How to Volunteer Abroad for Free -Free Flight, Free Accomodation, Free Everything
Are you looking for a volunteer abroad trip? Are you worried about high costs associated with volunteering abroad? Are you wondering if there are any free volunteer abroad programs that will allow you to use your compassion to help make the world a better place at very little or no cost to you?
In this article, we will explore all aspects of free volunteering abroad, and at the end of this article we have added a comprehensive volunteer abroad guide for you to help you start your dream volunteer abroad journey.
This comprehensive Guide to Volunteering Abroad” is jam-packed with invaluable information so you can begin your life-changing adventure without any hesitation. From getting started to traveling overseas and then returning home, you’ll discover all the guidance you need to ensure it’s a seamless abroad adventure from the beginning to end.
You can also watch the video version of the guide or download it for free.
- Chapter 1: Introduction to International Volunteering
- What is volunteer abroad?
- What are the expenses associated with it?
- Why would you need to pay for volunteering abroad?
- Chapter 2: How to find free international volunteer programs
- What is a free volunteer program?
- How can I find free volunteer abroad programs?
- How can I check the legitimacy of an abroad volunteer organization?
- More information on volunteering abroad for free
- The world’s 10 best free volunteer organizations for free programs
- Chapter 3: Alternatives to Free Volunteer- Paid volunteering Abroad
- Popular paid volunteer opportunities
- Specialized paid international Volunteer Programs
- Chapter 4: Alternatives to Free volunteering – Paid travel & work program
- Teaching abroad
- Au pair
- Paid internships
- International seasonal work
- Chapter 5: Comprehensive mini-volunteer guide
What is volunteering abroad?
Let’s start the article first by understanding what volunteering abroad is.
Volunteering abroad is an opportunity where volunteers travel to developing countries to help and make difference. Volunteer opportunities are emerging as an alternative form of travel as it gives you the opportunity to travel, cultural immerse yourself, and development yourself as a person.
Unfortunately, volunteering abroad is not free, and if you do internet research you will find hundreds of companies offering abroad programs that cost between $200-$2000 for 2 weeks of volunteering.
What are the expenses associated with volunteer work abroad programs?
When you think of volunteering abroad, you may only think of the program feesthat volunteer organizations charge which mostly covers your room and food. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, the program fee will not cover all expenses involved in your abroad opportunity. You still need to arrange extra money for your airfare, insurance, vaccination, visa, and other personal expenses.
Here’s a list of expenses associated with volunteering abroad:
Program fee: this is the fee charged by volunteer organizations for joining a volunteer program. The program fee mostly covers room, food, airport pickup, insurance and other minor expenses. How much you pay for the program fee varies by volunteer organization, duration of stay, volunteer project you join, country of choice, etc. It can cost anywhere from $200- $3000 for 2 weeks.
Airfare: Your program fee will most likely not cover airfare. Airfare is a major cost and depends on many factors like the destination you are travelling to, the season, airline, and booking date.
Insurance: A few volunteer companies who charge higher fees most likely cover your insurance as part of your program fee. However, the majority of companies who charge lower program fees do not cover travel insurance for the duration of your time away. Depending on the level of coverage an insurance company could cost you between $2 and $5 per day.
Vaccinations: While volunteering abroad, it is very important obtain both required and recommended vaccinations for your health and safety. Vaccinations also have a significant cost. How much it costs depends on the type of vaccination you need. You can do internet research to find the exact cost for countries your interested in traveling to.
Visa: Most international volunteer organizations run volunteer programs through a tourist visa. Your program fee won’t likely cover the price of the visa. The cost of the visa will depend on your stay in the country and where you are traveling to. You can generally expect anywhere between $1 and $5 per day for a visa.
Additional program costs: Most volunteer organizations offer airport pick-up service. However, you will still need to pay for your airport drop-off and other daily costs like commuting to your volunteer project.
Extra personal spending money: Most volunteer programs cover your room and food, so you do not need a lot of pocket money. However, when you travel over the weekend, plan to purchase personal food and drinks or have any other personal travel expenses – these do require extra money. You should expect to bring somewhere between $20 and $100 a week, depending on the country and how often you plan to do extra activities.
In-country transport Such as trains, buses, taxis, and airport transfers most likely won’t be covered by your placement, so you should budget for this for whole duration of your stay.
Why does it cost so much to volunteer abroad? Why isn’t it 100% free?
When you think of volunteering abroad, you may wonder why you need to pay. Why would you need to pay to give a helping hand? Shouldn’t your time and energy be compensated with free room and board?
These are very good questions. However, after doing careful research, you’ll realize that volunteering abroad programs are much closer to traveling abroad programs. Volunteer organizations do not get any external funding or Government support to run the program. Because of that, they need to charge you the program fee to cover the following expenses required to run volunteer programs:
Here are major expenses that incurred while running a volunteer abroad program:
Expenses associated with office/business
- Travel to develop program
- Associate costs of businesses like taxes and accounting
Expenses associated with running a volunteer program
- Room for volunteers
- Food for volunteers
- Transportation for volunteers
- Project donation
- Expenses associated with running country office
Chapter 2: What are free volunteer programs and where can I find them?
What is a free international volunteer program?
First let’s define international volunteering: international volunteering is an abroad humanitarian trip usually to developing countries where you travel to volunteer your time, skills or labor to a local community project. These programs are normally a minimum of one week, and cost between $200 - $3000 for two weeks of volunteering + personal or additional expenses.
Free international volunteer programs allow you volunteer internationally at a low- or no-cost to you.
How can I find free volunteer abroad programs?
While free volunteering programs aren’t as common as pay-to-volunteer programs, you do have options available! You may skip this and the next few sections to read ahead about the ’10 best free volunteer organizations,’ which gives you a straightforward list of credible volunteer agencies who are sure to provide you with a quality experience.
However, if you would like to know more about how you can research free volunteer opportunities and what to look for in selecting a program – keep reading! We recommend you keep a list or create a spreadsheet to compare and contract volunteer agencies while doing your google research.
Here’s some tips for finding free international volunteer program through independent research:
Contact local organizations directly
You may venture to nonprofit directory websites like idealist.org. These websites list non-profit volunteer opportunities worldwide and allow you to contact local organizations directly.
Talk to your friends who have volunteered or lived abroad
You can ask your friends about local opportunities and get organization contacts from people they’ve worked with. What’s more, they will be able to give you a much better idea of what its like to volunteer in that country, area, or with that project.
Utilize social media or travel forums
Thanks to globalisation, the internet, and travel opportunities being made more accessible to people from all walks of life, it is a relief to know that money doesn’t have to stand in the way of your dreams to volunteer abroad. Now is the time to take your skills and passions abroad and make a positive impact in a local community without the hefty price tag. These types of adventures are priceless and the experiences you have while volunteering abroad are entirely worthwhile.
Take advantage of your Twitter account! Ask people if they know of any opportunities. Even if your immediate first-degree contacts do not, they could connect you with some of their friends who do. You can also post on Quora or Facebook groups in search of opportunities
Network where you are if you’ve already started traveling
If you have already hit the ground running and you are currently traveling abroad, use your local contacts to your advantage. If you are staying at a hostel or hotel, ask the front desk if they have access to any local organizations that are looking for volunteers. This is a good way to get connected with a community and see how you can make a difference on a local level.
Narrow your search by searching for either country-specific or project-specific free volunteer opportunities
If you narrow your search in this way, you will discover lesser known programs that you may not have been able to find otherwise. It seems obvious, but even doing a simple Google search for your specific country or area of interest can make a world of difference in your abroad program search!
Look into websites that put you in touch with volunteer hosts There are some really great volunteer networking websites available, such as WorkAway, HelpStay, and WWOLF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). For a small sign-up fee, these websites put you in touch with hosts in a variety of countries who are keen and willing to take on volunteers. In exchange for your skills and help, you get free accommodation and meals for a long or short term stay.
Consider Long Term Opportunities Through The Peace Corp
If you are ready to embark on a long term adventure, consider volunteering through organisations such as Peace Corp or something similar. These programs involve more commitment, but you will certainly be taken to places in the world you have only dreamed of before. You also receive accommodation, meals, transport, and a paid stipend for you work.
How can I check the legitimacy of an abroad volunteer organization?
Be wary of free volunteer programs when doing research. While we’ve all heard the expressions “ the best things in life are free” and “money doesn’t buy happiness” things generally don’t come free; if it seems too good to be true, unfortunately it probably is.
Before buying your plane tickets, it is very important to do some serious background checks on various aspects of the free volunteer opportunity you've chosen. Taking caution in your research will pay off in the long run as it will prevent you from entering dangerous situations. Failure to do enough research and just choosing the free volunteering abroad option without serious background checking, could endanger your safety, ruin your volunteer experience, or waste your time and money.
Here’s a list of things you immediately want to look out for when researching and selecting your volunteering organization.
Ask yourself how the organization is able to offer free volunteer opportunities
You may start your research by finding out why that organization is offering free volunteer abroad programs when other volunteer organizations need program fees to run operations and to host volunteers. You may ask the following questions: Where does this organization get their funding from? How do they pay room/food for volunteers? What are the benefits of offering free volunteering abroad programs?
Double check what’s financially expected from you as a volunteer
Ask what parts of your experience are free, whether there are program or registration fees, and who pays for your housing and food. Ensure that there won’t be any unanticipated costs upon arrival or departure including expectations for donations or gifts. Be direct with your organization and ask specific questions. If they hesitate to give you information of have hidden fees, you likely don’t want to volunteer through them anyway.
You may also ask yourself: what will be the full cost of my experience once I’ve completed my program? When you look at your overall budget for a “free” volunteering abroad experience, it may be the same if not more than a fee-based program that includes housing, transportation, food, and more peace of mind.
Analyze the program’s mission and commitment to local causes
Any good volunteer agency should have a professional website with a clear mission statement and outlined values. They should tell you specifics about how their local projects, programs, and causes contribute to the community. If they don’t offer that information or can’t provide adequate details, chances are that there won’t be real impact in what you’re doing.
Research the organization’s history and legal standing
Most organizations that offer free volunteer overseas programs are small agencies, therefore it’s really important to know how long they’ve been established, whether they are registered with local government officials, and if they’ve hosted other volunteers successfully. They should have a website with a clear “About” section that includes a mission, vision, or organizational values. Look for affiliations with volunteer bodies, past awards, recommendations from trustworthy sources, and listings in volunteer directories.
Read reviews and travel blogs of the past volunteers
Reviews don't all have to be positive, but the majority should be. Think about the legitimacy of the online review – do the comments sound genuine, as if real people wrote them? Are they written in natural English? Lots of errors could suggest the site owners paid someone else to write them.
