Global Crossroad – Meaningful Volunteering Abroad
Global Crossroad is one of the leading volunteer abroad organizations in the world. Since 2003, we have been running the most affordable and highly rated volunteering abroad programs, internship abroad opportunities, summer escapes, mini- adventures, hands on medical volunteer programs, alternative spring break trips, family volunteering projects, and high school and college group programs in 18 countries across Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Our programs have been trusted by thousands of volunteers for well over a decade.
During your chosen program you will receive unparalleled in-country support from experienced staff, which will ensure your volunteer experience is safe, life changing, worthwhile, and fun. We invite you to join us, if you are thinking of making a commitment to positively impacting the world while abroad without costs being through the roof.
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Are you interesting in volunteering abroad, but aren’t sure where to start? Do you have questions about abroad volunteering programs, but don’t know how to find quick answers?
My name is Rachel, and I am passionate about service trips abroad. I first volunteered in 2007, and the experience changed my life.
Since then I have volunteered two other times and moved to Costa Rica. That being said, I have been in your shoes and hope to help you on your own volunteer journey by laying out a step-by-step guide to volunteering abroad.
In this volunteering guide using my own volunteering experience, I will teach you everything you need to know about abroad volunteering so you can rest assured knowing that your experience will be safe, memorable, and meaningful.
The guide starts from learning about volunteer abroad opportunities and teaches through the final stage of project completion and giving feedback. It will cover following topics:
- Chapter 1: Understanding volunteer abroad programs
- What is volunteering abroad?
- Why volunteer abroad?
- What are some of the most popular volunteer abroad destinations?
- What are some of the most popular volunteer abroad projects?
- Chapter 2: Getting started on your volunteer abroad journey
- Is volunteering abroad really for me?
- What kind of skills is required to volunteer abroad?
- How do I know which country and project are the right fit for me?
- How do I select the best volunteer abroad organization?
- How much does it cost to volunteer abroad?
- Is there any way to reduce the cost?
- What kind of accommodations can I expect in my host country?
- What’s it like staying with a host family?
- Will I have a support system when I arrive?
- How and when do I need to apply?
- Chapter 3: How to prepare for your volunteer abroad trip
- How and when should I book my flight?
- What type of visa do I need?
- Do I need any vaccinations?
- Should I purchase travel insurance?
- Do I need to bring extra money?
- What do I need to pack?
- What information should I have before departure?
- Chapter 4: Your adventure begins
- What can I expect upon arrival to my host country?
- What is my daily schedule like?
- What are some things I can do to make my experience rewarding?
- How can I stay safe while volunteering abroad?
- What is culture shock and how can I prepare for it?
- Chapter 5: Completing your project and returning home
- How would you describe the life of an international volunteer?
- What are some common issues other volunteers have experienced?
- What are some frequently asked questions?
- Closing with a few final words
Let’s begin with something simple.
Chapter 1: Understanding Volunteer abroad
What is volunteering abroad and what does it entail?
Volunteer abroad trip is an international humanitarian trip where you (or someone with passion for serving others) travel to a developing country and contribute your skills and experience for the benefit of a community project.
Most abroad experiences will allow you to volunteer for one week or more, and the majority require that you pay a program fee. The volunteer organization of your choice will work with you to select a program that meets your needs and interests. They should also give you support throughout your experience.
So, now that you understand what an abroad volunteering trip is, you may be wondering why people want to volunteer overseas, and whether it is worth the time and energy.
Why volunteer abroad?
Many people volunteer for a variety of reasons. The first time I volunteered, I worked with children’s camps in Uruguay. My motivation for joining the program was to travel to another country, and volunteering seemed like a safe and affordable way to do so. My experience was well worth the energy I invested because it defined my career path and influenced my personal perspectives.
Volunteering abroad may seem like a daunting concept, but planning a trip is extremely worthwhile. This experience can be a life-changing adventure that teaches you invaluable lessons. Your time abroad will make a positive impact on individuals in local communities and allow you to embrace authentic culture that most tourists never experience.
Although everyone has their own reason for joining volunteer abroad programs, I’ve created a list of benefits that may motivate you to embark on your own volunteer excursion:
- You will positively impact individual’s lives and better the overall community where you work
- Working alongside community members will make you more proficient in a foreign language, opening doors for future opportunities.
- You will create adventurous opportunities for yourself by stepping into the unknown and out of your comfort zone. This will allow for personal growth and introspective clarity.
- Your project may teach you new skills or help you sharpen important proficiencies to support future work-related endeavors
- Experiencing a new culture will encourage new perspectives, increase your capacity for empathy, and make you more of a global citizen.
- Volunteering experience abroad allows you to create strong bonds with fellow volunteers or people in your project. You can establish lifelong friendships that enhance your global network.
- Donating time to a good cause and working in a team will boost your confidence, grow your support system, and make you feel happier.
No matter your reason, volunteer program abroad is a rewarding experience that will benefit you in more ways than one. It certainly did for me! If you’re captivated by the concept of volunteering now that you know how it can benefit you, the next thing you may want to think about is where you’d like to volunteer.
What are some of the most popular Volunteer abroad destinations?
Are there certain countries that have more experience with foreign volunteers? How many countries in the world offer volunteer abroad programs? Can you recommend some destinations that other people have enjoyed?
From exotic wildlife to dramatic landscapes to humble and welcoming cultures, many developing countries across the globe offer amazing experiences to international volunteers. The following are some of the most popular countries volunteers travel to:
Each of these countries offers a unique experience through its cultural identity, volunteer abroad work opportunities, and geographic location. In my time abroad, I have been to only two of these countries, but hope to visit all of them one day!
However, volunteering isn’t only about the destination…
What are some typical and well-liked volunteer projects?
If you consider volunteer abroad, you should also ask yourself what you’re passionate about. Where will you make the most impact? Where can you utilize your skills? Which projects have the highest need for volunteers? The following programs are offered in multiple countries and have had a lot of success with other volunteers.
Orphanage/Childcare Volunteer Program
Global Crossroad’s orphanage volunteer opportunity abroad offers you an incredible opportunity to make a real meaningful difference in the life of disadvantaged children. You will share your passion, care, love, and education to the destitute children. Your invaluable love and support will give these children a chance at a happy and fruitful life. Currently, Global Crossroad Volunteers offers orphanage/childcare volunteer programs in 18 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- Orphanage Volunteer Program in Nepal
- Childcare volunteer Program in Thailand
- Volunteer in Ghana Orphanage
- Volunteer in Uganda Orphanage
- Brazil Childcare Volunteer
- Volunteer in Peru Orphanage
Teaching English Volunteer Program
Volunteer teaching English abroad program is really an amazing opportunity for you to share your love and passion to the children who are deprived of quality English education. As a volunteer teacher, you will teach English in community schools and orphanages. You will help to improve English skills of the children while also planning and implementing creative extracurricular activities, like games, singing, dancing and drawing. Your strong passion and dedication will help disadvantaged children build a strong foundation for proficiency in English. We have volunteer teaching English program in 21 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- Volunteer Teaching English to Buddhist Monks in Nepal
- Volunteer Teaching English in Sri Lanka
- Kenya Volunteer Teaching
- South Africa English Teaching Volunteer Program
- Volunteer Teaching English in Argentina
- Volunteer Teaching English in Costa Rica
Medical Volunteer Program
Medical volunteer abroad programs offer you a wonderful opportunity to gain invaluable real world medical experience while working alongside the local professional nurses and doctors. It is indeed an ideal chance for those studying or pursuing a career in the field of healthcare. As a medical volunteer, you will shadow local professional team of doctors and nurses. We offer medical abroad programs in 14 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- Medical Volunteer Opportunity in India
- Cambodia Medical Volunteer Program
- Tanzania Medical Volunteer Program
- Ghana Medical Volunteer Program
- Costa Rica Medical Volunteer Program
- Peru Medical Volunteer Program
Women’s empowerment Program
Women’s empowerment volunteer abroad work is very meaningful. Your altruism and passion will help make impoverished women’s life happy and harmonious. As a volunteer, you will teach valuable crafting and business skills to underprivileged women to improve their living standard. Helping women and children in need will be an experience that will leave an unforgettable mark on your heart.
