Volunteer Abroad: Everything You Need To Know

Want to volunteer abroad? Here's what you need to know before you go...

Thinking about volunteering abroad? Maybe you’re planning a gap year or some student travel and reckon a volunteer job could launch you onto the rest of the world?

Well, we like you’re style, and it certainly sounds like you’ve got the right idea to us. But where do you go from here? Well, that’s the tricky part…

Volunteering abroad and searching through volunteer jobs can be pretty confusing, so that’s why we thought we’d put together an essentials guide to the basics behind finding and preparing for a volunteer work adventure.

If you get a good understanding of volunteering abroad, it can be a simple, cost-effective way to see parts of the world you never would’ve imagined. Here’s our easily digestible guide to doing exactly that…

What Do You Mean by Volunteer Abroad?

When we say ‘volunteer abroad’, we’re talking about travelling across the world to work for free for a good cause, whether that be working with children, adults less fortunate than yourself, animals, nature or anything else.

Volunteer work abroad can consist of anything from helping to build shelters in Africa to working with tropical animals in South America. There really are limitless options when you know where to look, which is why many people not only travel specifically to volunteer abroad, but also organise brief volunteer jobs along the way while they are travelling the world for pleasure.

Why volunteer abroad? Well, apart from the obvious feel-good factor, you’ll usually have your food, drink and accommodation covered for you, though you will normally have to cover your own travel costs and spending money while there.

How Much Does Volunteering Abroad Cost?

Volunteering work abroad is very rarely, if ever, entirely free. As previously mentioned, while you will get your catering and accommodation provided for you, you’ll still need to save for your travel out to the job in the first place and your spending money when you’re there.

If you imagine that this could be a return ticket to Australia, Canada, Brazil, Africa or near enough anywhere else on the planet, this can work out quite expensive.

It’s also worth noting that many gap year programs will also ask for a participation fee. These funds are more often than not put towards the good cause you’ll be working for, but are sometimes held by the organising companies and can get up to the thousands of pounds, so it’s very important to do your homework.

While there are a lot of organisations that will sort out your placement for a fee and provide a decent support network in return, if you’re prepared to put in the organisational work and don’t mind going solo, you can save yourself a lot of money by cutting out the middle-man.

Of course, every volunteer job abroad will end up costing a different amount. It completely depends on where you’re heading, what you’ll be working as and how long you plan to stay – but long story short, you will have to do your research, consider all of these factors, and unfortunately yes, you will still have to save!

How Do I Plan For Volunteering Abroad?

First and foremost, it’s good to have a rough idea of where you want to volunteer abroad, so you can begin to lower down the list. This doesn’t have to be a specific country, but even a continent is useful at this stage! And remember, you’ll need to book your volunteering trip months in advance of when you actually want to go.

Once you’ve decided on that, spend a good few days scouting out options online and decide upon what kind of volunteer job you want to do. Be certain, because if you end up doing something you’re not interested in, you won’t enjoy your volunteer work at all.

It’s also imperative that you think about how much support you want along the way before you volunteer abroad. If you’re independent and happy to go it alone, great, you’ll save some money, but you’ll have to lay out a lot of groundwork before you go.

If you want a little support meanwhile, or if you want a 24-hour support network, it’ll cost you a bit more through a gap year program, but it may well be worth your money. Just make sure you check out the company you’re going with first and make sure they can justify their fees!

Some useful sites for getting you started and letting you begin to narrow down your options? AV (Africa & Asia Venture), Concordia Volunteers, GoAbroad, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, Volunteer Sotuh America, Conservation Volunteers for Australia and New Zealand, Help Exchange, Peace Corps.

Be Prepared: Read your Volunteer Work Briefing VERY Carefully

Make sure you know exactly what your job entails before you take on a volunteer job, and remember, if you’re only going to be volunteering somewhere for a couple weeks at a time, don’t expect to be given too much responsibility.

Likewise, if you go out to Africa to help build shelters for malnourished children who are struggling with various diseases and an unimaginable lifestyle, good for you, it’s a very noble cause, but remember that you will see some shocking sights.

If you do go out there to help children in poverty, you’re going to find exactly that – poverty. Likewise, if you go out to help protect animals or a particular conservation, you’re likely going to come across shocking scenes where people are trying to harm the life you are trying to protect.

At times there is a good chance that your work is going to upset you, so just remember, while you may not cure a disease or secure the future of an endangered animal, at least you are playing your part. You’re the good guy!

Likewise, remember not everywhere in the world has a hot shower, internet access, Netflix or access to Game of Thrones. Think of what you’re prepared to give up for the cause and for the travel, and if it’s not the basics like those listed above – yes, Game of Thrones is a basic – you may want to look at the likes of Australia or New Zealand rather than certain spots in Africa.

Organise your Volunteer Jobs Well in Advance

There’s more to being prepared than just doing your research – you also have to do your organising. Don’t assume that because you’ve got one two-week work placement sorted out volunteering abroad, you’ll be able to sort another one easily while you’re out there. You might be able to, but there’s no guarantee.

Your tourist work visa – which is largely different depending on the country, and which you need to sort out yourself – will run out eventually, so make sure you sort out numerous placements in advance if you’re travelling for a while but only working in short bursts, and keep an eye on that visa!

How To Pack For Your Working Holiday

Packing light will let you save money when you’re travelling out to your volunteer job and mean you have more space to pick things up as you go along the way.

You’ll more often than not be able to pick up t-shirts and shorts easily out there, wherever you go, so pack the basics; a few of each clothing item and a camera, then leave the rest to your final destination.

One thing you will need though is a good pair of shoes! You’re going to be wearing them a lot and you’ll be spending most of the day on your feet, so this is one thing definitely worth splashing out on!

Be Careful When Volunteering Abroad

Be prepared for certain locals to see you as just another tourist at times. Just because you’re helping them doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be hostile at times or try and rip you off.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to people of course. Try and learn some of the local language to show that you’re making an effort, and embrace their culture as much as possible. Just make sure that you keep your guard up walking around town – something particularly relevant in large cities!

If you’re wanting to meet people like yourself while you’re out there, keep an eye open for group placements where the other volunteers will be travellers like yourself. It’s a detail which could make your working holiday a gap year adventure you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Enjoy Yourself!


Finally… Have a good time! Remember the reason you got this far into this article in the first place – you’re getting ready to volunteer abroad because you want to help out and see the world like you’ve never seen it before. And it’s going to be amazing!

Stay positive throughout your trip, stay open-minded, embrace the local culture, share, make new friends, be realistic about what you are able to achieve and make sure you learn along the way.

Many people who volunteer abroad say that the biggest thing they take out of it is a new attitude towards life, and this is something that is well worth the travel alone!

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