Search for program and organization reviews on volunteer forums and feedback sites, as the volunteer placement provider cannot control the content of these. How recent, are they? What kind of response does the project provider make? A professional company will respond politely to most comments, whether they are negative or positive.
Check their website for up-to-date and clear information
A good and active organization keeps their website, blog, and other social media presence updated. This tells a lot about an organization. So before joining a free volunteer opportunity please make sure their blog, social media, and web presence are updated regularly and professional looking.
Evaluate the agency’s ability for communication
A good organization communicates fast and efficiently. Be aware that if your messages, questions or concerns are ignored or evaded before you travel, you have little chance of better service once you have left to begin your placement. A decent organization will make every effort to communicate with you as promptly as they are able.
Make sure that your organization has worked with other volunteers who have had good experiences
Search the organization’s website for pictures or testimonies from other volunteers. If they don’t have a website or their content is outdated, request previous volunteer information. They should give you this information without hesitation. If they can’t offer previous volunteer information, that’s a huge sign that they don’t have experience or can’t offer the program type they are suggesting.
Analyze the program’s organization and past experience
Volunteer agencies offering free volunteer programs may not have the experience or staff to provide an organized experience, which comes at a cost to you. Make sure you ask plenty of questions before committing to a program and decide for yourself if the agency seems like an experienced agency.
More Information On Volunteering Abroad For Free
Volunteer abroad is privilege and a blessing – and one that anyone who participates in does not take for granted in anyway. Many have dreams of volunteering the world in a positive and developmental way, by giving back to the communities visited.Volunteering abroad is the best way to get these cultural experiences that is entirely enriching to both you and the community you become a part of it. However, these dreams can easily be shattered when you realize that volunteering abroad comes with hefty price tag.
It seems ironic that in order to share your goodwill and positive vibes, you need to pay a whole heap of money. Larger international volunteering organizations have these fees in place to fund the programs they offer, covering costs from airport pick up with accommodation and meals. These all-inclusive programs can be convenient as they take care of all the in-country expenses in one easy go. Yet, not everyone can afford such as conveniences.
Fortunately, there are other ways that you can volunteer abroad for free, or for very minimal costs. And in this case, the reduced expenses do not at all result in a lesser experience.
We’ve all heard the expression that the best things in life are free and money doesn’t buy happiness. But we’re also quite aware that in life, things generally don’t come free and if it seems too good to be true, unfortunately it probably is.
This can certainly be the case when finding a program that allows you to volunteer abroad for free. If you think you’ve found the perfect program, you definitely need to read that fine print with a large magnifying glass to make sure there aren’t costly catches.
While it can feel disappointing that you need to be so wary about finding a good free volunteer abroad placement, being cautious will absolutely pay off in the long run. It is the same with any aspect of going abroad that you always need to have an extra layer of caution to keep yourself safe and from entering dangerous situations. After all, it is much better to be safe than sorry.
The following list is just some things to keep in mind while looking free volunteer programs abroad.
Unexpected extra cost
Such as housing or meal fares. It will happen with some programs that additional charges for food or bedding are outlined from the beginning.
This is reasonable, especially for long term free volunteer abroad placements in a developing community. However, you need to make sure that any of these charges are upfront and honest from your first contact with the program so that you avoid any nasty financial shocks at the end of your placement.
Gifts or requested donations
These are often expected by host organization or the site of your placement. It’s a good idea to prepare for this by having some fundraising events or donation rallies in your hometown before you go abroad. This way you can show up in the community with gifts and donations and make a positive first impression.
Disorganization in the program management
It often occurs in developing community. You need to remember that the program structures in place are very different from those in the western world.
Therefore you should expect some level of disorganization, but be cautious of programs that can’t offer you details on the daily structure and work expectations while you are there.
The world’s 10 best free volunteer abroad organizations
Legitimate volunteer organizations that offer free experiences may be harder to find than you expect. To help kick-start your research endeavors, we’ve listed some of the best organizations that offer free or low-cost volunteer abroad work opportunities.
The following are credible organizations who have given volunteers high quality experiences:
Help Stay connects hosts with international volunteers. The HelpStay agreement is this: dedicate a few hours a day helping out the hosts, and they will give you food and accommodation in return. They have a wide range of hosts looking for helpers in a variety of places: farms, households, art retreats, eco-villages, backpacker hostels, surf lodges, vineyards, ranches, schools, monasteries, kibbutzim, and more.
The only fee you pay is 30 Euros ($33) for one year of individual membership, or 50 Euros ($55) for one year of a dual membership (either a couple, two friends, or a family). Once you have paid this fee, the website is opened up to you completely. You will have access to the entire listings of hosts from all around the world, and you can view their offerings and descriptions. You won’t have to pay any more to be placed with someone; from that point on, the agreement is only between you and your host.
The beauty of this website is that it is simply a database – the organization itself will not be arranging anything for you, nor will they book your flights, pick you up from the airport, or baby you at all. This is why they don’t charge you for your placement – and this is also why you will have complete freedom to plan your free volunteering abroad however you like.
WWOOF, an acronym that stands for “Worldwide Opportunities on organic Farms,” is the pioneer of the work exchange world. As far as anybody knows, it is the original and the most extensive program out there for people looking to do work exchange programs. It makes for a fantastic alternative to free volunteering abroad.
WWOOF is so commonly known amongst the backpacking crowd. You may have even heard of people who volunteer in this program referred to as ‘woofers.’ Similarly to HelpStay, WWOOF offers an online database for free volunteering opportunities abroad, so your experience is all up to you. You can decide which hosts to contact, which countries to visit, and how long you would like to stay.
The main thing to remember with WWOOF, however, is the fact that it has an emphasis on organic farming – so if that is something you are interested in, then it is perfect. Additionally, rather than just paying one fee to access the site, you must pay an individual membership for each country you would like to visit. So, if you are planning on backpacking from country to country in a relatively short amount of time, this is perhaps not the best website to use.
If you are just going to be in one country, however, then WWOOF is a great choice. It usually doesn’t cost more than about 30 US dollars for one full year of membership, and sometimes couples’ membership options are also available.
Unlike many other free abroad volunteer programs, MovingWorlds will not send just anyone to their placement countries. In fact, they are looking only for a certain type of person: experts. Volunteers with MovingWorlds are referred to as “experteers,” and they volunteer with existing skills that will make the highest positive impact possible in their destination.
If you decide to embark on an experteering trip , you can filter your searches by country, by skill, or cause. Each project listed will include the specific benefits – for example, some come with provided accommodation, a meal stipend, or both if you’re lucky. You can therefore quickly and easily see which projects might be a good fit for you.
Luckily, you can basically turn any professional experience you have into a skill for an experteering program. The beauty of it is that it not only helps the destination and organization you are working for, but it also gives you a way to develop your own skills professionally. If you’re looking for the next best thing to an internship abroad, this is it.
Membership is more expensive for MovingWorlds than for the previous organizations: for a standard membership, it costs $125 (US dollars) for two years of being a full-access member. This includes an unlimited number of introductions to all the opportunities available as well as personal support from the company itself.
A “membership PLUS” account would include additional support. This one costs $300, but it is certainly worth it if you aren’t comfortable being completely on your own for a project like this, or if it is your first experience abroad.
If you purchase this membership option, you will have more highly specific opportunities (i.e. a specific skillset, a particular region of a country, or a specific time). This membership also allows you to do projects as a family or a couple, or to plan for more than one experteer experience on one trip. If you’re not happy with the service, there is a money back guarantee.
Free Volunteering has a wide array of free volunteer abroad opportunities available. Incidentally, it is powered by HelpStay (see above), and therefore always takes you to the Help Stay website when you click on an opportunity. That being said, Free Volunteering does offer a few added bonuses.
From eco projects in Canada to working in a preschool in Zimbabwe, from building houses in Tanzania to taking a teenager-specific trip to Spain for a week, there are a wide variety of options for free volunteering abroad with this site.
You will have to pay the same HelpStay fees when you actually get into a project you would like to partake in. These fees include about 30 Euros ($33) for a one-year individual membership or 50 Euros ($55) for a couple, pair of friends, or 2-person family. This one-time fee that allows you do to all their programs for free from then on.
Workaway is all about cultural exchanges. This organization emphasizes making a difference in the communities you are visiting, rather than only providing a low cost volunteer abroad program. Part of the appeal of Workaway is the massive network of hosts and “ workawayers ,” or other volunteers.
More than 155 countries have hosts, and the number of hosts in the world is more than a whopping 22,000. In other words, the variety of places you can go and things you can be doing is seemingly endless.
Like most other sites, there is a registration fee to volunteer through Workaway. For one person it costs $29 USD per year, and for two friends or a couple it costs $38 USD per year. Registering and paying this fee enables you to contact any of the hosts that you see listed – and that means infinite possibilities for your future of travel.
Whether you’re interested in helping in a tiny, remote village or supporting a family in the middle of an urban metropolis, whether you’d like to help out on an organic farm or help a hostel stay afloat, you will find something to do at Workaway. It is perfect for a person who wants to try new things with their free overseas volunteer program as most of the jobs don’t require prior expertise or experience.
Help Exchange, more commonly known as HelpX, is an expansive kind of work exchange very similar to WWOOF, Workaway, and HelpStay. While it is less specific and less regulated than other websites, HelpX has a hugely expansive network of hosts and locations.
HelpX requires just one paid registration per year to access all of its locations around the world. That makes it an extremely low-cost volunteering abroad organization, although it is technically a work exchange rather than a volunteer program.
Helpers can expect to work between three and six hours every day they are staying although ultimately this depends on a lot on the host. In exchange, you get a place to sleep and all your meals.
Again, the exchange itself can vary: some hosts will have you do less work and won’t give you free food, so it’s important to be extremely clear in your initial communications with the hosts. There are a few common sense rules set by HelpX, but beyond that it all comes down to what the host wants and what the helper agrees to.
In order to be able to contact the hosts directly, you will need to have a premier membership. This lasts a full two years, and any kind of membership you have (single or a pair) will cost you just 20 Euros ($22). In terms of the more established and better known work exchange websites out there, many will tell you that HelpX is the best for people looking for low cost volunteer work abroad.
Diverbo is different from the other free overseas volunteer organizations in that it only has programs in Spain and Germany. In fact, there is only one program offered to adults at all: participating in their free English “talkathons.” These talkathons involve the community coming together to practice their English with native speakers -- in this case, that native speaker would be you!
The catch is that they only want groups of native speakers (so people coming from countries like the US, Scotland, Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and so on). These groups are generally between 15 and 25 people in size (all native speakers), and they help the locals learn and practice their English.
In exchange for the work of the native speakers, they are given a free weeklong stay in one of the hotel resorts. The setup is quite clever: visitors get to do a free abroad volunteer program, while the locals get exposure to native English and get to interactively practice with them.