- Women’s Empowerment Program in India
- Women’s Empowerment Program in Tanzania
- Women’s Empowerment Program in Guatemala
- Teenage Mother Program in Peru
Elephant Conservation Program
This elephant conservation volunteering abroad opportunity will be a life changing experience for you. You can enjoy helping with all aspects of elephant care such as feeding, bathing and playing with the elephants. You will also help increase awareness with locals about the conservation and welfare of the elephants.
- Sri Lanka Elephant Orphanage Volunteer!
- Elephant Sanctuary Volunteer Sri Lanka!
- Volunteer in Thailand with Elephants!
Turtle Conservation Program
If you are passionate about conserving the charming sea turtle population than our turtle conservation volunteer abroad programs are an ideal option to fulfill your passion. You will work in collaboration with local conservationists to save endangered sea turtles.
- Sea Turtle Research and Conservation (Osa Peninsula)
- Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation
- Turtle Conservation Program in Bali
- Turtle Conservation Program in Mexico
Wildlife Conservation Program
Global has been offering rewarding and meaningful animal conservation volunteering programs overseas. Whether you choose to volunteer with elephants, conserve sea turtles, or join wildlife conservation efforts in Victoria Falls, there are many incredible opportunities just waiting for you.
- BIG 5 (South Africa)
- Wildlife Care Centre (South Africa)
- Monkey Project(South Africa)
- Desert Elephant Project
- Save Our Wildlife (Namibia)
Panda Conservation Program
Global Crossroad offers exciting panda conservation volunteer opportunity in China. This program offers you an incredible chance to save endangered giant pandas while also experiencing local Chinese cultures and cuisines. You will get involved in cleaning, feeding, and caring for the Pandas.
As someone who has worked on projects in several of these categories, I can tell you from first-hand experience that these abroad volunteer projects are popular because they allow you to support local community projects in really big ways. Click on the links to learn more about each of these program types.
Chapter 2: Getting started on your volunteer journey
Talk of traveling and helping others sounds amazing, but you may be wondering
Is volunteering abroad really for me?
That’s a great question. Whether volunteer abroad is for you or not depends on your values, personality, and willingness to travel to a new country. People who are passionate about helping others, exploring the world, and meeting new people generally love volunteering.
If you have always wanted to travel abroad but aren’t sure you would feel comfortable enough for the experience or have concerns about volunteering in a foreign country, keep reading because the truth is that volunteer travel abroad opportunity is not for everyone.
Because of this, it is incredibly important that you make your decision to volunteer very carefully. Every time I traveled abroad to volunteer, I considered the pros and cons for at least a month before committing to a decision. Asking yourself the following questions may help determine if you should commit to an international volunteer program:
Are you passionate about a specific field?
It is important that you genuinely enjoy whatever project you support through your volunteer efforts. If you’re not sure what your passion is, volunteering abroad for a short amount of time is a great way to explore your interests.
Do you feel comfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone?
Often times we take hot water showers and constant cell service for granted. During your abroad volunteer trip, you may find yourself in a living in a situation where there is no hot water, no electricity, and no western toilet.
This is something I certainly didn’t consider on my first trip! I struggled a lot with cold water showers, and lack of communication with my family made me really homesick. I am very grateful that I only volunteered for 10 days my first time abroad because I don’t think I could have handled much more time away from family on my first international trip.
Are you flexible and open-minded?
Joining volunteer travel programs abroad means immersing yourself in a new world. You will experience different cultural norms while surrounded by a foreign language you may not understand. This can be amazingly overwhelming, especially if you are not volunteering with a group. You should be prepared to take step back and respond to situations with understanding.
Do I have sufficient funds to support this endeavor?
I wish volunteer abroad programs were free, but like all things in life - it is not. From airfare to daily meals and lodging costs, you should be sure that you have sufficient funds to support your volunteer abroad adventure. I always make a detailed budget on excel for anticipated expenses, potential tourist outings, and travel costs so I have an idea of how much I should save up before applying.
Do you like meeting new people?
You should be prepared to engage with new people on a daily basis. You will be put into a living situation where you will make friends with people from all walks of life. If you don’t like meeting new people, you may re-evaluate your motives for traveling abroad to volunteer.
If you answered ‘yes’ to many of these questions, that’s a really good indicator that you would do well in a volunteer abroad program. If have doubts about some of the points we just reviewed, take a little more time to consider how you would do while traveling and working abroad, and whether its something that would be manageable for you.
What kinds of skills are required?
How do I know if my program of interest has specific requirements? If I am under 18, can I still participate in a program?
Many programs accept volunteers of all ages, and in general the most important requirement is that you are passionate and motivated to help people in need.
In general, there are two exceptions to this: English teaching programs sometimes require previous experience and often require that the volunteer is fluent in English. Medical volunteering work abroad requires a background in medicine or that you are at least a pre-med student.
How do you know which project and country are the right fit for you?
With so many options to choose from, how can I narrow down my selection? What type of volunteer work abroad would you advise for someone who has never traveled abroad?
Asking yourself what you’re passionate about! If you’re not sure, try and make a list of things you enjoy doing. What brings you joy? What do you like to do on the weekends? If you love talking to people and playing games, an orphanage or teaching project would suit you well since you will interact with children. If you like spending time outdoors, I would recommend looking into conservation projects. If you’ve considered going into the medical field, working with HIV/AIDS outreach or healthcare programs might benefit you the most.
With respect to selecting volunteering abroad destination, you may analyze how far you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone. Some countries may have access to certain creature comforts, whereas others may have very limited resources. Some languages may feel more familiar while others are completely foreign. Certain country’s populations have higher poverty rates and therefore a greater need for volunteers. I have always volunteered and traveled to Latin American countries because I am infatuated with Latin culture and enjoy listening to the Spanish language, even I can’t speak it proficiently.
Grab a pencil and paper and start brainstorming! List your passions on one side of the page, and then list countries you’re interested in or would feel comfortable traveling to on the other. This is a great way to get your selection process started.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices for programs and countries, you now have to research which volunteer organizations will provide you with a good volunteer abroad experience.
