This page offers information about volunteering abroad. If you are specifically looking for volunteering placements without administration fees, please head to the volunteer for free page.
Volunteering abroad is your way to become fully immersed in a community and give something back to it. It is one of the only ways, as a foreigner, that you can take the time to become accepted by the locals and truly understand what it feels like to live in the place that you are visiting. What’s more, is that you are helping to make a difference to the lives of the individuals that you are coming into contact with and forging memories that will last a lifetime. For both you and them.
When you sit at home and you listen to the world media, you hear a very warped perspective of what it is like to live in certain countries around the world. In a quest for truth, only being in a location for an extended period of time can help you to know what it is actually like to live there. Extended travel of this kind normally poses two financial problems for people. The first is that travelling for a long period of time is expensive. The second is that while you are on the road for an extended period of time, you do not earn any money. Volunteering helps you overcome these barriers. Most volunteering positions put you up in exchange for your help. This typically involves basic accommodation and food, meaning that you do not have to spend any money during your time volunteering, other than for luxuries or activities that you participate in during your free time. As you will be living and working with the people everyday, you will become part of their community and no longer be seen as a tourist.
With volunteering, the possibilities are endless. Every single country in the world has opportunities for volunteers in one form or another because free help is always appreciated. Volunteering can be split into two main categories:
- Charitable volunteering
- Non-charitable volunteering
Charitable volunteering involves work in which you attempt to make the world a better place. It typically involves either trying to make life better for people (or animals) who are less privileged than yourself, or helping to sustain the environment. This often involves working with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) in which profit is not the main aim of the organisation. Some NGOs are ‘non-profit’ and reinvest all generated finance into their future projects. Charitable volunteering positions fit the typical images that are conjured up when one thinks of volunteering abroad and may include (but are not limited to) school and home building projects, medical aid programs, farming projects, animal rehabilitation and welfare schemes, environmental conservation programs, teaching placements, and caring for children without parents. If you want the ‘feel good factor’ and to make a difference in the world, this is the type of volunteer project that you should be looking for.
Non-charitable volunteering is a type of volunteering that has been around for a very long time, but only recently has it become easy to find positions in advance by using the internet. This type of volunteering involves helping a business or private individual with their daily needs in exchange for food and accommodation. This could involve looking after children, working in a hostel, farming, doing admin work or.. pretty much anything that they want you to do to make their lives easier or make them money. I have seen positions in Scandinavian husky farms and opportunities to work on self sustaining eco-rojects. The diversity of opportunities is endless. Typically you only work a few hours a day with 1-2 vacation days a week. If you want to stay in a place for an extended period of time (maybe to learn the language) without spending a lot of money, this is a great option.
The rest of this article will only deal with charitable volunteering. If you are looking for non-charitable volunteering opportunities to help you travel the world for free, visit Workaway, HelpX, or WWOOF; all wonderful sites which you can use to search volunteering opportunities around the world. In the past, myself and friends of mine have used all of these sites with great success when looking for volunteering opportunities.
Saving turtles, caring for elephants, and working in orphanages are among the best known type of charitable volunteer placements. Nowadays there are hundreds if not thousands of companies that are willing to help you take part in one of these projects.. in exchange for an ‘administration fee.’ Often administration fees cost upwards of hundreds or thousands of pounds for one month placements and when I first saw this, I wondered why I had to pay an administration fee in order to work for free. It just didn’t seem to make sense. Thus I delved into this matter a little bit deeper.
I went to i-to-i (a huge recruiter of volunteers worldwide) and looked into where the administration fees went. By their own claims, around 48% of the money went to the company, covering recruitment of volunteers, office running costs, and profit. Of the remaining 52%, 32% covered accommodation, 15% covered transport and orientation, while the remaining 5% was made up by ‘in country costs,’ whatever they are. In short, nothing went to the charity that you would be helping. Simple mathematics told me that by not going with a company that charges an administration fee, you will instantly reduce the cost by 48%. If you then receive free accommodation in exchange for your help and don’t require someone to meet you at the airport, you have further reduced your total costs by around 90%. This could be pushed a little further, but it is already a hugely significant difference.
Does this make i-to-i and other volunteer placement companies evil? No. They are businesses and they aim to make profit. Unlike many companies, they are in fact helping people at the same time. If you go with a company such as i-to-i, they should also provide you with advice and support during your volunteering placement. However, it draws attention to the fact that if you can find a placement in a different way and you are not scared of going alone, you will greatly reduce the cost for yourself. Or ideally, you will be able to use the money in a way that is much more beneficial to the people, animals, or environment that you wish to help. It was at this point that I started to look for programs that do not require administration fees.
Some of the organisations that you might wish to volunteer for, simply cannot afford to give you housing and food for the duration of your stay. Thus it is not uncommon to pay a few pounds a day to cover both of these expenses. However, if you look properly, it is quite possible to find placements that can afford to cover both of these expenses for you. The best way to find a placement is to contact an organisation directly. For developed areas, you can often find websites with email addresses of organisations that are looking for volunteers. In less developed areas, one of the best ways to find a volunteer placement is to simply go to the place and ask around. If you do this, make sure you have a little bit of money to keep you going in the event that you do not find something immediately. If you already have a trip planned, maybe consider doing this on your travels in order to extend your trip and give something back to the communities that you are enjoying.
My final three pieces of advice when going away for an extended period of time to volunteer are:
- Get travel insurance. Health is life. Without it, you’d be dead.
- Avoid project administration fees. Your money is better spent elsewhere.
- Leave more than footprints. Help the world.
Below I have compiled a collection of my favourite websites which help you find volunteering positions around the world without having to pay administration fees. Some of them require site membership or daily stipends to cover food and accommodation, but these costs are outlined below. None of these sites are affiliate links and I provide them purely on merit. If they deteriorate, I will remove them. If I find better sites, I will add them. I have listed the sites in my personal order of preference. If you know of any similar sites or organisations that help volunteers find free or low cost placements, please send me a message or comment below.
World Wide Helpers. A wonderful, up-to-date and large directory that claims to be the world’s first volunteer social network. It lists low cost and free to participate volunteering opportunities around the world. To apply for a project you must register on the site (for free).
Volunteering for Free. This website lists hostels around the world that work closely with charities to provide you with free or greatly reduced accommodation while participating in one of their supported volunteering schemes.
Volunteer South America. A directory of free to participate and low cost opportunities across South and Central America.
Orphanage. A huge directory of orphanages around the world that are constantly in need of volunteers.
Workaway. For €22 for two years, you receive unlimited access to a huge directory of volunteering opportunities across the world. The majority of opportunities are with non-charitable organisations but over 350 placements list themselves under the charity category.
HelpX. For €20 for two years, you receive unlimited access to a huge directory of volunteering opportunities across the world. The majority of opportunities are with non-charitable organisations.
Free Volunteering. A small but well linked directory of free to participate and low cost volunteer schemes across the world.
WWOOF. Registration costs vary by area, but this directory was established in 1971 and gives you access to farm based volunteering placements around the world.