How to Volunteer Abroad

How to Volunteer Abroad

A complete guide on how to volunteer abroad from our panel of experts.

A step by step guide on how to choose your project, how to prepare & what to expect.

If you’re considering volunteering abroad, and this is your first time going through the process, you probably have a lot of questions! Luckily for you, as international volunteering experts, we have all the answers for you!

We’re going to take you through every step of your volunteer experience, from start to finish, so that you know where to begin, how to prepare, and what to expect during your volunteer trip abroad. We’ll walk you through:

Choosing the Right Overseas Volunteer project for You

Navigating the volunteer opportunities.
Steering yourself in the right direction.
Why do you want to volunteer in the first place?
What do you want to do?
Where do you want to volunteer abroad?
Who are you?
How much time do you want to spend volunteering abroad?
What kind of volunteer organisation do you want to volunteer through?
Is volunteering overseas right for you?

Pre- departure: How to Prepare Before you set off

Book your flights.
Get the proper visa.
Purchase travel insurance.
Vaccinations and health check-up: See your doctor!
Make sure you will have cellular coverage.
Find out where your embassy is.
Make copies of important documents.
Packing for your volunteer trip.

What to Expect While You are Volunteering Abroad

Forget everything you thought you knew. Be open-minded!
Culture shock.
Day-to-day life of a volunteer.
Discover the culture.
Making friends.

Steps to Take Upon Returning Home

Send feedback.
Write online reviews.
Write your story – get the word out!
Stay connected – become a supporter or donor.

We will cover the essential things you need to know to give you more confidence throughout your volunteering journey!

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Choosing the Right Overseas Volunteer Project for You

Navigating the Volunteer Opportunities

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a roundabout that has ten exits to choose from. The street signs show exits to different types of volunteering programmes, different experiences, and different countries: “Volunteer in South America!” “Work with children in impoverished communities!” “Volunteer in Peru!” “Help rescued wildlife!” You turn in circles not knowing which way to go. Everything sounds appealing.

You then notice that each exit then leads to another intersection. If you exit to work with wildlife, you’re then faced with the decision of turning towards Cambodia, Colombia, or Thailand. If you exit towards Asia, you meet the crossroads of working with children, teaching English, or going to the jungle. It quickly becomes overwhelming, and you’re soon lost in a maze of “left or right?” and “this one or that one”? There is no clear path, and there are so many options.

When it comes to options for volunteering abroad, the choices can be overwhelming. There are so many different types of programmes, projects, and organisations out there, not to mention more than 190 different countries in the world to choose from! Where do you start? How do you make sure your final destination is the best fit for you?

Options for Volunteer Abroad Projects

Steering Yourself in the right Direction

The best way to make sure you are setting off in the right direction is by asking yourself a set of questions, narrowing your options. Ask yourself:

  1. Why do you want to volunteer in the first place?

This is the most important question you can ask yourself – the root of your journey. And it may help you identify which opportunities are right for you and which are not. Before you began any internet searches, what originally inspired you to volunteer internationally? Did you read a news story about exploited elephants in Thailand? Do you just find yourself with an overwhelming need to make a difference in the world? Are you wanting to give back while on holiday abroad? Did you see a Facebook post about volunteering, and it piqued your curiosity? Are you trying to build your CV or university admissions applications?

Once you’ve identified your motivation, make sure your reasons are the right reasons. There are many personal benefits to volunteering abroad. First and foremost, you want to make sure that your volunteer work will benefit the project and its mission. If you believe you truly have something to offer, want to help, and just don’t know where to start, keep going! If you just want another item to improve your CV but you don’t particularly have a passion for the cause in which you are considering volunteering, then stop right there and turn around. Putting your own intentions ahead of a project’s that truly needs volunteer support is unethical. It can ultimately be damaging to the project’s goals.

  1. What do you want to do?

This question is multi-faceted, as you will need to balance your own interests with the needs of groups across the world. It’s a matter of narrowing your options to the point where you can have the greatest positive impact.

What are your strengths? Where could you be of most help? Are you a people person? Do you enjoy being around children? If not, perhaps you are passionate about animal welfare, or conservation in the Amazon, or would like to help make sure more people have access to clean drinking water. Or maybe you have extensive teaching experience.

In balance with this, what kinds of projects are you coming across that are asking for volunteers or funding? Where is the need? Some projects will require specialised skills or expertise, especially those providing medical care, veterinary care, or advanced language classes. But many just require a passionate drive and willingness to be of help!

With a quick internet search, you will be able to find all sorts of opportunities: animal welfare, conservation work, wildlife rescue, teaching, community support, and others. The trick is finding a project that truly needs help. Make sure the project is genuine and ethical and aligns with your own skills, capabilities, and interests. Really think about where your individual abilities would be valued and in what kind of environment you would feel energised, motivated, and of service.