How to select the best and cheap volunteer abroad organization?
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the quantity of organizations offering to facilitate your volunteer experience? Not sure how to pick out the cheap and best volunteer abroad programs and organizations from “middlemen” organizations only interested in making a profit?
Here’s a tip: don’t just type “ best volunteer abroad programs” into Google’s search bar and go with the first company that comes up. You’ll want to do your research. This choice is very important because the organization you select will affect your safety, budget, and overall experience.
I didn’t research very thoroughly on my second trip, and I wound up paying for a low-quality experience. (I’ll tell you about that a little later in this guide…) I offer a few suggestions that will help you spot the phonies from best and cheap abroad volunteer programs & organizations:
Check the organization’s website to determine their credibility. Look for clear and accurately written information, an ‘about us’ section, and social media account communications with their followers.
Compare the program fees with other organizations. The best organization provides meaningful abroad volunteering programs at a cheap price. Also, investigate to obtain a clear idea how the company allocates your program fees. If they are taking a large portion of your fees for administration or don’t explain where your money goes, it is likely the organization is motivated by profit.
- Review the organization’s ratings and reviews and avoid organizations who get negative reviews. You can also ask the company for references or past volunteer contact information to get a direct review of the program.
- Test the organization’s communication by sending them an email or two to see how fast they reply. If they reply within 24 hours, that’s a great indicator that they most likely provide quality and professional service.
- Evaluate the volunteer abroad organization’s commitment to local causes by analyzing their community projects and the types of local organizations they partner with.
- Ask about experience. If the organization’s website doesn’t explain how many years they have been in business, they may not be reliable or not know what they’re doing.
While remembering that all volunteer organizations have their limitations, the best providers will have a good reputation with field-tested staff who care about your personal journey. They will provide a high quality volunteer abroad experience at a cheap and transparent price.
Speaking of prices, how much does it cost to volunteer abroad?
What should I expect to pay for a program fee? How much money should I expect to spend outside of my program? Why there are only a few cheap volunteer abroad programs available? Why is volunteering so expensive when you’re helping people?
While you may hope that your volunteer efforts will give you free room and board, many developing countries just don’t have the means to donate resources in that way. You should become familiar with all of the potential expenses before committing to a volunteer abroad adventure and understand that the amount of money you pay depends on a multitude of factors. These include the country you plan to visit, the program type you’re interested in, and how long you plan to stay. Specialized programs (such as medical or dental work) in countries where poverty rates are low tend to be more expensive than more general programs (working with orphans or in conservation) in very poor countries.
The cheap abroad volunteer opportunity cost about $200 for two weeks whereas expensive programs cost about $3000. These expenses include lodging, meals, a project donation, supervision, and more and tend to be covered in your program fee. The best organizations will insist that the volunteer pay their host families and project donation directly, so that they know for sure the money is going to people who need it. Many organizations also ask that you pay a registration fee, which generally supports the volunteer organizations’ administrative costs including things like advertising, utilities, rent, employee salaries, and other business expenses.
Besides these abroad volunteer opportunity fees which cover your project you should also plan to invest money in airfare and travel expenses, vaccinations, insurance, climate appropriate clothing and footwear, travel gear, and other personal expenses such as buying souvenirs or visiting tourist attractions. We’ll explain a bit more about these details in the next chapter.
Volunteer organizations do not usually offer grants or discounts to volunteers because their fees are dependent on the number of volunteers they have. Most organizations are NGOs, meaning that they don’t receive government funding and depend solely on volunteer money.
Is there any way to reduce the cost?
Are you concerned about extra costs you may not anticipate up front? If you want to know how you can be frugal abroad, let me tell you about how you can either raise money or reduce the cost of your volunteer abroad experience.
- Reach out to friends, family, and online resources to learn about how much people spent and if they have tips for saving while abroad.
- Use a spreadsheet to plan a detailed budget ahead of time. This can help you understand where your money will go. Tracking your money as you travel will also help you spend money mindfully.
- Research local currency and be prepared to do math when purchasing so you understand how much money you are spending.
- Volunteering abroad during off-season. Airplane tickets tend to be cheaper!
- Check to see if vaccinations are covered by your health insurance or if there are any free or low-cost clinics in your immediate area.
- Limit personal spending including snacks, souvenirs, eating out, personal travel, going out on the town, etc. If you want to take full advantage of being abroad and don’t like the idea of limiting your personal funds, that’s okay! Just make sure to plan a bigger budget.
- Start a fundraising campaign or reach out to family and friends for support of your volunteer travel programs abroad. If you explain your motives and intentions well, you could really save a lot of money.
OK – so you understand why you have to pay for this experience. But before you dive in further, let’s talk about the realities of what to expect from your accommodations.
What kind of lodging and meals can I expect in my host country?
Will I stay with a host family? Should I expect to buy my own food? Will I be able to do laundry and have access to the internet?
These questions are super important because your accommodations can really make or break your abroad volunteering experience, and accommodations vary greatly depending on your project location and organization.
You will probably live with a host family or in volunteer housing and receive local meals. The level of accommodation you receive really depends on local resources. Generally, these aren’t very flexible. You may not be given the choice of accommodation type you’d like to receive, you may have to share your room, and you may not be able to choose what type of food you want to eat during mealtimes.
Let’s break this down a bit, starting with lodging. Here are the three most common lodging accommodations during your volunteer opportunity abroad:
Host families: host families are local families that have been vetted (investigated and specially selected) by the volunteer organization. These locals have agreed to take in one or more volunteer and provide them with a bed and food. Since this is a very common type of lodging in volunteer abroad programs, I will explain more details about staying with a local family in the next chapter.
Volunteer House or hostel: Volunteer houses and hostels are normally communal, dorm style living arrangements where your house- or hostel-mates may or may not be volunteering.
Cabin or tent: Staying in primitive living conditions during your volunteer project abroad is not likely but may be necessary if you’re working in a very remote area. This happens most often with medical volunteers as they often aim to provide healthcare to rural communities.
In some cases, you may be able to choose between staying with a host family or staying in a hostel. I have stayed in both, and each have their own perks and drawbacks. Staying in a volunteer house or hostel allows you to create strong connections with fellow volunteers and gives you a bit more independence. However, staying with a host family will help you better connect with the community you’re serving and provide you with a more authentic abroad volunteering experience. If you’re given the option to choose, think about what is best for you as an individual and the type of experience you want to have.
Depending on where you live, there may be certain rules you should follow, and of course you should always treat the facility, your family, and your housemates with respect. I love hearing about when volunteers feel as if they’re lodging is a home-away-from home, but you are also still a guest and should act in an appropriate manner. Keep your room and living area clean, help with cooking, don't come home drunk or disruptive, and don't bring home outside guests without prior permission.
With respect to food, most volunteer abroad organizations will accommodate at least two meals per day, but again this depends on your specific project location and what resources the community has available. If you stay in a hostel, you may be asked to cook your own food.
The food you eat will be local, fresh, and delicious! But it may be different than what you are used to, so remember to keep an open mind during your time abroad and try to eat as much local cuisine as you can. Your host family may ask you what you like and don’t like – it is okay to be honest but be respectful and don’t demand certain foods.
