Volunteering abroad can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You get to spend a few weeks or months saving the rain forest or building houses for people who can’t afford them. Every program is not a good fit for everyone. But there are so many different places and types of work to choose from, you’ll definitely be able to find one that works for you. We’ll cover everything you need to consider when deciding on a program for volunteering abroad. Read another one of our articles to learn about resources for volunteering abroad and reasons to volunteer abroad.
There are so many important things to consider before planning a trip to volunteer overseas. Here’s our top list.
10 things to know about volunteering abroad before you sign up
Do your research. Not all volunteer abroad opportunities are created equal. Some cost money, others are free. Some require commitments of 3 or more months; others only ask that you stay a week.
Location. This is one of the most important things to consider when you’re picking a destination. Is the program in a place you want to visit? Would you be living close to a major city? Would you want to? If you’re looking to go barhopping on the weekends, and you commit to 6 months in rural Romania, you probably won’t be happy.
Safety. Learn about the safety of the region you’ll visit and, if possible, talk to other people who have lived or traveled there. Safety can be crime-related or illness-related. Some people would prefer to avoid politically volatile regions, but are okay with risking malaria. Decide what you value before you book a trip.
Cost. Some volunteer programs charge thousands of dollars; others are completely free and provide you with housing and food. Take your budget into account before you commit to a program.
Climate. If you’re uncomfortable when the thermostat rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, you should probably steer clear of Calcutta in May. Look at average temperatures for the dates you’ll travel and make sure you pack weather-appropriate clothes. Most programs offer packing advice on their websites.
Length of Stay. Some programs are come-and-go and allow you to show up and stay for a while. Others have strict requirements for booking in advance and staying a minimum amount of time. Your dream program may require a 6-month commitment. If you’re only able to get away for 3 months, contact them and see if that’s a possibility. If not, ask them for recommendations of similar programs and keep on looking.
Type of Work. You could be volunteering on an organic farm, like Chacra Millalen, building houses through Habitat for Humanity, doing environmental research, teaching English, or helping out in a medical clinic. There’s definitely something for everyone, so choose an activity that you’ll enjoy.
What’s Provided. Some programs give you food and lodging at no additional cost. Others provide lodging, but you’re expected to pay extra for it. Still others point you in the right direction by giving you recommendations, but you have to book and pay for it. Figure out what your program provides and what you can afford.
Schedule. If getting out and exploring the region is important to you, figure out how much free time you’ll have. Some programs give you days off, while others expect you to be available the entire time you’re there. Do your research, and decide what will work best for you. As an example, while we were in Argentina volunteering at Chacra Millalen, we didn’t realize they do not have their volunteers work on the weekend. Had we realized that, we might not have planned on Saturday-Sunday as part of our stay. It was wonderful being there, but we were there to work.
Reputation. Dig around online, scour forums, and ask for references if you have doubts. If the company or organization you’re considering seems sketchy, it might be. Or they might just have a small budget and no website. Do your research and try to speak to a real person about any concerns. You can look up U.S.-based organizations (or orgs with a U.S. affiliate) on Charity Navigator, which evaluates non-profits and gives them 1-4 stars, and GuideStar, which provides information on thousands of non-profits.
Additional resources for volunteering abroad traveling and WWOOF ‘ing:
Doing your homework in advance will ensure there are no surprises. Using our list above will help you consider things you might not have otherwise thought about. Volunteering abroad should be an enriching experience. Make it a great one too with these tips.