How to volunteer abroad"
  1. Where do you want to volunteer abroad?

If you’ve narrowed down what type of volunteering you want to do, there may still be several options for location. When trying to decide, consider what appeals to you about the potential countries you could volunteer in. Which new cultures or languages interest you? Why? Are there other opportunities available to you in a particular destination outside of volunteering, such as tourism activities or chances to be deeply involved in the local community? Is that something that matters to you?

In some countries, you may also want to consider safety precautions. Does your government’s foreign affairs office offer a list of travel warnings for its citizens in particular locations? If a country you are considering does have travel warnings, that doesn’t mean you cannot travel there. It depends on the circumstances and perhaps the exact region of travel. Just do your research before going and think about your own comfort levels.

  1. Who are you?

This may seem like a silly question, but your demographics may be something to consider. Are you wanting to volunteer as an individual, or as part of a group? Are you a future university student on a gap year? Looking for an internship as well as a charity volunteering experience? Or are you still in secondary school and looking for projects suitable for people under age 18? Perhaps you are reaching middle age and want to do something targeting people ages 40 and older? Or maybe you have a young family with children, and you want to take them abroad with you?

Also consider your physical capabilities. Will the project you are looking at require hours of walking each day or heavy lifting? Do you have any health conditions that extreme temperatures or altitude would affect?

These are important things to consider during your search. Look for projects and organisations that can specifically meet your needs in these aspects. While they may all be volunteering experiences, they will be nuanced in certain ways. Not every type of project will be suitable for every type of person.

Responsible volunteering abroad"
  1. How much time do you want to spend volunteering abroad?

International volunteering opportunities can range from 1-week stints to 6-month commitments. It will depend on the project’s needs and requirements. Consider your obligations back home – work, school, family, etc – and determine how much time you can take away. While researching volunteering possibilities, be sure to look at the projects’ time requirements and see how they align with your proposed itinerary. This may narrow your options. Longer durations may suit volunteers wanting to do internships or career breaks.

  1. What kind of volunteer organisation do you want to volunteer through?

When it comes to organisations that arrange volunteer placements, the options can be overwhelming. You’re already trying to decide where to go or what to do, and now you must think about what kind of organisation to go with, too? Yes, and it is something you should put some thought into. Should you go through a commercial organisation or a non-profit? Is the project on the top of your list sourced through a charity, or is it a for-profit business posing as a charity? How do you even know the difference?

For a comprehensive guide on the types of volunteer organisations, we recommend you check out our article How to Choose a Volunteer Organisation. You’ll find out more about volunteering fees, the differences between organisation types, and marketing tactics. You want to make sure the project you volunteer at is supported by an organisation that promotes ethical and responsible volunteering practices.

  1. Is volunteering overseas right for you?

Think about all of your answers to the questions above and consider your reasons. If they are the wrong ones or if things are not aligning properly, then volunteering internationally may not be right for you. And that’s okay! But if volunteering abroad is checking all the right boxes in your mind, then full speed ahead!

Once you’ve navigated the maze of options, hopefully you’ve arrived at a destination that is a perfect fit for you. You’ve asked all the right questions, and you’re confident to take the plunge.

The next steps are to contact your chosen organisation, fill out the application forms, and pay required programme fees. Now it’s official – you’re volunteering abroad! Time to get prepared!

Pre-departure: How to Prepare before You Set Off

After choosing a volunteer programme and signing up with an organisation, it’s time to get ready. Once your placement dates and location are confirmed, get to work!

Things to do Immediately

  1. Book Your Flights

It is best to do this as soon as you have final confirmation of your placement from your volunteer organisation. Flights tend to be cheaper the farther in advance you book. Your organisation may provide you with some suggested flight itineraries based on your destination or suggest a travel partner who can give you a quote (who perhaps also give donations to the charity project if you book through them! Win win!). They may also give you certain requirements for your arrival time, day, and airport. Make sure that you follow these requirements fully, as you do not want any confusion the day you arrive! If someone from the volunteer organisation will be assisting you or picking you up on your day of arrival, make sure you send your complete travel itinerary and correct flight numbers to them as soon as your flights are booked.

  1. Get the Proper Visa

Depending on your nationality and which country you are travelling to, your requirements for a visa or permission to enter a given country will be different. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure you have the proper documentation and know that you are covered before you set off on your trip. Your volunteer organisation may be of assistance in this regard, but it is first and foremost your concern. Information is always changing and being updated. So make sure to do your research and know the current regulations for your country and the country you are travelling to.

Here are some resources to get you started if you are from the UK (, the US (, or Australia ( You can also check out Globalteer’s Visa Requirements Page for the countries in which we operate.