Most food allergies and special diets can be accommodated, but you should discuss this with your volunteer organization to make sure. Never assume that your dietary needs can be accommodated without checking ahead of time.
Other accommodations depend on your volunteer abroad program location, so I will discuss these in a very general sense. The best thing to do for specific information is to ask questions to your volunteer organization.
Laundry: You may pay your host family to do your laundry for you, or they may let you use their laundry machine free of charge. In some countries, like India, it is offensive for the host family to do your laundry. In this case, you will need to use a laundry mat.
Internet: If your volunteer overseas work is in a major city, you be able to access Wi-Fi by visiting an internet café or coffee shop during your down time.
Electricity: Access to electricity really depends. Some countries in Africa and Asia still function regularly without electricity, and power may only be available during certain times of day.
Toiletries: You should bring your own toiletries, but don’t over pack. You will have access to local markets where you can buy common toiletry supplies.
Hot water: Hot water is not guaranteed. Many cultures take cold water showers or don’t have access to electricity.
Curious about staying with a homestay family, but want more details? Keep reading and I will tell you the in-depth details of what this unique and authentic volunteering abroad experience is like!
What’s it like living with a host family?
If your motivated for volunteering abroad is to experience culture or learn another language, you can’t ask for much more than staying with a local family. To discern which family you should join, most volunteer organizations will ask you a series of questions ranging from your comfort with the language to whether or not you like children. This will help your organization match you with a good family.
There are many benefits from staying with a homestay family, which include giving extra income to a deserving family, gaining an incredibly authentic experience, strengthening your community ties, and opening up opportunities for language practice.
Upon your arrival to volunteer abroad program destination, you may feel a bit out of place, and it might take a little time to adjust. This is completely normal, so don’t feel bad about feeling this way. Talking to people will help you process and work through your adjustment period.
Often times the first thing you will do upon arrival to your family’s house is sit with them and drink coffee or tea. This is a great way to ask questions and get to know them a bit better. Even if there’s a language barrier, your efforts to reach out to them will be valued and appreciated. They have to adjust to you as much as you have to adjust with them!
It’s a good idea to bring a small inexpensive gift for your host family and present it to them upon arrival as a token of gratitude for allowing you to stay with them. A gift representative of your home country or your life and background is always a good way to start up conversation. Some common gift ideas include candy, chocolates, a t-shirt from your favorite sports team, a favorite book translated into the local language, a nice notebook, etc. It's nice to get your host family something that they couldn't ordinarily get at their local market.
You can spend time with your family by cooking meals together, sharing stories, playing games, watching TV, or helping them with house or homework. Be prepared for the ups and downs of normal family life during your volunteer abroad experience. Be respectful! Don’t take super long showers or eat all their food or leave a mess. Help around the house as much as you can and attempt to speak their language often. Immersion is the best learning tool, and you’ll find that you leave your homestay more proficient in your host countries language and a thorough understanding of local culture.
Most homestay families will welcome you with open arms and accept you as a member of the family, but they may be nervous to meet you and make a good impression. Take things one day at a time and remember that local customs can differ greatly from western culture. Try to avoid controversial issues like religion, politics, gender roles, and sexual orientation. Should these topics come up, speak with respect and caution understanding that your host family has different societal norms while in abroad volunteering trip. If any issues arrive, discuss with your in-country coordinator.
The time you spend with your host family can really enhance your volunteer experience, so it is important that you try to connect with them.
Here’s a few more tips for living with your host family:
- Do not consume alcohol, smoke, or do drugs in your host family’s home.
- Dress modestly and avoid any dating or romantic activities with members of the host family.
- Do not use the belongings of the host family (TV, radio, DVD player, bicycle, etc) without permission.
- Keep your room clean.
- You are responsible for your laundry.
- Do not bring home any friends or romantic partners without the permission of your host family.
- Your host family will give you some instructions about mealtimes and curfew. Please respect these guidelines.
Will I have a support system while abroad?
While you’re volunteering abroad, it is likely that you face challenges on a daily basis. Whether you’re looking for advice or confronting a larger issue, your volunteer organization’s in-country support staff should be there for you.
Most volunteer organizations follow one of two models. They either have their own volunteer abroad in country field office with staff members or they work through local volunteer organizations taking on the role of the middleman and the head of the local volunteer abroad organizations acts as your support. No matter which model your volunteer organization uses, your support staff is responsible for airport port pickup, managing homestays, orientation and introduction to the culture, host family, and project, periodic follow ups to ensure your stay is going smooth, and to provide advice for any issues or concerns. You should ensure you have their contact information on hand should anything happen.
Are you still with us in your quest for an incredible volunteer journey? Let’s start thinking about how we can take action to make this happen.
How and when can I apply to volunteer abroad?
What is the process like to join a volunteer abroad program? How far in advance should I apply to work abroad? What does the application process entail?
Volunteer abroad applications are typically very straight forward. Your volunteer organization should provide an online application. This application may be quite extensive, so you’ll want to be prepared to supply your personal information, project of choice, reasoning behind wanting to volunteer, and more.
Sometimes organizations will ask you to do an interview or write a statement of interest. You will also most likely be asked to pay a deposit or booking fee ranging from $50 to $500 to hold your volunteer spot. The deposit is part of the overall cost of your program. For example, if your abroad volunteering program application fee is $299, and your deposit is $99, you will have $200 left to pay after you are accepted.
After you submit your online application, it is forwarded to your host country's main office, where the local staff will review it, assess your interest in the program, and examine your educational and personal background to determine if you are a good fit for the project.
It may take a little while to hear back (normally between 1-3 weeks), but once you are approved to volunteer abroad in your program of choice you will receive a confirmation of your acceptance and the details of your placement. This should include everything you need to know about pre-departure requirements, project details, itineraries and schedules, visa information, vaccination requirements, in-country office details, accommodation details, and more.
Very few people are rejected from volunteer programs. One thing that may bar you from volunteering abroad is prior criminal history. If you have been in trouble with the law before, it’s important that you’re upfront about this with your organization.
If you’re looking for an exact timeline of when you should apply for your program, I will say that earlier is always better. You’ll want ample time to prepare, book your flight in advance for cheaper prices, purchase belongings, arrange your visa, and get immunizations that may take up to 6 weeks to complete. My best recommendation is to apply about 3 months in advance; however, some organizations may allow you to apply up to 2 weeks before departure. Rushing this part of the process can cause you stress and get your volunteer abroad experience off to a bad start.
Let’s talk about some other need-to-know details before embarking on your volunteer adventure.
Chapter 3: How to prepare for you volunteer abroad trip
How and when should I book my flight?
How do I know which airline to use? Do I need to book the flight myself? Why wasn’t the flight included in my program fees?
Your flight cost is one of the most expensive parts of volunteering abroad, and most organizations will not help you pay for this because buying a flight separately is generally cheaper and logistically simpler than having the volunteer organization over budget flight costs and track individuals’ travel plans.