It is more than just hanging out and speaking English, of course. Volunteers are expected to be active participants in the many activities, which rotate on an hourly basis. You might have one-on-one conversations with some English learners, or perhaps you would help out with a themed group session, or maybe even do part of the evening entertainment for everyone.
The timing of your group’s volunteer placement can also be quite flexible -- there are weeklong sessions throughout the year, generally ranging from 6 days to 8 days, with some variation mixed in. It’s important to remember (and is emphasized on their website) that this isn’t a teaching position. It’s a talking position, and volunteers are expected to talk a lot in order to have a free stay.
Hostel Travel Jobs
Hostel Travel Jobs is exactly what it sounds like. It is a platform that connects you with hostels around the world that need some temporary help. Although it does not exactly provide the free volunteer abroad opportunities that many of the other sites in this article do, it is still something to consider if you are looking for a way to afford an extended stay in another country.
You can check out the jobs they have posted under “Recent Jobs,” allowing you to see what the newest opportunities are. The work available varies greatly, especially considering the fact that it advertises primarily hostel jobs. Most listings offer accommodation and some or all meals in exchange for their volunteers’ work.
Each listing on this website has simple and clear outlined expectations. For example, if the free volunteer work abroad includes accommodation and breakfasts, it will say it right there – you just have to glance at the listing to know. It’ll mention if it is part time or full time right at the top, and will say what your accommodation will be like.
Hostel Travel Jobs is likely one of the cheapest options for free volunteering abroad available out there – it only costs 6 Euros ($7) for a premium lifetime membership ! At that cost, it’s well worth giving it a shot.
True Travellers Society
This website is different from the others because it is written in the style of a blog. That being said, it has a tremendous amount of resources that will help any future volunteer find their perfect program. It is well-organized and informative without making you really search for all the details. For example, you can select lists of free volunteer opportunities abroad based on the geographic location – there is a list of organizations in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.
Each organization’s link comes with a brief description about the most important information about that program. If you need to be able to work with kids or ride horses, this website will mention it. If nothing else, it should help you easily short list your top ten possibilities when deciding on a free or low-cost volunteer program.
Volunteer Latin America
Volunteer Latin America is another free and low-cost abroad volunteer organization that is specifically focused on one region of the world: Latin America. Volunteer Latin America strives to do most of the work of organizing for you, giving you time to focus on what you are really interested in: volunteering and traveling. To help you understand this, they even list the difference of learning Spanish abroad verses volunteering abroad what the benefit of each program type is.
Volunteer Latin America’s mission is to do this without making you pay an arm and a leg for it. As soon as you go to the membership options, you’ll see that their philosophy holds true – membership is quite affordable ($12-25)
If you are someone who prefers to plan things on your own, a basic membership will give you full access to all of the low cost or free international volunteering projects. Premium membership is better for people who haven’t traveled much on their own or haven’t volunteered abroad before. Once you register and pay for your membership, you will have access to the full listings. You can easily search their information by choosing a specific country you would like to work in, a category of projects, or other kinds of keyword matches. Remember that different projects have different costs, perks, and duration requirements.
Once you find a listing that looks good to you, you can contact that organization directly. If they accept you, you can get started on making plans! Remember that different projects have different costs, perks, and duration requirements – for example, some may charge something like $10 per day to pay for your accommodation. Others might pay for everything – including your flights!
The variety of projects on Volunteer Latin America is really impressive – you can find just about anything, as long as you would like to work somewhere in the Latin American part of the world. Another great aspect to this site is their commitment to the environment – even the catch phrase on the top of every page is “volunteering abroad shouldn’t cost the Earth.”
Hopefully this has given you a good starting place for researching your own free volunteer abroad program, but it is by no means a comprehensive list of all the options that are available to you! For example, there are a number of country-specific or project-specific organizations that can offer you enjoyable experiences for free or at a very low cost.
For example, there are organizations that specialize in sea turtle conservation, but are located all over the world. On the other hand, there are organizations that are only located in New Zealand or Bolivia and have options for free or low cost volunteer opportunities abroad in a variety of different project areas.
In this way, it might be a better idea to narrow down your search that way. Begin by asking yourself, “what would I like to do as a free volunteer abroad?” Or even “what part of the world would I like to go to?” If you can answer one or both of these questions, you can open up a huge number of other options to choose from.
So, whether it’s protecting newly hatched turtles while they make their way to the safety of the ocean or it’s working in the tightly knit community of a kibbutz in Israel, your options are only limited by your own imagination and flexibility. It seems obvious, but even doing a simple Google search for your specific country or area of interest can make a world of difference in your search for free volunteering abroad.
In any case, this list is enough to show you that doing free volunteer work abroad does not have to cost you a very large amount. If you are working for free, after all, why should it be unaffordable to you? You don’t need to go through the huge companies that offer a vast amount of support and services to find a high quality, safe, and once in a lifetime experience.
In above chapters, we discussed the possibilities of free volunteering, its limitations, and provided you with a list of things to be wary of when selecting an abroad volunteering organization.
You’re not only limited to these free volunteering opportunities, though. There are also many paid volunteer programs out there in the world. In the following chapters, we will discuss different options for paid volunteering that may interest you.
Chapter 3: Alternatives to Free Volunteering - Paid volunteering Abroad
Let’s start this section by asking a few questions.
Do paid volunteer program really exist? If so, how can I find them?
Many paid opportunities to work or volunteer overseas do exist. They are often funded by the government or other large international humanitarian organizations. These programs offer the same exciting opportunities for volunteering, personal growth and skill-sharing as other volunteer projects, but they also cover all your related expenses and offer a salary or living allowance on top of everything else.
The catch is that particular qualifications and/or experience are usually required, and competition for places can be intense. There may also be a minimum time commitment.
Here’s a list of the popular paid volunteering abroad programs to help get your search started:
The Peace Corps
The Peace Corp is a paid volunteer abroad program that was created in 1961 to deepen cultural understanding between Americans and citizens of other countries. Their mission is achieved through the provision of technical assistance that contributes to economic and social development. Around a quarter of a million Americans have served in the Peace Corps, in over 130 countries around the world.
Return international travel costs are fully covered, along with medical/dental Insurance fees, and volunteers receive both a modest regular living allowance to cover daily expenses, as well as a decent lump sum of cash when they complete their service term.
Volunteers must make a long term commitment – 2 years plus an initial training period, which totals around 27 months. The screening process is very thorough and time consuming, so expect to apply at least nine months before you'd like to depart. Finally, many projects only recruit volunteers with specific qualifications, educational backgrounds or experience. Learn more >
Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO))
Since 1958 this UK based organization has been working to rid the world of poverty by providing people with a way to work together on development issues. Although it was once easy to get a place on a VSO scheme, regardless of your experience or background, since 1980 only skilled and professional applicants are considered for this paid volunteer abroad opportunity. However, an alternative program (ICS) is in place for undergraduates who would like to get involved.
A great chance to get directly involved with community work in several areas –education, the environment and agriculture – while gaining experience that will boost any resume. Couples are welcome to apply, and all volunteers get to choose where they go and what they do. An allowance –around what a local graduate would earn – is paid to volunteers to spend on things like personal toiletry items or social activities, as both food and housing costs are covered by the organization.
Long term volunteer opportunities are restricted to professionals with relevant training and experience. (Potential volunteers aged 18-25 can apply for a place on the short-term International Citizen Service (ICS) program). Participants must pay for their own airfare.
UN Volunteers is the organization responsible for recruiting and placing willing helpers into development programs operated by the United Nations. Established in 1970, each year more than 7000 people participate. Around 75% of all volunteers are themselves from developing counties, some being local to the area where a project is running. This reflects the focus on promoting social, economic and cultural growth through volunteering at a grassroots level.
30 month placements allow volunteers to experience true immersion in a country and project, which they are carefully matched to, based on their professional experience, abilities and background. All volunteers get a settlement allowance, and a regular living allowance which covers housing, utility charges, daily living expenses, comprehensive insurance and return airfare.
Opportunities are limited for anyone without certain desirable skills or qualifications. (Currently: a university degree or equivalent; 2+ related work experience and a decent level of either English, Spanish or French, and personal qualities including an open mind and the ability to adapt to new situations easily). Although great for solo volunteers, here are fewer opportunities for those who want to bring their family along.
Other Organizations that offer paid volunteering abroad opportunities
Volunteering for International Development from Australia (AVID)
Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst (DED)
European Voluntary Service and
Specialized paid international volunteer opportunities
In addition to government programs like the Peace Corps, VSO and others, there are some special paid volunteer abroad programs funded by the government of the destination country to meet particular needs. Not only can you volunteer for free, but various costs related to taking part in this kind of project are covered. In return, a longer time commitment is expected.
The 'English Opens Doors' Program – Chile
The 'English Opens Doors' Program is a joint venture between the Chilean Ministry of Education and the United Nations Development Program. It was developed to help improve the English language skills of children, which in turn should help to speed Chile's development in the 21st century.
The 'World Teach' Program – The Marshall Islands
In operation since 2002, this Pacific island based program was developed to improve the English language levels of students at all stages of the compulsory education system.
This is a challenging placement. Paid abroad volunteers go without the creature comforts or access to supplies you may be used to, especially if placed on the outer islands. Basic housing is provided, along with return airfare from the USA, health insurance, meals, a monthly stipend to cover daily personal expenses and full support from staff.
Chapter 4: Alternatives to Free volunteering – Paid travel& work programs
Besides government funded paid volunteer abroad programs, there are a few programs that are not technically volunteering programs, but give you opportunities to travel, help, and explore. Many of these programs offer free airfare and accommodations, in exchange for your work.
Teaching English abroad
English teaching abroad programs are similar to paid volunteer overseas programs in many aspects. If you yearn to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a year or two but need a regular income, then teaching English as a foreign language is a great way to make that happen.
There are jobs available all around the world, and not all require previous experience or teaching qualifications. Second language skills are not usually essential, especially for entry-level jobs.
Most jobs expect you to commit to working for 6 -12 months, and many expect teachers to work very long hours, which may leave you short of time and energy to enjoy the country and culture you're living in. Also, be prepared for some pre-trip expenses, as more and more destinations now require foreign English teachers to have at least an undergraduate degree, while visa conditions may also need applicants to produce a (clean) national criminal record check and have this, plus their degree certificate verified as genuine.
Here are some of our top picks for alternatives to paid abroad volunteer teaching:
China is a growing market for TEFL teaching, and salaries are rising to reflect this. Most jobs provide accommodation, and apartments tend to be larger than those on offer in other parts of Asia. If money or gaining good experience is your priority, look for work in a language school. If you prefer a lighter schedule and have a decent resume, look at university-based teaching positions.
