you can’t do for free, but an endeavor which can actually be quite expensive.
If you take a step back and consider the issue objectively for a moment, it will become clear to you why this is the case. Your housing, food, training, and supervision are all real and tangible costs that need to be paid for. The non-profit organization you are going to support is barely getting by as it is, which is why they need your help in the first place. The money they do have is going to support their much-needed humanitarian work; the real reason why you are traveling so far to support them.
On top of the program fees, you will also need to factor in other costs such as airfare, vaccinations, travel insurance, visa application fees, and pocket money to fund your exploration of your exciting destination during your time off. As you can see, the costs quickly start to add up. Your dreams of volunteering abroad for free, while appealing at first glance, quickly dissipate as you realize how unrealistic they are.
There are, however, ways you can significantly reduce your costs and still make your dreams of making a difference come true affordably. If you’re still wondering about the details concerning the costs of an international volunteer experience keep reading as we break things down for you. This article will guide you on all the money related matters when it comes to volunteering abroad.
How much does it cost to volunteer abroad?
How much you end up paying for your trip is going to vary quite a bit based on a number of different variables. Different companies charge different program fees, some as low as $100 a week and some up to $3,000 for 2 weeks!
The price will also vary based on the type of program you would like to volunteer at. Medical projects and other professionally based programs are generally going to charge more. Since you’ll be gaining professional experience that can make a huge difference in your current or future career, this additional cost can often be well worth the extra expense.
Cost is often variable by location, as well. Some very poor countries where your money goes a lot further, such as Uganda or Nepal, have a variety of volunteer abroad programs offered at a very low cost. Other developing countries where the cost of food and housing is quite a bit more, such as Costa Rica or Argentina, you are going to find a significant increase in the amount charged for program fees in these areas.
Since there is such a big difference between the amounts charged between various programs, you need to be careful and do your homework to ensure you are getting the best deal.
What does the program fee cover?
Once again, the answer to this question is going to vary from company to company. Most reputable organizations are going to offer you a wide variety of services and support before and during your volunteer abroad trip. If you find the company you are interested in going with isn’t, keep looking.
Generally, the bulk of your program fee goes to cover your housing and food. The project you are volunteering at may offer accommodation on-site, you may be housed with a local host family, or you may be staying at a hostel or hotel near your project placement. If you are going through a volunteer organization, they will have done the necessary work on the ground to select a secure and safe location they are certain is best for their international volunteers.
You will usually be served 2-3 local meals a day. This is a great chance to immerse yourself in the culture, as food is a huge part of life in most places in the world, and ingredients and tastes are often very specific to the country you have traveled to. Vegetarians and vegans can often be accommodated but be certain to inform your volunteer abroad organization ahead of time so they can make the proper arrangements for you.
Of course, the program fee includes your participation in the volunteer program itself. This includes paying the local staff to train and supervise you and being on call to guide and support you throughout your experience abroad. A donation to the project itself is often included in the program fee, as well.
Some organizations may include the cost of your airport pick-up in your program fee but be sure to check on this ahead of time. If it isn’t included, you will need to account for this cost in your budget.
are other costs should I aware of?
There are a number of additional costs associated with volunteering abroad beyond your initial program fee, so be sure to budget carefully to cover them all.
The single largest expense you will likely incur after your program fee is airfare. Shop around for your lowest fare, and when you have booked your flight be sure to provide the details to your volunteer organization so they can arrange for your pick-up when you land.
Another expense you will inevitably have is the fee for applying for your visa. Do your research and apply well in advance, as the process can sometimes take a few weeks.
International volunteers are often working in impoverished communities with poor sanitary conditions and helping people who may not have access to basic healthcare. As a result, you may be at a much higher risk for contracting communicable diseases. Getting vaccinated prior to your departure is key to minimizing this risk.