To book your flight, you will need to select an airline, and then pay for and book your ticket yourself. You should send your flight details to your project coordinator. If you’re not sure how to go about selecting the best flight, using third party sites like Google Flights or Kayak.com or talking with project coordinators may be able to helpful to understand all the different options available to you.
The cost of your flight will depend on many factors; most tickets will range anywhere from $500 to $3000 round trip. Some destinations will be cheaper than others, so it is a wise idea to research flight costs before setting your heart on a certain country.
What are the visa and passport requirements?
How early do I apply for a passport? How long does it take to get a visa? What happens if I can’t find my passport the week before my departure?
Preparing to volunteer abroad opportunity means solving any passport issues early on. You will not be allowed to travel outside of the country without a valid passport. If you already have a passport, make sure that it is not expired, and that it won't expire for at least six months after your travels.
If you do not currently have a passport, you need to apply for one immediately. They normally take about 6 months to obtain. If you lose your passport before travel or make last-minute volunteer abroad plans, you will need to pay extra money to expedite the process of obtaining or replacing your passport. you will need to research your host country’s visa requirements and then make sure you apply for the correct visa type with plenty of time to spare (1-2 months before departure). Most volunteer abroad programs only require a tourist visa, although in recent years some countries such as Tanzania have created a specialized volunteer visa. If you work for an organization that pays its volunteer or if you’re volunteering for more than 12 weeks, you may need a work visa. Visas typically cost between $10 and $300.
Your volunteering abroad organization will have experience and knowledge on this subject, so check with them about what type of visa you'll need. Some countries may allow you to buy a visa upon arrival to the country, but this is more common in developed countries.
Lack of planning has caused a lot of volunteers some major problems. Don’t let this happen to you. Double and triple check your passport expiration, and make sure you have applied for the right type of visa.
Do I need any vaccinations?
How do I learn about which vaccinations I need to obtain for my host country? Can I volunteer abroad without getting vaccinated?
Some vaccinations are required, while others are only recommended. You can investigate which vaccines you may need by visiting the Center for Disease Control’s website or talking with your host-country coordinator. Make sure to plan your vaccinations with plenty of time because some take up to 6 weeks to complete!
Why is getting vaccinated important for volunteer travel abroad? Proper preventative measures can avert some pretty terrible situations. Because you will be in a new country and your immune system may not be functioning at its best due to stresses from travel, you may be more apt to come in contact with harmful diseases and nasty viruses.
Make sure to schedule a visit to your doctor or healthcare provider and ask them about the vaccinations recommended for your country. Discuss any preexisting diseases that may make you susceptible to new diseases. You should also plan accordingly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or traveling with children.
Speaking of health, you may be wondering:
Should I invest in travel insurance?
The short answer is yes! But let’s talk about why.
As previously mentioned, your body endures a variety of external and internal stresses when you are traveling abroad for volunteering programs that can really take a toll on your immune system. You may be more susceptible to germs or bacterium because of this. The best way to handle getting sick abroad is to be prepared. If you normally take certain medications, bring enough with you for the duration of your trip. If you experience motion sickness or headaches, bring OTC medicine you may need to use. Make sure to take care of yourself by staying hydrated, eating well, and using proper sanitation.
In the case that something unfortunate does happen, though, the same lines of thinking apply be prepared. How can you do that? Invest in travel insurance.
Most volunteer abroad programs are based in or around cities, so hospitals are typically not too far away in the case that you should fall ill, but you should confirm medical facilities before departing. There are even some clinics that specialize in processing foreign insurance. Check with your current insurance company to see how their policies function while abroad. They may cover general illness but may not cover accidents that happen during adventure activities or evacuation expenses.
This is another reason to purchase travel insurance. Most travel insurance policies offer specialized coverage for potential tourist accident situations. Some may cover issues outside of health as well, such as damage to electronics. You can often tailor travel insurance to cover exactly what you need while joining volunteer travel opportunity abroad.
Regardless of the what your specific plan covers, travel insurance is essential for anyone volunteering abroad to ensure your safety and wellbeing.
Should I bring extra money?
You should bring some extra money to cover transportation needs, personal snacks, and essential toiletries – as well as just in case of emergencies. However, the overall amount you’re going to bring will depend on additional activities you’re planning on doing while volunteering abroad. If you plan to travel around the country after your project ends, go sightseeing in your free time, eat out, socialize, take part in adventure activities, go shopping or visit local attractions you should factor this into your pre-trip budgeting.
What do I need to pack?
Once you’ve applied for you abroad volunteer project of choice, been accepted, and booked your flight – the next thing you’ll want to do is start packing. The items you will need to pack will vary depending on your project’s location, work type, and how long you will be staying.
As someone who has lived out of a suitcase for months on end, I understand how stressful packing can be. You want to plan for all types of adventures you may encounter while still feeling comfortable with the necessities you’ve brought along. It’s a pretty delicate balance.
I like to think about different situations I may find myself in. Will I go swimming? Should I prepare for a situation where I get sick? Does my volunteer work abroad have a dress code? Do I have enough medication and personal supplies for the length of my stay? Asking yourself these questions will certainly help you plan to pack well.
Your volunteer organization will likely provide you with a general packing list, but you should not limit yourself to what’s on that list.
You will have to tote your luggage around with you wherever you go. If you are going to multiple destinations or have to travel a lot to get to where you are going, this can be quite cumbersome. Try to pack light to avoid this. Here’s a packing list to help you think of things you won’t want to forget:
- Passport and travel documentation (including travel insurance papers/card, itineraries, important contact information, copies of medical history/list of allergies and medications
- Reusable plastic or Ziplock bags – when it comes to travel, they are good for everything, don't take up space or weight, and are handy to have around
- Travel adapter and convertor if needed
- Your phone, camera, or other electronics – but only take the essentials. If traveling with expensive or easily damaged electronics, make sure you get insurance
- First aid supplies with things like aspirin, Band-Aids, antiseptic, gauze, vitamins (especially vitamin C), anti–nausea and anti–diarrhea medication, etc.
- Sunscreen and bug spray to protect yourself and stay comfortable while working outdoors
- A small amount of extra cash
- A small daypack for carrying your daily essentials
- Comfortable, durable, and ideally waterproof shoes (Chaco’s are my choice!)
- Flip flops or lightweight shower shoes
- Sunglasses and a bathing suit
- A light rain jacket or umbrella
- A windbreaker or warm jacket and hat
- Work gloves for those doing physically demanding abroad volunteer work such as construction, maintenance, etc.
- A country guidebook and/or foreign language dictionary (optional)
- Some form of personal entertainment be it a book, kindle, journal, etc.
- Basic toiletries
- A reusable water bottle
- A small flashlight and batteries or a headlamp
- Clothing – bring clothing that is appropriate for your location, season, and the type of work you are going to do. Packing clothes that can easily be layered is key. Keep items to a minimum and just do laundry when you need to.
- One nice outfit just in case you need to dress up for anything
- A gift for your host family
- Towel/sheets/bedding if applicable
- Mosquito netting if applicable
Always remember that even if you forget something, there’s going to be a store with essentials wherever you are going. Lay out your gear days in advance to be sure you have room for everything you need and can edit out things that are unnecessary.
What information should I have before departure?