Learn more: Teach Away- Teach English in China
Paid teaching in Korea
College graduates flock to South Korea to take advantage of the relatively low cost of living/taxes and high percentage of disposable income. Experience is not necessary for entry-level work that pays enough for the average teacher to save 30-50% of their monthly salary. Accommodation is generally provided. The TALK program is open to undergraduates who have completed a certain percentage of their degree. Most language school jobs use recruiters to screen candidates. Use as many as you can and don't be pressured into applying for every job they suggest.
Learn more: Teach English in Korea
A fascinating country offering lots of great food, history and cultural adventure. If you want to embark on a paid volunteer program abroad in Taiwan, you may consider teaching abroad instead. Taiwan is perfect for teachers with a TEFL qualification. Accommodation is not always provided but rates are reasonable and affordable on the average salary. Cities can be quite polluted, but the countryside is clean and beautiful.
Learn more: EslcafeJoblist, Reach to teach recruiting
Japan is a popular choice for both new and experienced English teachers as an alternative to paid abroad volunteering, attracted to the rich cultural landscape and amazing food. The cost of living is fairly high, especially if living in the capital city, but the average starting salary should provide enough income for some travel adventures and a social life. It is possible to pick up extra work in Japan, whether that is through private tutoring, modelling, acting and so on. Most large language schools (e.g. AEON, ECC, Shane) recruit only from western countries, so check their websites for details of any interviews planned for your region.
Learn more: TEFL Jobs in Japan
Paid teaching in other Asian countries
Teaching in Asian countries such as Cambodia, Thailand or Laos is a great way to explore, travel and fund a fantastic cultural experience, but it is difficult to save much on the salaries offered, Vietnam is becoming a good place to teach and save a little. Work permits are (officially) only issued to college graduates, and this rule is becoming stricter now.
Learn more: EslcafeJoblist, ESL Jobs in Vietnam, TEFL One
Paid teaching in the Middle East
Although this option is not as accessible for people looking for paid abroad volunteer opportunities, English teachers with previous experience and a relevant graduate degree have access to high paying tax-free jobs in the Middle East. Accommodation is usually either provided or paid for via an allowance. TEFL teachers without enough experience or education for the top jobs can still find well-paid work in Saudi Arabia. In many areas of this region male applicants will find it easier to find well-paid work and experience a more relaxed lifestyle than foreign female teachers will.
Learn more: Teachaway - Teach in Saudi Arabia
Paid teaching in South America
Look at South American locations if you are happy earning enough to cover your daily living expenses, have some kind of social life and travel domestically or to nearby countries. Though it's unlikely you'll save lots of cash, your monthly salary will be enough to guarantee a comfortable lifestyle.
Combine getting a TEFL qualification with paid work
If teaching abroad sounds like a good alternative to paid volunteer abroad work, you may consider working toward a TEFL certification. Although there are English teaching positions open to completely inexperienced native English speakers, securing a related qualification definitely opens more doors. If you'd like to get certified it makes sense to study while actually doing the job – especially as demonstrating your new skills in the classroom is often a part of the process anyhow. There are lots of companies around who offer either TEFL training followed by a guaranteed job or run the course alongside the work placement.
Experiential Programs -API
Teaching English Abroad -Transitionsabroad
Au pair: an alternative to paid volunteer abroad
If you are interested in spending some time abroad, want the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the language or culture, and also want or need to cover your expenses the best solution is to explore short term paid work options. These jobs may be temporary or seasonal but they offer you the unique chance to truly experience another country, in a way tourists cannot, along with practical experience to boost your resume and enough cash to cover your living expenses.
Work abroad as an au pair
If you are reliable, love children, find it easy to adapt to living with other people and have a sense of adventure this is a great option to consider. Working as an au pair abroad involves making a short-term commitment to care for a family's young children, and in some cases to do some light household chores. Au pairs work part time, leaving plenty of opportunity to go sightseeing, learn the host country's language – independently or in a language school, or pursue any other interests you may have.
There are thousands of positions available around the world, but specifically across Europe. This is great news for those nationalities - such as non-EU citizens - who have fewer opportunities to combine work and travel in that region. Au pairs are provided with a private bedroom and all meals, along with a monthly salary that could range from 75 – 450 Euros, depending on the country, and the hours they are contracted to work. Some au pairs will get the chance to travel for free with their host family. Both long and short-term au pair positions are available, so there's lots of choice and flexibility out there. From a few weeks to several months – you get to decide where and how long for you work.
Entry-level jobs – open to applicants without childcare experience and/or qualifications are harder to find, and pay lower salaries. Plus, if you choose to find work through a specialist recruitment agency you'll need to budget for the cost of their services – which include through checks on host families and support throughout your employment term.
Learn more: InterExchange Working Abroad , Aupair World , Find Aupair
If you have a clear vision about your future career path, and like the idea of getting some direct experience in an international setting then a paid internship offers the best of all worlds. Live abroad while gaining hands-on work experience and a salary to boot.
Internships abroad provide a unique opportunity to gain practical experience and make valuable contacts without losing out financially. Interns, who may be either under or post-graduate, are generally given an allowance that is more than competitive within the local economy.
Places on paid internship abroad schemes are very popular, so be prepared to fight off a lot of competition. Plus, many are restricted to applicants with a high-achieving educational record. Compared to volunteer abroad programs, paid internships usually have longer working hours and a more demanding workload.
Work Experience Program - Allianceabroad
10 Paid Internships Abroad in Summer 2017 - Gooverseas
Paid seasonal work
Bartending at a tropical beach resort, running an activity program for children, picking fruit and working at a stunning ski destination – these are just a few of the fun seasonal work opportunities available around the world. Applicants with proven experience and/or qualifications in areas like childcare, cooking or sport have more choices, but there are less financially lucrative jobs available to unskilled workers too.
There are lots of jobs offering decent rates of pay, and many also offer related perks such as free food and accommodation, a ski pass or access to leisure facilities. Additionally, seasonal work is often available in regions like Europe, where volunteer opportunities are often thin on the ground.
Seasonal workers are generally expected to work hard for several days a week, so time off may be limited or non-existent. While accommodation and food will probably be provided it is likely to be fairly basic. Finally, there are fewer opportunities for workers without any particular skills to offer
More information on flight, food, room while volunteering abroad
Flight is one of the biggest expenses when it comes to international volunteering. If you research online, you will realize that it is extremely difficult to volunteer abroad with flights included. There are only a few special group programs and high school summer programs that allow you to volunteer abroad with flights included. Additionally, some special programs such as the Peace Corps, VSO, and other long-term government programs allow you to volunteer abroad with free flights and accommodation.Below are some Frequently Asked Questions on flights to you understand how to volunteer abroad flights included:
Is there any volunteer abroad program where flights are included?
Except for some high school group volunteer programs and other special projects, most volunteer abroad programs do not cover airfare. If the airfare is included, please take note that the program fee would be very high as the organization has already included a pre-determined (usually high) cost of flight. If you research online about cheap volunteering abroad programs including flights, you will realize that some of them cost more than $4000! It is usually cheaper for you to book your own airfare as you will have the freedom to book cheap, budget airlines and make your booking during promotional periods.
Do I have to book the flight ticket by myself ?
Applicants that choose to not volunteer abroad with flights included often wonder how they can get the best airfare deal, especially if this is their first time traveling internationally. Please keep in mind that most volunteer organizations do not book air ticket for you. But worry not! This is due to the simple fact that you can easily find the best airfare by just doing some internet research. So, unless it is a volunteer abroad program including flights, you will have to spend some time researching among the airlines. Booking your flight ticket is very easy as you can do it online in just a few minutes!
Does the volunteer organization help to find cheaper airfare?
Please keep in mind that volunteer organizations usually do not have any special link with air carriers. They will therefore not be able to influence the price and get you a cheap airfare, even if it is with a local airline. You can find cheap airfare online just by doing simple internet research and comparing prices among different airlines, if you choose to not volunteer abroad flights included! There are also many websites such as Kayak and Trip Advisor, where you can compare the price of different airlines and save your time. These sites also sometimes offer you last minute deals for cheaper air tickets!!
How much does it cost for international flights?
The cost of an international flight is affected by many factors such as the season, airline, travel destination, and booking time. If you travel in high demand seasons such as Christmas or summer, the cost of airfare will go up as there will be a lot of people traveling for the holidays, including students. Your cost of flight will also go up if you book airfare at the last minute. It is best to plan carefully in advance to get the best flight deal possible and save up on your expenditure!
Where can I get cheap airfare?
Most volunteers that opt to not volunteer abroad flights included tend to book their airfare online. There are many websites that help you to compare prices between different airlines to go to your selected destination. Websites such as Trip Advisor and Kayak are excellent sources to compare flight deals.
Is there any airline that offers discount tickets for volunteers?
If you search for discounted airfare for international humanitarian workers, you will come across many sites such as Fly For Good, Safe Harbors, Wilcoxtravel , and to offer discounted flights for volunteers. You can check them out for the value deals prior to your trip preparation. However, our research shows that websites such as Cheap air, Kayak, and Trip Advisor are the best and most reliable sources to get the most excellent airfare deals.
How can I lower my airfare cost?
You can reduce your airfare cost significantly with careful planning and advanced booking. Never book at the last minute as flight costs will be very high as the departure date nears. It is highly advisable to compare the prices of different airlines online before choosing the best airfare. If possible, avoid planning your volunteer abroad trip in peak travel seasons as the travel costs will skyrocket! Some volunteers find it useful to create Google Alerts for last minute deals from airlines. You can also subscribe to fare alterations from sites such as Trip Advisor. You can find very cheap flight tickets from budget airlines such as Spirit to reduce your travel cost.
Is there any volunteer abroad program with free flights and accommodation?
Unfortunately, there are rarely ever volunteer abroad programs with free flights and accommodation. Please understand that volunteer organizations often do not get funding to run their programs and their overhead costs are covered solely through donations and program fees paid by volunteers. However, there are indeed a few programs where volunteers are provided with free flight and accommodation! These programs often need a long-term commitment, so check them out if you have plenty of time on your hands! Read more : Peace Corps, VSO, and World Teach.
It is indeed possible to volunteer abroad flight included, but we hope that this section has managed to convince you that you will get a better deal for your money by booking your own airfare. Just give yourself sufficient time to compare prices between different airlines and book in advance, you will be all set to go!
Volunteer Abroad 101
- What is Volunteer Abroad?
- Why volunteer abroad?
- Is Volunteering really for Me?
- What is ethical volunteering?
- Volunteer Abroad Complaints
- What are the Most Popular Volunteer Abroad Places?
- How Can You Select the Best Volunteer Abroad Organizations?
- How can you make volunteer abroad experience rewarding?
