Travel

The Complete Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering abroad means giving your time and energy to work in a project without payment.

There are many volunteer opportunities out there for anyone interested in doing volunteer work, more so abroad. Where some people go into the volunteer world for just the simple experience, some go towards it as a vocational calling, or as a stepping stone for their future careers.

It is best to choose a volunteering program that will be most beneficial to you and to those that you intend to help. Our guide to volunteering abroad is here to help you choose which volunteer program is most suited to you!

The complete guide to volunteering abroad

When considering volunteering abroad, you know to know what options are available to you and which programs will be suited to your skillset, likes, and time available. Our guide to volunteering abroad is here to help you decide.

Firstly, what is volunteering abroad?

Travelling is a passion to some while others do it to get away from their routine.

There are many volunteer abroad programs to choose from for example: teaching; orphanage work; HIV/AIDS work; community developed; Health/ Medical work; teaching extreme sports, music lessons; conservations projects; and research projects.

Volunteer travel is a more rewarding experience if you want to do more sitting in a hotel and seeing museums and animals. Volunteering abroad is a life changing experience for anyone who does it, whether you are in your teens, in college, taking a career break and whether you have retired.

The experience you get is worth more the money you spent in your volunteer vacation.

Now, onto our guide to volunteering abroad.

Guide to volunteering abroad

What are some good volunteer abroad opportunities?

The programs of the volunteer work are made by the organization in which you are going to volunteer in.

Most of the volunteer abroad programs are flexible. As you will be putting in your time, energy and sometimes money, the volunteer programs available are flexible. The flexibility comes by choosing the numbers of hours that you are willing to work in a day or in a week and the duration of the volunteer program.

Also most of the work that you will be doing does not need any academic qualifications, meaning anyone can apply. Most volunteer abroad programs involve a lot of traveling, you don’t want to go to another country and find yourself being ineffective. You should put considerable research in to the work that you will be doing abroad. In that, you want to choose a program whereby it emphasizes on your strengths, skills and abilities.

Here are examples of the most popular volunteer abroad programs that are available:

Volunteer Teaching programs

Volunteer teaching programs are the most popular volunteer programs. Volunteers will work in private, public schools, orphanages and community schools. The volunteer work involves working with kids who are 7 to 18 years.

The volunteer will be involved in teaching some of the subjects like English, Math, Science, Music and physical education.  

The volunteers will partner with local teachers and other volunteers to provide proper education to the children. The main duties involve work as a teaching assistant: teaching classes, grading books, work as a social worker with the Administrators, help in sports activities and playing with the kids. For this program, you will need to like kids, love teaching and to be patient with the kids. Sometimes some training for this program is needed but it’s not mandatory.

Those who have done TEFL (teach English as a foreign language) classes have an advantage. Schools are not open throughout the year; you should time your volunteer work in order to coincide with the school calendar.

Volunteer Health/ Medical programs

The volunteer work will be done in hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, and public health offices. The volunteer health programs target the poor and those who don’t have access to medical facilities.

There are many clinics and volunteer organizations in such areas that offer medical help to the poor. In conjunction with the clinics and the health centres (dispensaries) the volunteer will work alongside them to provide medical services. Other duties include filling in forms and charts, diagnosing diseases, giving out prescriptions and consultations.

In this, the volunteer will need to have a medical background in order to work with the patients. This program is best for health professionals like: doctors, nurses, medical students and clinical officers.

Volunteer HIV/ AIDS program

As a volunteer you will be asked to help in the outreach programs to help educate the members of society and create awareness about the disease.  

The volunteer work involves supporting the infected and affected through provision of food and medical supplies.  

As a volunteer work, you will be counseling them, encourage and help empower them. Other volunteer duties will involve: intensify advocacy; demystify HIV/AIDS by encouraging people living with HIV to talk for them and advocate for greater understanding by the society; design, develop and disseminate materials fighting stigma and discrimination.

For this volunteer program, you will need to be compassionate about the disease and understanding to those who are infected and affected. There are no academic qualifications that are needed to work in this program.