You are packed, and ready volunteer abroad, but before you walk out the door, I’d like to give you a list to ensure that you are 100% prepared (mentally and physically) before getting on your plane. Double check to make sure that you have:
- Your passport (original and copies)& flight confirmation details
- Sent flight detailed to your volunteer agency and confirmed airport pickup
- Obtained your visa/checked to ensure that your visa is up to date
- Gotten the appropriate vaccines
- Read the safety precautions for the country you’re traveling to
- Understood what to expect from your volunteer abroad project
- Written down all emergency contact and support staff information (names, websites, email addresses, phone numbers - anything that will help you to transition easily)
- Looked up climate information and packed appropriate clothing for free time and work
- Knowledge of what to expect upon arrival
- Information about your host family (you should know names, how many are in the household, their jobs, their address and a phone number if available) and/or housing accommodations(access to hot showers and laundry facilities, if you will you have a room to yourself, about the type of food and what time they eat).
- Memorized key language phrases
- Realistic expectations (remember that you are traveling to developing countries; you will see poverty, extreme health problems, lack of education, slums and underdeveloped communities).
- Made sure you are ready to travel, contribute your time and energy to humanitarian causes, face challenges, and start the unique experience of a lifetime!
- Packed a carry-on bag with ample clothing in the event that your luggage is lost or delayed. With numerous connecting flights, there is always a chance that your luggage may be mishandled or misplaced.
- Called your volunteering abroad agency to confirm that all the details are clear, ask any last-minute questions and check, that nothing has changed.
Do you have everything ready? Excellent. Now…
Chapter 4: Your Adventure Begins
What should I expect upon arrival?
When you arrive at your destination country’s airport, most organizations will send a representative to pick you up from the airport. You should confirm this before departure. They’ll then take you to your accommodations and introduce you to your homestay family. Most volunteer abroad organizations will provide some sort of orientation that cover basic information on safety, culture, language, project life, and work responsibilities
What will my schedule look like?
Your daily schedule depends on a variety of factors – your location, work placement, the season, and how long you stay. In general, most volunteers are expected to work between 4 and 6 hours per day between 5 and 6 days per week. You’ll wake up around 7 or 8 AM for breakfast, and their work day begins between 8 and 10 AM. Lunch occurs around noon, and your workday normally ends between 2 and 3 PM. Depending on your organization, you may then have language classes, cultural immersion classes, or free time. Dinner usually takes place between 6 and 8 PM.
If you’re worried about free time, don’t! You will have the afternoons and weekend for in-country fun and travel. Talk to locals to find out what kind of events are happening around town. The weekends are a great time to make trips further out of the city/town. In-country coordinators on tips for the best places to go and how to organize your volunteer abroad daily life.
You will most likely walk to your workplace daily or take a public bus. Make sure to ask your country coordinator how far your accommodations will be from your work project to avoid expensive transportation costs.
How can I make the most out of my volunteer experience?
Are you worried that you’ll arrive to your destination and be so put out of your comfort zone that you don’t enjoy your volunteer trip? Are you questioning how much you’ll actually feel rewarded from your volunteer?
During my second volunteer abroad trip, I definitely second-guessed my motives for volunteering. During the program, I really struggled to see how I was making a change and positively impacting the local community. Here are a few tips and tricks for preventing this situation or coping with negative feelings with regard to your work:
Take everything as an adventure
Some days abroad will be good, and others not so much! But if you take each day as part of the adventure and learn to roll with the flow, you will find that you’ll have a more rewarding experience. My Ecuador conservation program definitely wasn’t what I expected, but I still learned new skills, met amazing people, and had the adventure of a lifetime. Even though my experience wasn’t ideal, it still had a TON of value!
Understand cultural norms and the country’s history before you arrive
Investigating your host country before you arrive can help you calibrate your cultural expectations and help you mitigate culture shock that may otherwise take you by surprise. When I volunteered in Uruguay, my group met weekly and explored a different cultural theme each time we met. This really helped me mentally prepare for the journey because it was m first time outside of the country!
Engage with your community through conversation
Talking to people during your abroad volunteering program is so important. You should chat with locals, fellow volunteers, your in-country coordinator, and friends and family at home. This will help you process your experience and make you feel more secure. What’s more, sharing your experience will help your community celebrate your adventure with you! I like to do daily Instagram posts as a way to share my daily experiences with both my in country and external communities.
Practice local language even if you aren’t proficient
Even if you can’t speak properly, attempting to make conversation in local language will help you strengthen ties with your community. You’ll feel good for trying, and you will build confidence to practice more, which will allow you to get more out of your experience. You may want to learn a few key words and phrases if you are traveling to a country where you don’t know the language.
Understand that you are one person contributing energy to a big change
Volunteers may get frustrated because they don’t see change happen before their eyes during their time abroad. You must understand that when you volunteer abroad, often times you are joining a large team of people working toward a bigger change. Do not expect grand accomplishments while you are in our program, but rather remain patient and appreciate the work you’re doing.
Arrive prepared to experience the limitations of developing countries
In the western world, we are used to a certain lifestyle with ease of access and efficiency. This is not the case in developing countries. Once you understand why the country and its population functions in the way that they do and accept the fact that certain things will be out of your control while volunteering in abroad programs, you will have a much more rewarding experience.
Maintain a good attitude
This can be a huge. Witnesses the conditions of a developing country can be hard to deal with but practicing empathy and staying positive will help yourself feel better and encourage everyone around you to do the same.
Don’t lose your volunteer motivation and stay committed to your program
Unfortunately, many volunteers travel abroad with the intention of contributing to their project but get caught up in the social and travel aspects of their adventure. They decide the work is too hard or insignificant. That really hurts the surrounding community who are dependent on humanitarian resources. Staying committed to your project and seeing it through will help you feel like you have made the most of your time abroad.
Every person will have their own experience, and I hope these tips will help you remember how you can mitigate these negative feelings if you find yourself in one of these situations.
How can I stay safe while volunteering abroad?
Can you give me some tips for safety precautions I may want to use while abroad? Are developing countries dangerous?
Any time you travel, you abandon the normalcies of your daily routine. The familiar becomes foreign and laws or social norms you are used to may not apply. Because of this, it is important that you are extra-cautious and think on your toes while you participate in your abroad volunteering experience! I’ve listed a few safety tips that I always follow while abroad, starting from the pre-planning stages of your adventure:
First and foremost: Choose a safe destination
This may seem obvious, but you’re going to feel a lot more secure if you’re in a stable country. Usually volunteer organizations halt their volunteer abroad programs if the country’s situation become unsafe, but it is always a good idea to do your own research and make your own decision about where you travel. This applies to cities within your host country as well – you need to ensure that you’ll be in a safe part of town by researching exactly where your project is located and learning about the community before you make a decision.
Volunteer with an established organization
I can’t emphasize this enough! If you volunteer with an organization that has a good reputation and reliable support, in the case that something does happen you know you will have someone helping you and an immediate point of contact.
Volunteer with a friend or in a group
When you’re in a group or with a friend, you may feel stronger peace of mind. Joining a group abroad volunteer opportunity as a safe way to travel was my motivation for traveling to Uruguay. There’s no shame in not going alone.