- Cost/Money Matter
- How can I find free volunteer opportunities abroad?
- Why do I need to pay to volunteer?
- Health and Safety
- Host family
- How to prepare to volunteer abroad?
- Gift for project/host families
- In-country support or when you will be in field
- What is the daily schedule for projects?
- What are popular volunteer abroad project?
- How can you reduce the cost of volunteer abroad?
Chapter 5 Comprehensive mini-volunteer guide
Download Your Free Volunteer Abroad Guide Ebook
This comprehensive Volunteer Abroad Guide is jam-packed with comprehensive information so you can begin your life-changing adventure without a hitch. From getting started to living overseas and then returning home, you’ll discover all the guidance you need to ensure it’s a seamless process from the beginning to end.
Get Free Volunteer Abroad Guide Book
Comprehensive Guide to Volunteering Abroad
Welcome to IFRE Volunteer’s comprehensive guide for volunteering abroad! We have packed this guide full of invaluable information that will help you every step of your volunteer journey – from researching volunteer organizations to following through and continuing to support your volunteer project of choice.
In this comprehensive volunteer guide, we’ll cover the following topics:
- Chapter 1: Introduction: Volunteering abroad
- Chapter 2: Benefits of volunteer abroad programs
- Is volunteering abroadthe right choice for me?
- Chapter 3: Most popular volunteer abroad destinations
- Chapter 4: Most popular volunteer abroad programs
- Chapter 5: Finding your volunteer organization& applying for your program
- How to find a credible volunteer organization
- What to expect when you apply for your program
- Chapter 6: Preparing for you abroad experience
- Travel prep check list
- Know before you go
- In-country support staff&what to expect upon arrival
- How to make your volunteer abroad experience rewarding
- Chapter 7: Safety and Cultural Shock While Volunteering Abroad
- Safety recommendations
- Culture shock: what to expect
- Chapter 8 : Completing your project and returning
- Things to do and see while volunteering abroad
- Frequently asked questions
- Further reading
Chapter 1: Introduction to volunteering abroad
Have you heard about abroad volunteering programs, but aren’t quite sure what they are? Do you want to learn more about the impact you can have as an individual when you travel internationally to donate your time to people in need?
Welcome to the first section of this volunteer abroad guidebook. Let’s start this guidebook with something simple by defining what exactly a volunteer abroad experience is:
When you join a volunteer abroad program, you travel to a third world country as part of a humanitarian initiative to donate your time, skills, labor, and experience to support a local project.
Although motivation may vary, people who embark on this type of trip have passion for serving those in need and love helping other. These trips combine travel, cultural immersion, and volunteering to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience that have both a positive impact on you and the community you serve.
Chapter 2: Benefits of volunteering abroad
You may be wondering why in the world people choose to work abroad without pay rather than obtaining an international job or just going on vacation? What kind of benefits does a volunteer program have, and what type of people choose to participate in these programs?
These are very good questions. People volunteer for a whole variety of reasons.
In general, volunteer abroad programs are more flexible than international jobs, they allow you to get a taste of a foreign culture without committing to leave your home country for a long amount of time, and these programs allow you to give back and feel good about yourself and the world you live in.
It may seem intimidating at first but stepping outside of your comfort zone to support local efforts in a foreign country has more benefits than you may think. Although everyone’s abroad experience will vary, the perks of volunteering apply to everyone.
Here are some other benefits that may inspire you to join a volunteer abroad program.
When you volunteer, you make the world a better place
When you volunteer abroad, you get the chance to make a real impact on the lives of individuals and their communities. Whether that’s by teaching English or helping children in need, you will help developing countries prepare for sustainable futures.
You’ll have the adventure of a lifetime!
Volunteering abroad involves finding communities in need and people to help, but it is also about making the most of your opportunity for adventure. – whatever that looks like for you. You will have the opportunity to explore exotic landscapes, see diverse flora and fauna, and eat foods completely new to your palette. You will tell stories from your volunteer abroad program for the rest of your life.
Volunteering makes you happierWhen you take a break from your demanding schedule to put energy toward something that will cause a direct positive change, you will feel so rewarded. It’s scientifically proven! By measuring hormones and brain activity, studies show that being helpful delivers immense pleasure. The more we support each other, the happier we feel.
You can feel like your time is worth more or that you have more of it
Donating your time to something meaningful rather than wasting your time being unproductive will help you feel like your time has more value. When you return from an overseas volunteering program, you will want to use your time more efficiently because you feel as if it’s worth more.
Volunteering promotes physical health
Many people work sedentary jobs or spend their free time on the couch watching television, but when you work abroad you commit to getting up and getting out. Not to mention that when you’re in a foreign country, you’re more likely to go on a walk to see the sites, hike a once-in-a-lifetime mountain trails, or take a swim in the ocean. Increased movement has been proven to lower risk for back pain, disease, stress, and mental illness.
You’ll expand your global awareness
Abroad volunteer experiences will expand your cross-cultural understanding and increase your global awareness. You will be more aware of the impact of global trends on local economies, which will enable you to appreciate your own cultural values and beliefs.
Encourage emotional well-being for yourself and others
Donating time to connect with people and work toward a common goal is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and lower stress, which will improve your overall well-being and enhance your quality of life. Even if you are an emotionally stable person, volunteering overseas encourages other individuals’ emotional well-being by alleviating symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Remember, other countries may not have access to the same quality of resources or education about mental health that you do.
Explore potential career paths
Whether you are a young person just beginning their studies or someone with experience in need of a career change, volunteer work abroad will give you practical experience and the opportunity to “try out” work in a given field without making a long-term commitment.
Discover hidden talents and gain new skills
There are many abroad volunteer opportunities that don’t require specific skills to contribute; passion, a good attitude, and an open mind are generally the only requirements! Volunteering in a field that is not familiar will allow you to gain and develop skills or new talents you may have never practiced before.
Advance your career by gaining unique experiences
Spending time supporting humanitarian efforts through overseas volunteer programs will allow you to practice important skills used in the workplace such as communication, team work, critical thinking, organization, and adaptability. Additionally, employer’s understand what abroad experiences entail, which will make you stand out amongst the crowd when competing for jobs.
Become more patient and flexible
Volunteering programs abroad allow you to take full advantage of cultural immersion. Each country has its own diverse cultural identity with methods of communication and social expectations that may surprise you. This will often times force you to become more flexible and patient as you navigate a new country’s way of life.
Become more proficient in a foreign language
In addition to cultural immersion, when you volunteer overseas you will be surrounded by a foreign language. You will have the opportunity to learn or practice a second language. Learning another language is not only fun, it’s also a really good way to get to know the real essence of the country. What’s more, you could take advantage of this opportunity to create a strong foundation that may allow you to keep advancing or even pursue fluency.
Sharpen existing skill sets
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. When you volunteer abroad you can take advantage of an environment in which you can enhance and refine specific skills that you may not use in everyday life, but you’d like to make part of your career. You will also likely enhance your communication and teamwork skills as you work beside other volunteers and locals to work toward a common goal.
Set a good example
Too often we hear people say that just one person can’t make a difference, but when you contribute through an international volunteer program, you will join a community effort with individuals who share your desire to make a change. When you embark on a volunteer abroad adventure, you set a great example to your friends and family by reinforcing the positive message that YES! One person can make a difference. You may even inspire others to join or start volunteering abroad programs themselves.
You can boost your own self-confidence
There’s sense in the saying “when you look good, you feel good.” When you put positive energy into a volunteer abroad opportunity, that goodness is reflected on yourself. This notion can even create a positive feedback loop: you do a good deed, and then you feel rewarded, so you keep doing good deeds. Eventually you will feel confident enough to take on any challenge!
You will support building a strong community
One individual may not have the capacity to single-handedly change the world, but when you work together with other overseas volunteers and local contributors who share your passion and drive, you’ll learn that a small collective effort can make a huge impact and affect the community in overwhelmingly positive ways.
Grow a new appreciation for what you have
Weighed down by demanding schedules, we often do not realize how privileged we really are. When you join an overseas volunteer program in a country that may not have basic needs like sufficient shelter or clean water, you learn to appreciate things you may have previously taken for granted in life.
Make connections that will last a lifetime
The strongest and most enduring friendships grow from shared experiences. When you work alongside other people, you will grow bonds that cannot be broken. As a volunteer abroad you will meet people from all backgrounds and nationalities who will enrich your experience both on the project itself and your life.
Increase your social skills
Socializing improves brain function and lowers your risk for anxiety and depression. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering overseas gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills. When you are out of your comfort zone, meeting a group of people with common interests can feel comforting rather than intimidating.
Cultivate empathy for others
Empathy is the ability to understand life from another person’s perspective. People who are naturally empathetic will be drawn to travel opportunities because this allows them to embrace and explore this aspect of their personality. However, if you are not naturally empathetic, volunteering overseas can open your eyes through firsthand experiences as to the way people in other parts of the world lead their lives, and how they emotionally navigate the conditions where they live.
Break free of old thought patterns
As humans, we tend to get stuck in patterns… including thought patterns that affect our daily lives and careers for better or worse. Although this may be a beneficial asset for some, it also doesn’t necessarily create space for innovative ideas or promote creativity. When you take part in a volunteer abroad opportunity, you will revamp your daily routine which will allow you to gain new perspectives and be more mindful of your day to day thought patterns.
Enhance your global network
One of the most effective ways to connect with people is through personal interactions. When you create a whole-hearted human connection with someone, that bond will be much stronger than if you only know them in the virtual world. Strong international connections build from oversees volunteering can create opportunities for idea sharing, job leads, and international collaboration.
There are a lot of reasons for volunteering, but before you start planning your trip, you must ask yourself:
Is volunteering the right choice for me?
You must ask yourself this question, and really think about a genuine response because the truth is that volunteering abroad is not for everyone. Whether traveling to a developing country to work alongside locals is a good fit for you will depend on a multitude of factors, like your personality, cultural values, and life experience.
Here are some guidance questions that will help you discern if you should volunteer abroad:
- Do I enjoy working alongside others and meeting new people?
- Do I have a passion for helping those in need?
- How comfortable will I feel working with people who live in extreme poverty?
- Am I patient, kind, and teamwork oriented?
- How far am I willing to step outside of my comfort zone?
- Which creature comforts can I live without? For how long?
- Do I have skills that are worth contributing? What are they?
- Am I open-minded and compassionate?
- Can I maintain a good attitude when faced with challenging scenarios?
- Do I enjoy traveling?
- What kind of experience am I looking for?
- Do I have the money needed to fund a volunteer experience?