Volunteer orphanage work

Working in children’s orphanages is very popular, and it’s the most fun and engaging. If you like kids and want to change their lives for the better then working in an orphanage is the best place. The kids are active and love the attention they get from the volunteers.

The volunteer work involves: spending time with the kids; work as a teaching assistant; work as a social worker; help in cooking and cleaning; help in organizing sports activities and playing with the kids. This program involves little mental work and organizing. Most of the programs activities are already arranged and you will have a supervisor to help you all the time.

Here is a volunteer opportunity to work in an orphanage in Buenos Aires.

Volunteer work involves education, empowerment, construction, and vocational training; providing sex education to the girls and the local community which you can assist with. It also involves empowering women through activities that make them financial independent. This is done through marketing their products, skills development and giving them access to information.

Global Work & Travel offers community volunteer work in Tanzania, Cape Town, Zanzibar and Buenos Aires.

Volunteering abroad with kidsVolunteering with kids

Which volunteer abroad opportunity is for you?

We want our guide to volunteering abroad to help you choose the right volunteer opportunity. Here is a deeper look into some programs you can look into while trying to make your decision.

Related Read: What to know before volunteering abroad

We will kick off by looking at volunteering as a teacher

This is one of the most fulfilling paths one can take as a volunteer. Volunteering as a teacher has a long term outcome in the community you are volunteering in. If you can help educate just a few people from a community that has suffered less fortune than yourself then this few individuals will in turn uplift the whole community with time.

If you have qualifications as a teacher the better but you do not have to teach strictly in the class room, teaching can be in many forms including just showing a community how they build a latrine to ensure that their water is not contaminated. In the end it is all worthwhile.

Let’s look at those who may be interested in volunteering in healthcare

You can therefore help in this regard all over the world. Those interested in healthcare can have a choice in working in places where disaster has struck or picking one specific location along the globe where you would like to help out.

How you help does not have to be strictly in a medical sense, you can do your part by simply distributing mosquito nets to area where malaria is highly occurring, or start a campaign to make sure every household in an area where there have been cholera outbreaks has a means to boil or purify their water. The end result of all these efforts is that you have helped keep a community healthier.

The saying goes that children are our future, so let’s look at those of us who would like to volunteer in children homes or with orphans

In this field you get to mold a person who will go off into the world someday, and make something of themselves because you had the courtesy to be involved in their lives.

In an orphanage you can provide healthcare, teach, work in the kitchen as a cook, build a dormitory, clean up the compound or even do some missionary work while there. And the beauty of all this is you can commit yourself to one or more of the causes above all at the same time; you therefore get to touch a life on several fronts.

If you like animals and the environment around you, the one program you can look into is volunteering in wildlife conservation

Here you get to work with all sorts of wildlife from those that live in the savannah to marine animals, in the process you also get to interact with the environment as you spend a lot of time in the field, sometimes even spending nights outdoors camping, depending on how adventurous you are. Here is a clear instance where you can have some fun while doing your volunteer work.

There are many other potential programs for volunteers out there, including community development, construction work or even missionary work.

Once you have made a clear choice on what you want to work in then the next step is to get your hands dirty and join in the volunteer community around the world.

Global Work & Travel offer volunteer programs to work with wildlife conservation in South Africa, sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica, elephant rescue in Thailand, and in an Amazon Shelter in Peru, among others.

Volunteer with elephants in ThailandVolunteer with elephants in Thailand

What do I need to be able to volunteer abroad?

Picking the right volunteer work program is important as you plan your volunteer trip. There are many volunteer service organizations that offer many volunteer abroad work programs.

All volunteer abroad work programs are not the same. They are different and require different skills, expenses, training provided, types of placements, and quality of service.

The following tips in our guide to volunteering abroad are to help you choose the right volunteer abroad work programs and what you need to volunteer abroad.

Skills and abilities

Many volunteer service organizations recruit volunteers who don’t have any specific skills apart from being able to speak the language in which you are going.

If you are an independent traveler, grass roots organizations also want volunteers with no skills or requirements to come and work for them. Most of the programs don’t require you to have specific skills or academic qualifications except for a few e.g. Health care and medical work whereby you are asked to provide relevant skills or background experience.

