Volunteering abroad becomes more and more popular among young travelers. With your cheeks red in excitement you often read relations from such trips in the Internet and your heart beats faster when you think you could go too? Before going to sleep you imagine yourself on the other side of the world, exploring new countries, having new friends and making the world a better place?
There is just one challenge. How to volunteer abroad? What do you need to do to organize it? This guide will give you all knowledge you need to plan your volunteering abroad and turn your dream into a plan 🙂
How to volunteer abroad?
Table of Contents
- How to volunteer abroad?
- 1. Choose a country or region of the world
- 2. What do you want to do?
- 3. How much time you can spare?
- 4. When do you want to go?
- 5. Plan your budget
- 6. Find your voluntary work abroad
- 7. Make sure you found a good offer of voluntary work abroad
- 8. If you need a visa, make sure what kind
- 9. Arrange the visa, buy flight tickets, plan the trip
- 10. Last organizational issues before going to volunteer overseas
1. Choose a country or region of the world
Before you think about details of your volunteering abroad decide which region of the world interests you the most. You can find a voluntary work overseas all around the world, in poorer, developing countries as well as in the developed ones. The type of your work will differ depending on the most common needs in the country but you can find an interesting one everywhere. Choose the region of the world you want to visit the most.
2. What do you want to do?
Opportunities of volunteering abroad are varied and diversified. You can work on an organic farm or manage marketing in a small start-up. You can help in an animal refuge or work in an orphanage. You can help build schools, teach English or take care of a disabled person. You can work with refugees. Check this post on how to volunteer safely with migrants and refugees.
You can also work in a hostel or be a nanny but these forms of volunteering are less appealing to me. I would like my work to make a little, tiny positive change in the world 🙂 and that’s how I choose my volunteer opportunities abroad.
3. How much time you can spare?
Can you volunteer abroad for a few months, weeks or less than a month? The amount of time you have limits the offers you can choose from. Not all of them are available for a short period of time.
For example if you want to work with children longer stays are usually preferred. It’s understandable – kids need time to get used to a new person and feel good in his/her company. It’s easier to find a short-term volunteer offer overseas with works that can be learned fast and which don’t require building connection with children 🙂 It’s not a 100% rule though. I found a volunteer opportunity in a language school in Thailand for a bit less than 4 weeks.
4. When do you want to go?
Consider your possibilities, the weather conditions and season in the region of the world you plan to visit.
5. Plan your budget
An important part of the question “how to volunteer abroad” is – how much money do I need? The volunteering abroad itself shouldn’t cost you much. Usually the person/organization which hosts you provides you with accommodation and meals. Sometimes you get more – when I WWOOFed in the USA I could use my hosts’ car and their bike. In most volunteer projects overseas you need to cover:
- the cost of your flight and getting there
- some meals, e.g. breakfasts (this depends on the offer a lot, some of them cover all your meals)
- the cost of your own trips and entertainments
Do not choose an offer where you need to pay suspiciously big amount of money to the organization/host. You often have to pay some money and this is ok – I recommend you to check this article by Huffington Post to learn why.
But I’ve seen offers where you need to pay 2000$ to work as a volunteer for a month in a country where you could live for these money for a couple of months easily. I don’t believe such organizations want to help anyone – they do a great business out of it.
6. Find your voluntary work abroad
You can find your volunteer opportunity in cooperation with organizations & on numerous websites.
For the last 5 years I’ve been working with HelpStay – a platform for connecting hosts with volunteers. I know their process of accepting hosts and I can confirm they treat safety rules seriously – so I encourage you to check opportunities available there.
– student organizations, e.g. AIESEC – read more in my separate article: Global Volunteer project with AIESEC. If you are a student check what organizations operate at your university and what do they offer.
– WWOOF – read more in my separate article: How does WWOOF work?
– European Voluntary Service (EVS)
– hippohelp.com – it’s a developing alternative to WWOOF and there’s not too many offers just yet. But unlike WWOOF it is 100% free to use.