If you felt confident answering positively to many of these questions, that’s a great indicator that you will do well in a volunteer abroad program. If these questions made you hesitate, it would be wise to take a step back and re-evaluate if an abroad program is the best way for you to support those in need. You could also consider volunteering with a group for more emotional support or volunteering for a shorter amount of time so that you don’t step too far outside of your comfort zone. It is essential that you feel good about what you’re doing when you partake in a program to volunteer internationally.
Now that you’ve made a decision about whether or not volunteering abroad is a good fit for you, you’ll need to think about where you want to volunteer. What countries are you comfortable traveling to? What cultures intrigue you the most? Is there a certain destination you have always wanted to visit?
Chapter 3: Most popular volunteer abroad destinations
Volunteer abroad opportunities are a wonderful way to help others who desperately need assistance, while exploring some of the most breathtaking and fascinating countries in the world. You can provide support for people who are in need of resources while enriching your own life through travel and cultural immersion. But with so many amazing destinations in the world from tropical paradises to wild African grasslands –how do you decide where to volunteer?
IFRE Volunteers has been trusted since 2006 by over 22,000 people allowing us to facilitate their abroad experience. With 200+ volunteer opportunities in over 20 countries, we work with you to find a project that suits your budget, schedule, and travel companions in the destination of your dreams. As an introduction to some of these amazing possibilities, we have compiled a list of our 11 most popular volunteer abroad destinations.
Characterized by culture steeped in spiritual traditions, Himalayan mountain landscapes, and charming villages, Nepal is undoubtedly one of the most popular volunteering abroad destinations. While safe for travelers - poverty, civil war, and government corruption make Nepal one of the poorest developing nations in the world, and Nepalese citizens need your help!
IFRE helps connect international volunteers with programs that suit their needs, interests, and (if applicable) experience. From exploring Buddhist religion through teaching English to monks, sharing your passion for children by working in an orphanage, or documenting Nepal’s vibrant culture and customs through photo journalism projects, there is a volunteer abroad opportunity for everyone in this spectacular country.
Does the idea of a landscape framed by majestic temples and smiling buddhas, luxuriously long coastlines, and the exceptional flavors of savory cuisine sound appealing? If so, Thailand may be the right volunteer abroad destination for you. Although Thailand is known for its welcoming people (often referred to as the “land of smiles”), there are many communities who are not beyond the struggles of poverty. When you volunteer overseas in Thailand, you may find the perfect project working with elephants in conservation efforts, teaching Buddhist monks in Tibetan monasteries, or supporting orphanages through caring for children.
Kenya, West Africa
Volunteering abroad in Kenya will encourage limitless opportunities for personal growth, experiential learning, adventure, and compassion. You may witness the Great Wildebeest Migration, discover the culture and heritage of some of Africa’s best-known peoples (the Maasai, the Samburu, the Swahili), or experience landscapes such as savannah grasslands or majestic snow-capped mountains.
Unfortunately, overhalf of Kenya’s population still lives in poverty, and poor communities, children, and women are affected the most. You can make a real impact when you volunteer in Kenya by working with local organization to teach English in rural schools , support families and individuals affected by HIV/AIDS, or contribute to medical and healthcare outreach.
Guatemala, Latin America
Overseas volunteering programs in Guatemala will allow you to embrace heart-warming culture, enthralling landscapes, and fascinating architecture while using your humanitarian passion to support those in need. When you volunteer in Guatemala, you can show street children inspiration by working with them to realize their potential, make healthcare more accessible to rural communities without medical services, or empower women through handicraft projects that will allow them to gain financial independence and become more confident.
Ghana, East Africa
Even though Ghana is generally not as popular with the tourist crowds, it has boundless opportunities for abroad volunteers looking to share their passion and make an impact on the world. Ghana is one of the most peaceful African nations and as foreigner volunteer you will be treated with respect as you work alongside locals in programs such as teaching English in rural schools, supporting outreach and healthcare through HIV/AIDS programs, and working with orphaned children who are in desperate need of love and attention.
In your free time, you may learn more about Ghana’s musically infused and vibrant culture, discover historic castles and forts, or explore lush green national parks teeming with wildlife.
People travel from all over the world to experience India’s rich history and culture. Intricate architectural wonders, incredibly flavorful cuisine, and diverse cultural customs will leave you questioning what else this amazing country has to offer.
When you embrace a volunteer abroad program in India, you will experience all of these facets and feeling rewarded by giving back to those in need. Plagued by a corrupt government, lack of sanitation education, pollution problems, and economic inequality, you can help Indian residents by working with at-risk children and youth, teaching English to students in school, supporting healthcare efforts, empowering women, and much more.
Peru, Latin America
Peru has long been considered a popular tourist destination due to its amazing ruins reminiscent of one of the oldest civilizations in the world and unique lifestyle rich in tradition that still heavily reflects Incan roots. When you participate in a volunteering program abroad, you will have a chance to get to know this country in many ways other tourists do not.
You can utilize your unique talents and experiences to teach English so that children may have a brighter future with more opportunities to support their families, help clinics extend access to rural populations who may not be able to receive healthcare services, or support orphaned children who desperately need local and attention.
Sri Lanka, Asia
Sri Lanka is an island in the India Ocean that has something for anyone looking to contribute to a volunteering overseas program. Characterized by ancient temples, unique wildlife (including the endangered Sri Lankan elephant), and beautiful beaches, the country has a lot to offer. However, much of the country still lives in poverty with limited access to healthcare and education, which traps populations in poverty. Volunteer with IFRE to help change this by working in Elephant sanctuaries, teaching Buddhist monks, supporting children in orphanages, or contributing to health care programs.
From South Africa’s beautiful scenery to exciting wildlife, South Africa has a lot to offer any volunteer work abroad. While there are a lot of ways to enjoy travel in the wonderful country, there are also a lot of ways to give back to those in need. More than half the population of South Africa still lives in poverty. Use your passion to support humanitarianism efforts in South African through contributing to projects in social welfare, teaching English to poor students in rural schools, helping care for children, and more!
Did you know that despite being one of the most politically stable countries in Africa, close to 70% of Tanzania’s population lives in poverty? Problems like wealth inequality, malnutrition, and lack of education affects impoverished communities lives daily.
When you travel to Tanzania on a volunteer abroad opportunity, you will have the chance to aid children, women, and families who are suffering while broadening your horizons through a cultural immersion experience. During your free time, you may also explore some of Africa’s most amazing natural wonders such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park.
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse nations in the world, but this small country wasn’t always a leader in conservation. Many years ago, Costa Rica actually had one of the highest rates of deforestation. Since then (thanks to environmental education efforts) local people have fought to protect huge tracts that are home to over 500,000 species of plants and animals.
There’s no denying that Costa Rica is a traveler’s paradise, but many visitors may not realize that locals suffer from living in poverty. What’s more, large plantations encroach on wildlife habitat and threaten otherwise pristine natural areas. Use your skills and experiences on a volunteering overseas program to give back to those in need or support conservation efforts in Costa Rica . IFRE offers programs such as turtle conservation, working with underprivileged children, and volunteering on coffee farms all to support local efforts.
Chapter 4: Most popular volunteer abroad programs
If you have a good idea of what countries you’d like to travel to, the next step is to think about the types of programs you would like to support. Where can you contribute your skills to make the biggest impact? Which programs have the biggest need for volunteers? What are you most passionate about?
These questions are incredibly important because if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you will likely not enjoy your experience.
IFRE Volunteers is a well-known and trusted company that was founded in 2006. We have facilitated more than 22,000 individuals’ abroad experiences and know a lot about which programs people really enjoy as well as what the safest, most affordable, and most life-changing projects are out there.
To help you in your search for the best international abroad volunteer program, I have compiled a list our 10 most popular overseas experiences. These range from specific experiences in a given country to programs in general that we offer in a variety of countries.
Working with children
One of our most popular volunteer abroad program types is children’s projects. We offer childcare programs through orphanages, day cares and working with street children. These projects aim to provide children with love, support, and education.
We strive to go above and beyond just providing them with basic needs (meals, shelter, attention), but work to empower the children so they may realize their potential – setting them up to be successful and happy humans later in life. When you provide these children the love and attention they so desperately crave and deserve, they will become motivated and inspired. Your efforts will give them hope for a brighter future.
- Brazil - Childcare Project
- Ecuador - Orphanage Project
- Guatemala (Antigua) - Work in an Orphanage
- Peru - Work in an Orphanage
Teaching is one of the most rewarding ways to give back to underprivileged populations. The purpose of our teaching overseas volunteering programs is to provide children in poverty with free, quality education. As an international teaching volunteer, you will provide a vital source of education and inspiration to local students who can utilize English skills to compete in the job market when they get older and need to earn a living for themselves.
- Tanzania - Teaching english
- Argentina - Teaching English Project
- Brazil - Teaching Project
- Ecuador - Teaching English in rural and urban schools
- Guatemala, Xela - Teaching English
Medical & Healthcare Programs
Volunteering abroad with one of IFRE’s medical or healthcare opportunities will allow you to improve people’s qualities of life on a daily basis. Many of the programs we offer work with local clinics and hospitals to provide basic medical care to rural or impoverished communities who may have limited or no access to medical services.
When you volunteer with one of our medical programs, you will assist medical staff and support community health outreach. Through these abroad medical volunteer opportunities, you will provide relief to the local doctors and nurses who may be overworked and underappreciated. You will also help individuals receive the care they desperately need.
- Cambodia - Health/Medical Project
- Tanzania - Health Projects
- Uganda - Health Projects
- Argentina - Medical Project
- Guatemala (Xela) - Healthcare
Women’s empowerment programs supports women in developing countries to overcome poverty and create a better life for themselves and their family. As an international volunteer, you will work with groups of women to help them create thriving businesses in their communities. Women’s cooperatives and small local businesses will allow them to generate additional income for themselves or their families. When you share your skills and love with these women, you will help them rebuild their self-esteem so they can lead their best life possible.
- Tanzania - Women Empowerment Projects
- Guatemala (Xela) - Women's Project
- Guatemala (Antigua) - Girl Empowerment Project
Buddhist Monk Teaching – Nepal
There is a great need and desire for young monks to learn English so they can help spread their import teachings to a modern and rapidly changing world. When you are volunteering overseas to teach English in Nepal, you will have the unique opportunity to work closely with Tibetan monks while learning about Buddhist culture and beliefs. This will make a huge difference in both the lives of the monks and of those that come to them to learn the message of Buddhism.
As a volunteer, you will assist in local monasteries, teaching English to monks ages 5 years and older. You will create your own creative lessons using existing resources and may also be asked to practice English with older monks in evening conversation classes.