One of the reason they don’t require any skills and qualifications because they attract young people who don’t yet have academic and work experience. Meaning anyone can apply for any program and be accepted.

Even though you will be accepted in any program it is better choosing a program where you can apply your skills and experience. This will make you more effective in your volunteer work. With your love for kids and being good with them will help you better work in an orphanage or teaching. If you are a marketer your skills and abilities will be best suited in a marketing position. Also if you want to learn new skills choose a volunteer program where you will taught and experience new skills.

Time

Find out how much time you have for your volunteer holiday. There are programs that range from one week to three years

Some programs are appropriate for short term volunteer work which takes up to one week to one month like orphanage work. On the other hand, there are long term projects like community development, construction projects which take between 6 months and 12 months. The volunteer programs are open throughout the year.  

But some programs are time specific in that they don’t operate in certain times of the year. Choosing the length of the volunteer and timing is important, for example when picking teaching programs take into considerations that the program doesn’t run in certain times of the year because the schools are closed.

Travel insurance

When volunteering abroad, it’s important to get specific volunteer abroad travel insurance.

Buying volunteer abroad travel insuranceMake sure to get volunteer abroad travel insurance

Choosing Volunteer abroad organizations

There are many opportunities that are available for those who want to volunteer abroad.

When you type volunteer abroad on Google you are get around 481,000 results and on yahoo it’s about 21,600,000. There are about 270 organizations or more which provide volunteer abroad programs. These organizations offer a variety of programs in different countries.

The reason for this is because the volunteer service industry is new and is rapidly growing fast. In the last ten years there has been increase on the number of organizations that provide volunteer abroad services. Many are made up of past volunteers and who want to make volunteering easier for the next volunteers. All these organizations are market themselves well, they have really good websites, pamphlets and recruitment drives.

When you are looking for the right organization to use takes too much time and energy.  You are normally overwhelmed with all the information that is out there, making your decision to be difficult.

We recommend checking out Global Work & Travel. They volunteer opportunities in South Africa, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Thailand, Peru, Nepal, Myanmar, Namibia, Ecuador, and Argentina.

When choosing which volunteer service organizations that you are going to use consider the following in our guide to volunteering abroad:

Destination

After you make the decision on where you want to go you can narrow the search on which organization that you want to use. When you search on Google and type volunteer in Cambodia you get 200,000 results with much fewer organizations.

There are many organizations that provide volunteer abroad services in different countries. There are problems all over the world and many places where you can volunteer. Deciding on where to go shouldn’t be difficult as you would already have had an ideal place to go and volunteer. After picking the place to go, start sorting through the list and finding out which organizations work in that area.

Also when choosing on where to go the language they speak is important as you don’t want to be in a place where it is hard to communicate. Other things to look out for is whether you prefer a rural setting or an urban setting.

Duration

How long you want to stay will influence which organization you will pick. There are different organizations that offer you the option of volunteering for one week and there are others that offer 2 to 3 years. 

Short volunteer programs are for those who are on their holidays which can be up to a month. While those who go for 6 months and more are the guys who are on a gap year. Very few organizations offer you both short term and long term volunteer abroad periods.

The short term projects could be teaching, working in a hospital, and child care. Long term projects include construction and community development programs. Time of the year also matters as it means that some programs don’t operate in December like for example schools are closed. Time of the year also depends on the season of your volunteer holiday. You could travel to another part of the world and find its winter.

Cost

Choosing the right organization depends on your budget. There are some organizations that charge thousands of dollars for a month long volunteer program while there are others that charge a few hundred for the same period.

They charge differently depending on the motivation of the organizations. In that some are not for profit while others are for profit organizations. The charges differ depending on the services they are going to be offering you.

Some organizations include travel insurance with their package as well as flight fees and other expenses. When choosing the organization, ask which services they will be offering e.g. room board, health insurance, emergency evacuation, in country support and transport to and from location.

Ask how the fees are being spent and does any of it go to the program projects or the community. There are some organizations that help in fundraising and some offer scholarships for the high costs. There are some organizations that offer paid volunteer work, whereby they help ease the cost of volunteering abroad by giving a stipend and out pocket expenses. Lastly find out if there are any financial penalties if you cancel your trip or whether you want to leave early from your program placement.