Stay on the grid and keep connected
It may be tempting to disconnect from technology during your adventure abroad, but honestly that’s not a very safe decision. Make an effort to get a cell phone with a local number rather than just relying on Wi-Fi connections because danger waits for no one. What’s more: you need to check in with family and friends while abroad. Although you may be having the adventure of a lifetime, undoubtedly your relatives back home who understand the dangers of travel will be preoccupied with your well-being.
Rely on Support Staff
Check in with your volunteering abroad project’s support staff regularly and ask them for their best advice regarding safety while in country.
Don’t walk alone at night
You may not realize it, but you stand out as a foreigner. Walking alone at night makes you a target for thieves and other bad people. I’ve personally heard some pretty intimidating stories from fellow travelers that have always kept me from going out at night alone while volunteering abroad.
Register with your Embassy
Registering with your embassy abroad will give you immense peace of mind. This way, your home country will know that one of their citizens in inside the country should anything happen.
Keep an eye on your money and belongings
People assume everyone from the western world is wealthy. I had a dear friend from Nicaragua once make a comment about how gringos didn’t know how to cook because they hire people to cook for them. Regardless of whether you have money or not, people will perceive that you do. This makes you a target. Do not carry a lot of cash, always know where your wallet is, and do not under any circumstances leave your belongings alone. Opportunistic thieves are not uncommon.
When you dress in a semi-revealing manner, foreign men may take this as a sign that you would like their attention. It can create unnecessary and unsafe situations for you.
Use alcohol in moderation
The idea of drinking Mai Tais all day on a beach in a foreign country during your abroad volunteer trip may seem romantic, but you should remember that drinking makes you vulnerable. People are watching you and may take advantage of you if you drink.
And lastly, trust your gut!
If you feel unsafe or threated, or if you sense that you’re being followed – trust your intuition. Remove yourself from that situation and stay alert!
Culture Shock: What should I Expect?
When you travel to a new country, you’re going to experience a LOT of changes! You will be immersed in a new environment, surrounded by new language and cultural norms. These sights and sensations are part of the volunteer abroad experience; however, it can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed or without energy if you aren’t prepared.
Here are a few tips to consider that will help you minimize any negative effects culture shock may have on your while volunteering:
Research your destination before you arriveGet a basic idea of what to experience while you’re in abroad volunteer program. Talk to others who have lived in or visited that country. Familiarize yourself with its customs, history, economic situation and laws and check out the living conditions, environment, education and health systems.
Embrace your Host Family
Your host family provides your accommodations, but they can also act as a strong support system for you. Spend time getting to know them and have conversations with them about the differences you’re experiencing! Many people are eager to learn about different cultures and lifestyles.
Pay attention to your surrounding
Observe and explore! Take it all in. Get to know residents by visiting them for tea or coffee. When you slowly digest your environment through observation and mindful interactions, you will open your mind to a different way of living.
Prioritize social connections
Living in a new environment away from what’s familiar may make you feel quite lonely or disconnected. That’s why it is so important to make friends with your fellow volunteers and keep in touch with friends and family back home. Spending time with people who speak the same language and are sharing the same experience as you help create life-balance, whether it’s inside or outside of your volunteer program abroad.
Find a language outlet
One thing I have done in the past is to listen to English music or download Netflix episodes on my phone. At the end of a long day of speaking only broken Spanish, relaxing with a little English TV or music time really helped me feel like I could reset and keep utilizing my foreign language skills the next day.
Chapter 5: Completing Your Project and Returning
How would you describe life during your volunteer program?
Volunteering is the core of your travel abroad experience, so volunteers will spend most of their time sharing their compassion and heart with people in need. You should be patient, enthusiastic, motivated, and ready to take each day as it comes. Remember, many projects are grassroots efforts with limited resources and very low budgets.
You are welcome to contribute in multiple project areas during your abroad volunteer opportunity; the support will be very welcomed. You may choose to write proposals, help in administration, or share specialized skills that are relevant to your project.
On the other hand, your project may need help in other activities, so please be open minded, patient, and postivie in your approach, helping the NGO in whatever ways possible. This will make your experience even more worthwhile.
Tips for a successful abroad volunteer experience:
- On your first day, our in-country coordinator or project director will explain your duties, responsibilities, and other rules/regulations of the project. You should follow and respect project rules.
- For a more rewarding experience, please develop a weekly schedule with your project director and follow it.
- Do not tolerate any mistreatment, abuse, and harrassment of children or animals: please treat all humans and animals with love and respect.
- Please use the facilities belonging to your project (computers, vehicles, telephone etc.) only after approval is given by the director.
- If you are not stasfied with your project, please contact your country coordinator – don’t wait until the end of your stay! They may be able to mitigate issues or change your project.
What are some issues that other volunteers have experienced?
While you volunteer abroad, issues may arise. We understand that these things happen and want to help you solve any problem that may come up. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common volunteer complaints that I’ve heard of for you to review, some of which have even happened to me!
Lack of communication between you and your volunteer organization
The organization you volunteer with should make themselves available to support you via email, telephone, and other methods of communication. Support should come both before your departure and while you are in the country. That being said, communication is a two-way street. Please communicate with your volunteer abroad agency for any doubts, concerns, or questions you have. Many large problems can be prevented by just a little communication.
Problems with your host family or lodging accommodations
You should know how your host family was vetted and selected for you. If your volunteer organization doesn’t offer up this information upfront, ask questions to ensure you’re host family or accommodations are an appropriate placement. You may also confirm how many people live in the house, what you will have access to, and whether or not you will have your own bedroom. If you learn details you’re not comfortable with, simply let your volunteer agency know and they will work with you to find more appropriate accommodations or a different volunteering opportunity abroad.
Issues with work placement or job responsibilities
Sometimes, volunteers arrive to find that their work is not what they expected. I experienced this when I volunteered in Ecuador. To avoid this situation, you should acquire as much information as possible before committing to a project. Ask how your project was vetted, who runs the organization locally, and whether there is an on-site manager. Get in touch with someone who worked directly for the organization before leaving your country or talk to a past volunteer from the program.
There’s not enough properly managed abroad volunteer work
Some volunteers have complained that instead of being given the opportunity to work hard and utilize their skills, they spend most the day waiting for instructions or to be given work. Or, you may find that you’re in a situation where there are too many volunteers and not enough work to go around. To avoid this situation, speak to your organization about a detailed work schedule. A good volunteer organization should be able to provide you with an hour-by-hour work breakdown.
Issues with money
One of the most important things when researching a volunteer organization is to know where your money is going. Volunteers who say they spent too much money or complain that their program was too expensive for the experience they received often times did not do very good organization research. Don’t let this happen to you! Compare program costs with multiple organizations to ensure you aren’t being duped into paying high prices for half-hearted or meaningless volunteer experiences abroad.
Tips: Problems and Complaints
Most problems you encounter while volunteering abroad are normally a result of miscommunication. You should be open with in-country staff and communicate your needs to the best of your abilities. In-country staff wants more than anything for you to be happy.