- Nepal Himalayas - Teach English to Monks
- Sri Lanka - Teach English to Monks
- Thailand (Ayutthaya) - Teaching Monk
Elephant Conservation – Sri Lanka and Thailand
Another popular abroad volunteer opportunity is elephant conservation in Asia. Sadly, elephants suffer daily due to human encroachment on their habitats, exploitation, and poaching. IFRE’s goal is to connect you as an international volunteer with elephant orphanages and sanctuaries so you may contribute to local conservation education, support local economy through ecotourism, and of course aid with elephant care! You will show these magnificent creatures a kinder version of humanity by ensuring their health, well-being and survival.
Turtle conservation is one of our most popular conservation volunteer opportunities. When you volunteer work abroad program with this type of project, you will work directly with the community to promote outreach in conservation education as many turtles and turtle eggs are still poached by locals.
As an intern, your responsibilities will vary, but they may include night walks to collect turtle eggs and re-bury them in protected areas (thereby ensuring a higher chance of survival), working alongside the community to create awareness of turtle conservation issues, or assisting researchers to tag turtles in open water so we can continue learning about these amazing creatures habits and behaviors.
- Bali - Turtle Conservation
- Bali - Turtle Conservation and English Teaching
- Costa Rica - Osa Sea turtle
- Sea Turtle and Wildlife Research
- Sanctuary Natuwa
- Wildlife Conservation Project (Port Elizabeth)
- Desert Elephant Project (Namibia)
- Big 5 Project(South Africa)
- Save Our Wildlife (Namibia)
- Cambodia - HIV/AIDS Awareness Project
- India - HIV/AIDS Project
- Kenya - HIV/AIDS Project
- Tanzania - HHIV/AIDS Project
- Uganda - HIV/AIDS Project
When you invest time and energy into volunteer work abroad in wildlife rehabilitation program, it will be an incredible and rewarding experience. Most wildlife rehabilitation programs aim to educate the public (locally and internationally) about species conservation and endangered wildlife. These rehab centers also provide a haven for unique African animal species that have been abandoned, injured, and poisoned wildlife in the area. Some programs may also have you facilitate and monitoring the breeding of endangered species.
China for panda conservation
China is well known for the giant, gorgeous Panda, but sadly this great creature faces extinction; there are only an estimated 1,000 left in the world. Many factors affect the panda's survival: poaching, habitat loss, and industrialization make it hard for the Panda species to sustain their population in the wild due to their low birthing rate.
This program will allow you to work directly with the pandas, helping the provide daily panda treatment, maintenance, and love in an effort to keep the panda species alive and prosperous.
Volunteering abroad through one of our HIV/AIDS programs is one of the most meaningful ways to support people affected by this terrible disease. In most programs, you can support volunteer efforts in one of two ways. You may focus on outreach to help spread HIV/AIDS awareness, educate to help prevent future infections, and teach communities about how to treat infected people with respect and compassion. Another way you could support this effort is by actually visiting HIV/AIDS victims in their communities to distribute food, clothes and medicine as well as provide comfort and counselling.
Make an impact by joining these groups as they work against cultural stigmas and try to make a better world for those unfortunate enough to be infected with HIV/AIDS.
IFRE works with every individual to find the right volunteer abroad program for them. As you’ve just read, we have been able to connect individuals with organizations in various countries to make a real impact on communities and wildlife in need.
Whichever project you select, it’s important to remember that you should have passion. Did any of the projects listed above speak to your heart? Contact us today to learn more about abroad opportunities.
Chapter 5: Finding the best volunteer abroad organization& Filling out your program application
Searching for the best volunteer abroad organization
There are hundreds of volunteer agencies out there ready to help you have the best volunteer abroad experience. So, how do you know which one to choose? How you can be sure you’re selecting a trusted and credible organization that will offer you a good experience? How do you avoid companies who play the “middleman” or low quality free volunteer programs?
Selecting the volunteer abroad organization for you is extremely important because the decision affects your safety, budget and overall experience Here are few tips that should help you to choose a credible organization:
Check the organization’s website
The best organizations have clearly written information on their website without grammar or spelling mistakes, blogs with regular updates, and an “about us” section that explains the organization’s mission and goals. If they don’t have a website or are missing these key aspects, red flags should go up in your mind. You may also look for up-to-date photographs of previous volunteers and social media accounts where the company is actively engaging with its followers.
Check the program’s affordability and how they allocate program fees
Volunteer abroad organizations charge program fees ranging from $300.00 to$3,000 for a 2-week period. They should be clear about where those fees go – are they supporting the local project and host families? If the organization isn’t clear about where your money is going, you should probably second guess using them as your agency of choice.
Reviews and ratings of the organization
Do your research and see what people are saying! Try to avoid organizations which are getting a lot of negative reviews. If you aren’t sure that what you’re reading is legitimate, you can always ask for references from past volunteers.
Reach out to the organization to check how quickly they communicate
Send an email directly to the organization and see how soon they reply. This should happen within 24 hours and they should answer your questions or concerns in a sensible and professional way.
Analyze the organization’s commitment to local causes
Go to your organization of choice’s website to analyze how committed they are to local causes. The best volunteer organizations to volunteer abroad with are always coming up with ways to help local communities, perhaps by building a playground for children, sponsoring local events, or by planting trees and gardens for nature conservation. Look for photos and updates on their projects.
Check out their social media presence
The best form of marketing in today’s global community is through social media. If the free abroad volunteer company you are looking into has a strong presence on Facebook or Twitter or an up-to-date blog, this is a very good sign. This means that they are putting in extra effort to be part of the global world and reaching out to more volunteers.
While remembering that all volunteer organizations have their limitations, the best providers will have a good reputation with field-tested staff who care about your personal journey. They will provide a high-quality volunteer abroad experience at a reasonable and transparent price.
Filling out the application
Once you’ve decided on an organization, you will need to apply for your program of choice. Most applications are very straightforward online forms, although they may take a while to complete. This application may be quite extensive, so you’ll need to be prepared to supply your personal information, project of choice, reasoning behind wanting to volunteer, and more.
Sometimes organizations will ask you to do an interview or write a statement of interest. You will also most likely be asked to pay a deposit or booking fee ranging from $50 to $500 to hold your volunteer spot. The deposit is part of the overall cost of your program. For example, if your application fee is $299, and your deposit is $99, you will have $200 left to pay after you are accepted.
After you submit your online application, it is forwarded to your host country's main office, where the local staff will review it, assess your interest in the abroad volunteering program, and examine your educational and personal background to determine if you are a good fit for it.
Chapter 6: Preparing for your abroad experience
It may take a little while to hear back (normally between 1-3 weeks), but once you are approved to volunteer in your program of choice you will receive a confirmation of your acceptance and the details of your placement. This should include everything you need to know about pre-departure requirements, project details, itineraries and schedules, visa information, vaccination requirements, in-country office details, accommodation details, and more.
To help you out with your travel planning and ensure that you don’t forget anything during the planning period, I created this travel prep checklist just for you:
Travel Prep and Checklist
Visa:All countries with volunteer abroad programs require foreign citizens to have a visa before they can enter. Some countries issue these on arrival, but others don’t. In these cases, you must apply for the visa before you travel. If you are unsure about the visa situation for your destination country it’s best to check with their embassy website, or with the volunteer organization you are working with.
Passport: To enter another country for volunteering work abroad you are required to hold a valid passport with at least 6, (sometimes 9), months validity. Some require one or more pages to be blank and available for visa stamps, and most countries expect visitors to show proof of onward travel, such as a return air ticket or a bus ticket to a different country.
Vaccination : When travelling abroad it is best to protect yourself against any potential health concerns. Well before your travel date be sure to consult your doctor, the website of the Center for Disease Control or an official website for your destination country about which vaccinations you may need to have.
Flight : In most cases volunteers are responsible for sourcing and paying for their own airfare for volunteering trips abroad, so start looking for great deals as soon as you can. Set up alert notifications for cheap airfare comparison sites such as Orbitz, or Kayak as well as Google Flights and Skyscanner. Booking a round trip flight is generally cheaper, as is being flexible with your travel dates.
Funds: You’ll need to ensure that you have sufficient funds to support your adventure. If you need some ideas on how to pay for your volunteering program abroad there are lots of resources to draw on. You can use online funding sites such as GoFundMe, or GiveForward , as well as others for students, and large groups. You can also look to local churches, businesses or volunteer groups for help funding your trip.
Host country research: You should prepare mentally for your volunteer adventure by researching your host county’s history, government, and cultural norms. Find online blogs, or travel books which focus specifically on your country of interest. Examples of travel books or blogs that focus specifically on volunteer trips abroad are Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation by Jane Stanfield and the Nerdy Nomad blog.
Packing List: What to pack for volunteering abroad depends on many factors like country, season, projects, culture etc. It is good idea to travel light so traveling is easier. While packing is a very personal process, you should ensure to pack all important travel documents, appropriate work clothing, mosquito netting, sun protection, toiletries, personal entertainment (books, journal, music, etc.), and a gift for your project/host family.
Know before you go
You are packed, have the agenda for your volunteer work abroad, and your tickets are booked. Now it’s time to go over everything you should know and be ware of before your arrival.
Get all the information on the project and country
Make sure you have all the necessary information about the destination country including the exact location, whether it’s rural or urban, the name of the project, and the weather in the season you will be there. Get names, websites, email addresses, phone numbers; anything that will help you to transition easily and put your mind at ease.
Learn all about your host family
Your host family is very important to your volunteer abroad experience as they will be your local contact to both the project and the community. Try and get as much information about the family as you can. Names, how many are in the household, their jobs, their address and a phone number if available. Ask them about things like access to hot showers and laundry facilities, if you will you have a room to yourself, about the type of food and what time they eat. Check out the host families traditions and culture and the language they speak and learn a few key phrases. They will be your family away from home, so it’s wise to prepare well for a smooth acceptance into their household and lives when volunteering.
Learn about local culture and customs
Having a basic understanding of the customs, salutations, manners, and common religions of your host country will save you from unpleasant interactions and behaving in a disrespectful way. Fortunately, the internet has an incredible wealth of information to help you out in your research.
Don’t forget your motivation for volunteering
Remember that one of the main reasons that you are volunteering is because you felt it in your heart that you wanted to help to people and animals. You also had a yearning to experience a new culture and foreign land. Embrace the challenge and change of traveling outside of your comfort zone and remember that you are doing something extraordinary not only for yourself, but for others in need. Keeping this open-minded and heart-guided mindset will only further enhance your volunteer abroad experience.
In-country support & what to expect upon arrival
Your in-country support staff will be your lifeline on your volunteer abroad adventure. Build a strong connection with them by starting communication early and letting them know that you’re looking for their support. They will often be your sole contact for helping you resolve any problems or mishaps that may arise so make sure to get their information including names, email, an office address if they have one, and a phone number, and try to stay in touch at least once a week.