You will need to budget for getting up to date on your routine vaccinations, as well as any additional vaccines needed for the country you are traveling to. Wildlife volunteers may need additional vaccines to protect themselves. A consultation with a travel doctor up to date on current epidemics and international health risks is also highly advisable and is another expense you may need to consider.
Travel insurance is another cost everyone volunteering abroad needs to take into account. Your volunteer organization may provide this for you or be able to advise you on the best policy for your particular situation.
Where does the money go?
This is a question every potential volunteer absolutely must ask. A large portion of every program fee is going to be used to cover your housing, food, and supervision, as well as going to cover the costs of running the program.
If you can’t get a clear answer to what the allocation of your volunteer abroad program fee is going to, or if a lot of the money seems to be going to things like coordinator, quality maintenance, informational materials, etc, the organization you are going through may well be taking a large portion of your fee for its own profits.
To avoid falling prey to lining the pockets of your volunteer organization and not really supporting the project you are volunteering at, select an organization that operates as a non-profit and offers full transparency about where your money is going to.
Does my host family get money? How much?
Our research shows host families get $50- $200 per month for their work hosting international volunteers. They use this money to cover the cost of feeding the volunteers, paying the utilities in their accommodations, etc. This amount will vary depending on the country of the volunteer abroad program. When you volunteer with IFRE, you will pay this fee directly to the host family, removing the guesswork.
Will there be any grant, discount or deals from volunteer organizations?
Most organizations do not receive any funding from the government or outside sources, and often only charge enough to cover the cost of operating their programs. As a result, scholarships, grants, and the like are probably not going to be within their means to offer. However, you may or may not be able to negotiate a discount of your program free.
Is there any way to reduce the cost?
The best way to reduce your costs to volunteer abroad is to select an affordable program. IFRE offers the lowest rates in the industry and has a low-price guarantee. They will beat the program fee of any of their competitors, ensuring you are getting the most affordable program possible.
Extending your stay can reduce your costs per day, as program fees often decrease the longer you stay on at a project.
Another way to cut costs is buying your flight tickets through a budget airline or going through organizations which help you find low-cost airfare like STA Travel.
Do I need extra money? Why? How much?
Yes, you will need to budget extra money beyond the initial costs for your volunteer abroad trip. There is no definite answer to how much, as this depends on your habits, your host country, how much extra traveling you hope to do, etc.
You should budget at least an extra $50-$100 a week for unexpected expenses. Keep in mind that even though you will have travel insurance, most policies require payment up front for medical services. You will then send in your receipts to your insurance company, and need to await reimbursement, which can take quite a bit of time.
You volunteer abroad program fee generally only covers your food and housing during the days you volunteer. You will likely want to eat out sampling local flavors and do some traveling around and exploring. Do some research ahead of time on your destination to get an idea of the costs of these things so you can budget accordingly.
When is the deadline to pay the fees?
This varies according to the different organizations, so you will need to check their website or contact providers to determine this. Most will have a deadline prior to your travel, so be prepared for this.
What happens if I cancel?
Different companies have different refund policies, so you will need to do some research to figure this out. Most organizations will have this information on their website, but if not, a quick email to their offices will do the trick. Often the closer you get to your departure date for your volunteer abroad trip, the less amount you will be refunded, as many things may have already paid for in advance on your behalf.
How can I raise money to fund my trip?
Crowdsourcing websites such as Gofundme and Giveforward.com are great resources to get financial assistance from around the world. Additionally, you can also raise funds for your trip by approaching local businesses in your area to sponsor your cause. Some people opt to raise funds by organizing bake sales and charity nights in their colleges, as well.
You might consider approaching parents, grandparents, or other family members to help support your cause. Put together a mini-presentation and explain your desire to volunteer abroad to make a difference in the world.
Some international volunteers have gotten part-time jobs to fund their trips. Even something as simple as a change jar can help you to save the money you need.
Decide what works for you and give it a shot! There is always a way to work out the financing of your trip, no matter how daunting it seems to be at the beginning.