When you find an interesting offer and you write to the organization/person include as many details as possible. Make a good first impression. Similar rules apply as when you write a Couchsurfing request. Introduce yourself, write a few sentences about your background. Tell them why you chose this offer from a thousand others, what’s your experience and how it can be useful. Provide the dates in which you are available and the length of your stay.
7. Make sure you found a good offer of voluntary work abroad
It’s not easy to make sure the offer you like is fine. You won’t be 100% sure until you get there. When I looked for a volunteer opportunity in Thailand I heard about organizations which take kids from poor families and put them in orphanages set up only to invite volunteers from abroad and make money on them. That’s especially popular in Cambodia. I didn’t want to believe but it seems to be true…
While you think how to volunteer abroad and look for your volunteer opportunity read the comments and carefully study the descriptions. Trust your intuition. Is there anything that made you feel uneasy or uncomfortable? Don’t use this offer. Look for information and opinions in Google. You might not find anything and this is also ok – tiny organizations at the end of the world don’t have a well-developed online marketing. But make sure you don’t find anything negative.
8. If you need a visa, make sure what kind
In most cases you can volunteer overseas on a tourist visa. I did that on a farm in the USA and I will also teach English in Thailand on a tourist visa. Tourist visa doesn’t allow you to work but nobody said you can’t provide people with a friendly help while you travel 🙂
However, if you travel on a tourist visa and your documents are checked on the border, never mention you plan to be a volunteer. Avoid the word “work” as a volunteer. You can have unnecessary problems if you mention it. You came as a tourist, you’re going to travel, that’s it.
If you plan to volunteer abroad with some organizations, like in my case with AIESEC, you need a special visa, sometimes called humanitarian visa or a non-immigrant visa. In this case the organization you’ll work for will help you get all necessary documents and go through visa procedures.
After you find your volunteering opportunity ask if tourist visa is ok and what kind of visa do other volunteers usually have.
9. Arrange the visa, buy flight tickets, plan the trip
If you need a visa and you know what kind, you can gather the documents and go through visa procedures. You can buy your flight tickets and plan the trip before or after you volunteer 🙂
I don’t recommend to make sightseeing plans for your volunteering time. You don’t know yet how much time you’ll have and when. It’s better to plan your time when your daily routine and weekly schedule is clear.
10. Last organizational issues before going to volunteer overseas
Take a phone number from the organization/person hosting you and give them yours. You need a way of quick communication in case of emergency.
Find out if anyone will pick you up from the airport/bus/train station, arrange the details of your arrival.
Find out if you need to take or prepare anything specific. Do you need a special clothing – elegant or the one you can get dirty? If you’ll work with kids, do you need to prepare materials in advance or you’ll get them there?
If you have any remaining questions or doubts it’s time to check them with the organization/person hosting you.
Don’t freak out too much 🙂 I am always terrified before my next volunteering abroad, that’s just how I work… and every time it turns out there was no need for all this stress.
And next time when you finish reading a relation from volunteering with your cheeks red in excitement and your heart beating fast on the thought you could go too – don’t limit yourself to imagining this. Learn how to volunteer abroad, apply the above steps – and go 🙂 You will explore new countries, have new friends and make the world a better place. Oh, and you’ll live an adventure of a lifetime 🙂
If you have any questions, ask them in the comments or send me a message, I’ll be happy to help! You can also go to a Facebook group created to help people like you – Volunteering Abroad Community. Along with the team from Help Stay, I contribute and answer all questions there! 🙂
If you still hesitate whether you should go read opinions of five Polish travel bloggers who shared their experience whether it’s worth volunteering abroad.
Also read about my experience:
Also, read the stories of other bloggers and travelers who shared their experience about volunteering abroad with me:
- Isabelle’s story about volunteering in Tanzania with kids
- James’s story about volunteering in France on an alpaca farm
- Elise’s story about volunteering in Guatemala with kids
- Murat’s story about volunteering in Kenya with kids
- Arleta’s story about volunteering in Israel promoting a foundation
- Renia’s story about being an EVS volunteer in Vietnam
- Antonio’s story about volunteering in Laos
- Hania’s story about volunteering on an island paradise in Cambodia
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