Before taking off for the airport make a final call to your volunteer agency to make sure all the details are clear, ask any last-minute questions, and ensure that no plans have changed. You’ll have complete peace of mind during the flight knowing that your in-country support staff will be there to meet you when you get off the plane, and that your agency knows exactly where you are in the country.
Once you land and meet with you support staff, you will receive some sort of orientation to both your accommodations and your host country. It is likely that you will experience a range of different feelings, senses and emotions. Beautiful and diverse landscapes and vibrant cities which are complemented by the warm hospitality of the people will leave you excited and full of energy. But you will also come face to face with poverty, city slums, and homeless people of all ages, low health and hygiene standards, and people that are in desperate need of love, care, support, facilities and resources. This, on the other hand, can feel desperately sad and overwhelming.
Remember these are developing countries you are going to in. While these emotions are normal, you should also arrive mentally prepared. You may skip ahead a chapter to read more about how to cope with culture shock.
How can I make my volunteer experience rewarding?
Once you are in your host country the trip really begins. Below are a few tips to help you get the most rewarding experience possible:
Understand your project
Make sure you have all the information about the country, and program, host family, transportation, language, and safety concerns relating to your destination country before arriving at your volunteering program abroad.
Build a strong relationship with your in-country coordinator
Notify your country coordinator immediately about any problems you may experience. Your country coordinator is a vital lifeline and a great resource when trying to sort out any difficulties which may arise. Use it.
Support and show passion for your cause and project
You’ve planned, researched and devoted lots of time to finding the right experience for you, so once in place it’s important to continue to immerse yourself in your cause. Show up with a smile, share your skills, hobbies, and passion for people and always be of service.
Stay positive and appreciate the experience
By being actively involved, going to new places, eating unfamiliar foods, saying yes to opportunities for adventure and exploring the country you’ll create a happy balance of both project volunteer work abroad, and fun travel experiences.
Embrace the culture
Learn the language, dress like locals do, eat the wonderful cuisine, respect the religions and traditions, indulge in some market shopping, art, music and festivals. Just have fun learning about your host country.
Discover the country
You have off-time, so what can you do? Why not explore your host country? Whether you like the idea of trekking through jungles, taking a moped ride through the marketplace, lazing on a beach, or visiting local historical sites, your trips abroad will be amazing and filled with wonder. Take the chance to experience the country you’re in fully.
Don’t expect luxury
Volunteer programs abroad in developing countries may not be able to offer the same standard of comfort in accommodation that you are used to at home, but you will always be housed in the best place they do have. Take the opportunity to embrace an alternative way of living without worrying about the differences. It will definitely make you appreciate what you may have taken for granted in the past.
Chapter 7: Safety and Culture Shock While Volunteering Abroad
Is traveling and working in a developing country actually safe? What should I do to take safety precautions? What will happen if I experience culture shock?
These questions are legitimate and so incredibly important. Once you are accepted into your program of choice, it is likely that your volunteer agency will send a specific list of safety recommendation to you for your country. If they don’t, do independent research and ask a lot of questions. To help get you started thinking about how you can be safe while traveling abroad, here’ my top safety recommendations:
- Read up on current news events and safety issues
- Buy a good travel insurance policy
- Don’t carry your original passport once in your country. Instead, make a photocopy.
- Obtain contact details for local emergency services. Carry them with you always.
- Register your travel details with your local embassy
- Inform family and friends of your travel plans.
- Don’t take any unnecessary valuable items with you.
- Be aware of your surroundings and who might be watching you
- Try to avoid standing around looking at maps and guidebooks
- Respect the culture and dress appropriately to avoid unwanted attention.
- Always carry your wallet and bags at the front of your body
- Never leave bags or possessions unattended in public places
Culture Shock: What to Expect
When you travel to another country, especially in a third world, your daily norms will be flipped upside down. New sights, sounds, sensations, and ways of life are part of what make your volunteer abroad program so rewarding. However, the initial adjustment period can be quite challenging, especially if you don’t speak the native language.
Here are 5 ways you can mentally prepare to mitigate the initial culture shock of abroad travel:
Research your destination before you arrive
Get a basic idea of what to experience while you’re abroad. Talk to others who have lived in or visited that country. Familiarize yourself with its customs, history, economic situation and laws and check out the living conditions, environment, education and health systems.
Embrace your Host Family
While volunteering in abroad programs, your host family provides your accommodations, but they can also act as a strong support system for you. Spend time getting to know them and have conversations with them about the differences you’re experiencing! Many people are eager to learn about different cultures and lifestyles.
Pay attention to your surrounding
Observe and explore! Take it all in. Get to know residents by visiting them for tea or coffee. When you slowly digest your environment through observation and mindful interactions, you will open your mind to a different way of living.
Prioritize social connections
Living in a new environment away from what’s familiar may make you feel quite lonely or disconnected. That’s why it is so important to make friends with your fellow volunteers and keep in touch with friends and family back home. Spending time with people who speak the same language and are sharing the same volunteering abroad experience as you help create life-balance, whether it’s inside or outside of your program.
Find a language outlet
One thing I have done in the past is to listen to English music or download Netflix episodes on my phone. At the end of a long day of speaking only broken Spanish, relaxing with a little English TV or music time really helped me feel like I could reset and keep utilizing my foreign language skills the next day.
Chapter 8 : Completing Your Project and Returning Home
How can I continue to support my abroad volunteering program? What are some common concerns other volunteers have had? Will I have a chance to see other parts of the country?
Your volunteer program abroad will be an experience to treasure forever. Remember to take lots of photos of the places you visit, your host family and the people you work with in order to keep the wonderful memories fresh. They are also a great way to share your stories with your friends and family.
If you’re wondering how to volunteer responsibly, contribute to the development of volunteer programs by providing your organization and project with positive and constructive feedback, and writing honest reviews to help future volunteers. Sharing your memories on social media sites, or by email to the organizations involved (for them to use as a review or testimonial) or adding your experiences to volunteer discussion boards will really benefit others.
Talk to people from your project or volunteer organization about how you can offer remote support and help develop the program further. Keeping in touch is also a great way to monitor your project’s progress, and perhaps plan another visit.
Things to see and do while volunteering abroad
Whether you are looking for good food, shopping, nightlife, history, cultural immersion, action, adventure or relaxation, you will not need to look far to find it in the country you have chosen to volunteer in. During your volunteer placement make sure you take the time to discover the many wonders your new location has to offer.
Most Frequently Asked Questions by Volunteers
How will I get from the airport to my host family/volunteer abroad housing?
Your organization will arrange “meet and greet” transportation to your accommodation. Be sure to inform your organization about your flight times and find out where you will meet each other.
Will I have support from anyone in the host country?
Yes, in most instances in-country support is available, but it’s always best to check with your organization directly, and if so, obtain all contact details for them.
How many other volunteers will be on the program with me?
The number of volunteers varies from project to project and may depend on the season you volunteer in with summer being the most popular. Some projects only allow a certain number of volunteers at any one time, so it’s worth asking your volunteer agency or organization if that is the case.
If I volunteer with my friend can we be placed in the same volunteer work abroad and be housed together?
In most circumstances there should be no problem with this, but it’s best to make such plans known to your volunteer organization well in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
Are meals and housing provided?
Most programs’ fees will include accommodation and 2-3 meals a day. Check with your program to find out exactly what is provided.
I am a vegetarian; will that be a problem?
Host families want to look after volunteers in the best possible way, and they are usually more than happy to work around dietary requirements. It is best however to advise your organization and host family before arriving so they are aware of the situation and can prepare accordingly.
Will my host family be able to speak English?
Most host families accommodating those who are volunteering abroad will speak some degree of English. However, you are visiting their country and living with them, so it is the perfect opportunity for you to learn or practice their language too.
Can I travel to other cities during my days off?
Yes, while volunteering it is recommended that you visit and explore as many destinations as you can.
Do I have to bring my own bedding and mosquito nets?
If you are placed with a host family, then bedding will be provided for you. However, if you are joining one of the programs based in areas which experience high humidity, such as coastal areas or the rainforest, then it is recommended you take a mosquito net, just in case.
What if I don’t speak the language?
If you don’t speak the native language then you should still be able to get by, but even knowing a few words and phrases will make your experience more fun so why not take some lessons, or teach yourself the basics before you go? Some placements require volunteers to have a certain level of proficiency in the host country’s language, especially in Latin America, so be sure to check if this applies to your chosen volunteer work abroad.
How will I get to my project every day?
That generally depends on the project you are working on. For some placements you may be able to walk, while for others you may need to use public transport. Check with your project provider about the transportation options available to you.
Can I speak with a previous volunteer from my chosen project?
Check your organizations website or call them to see if they offer any networking opportunities with people who have previously been a worked with them. If you are unable to contact anyone then use online volunteer reviews as a useful guide.
Where will I be working?
This will depend on the volunteer program abroad that you have signed up to do. Project locations range from rural villages, towns and cities to remote jungles. Check with your organization for the possible options across regions and project types.
What kind of food will I eat while I'm there?
Staying with a host family probably means you will get to experience traditional dishes. These vary between regions, so once you know where you’ll be placed it’s easy to research local specialties and diet.
How many hours per day will I be work?
Daily schedules vary from placement to placement, but the average is usually between 4 - 6 hours. Some projects may involve working early morning or late nights, so be sure to check what is expected of you with your volunteer organization.
How much money do I need to bring?
This depends on what you plan to do during your volunteer abroad experience. When accommodation and meals are provided you only need cash to cover any transportation costs to your project, and personal expenses such as souvenir shopping, soft drinks and snacks and essential toiletries. On the other hand, if you plan to travel around the country after your project ends, go sightseeing in your free time, eat out, socialize, take part in adventure activities, go shopping or visit local attractions you should factor this into your pre-trip budgeting.
This free e-book has been written to help volunteers and should be used as a general reference or source of information, rather than as a definitive or authoritative guide. We cannot guarantee the validity of information included as any changes in the general field or individual situations will not be recorded here. We will not be liable for any damages that might resulted from using this eBook without independently verifying the information.
- What is Volunteer Abroad?
- Why volunteer abroad?
- Is Volunteering really for Me?
- What is ethical volunteering?
- Volunteer Abroad Complaints
- What are the Most Popular Volunteer Abroad Places?
- How Can You Select the Best Volunteer Abroad Organizations?
- How can you make volunteer abroad experience rewarding?
- Cost/Money Matter
- How can I find free volunteer opportunities abroad?
- Why do I need to pay to volunteer?
- Health and Safety
- Host family
- How to prepare to volunteer abroad?
- Gift for project/host families
- In-country support or when you will be in field
- What is the daily schedule for projects?
- What are popular volunteer abroad project?
- How can you reduce the cost of volunteer abroad?