How to volunteer overseas and what you need to know

Volunteering abroad is one of the most fulfilling ways to spend your holiday. It is undeniably an experience unlike any other, giving travellers of every age the opportunity to invest energy and time towards a positive outcome for both themselves and those they are helping. Below is a few things about how to volunteer overseas and what you need to know.

There are opportunities to volunteer in every single country in the world, some with more demands than others. Each volunteering experience differs, depending on the need of the destination. Some countries have the desire for more English teachers, others require the need for fresh water and food, and some are just looking for enthusiastic people willing to run summer camps for children and teenagers. Whatever your interests, and wherever your travel destination, there are volunteer opportunities available.

The 2012 Official volunteer report, composed by Go Overseas gave evidence that India was the #1 most searched country for volunteer programs. Before that, in 2009, Gecko Go’s showed statistics that Peru was the country with the most volunteer programs.

How to get involved

The first step to volunteering is being organised. Backpacking normally works on having a rough schedule rather than a tighter one, so it’s good to pre-determine a time frame for how long you want to volunteer in each place for. The benefit of doing so means that you won’t need to stress as much about accommodation, as most volunteer jobs offer some form of place to stay, eat and sleep. If you’re the type of person who prefers an even more organised method, it is best to search for volunteer programs online before travelling. There are a number of websites that give you information for each destination and the type of work on offer, and there are companies that you can contact directly that will help organise your travelling around your volunteer work. Sometimes these volunteering opportunities lead to jobs or even a career.

Pay to Volunteer? Sounds pointless?

Despite volunteer work being well, voluntary, some companies do have some form of fees to cover your accommodation and food during your stay. Put into perspective, however, the fees are minuscule and do also include your security (and in some cases, insurance) for the duration of your volunteer program. It is important that you don’t allow fees to prevent you from volunteering. At the end of the day, the fees are there to protect you as an “employee” and to ensure that you get the most out of your experience. Instead of sightseeing, you’re using your money to give somebody a chance to have fresh water; to learn English, or you may be saving the planet by planting one tree at a time. No matter what you’re doing as part of your program, it will be more than just fulfilling, it will be life changing.

Popular companies that charge you to volunteer

  • Real Gap, international volunteer and internship programs including plant and animal conservation, teaching, summer camps and community development programs,  starting at $180USD
  • GOECO, popular international volunteer company, ranges in types of volunteering and starting at US$500 for Asia and $900 for Central/North Africa. They also offers programs in North and South Americas, Australasia and pacific, Israel and South Africa
  • Global Volunteers offer volunteer programs starting from one week, and extending up to three weeks. They are an American based country, offering volunteer programs internationally, starting at $995USD for  programs inside USA, $1700 for India and roughly $2500 for countries including China, Tanzania, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. They also offer student discounts
  • Tanzania volunteers, a program with a focus on internships and volunteer work. They have more than 50 internship and volunteer work placements in the healthcare and social sector, which include orphanages, day care centres, street kid centres and juvenile jail. They also have placements in schools to work with children living with disability. Prices start at US$1010 for 4 weeks volunteering, and groups of 5 get a 10% discount off the quoted price. The prices are all inclusive of 3 meals a day, accommodation, language training, phone connection, internet usage, transportation and a shirt.

How to avoid paying to volunteer

However, if you prefer not to pay for programs, you can independently apply for volunteer programs through country websites, travel forums and guidebooks. Be warned though that applying directly to a destination can often lead to less organisation and therefore you run the risk of being unprepared. Language barriers can and will occur, and situations can often becoming confusing if you are not prepared with the right information before entering your volunteer program. The safest way to apply is to read and research reviews on online forums from people who have previously volunteered. Know what you’re getting yourself into before diving in, head first.

Consider several volunteering programs before deciding on one that is best for you and that suits your backpacking destinations to ensure you get the absolute most from your holiday. The best way to think of this is as a holiday that will also look great on a resume, will give you a confidence and a knowledge boost and will leave you feeling completely satisfied about taking a gap year or holiday.