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VOLUNTEER ABROAD

Guide to Volunteering Abroad

We can never decide which is best about traveling the world to volunteer:

  • You can make a positive impact within local communities
  • You can help save animals and conserve planet earth
  • You can learn more about how to contribute to a better world while traveling the world

There’s so much to love!

Volunteering abroad is one of the most gratifying and impactful experiences you’ll ever choose to take part in. You get to see how every person’s conscious contribution to humanity and nature is essential to human rights and the longevity of life on this planet. You’ll also return home with a newfound outlook on how to create change everyday in your own life — and how to discern when your generous intentions may be detrimental.

If you want to give back to causes you care about and don’t know where to begin, you’ve come to the right place. At Go Overseas, we are committed to providing information that will help you leave a positive impact through volunteering abroad. Use our expert resources to learn more about

how to volunteer overseas, requirements to meet before filling out your program application, financial aid help, and information on how to avoid the unethical pitfalls of volunteer abroad scams.

Requirements

When researching volunteer abroad opportunities, you’ll find every program has a list of requirements for prospective applicants. It is imperative to review this list carefully before submitting your application.

The most common requirements to volunteer overseas include:

  • Age Minimum:Programs may have a minimum age of 18, but there are plenty of high school volunteer programs available. There are also volunteer programs aimed at more mature travelers too!
  • Physical Ability:Some assignments may demand a higher degree of physical activity. If so, they will list it to ensure you can participate.
  • Passport & Visas:In order to go abroad, you’ll need to be eligible for a passport in your home country and apply for visas as necessary.
  • Language:If the assignment that caught your eye is in a country where English isn’t widely spoken, you may encounter a foreign language requirement.
  • Field Experience:if your volunteer assignment requires professional skills (like medical work) you may be required to have six months to a few years of professional experience in order to be eligible for the program.
  • A Good Attitude:while this may seem like a no-brainer, some volunteers forget this isn’t a vacation. You’ll have to be positive, adaptable, and willing to work hard.

Volunteering abroad may be popularized by young travelers, but it isn’t exclusive to them. While many programs require volunteers to be at least 18 years old, others may be specifically geared to high school students, families, and even adults who’ve long completed their education.

So, don’t let your age deter you from considering a volunteer abroad experience. Just be sure to double check age and physical fitness requirements before filling out your application. You’ll find some volunteer programs might even be looking for people with your exact age range and experience!

Visas

Visa requirements to volunteer abroad vary by country. While some volunteers use a tourist visa to go abroad, others may use a student, working, or working holiday visa. These requirements depend on your home country’s passport, the destination country, and the length of your stay.

Before you volunteer abroad, check the destination country’s requirements and your program details:

  • Do they require a special visa for passport-holders from your home country?
  • What type of organization are you volunteering with? (Travel Company vs. Long-Term Volunteering vs. Paid Program)
  • How long can you stay in the country with a visa?
  • How long does it take to process a visa request?

 

Costs & Scholarships

While some travelers would recommend you never pay a dime to volunteer, others enthusiastically encourage you to pay your way and more. Most programs are somewhere in the middle: offering you reasonable program fees while you cover flights, passport, visa, insurance, and other miscellaneous expenses.

In truth, fees vary by country and program. Some programs are in wealthier countries and find that welcoming volunteers at no charge pays off. Other programs, however — especially ones that provide meals and housing for volunteers — simply cannot afford to take on the additional expenses.

Volunteer trip costs can range from $500-$4,000 depending on the destination, program fee, flights and visa requirements. 

If you are wondering if it is possible to volunteer abroad for free, the short answer is “Yes”; just be remember that free volunteer opportunities usually require you take on all of the coordination and research. If you have limited time or need help, a fee-based program might a be better option.

Scholarships: As volunteer abroad becomes more popular, financial aid options are also increasingly available. There are many scholarships and

grants for volunteer abroad programs around the world, and they are generally easy to apply to. You’ll find some programs host their own scholarships; school financial aid can transfer to partner programs; and independent databases house a robust list of scholarships available to high school and college students.

Choosing a Program

Once you’ve decided to volunteer abroad, there are a number of things you should look for to ensure you pick the right program for you. With voluntourism thriving both ethically and unethically, you’ll want to take a deeper look at the company’s spending, reputation, project goals, and community involvement.

Instead of volunteering for roles that could’ve been filled by a local, or joining a company that has had a negative impact on local neighborhoods, seek sustainable initiatives that focus on longevity, community empowerment, and transparency.

Other information to look for when choosing a volunteer program include:

  • Benefits included in the program fee
  • Volunteer support available
  • Specialized skills required
  • History of effectiveness

Read this expert breakdown on how to identify responsible volunteer programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

To help you jumpstart planning your time abroad, here’s a list of the nine most popular countries for volunteers:

  • Peru
  • Japan
  • Costa Rica
  • South Africa
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Puerto Rico
  • United States
  • South Korea
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Kazakhstan

A free volunteer program means there’s no participation fee. Usually, this means volunteering directly through an NGO or organization, but you may still need to pay for housing, food, airfare, and in-country transportation. Some organizations and projects offer housing and/or food as part of the volunteer arrangement, so it’s possible to find a situation that’s essentially free except for transportation costs.

Others get funding from local governments that allows volunteers to participate without paying any program fees. In some cases, you even receive a small stipend in addition to health insurance, food, and accommodation. Keep in mind, though, that these tend to be longer-term projects, so you’re less likely to find a trade-for-work deal if you only have a week or two to spare.

On that note, if you go for a free or no-fee program, don’t expect your host organization to be able to sponsor your housing or food. Although some organizations definitely will be able to help you with this, not all have the extra funds to do so, particularly as their priority is dedicating money towards the project itself. By expecting volunteering programs to cover these costs, you may well be redirecting resources from the project you’re supposed to be helping — and doing more harm than good as a result.

People volunteer abroad for three primary reasons: to experience culture, to help others, and for adventure. While some of these reasons might seem selfish, we know that what makes meaningful travel like volunteering abroad so powerful is that it impacts the traveler and the community they visit.

Program fees vary based on what the program offers in return. From logistics and orientation to in-country support, these organizations are there to make sure you get the most out of your time abroad and are there to help if you find yourself in a tight situation. Some organizations go a step further, by setting up day trips for their volunteers to explore the region. Other organizations may include room and board in their fees. So it is important to read the fine print to find out exactly where your fees will be going and what will be covered for you. You should also look into the general cost of living when comparing programs, as the fee may be adjusted based on which country you are looking at, and this could save you some money in the end.

Volunteering placements, like everything in life, come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve found that there are five different types of volunteer programs (and programs can be more than one type): Short-Term, Long-Term, Conservation, Recruitment/Placement, and Relief/Emergency volunteering.

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