It is also up to you to learn about and understand the realities and limitations of living and volunteering in a developing country prior to your travel. Although it may be hard, try to maintain expectations that are consistent with those realities and limitations. If there is a problem with the accommodation or project, you should first attempt to discuss and resolve the matter with the staff as soon as the problem arises. If there is no resolution, then please politely ask your in-country coordinator for help with the situation.
We cannot stress enough that however rewarding and memorable volunteering abroad in a third world country is, it can also be very challenging. Electricity and other modern conveniences may not always be available. In many of the host countries we work in, electricity is available only intermittently. And in some of these countries, hot water may be only intermittent or not available at all. Volunteers should determine whether they are up to the task of living with these inconveniences as part of the experience of volunteering in a third world. It is best to try and meet these frustrations with initiative ingenuity and a sense of humor.
It is important to understand that the everyday conveniences (as mentioned above) that are sometimes taken for granted in developed countries are considered luxuries in developing countries. The temporary inconvenience that you will experience is a part of everyday life for citizens of developing countries. We, therefore, ask that you approach your experience with patience and an open mind.
What are some frequently asked questions?
Just to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases, I’d like to review some final questions with you for abroad volunteer travel program. These are questions that come up for volunteer’s time and time again. Some of them have been previously addressed, and others have not.
Will other volunteers be working with me?
Other people may be working with you, or they may not. This depends mostly on the size of your volunteer organization. Volunteering abroad in the summer will give you a higher chance of working with other volunteers. You can also reach out to your project coordinator and inquire about fellow volunteer.
If I really love my project, can I stay longer?
If you are really enjoying your project and have the means to stay, you may be able to extend your time. Small and medium sized volunteer organizations are more flexible while larger organizations that have more volunteers coming and going may not allow it. You may also consider visa limitations.
What happens if I don’t like my project?
If it turns out that you really don’t like your project, depending on your organization you may be able to change your project. Smaller organizations tend to be more flexible with regards to abroad volunteer placement, whereas larger organizations may be more rigid.
What should I do if I have a problem with my project?
If you have a problem at during your day-to-day work, you should first talk to your work supervisor. If the problem is not resolved, be sure to inform the in-country coordinator. Keep in mind that as a volunteer, you may not always be watched closely by a supervisor.
How will I get from the airport to my host family/housing?
Your organization will arrange this for you, and they should give you clear directions about what to do when you arrive at the airport of your destination country. Be sure to inform your organization about your flight times and confirm where you will meet each other.
Will there be support from anyone in my host country?
Yes, in most instances in-country support is available, but it’s always best to check with your organization directly.
If I volunteer with a friend can we be placed in the same volunteer work abroad and be housed together?
In most circumstances there should be no problem with this, but it’s best to make such plans known to your volunteer organization well in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made rather than applying independently and hoping for the best.
Are meals and housing provided?
Most programs’ fees will include accommodation and 2-3 meals a day. Check with your volunteer program abroad to find out exactly what is provided.
I am a vegetarian; will that be a problem?
Host families want to look after volunteers in the best possible way, and they are usually more than happy to work around dietary requirements. It is best however to advise your organization and host family before arriving so they are aware of the situation and can prepare accordingly.
Will my host family be able to speak English?
Most host families accommodating those who are volunteering abroad will speak some basic English, however this is not guaranteed. Since you are visiting their country and living with them, it is the perfect opportunity for you to learn or practice their language too.
Can I travel to other cities during my days off?
Yes, while volunteering it is recommended that you visit and explore as many destinations as you can. You are encouraged to ask your host family and program coordinator for recommendations.
Do I have to bring my own bedding and mosquito net?
If you are placed with a host family, then bedding will be provided for you. However, if you are joining one of the programs based in areas which experience high humidity, such as coastal areas or the rainforest, then it is recommended you take a mosquito net, just in case.
Can I volunteer even if I don’t speak the language?
Generally, yes, but we recommend learning key words and phrases before you arrive if you don’t speak the native language. Some placements require volunteers to have a certain level of proficiency in the host country’s language, especially in Latin America, so be sure to check if this applies to your chosen volunteer work abroad.
How will I get to my project every day?
This depends on where your housing accommodations are located with respect to your abroad volunteer program. In many cases, volunteers can walk, but for others you may need to use public transportation. Talk to your project-coordinator about what to anticipate so arrive prepared with an idea of your daily commute.
Can I speak with a previous volunteer from my chosen project?
Many organizations are happy to share networking opportunities with people who have previously been a volunteered with them. If you are unable to contact anyone then use online volunteer reviews as a useful guide.
What kind of food will I eat while I'm there?
Staying with a host family during your volunteer trip abroad probably means you will get to experience traditional dishes. These vary between regions, so once you know where you’ll be placed it’s easy to research local specialties and diet.
How many hours per day will I be work?
Daily schedules vary from placement to placement, but the average is usually between 4 - 6 hours. Some projects may involve working early morning or late nights, so be sure to check what is expected of you with your volunteer organization.
Do you still have some questions? That’s A-OK. Reach out to us via email and we will respond as soon as we can to help you understand more about volunteering abroad program details.
Closing with a few final words
Volunteering requires continuous flexibility, a strong sense of motivation, and a lot of patience. Choosing to volunteer internationally in a developing country is not a decision you should make lightly, nor should you travel with the intention to “teach western ways” or “rescue” people. You should partake in international volunteer abroad opportunities so that you may share your energy with people in need, experience another culture firsthand, and help yourself grow. Be ready to live like the Romans and roll with the flow as you will need to be able to cope with unexpected, local customs, environmental differences, and shortage of resources.
Final tips for a good experience:
- Travel with a positive attitude and a will to learn. Treat people with love and respect.
- Accept that there are many limitations in developing countries that are beyond our control.
- Volunteer abroad programs are not luxurious. They offer you basic services.
- Volunteering is by nature service oriented. If you are choosing the abroad volunteer program as a cheap travel option, you may be disappointed as this is not a typical tourist trip.
- Volunteering is always helpful to the local community – however, you cannot always see immediate results that clearly show how you’re making difference in the world. Don’t worry if you don’t see an immediate outcome – just accept that you have contributed your time, passion, and energy for a good cause.
- If you run into any problems, please let our coordinator know immediately. They are there to help you, let them give you advice and assistance.
I certainly hope that you have found this guide helpful. Don’t hesitate to reach out with more questions or ask for information on any of the programs mentioned in this guide.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share. Happy volunteering!
Trusted by Thousands of Volunteers Since 2003
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The monastery where I stayed was awesome. The monks were great and treated you with great respect. I would recommend this opportunity to all men regardless of the age. I am 66 and did not have a difficult time fitting in.
– Frank (Volunteer in Nepal)
Our experience in Guatemala was incredible and so impactful! I highly recommend Global Crossroad. I also appreciate that there were no hidden fees or additional costs sprung upon us once we got to Guatemala. We felt and were safe the entire time we were in the country.
– Stephanie (Volunteer in Guatemala)
I’m sure to visit Ghana year after year. Wow!!! what can I say? My experience was truly life changing. One thing I learned for sure is that I didn’t find my purpose here…My purpose FOUND ME!!!
– Dianedsy (Volunteer in Ghana)