Program

This is the volunteer abroad program that you will engage in while you are in the host country. Choosing the right program that matches your skills and interest will determine which organization you will work with. When you decide what you are going to do will help you to find out which organizations are providing the services that you want.

If you have professional experience as a teacher and you want to teach look for organizations that offer volunteer teaching programs. Also if you want to improve on your skills by doing something in which you have no experience in, choose an organization that will help you do that.

Support

Look for an organization that has 24/7 support in the host country. Ask if they have representatives both locally and internationally. Just in case something happens you will have somebody who will be there to help you with your problems.

Look for organizations which have a representative in the host countries. In that when you have a problem you don’t have to call home because they won’t be able to help you as well as somebody who is there for you locally. Support also comes in the training they give you on the culture and language, pre departure information and orientation. 

Guide to volunteering abroadVolunteering in schools

How much does volunteering abroad cost?

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”  ~Sherry Anderson.

In spite of the fact that volunteering means giving up time and energy to help someone else in need volunteering abroad is not free.

Wherever you want to go, from helping the flood victims in Australia, Brazil and the earthquake victims of Haiti, there is always a price to pay to volunteer abroad. Many volunteers work with small community based organizations or not for profit organizations and the organizations don’t have the resources to pay for hosting and feeding them. Volunteers don’t pay to do their volunteer work abroad. They pay for the costs they will incur while they are abroad.

There are basic costs that everyone has to pay for example air fare, Visa, travel insurance, and vaccinations. In addition to these costs there are other expenses, like; accommodation, meals, and transportation within the country. When using a volunteer service organization, or travelling independently these factors must be put into consideration.

Here are a couple of more things that are included in the cost of volunteering abroad:

Length/duration

The period of time that you volunteer in a foreign country determines the cost. Wherever any volunteers go abroad they are bound to pay for food and accommodation for the length of their stay. Even if they leave their home town for a town nearby, they are bound to pay for these two expenses.

Food and accommodation depend on the length of stay. As an independent traveler, the cost of living will be calculated per day. For those who will stay in a hostel or a hotel they have to calculate the rent, food and transport. Those who will volunteer with travel companies will be charged per week.

The program fees are dependent on the number of weeks they will spend in the country. Their fees will be directed into paying accommodation, food and sometimes transport. The price varies depending on the volunteer travel they choose to use. They can go from between $ 99 to $ 1000 per week.

Volunteer Program

The cost of volunteering can be affected by the type of volunteer programs s/he chooses to work in. Some programs don’t cost too much as there is minimal risk involved and resources needed.

Volunteer programs like teaching, orphanage work and community service do not require many resources and the volunteers can improvise with what they have.

Other programs are more costly because the volunteers are at considerable risk, need more resources and positions are limited. Examples of such programs are wildlife, marine conservation and some sports programs. In wildlife programs, they will be working with wild animals and they need to be protected while they are doing their work, this means that they have to be assigned game rangers to assist and protect them while in the field.

In marine conservation programs the volunteers will be required to take scuba lessons and to have the scuba equipment. These drive up the cost of volunteering.

Support

This is mainly for the volunteers who choose to use a volunteer service company. While the volunteer is in another country they could require somebody to take care of everything else, leaving them to focus on volunteer work. They would require somebody to be there just in case there is a problem and to solve it for them.  

The price that the volunteer travel organization charges, determines the amount of support the volunteer will get while they are in the host countries.

The organizations that have high fees, charge for the following: training and orientation while in the volunteer’s home and host country; language training; 24/7 support and backup; weekend excursions; emergency precautions; and in some cases a college credit.

Those that have lower fees don’t skimp on these services but provide them in a limited capacity.

Miscellaneous

These are out of pocket expenses that the volunteer will incur. These include buying amenities that the volunteer would require to have while s/he is volunteering abroad for example a bottle of water, snacks, and curios. In some occasions the volunteer would want to go for a local tour that is not included in the volunteer package.

Volunteer workVolunteer work

That’s it for our guide to volunteering abroad. By now, you should have enough information about volunteering abroad and which program is best for you.


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