  1. Purchase Travel Insurance

The importance of purchasing travel insurance cannot be overstated. You never know what could happen while you are abroad. If you are unlucky enough to get ill or find yourself in a sticky situation, being uninsured can be expensive and downright dangerous. Especially in developing countries, reliable healthcare and emergency treatment can be hard to find or extremely expensive for foreigners. You don’t even want to think about how much it would cost if you had to be flown home for hospital treatment.

Make sure you research your options thoroughly and assure that any activities you will take part in during your volunteer experience will be covered. It is also important to note that in some insurance policies, the medical insurance is separate from the travel insurance. Make sure you have all your bases covered. In the event of cancellation, you want to make sure your costs are included in coverage. You also need to make sure any emergency health needs will be encompassed in your policy.

Your volunteer organisation may have some recommended travel insurance partners that can give you quotes once your trip is confirmed.

Volunteers in Peru"

Things to do 1-3 Months Before Your Departure Date

  1. Vaccinations and Health Check-up: See Your Doctor!

Before any extensive travelling, it is always a good idea to get a general health check-up from your doctor. This is especially true if you will be taking part in any sort of manual labour at your project. You don’t want any surprises cropping up while you are overseas, so it’s best to make sure you are in tip-top shape before you leave.

Your doctor will also be able to recommend the proper vaccinations you need for the region you are travelling to. Some countries may even require you to show proof of certain vaccinations before you can enter. Make sure you are aware of any regulations and follow your doctor’s advice. More information can be found at the following sites: Center for Disease Control, World Health Organisation, NHS Travel Vaccinations

Some vaccinations have to be administered in doses over several weeks, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.

On Globalteer’s International Medical and Safety Advice page, you can find recommendations on vaccinations and other things to consider for the countries in which we operate. But still be sure to discuss your trip with your preferred medical professional.

  1. Fundraise

Don’t have all the funds you need to cover your trip? Want to raise some extra donations for the cause you care about? Consider fundraising for your volunteer experience. You may want to start this step as soon as you book your trip.

You may be surprised how many of your connections would be willing to support you in working for a great cause. Getting the word out through social media and fundraising platforms is easy and effective. For example, Globalteer partners with Fund My Travel as a way to help our volunteers who want to fundraise and they have great suggestions in their Fundraising Toolkit.

Ask your volunteering organisation if they have Tips for Fundraising. If you decide to go for it, just be sure you are clear to your donors what their donations will go towards. Are you strictly raising money to go straight to the project? Or are you also asking for help with your cost of volunteering, accommodation, support fees, meals, and transport?

  1. Make Sure You Will Have Cellular Coverage

Want to go off the grid for a few weeks while you are volunteering abroad? That’s great, a digital detox is good for you! Just make sure your loved ones are aware of your plan. But if you want to be able to make calls back home or have access to the internet on your cell phone while you are abroad, here are some things you may want to do.

Ask your volunteer organisation what they know about cell coverage options in-country. They should have the best information for you, especially if they have staff on the ground where you are headed. They will know if it is easy to buy a SIM chip locally once you arrive or if you should come pre-prepared, and they can give you an idea of cost.

Get a local SIM card

Make sure your phone is unlocked if you plan on buying a local SIM card once you arrive. Unlocking a phone can take several days, so give yourself plenty of time to take care of this. If your carrier will not allow you to unlock your phone, ask them about international data plans. This will allow you to use your phone in the country you are travelling to. Make them aware of your dates of travel and what your needs are.

Also, consider keeping in touch using messaging apps you can use on WiFi for free with your cell phone, whether it is unlocked or not. Applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage (for iPhone users) will allow you to stay easily in contact with friends and family back home who also have the app, as long as you have access to a WiFi connection. Just make sure you have them working before you leave your home country, as some like WhatsApp will require you to set them up using a text message code (that you will not be able to receive if you are already overseas without an international plan). If you opt for this route, ask your volunteer organisation if WiFi will be available at your project location.

  1. Find Out Where Your Embassy Is

Any time you travel abroad, it is a good idea to know the contact information for your embassy within the country you are travelling to. Just in case of any emergencies, natural disasters, or loss of your passport, having this information ready at hand will give you peace of mind. While you are preparing for your trip, do a quick search for the information you need using the link below. Keep this information stored where it can be accessed easily while you are abroad.

Embassy and Consulate Quick Search

Things to do Just Before Departure

  1. Make Copies of Important Documents

Be sure to have copies of your important documents to carry with you while you are travelling:

  • Passport
  • Visa (if it is one you had to acquire before arrival)
  • Insurance Policy
  • Airline Tickets (Departure and Return – sometimes immigration offices will require you to show proof of your returning flight before you can enter the country)
  • Vaccination Records
  • Emergency Contacts and Embassy Information
  • Volunteer Project Contacts

It is better to have hard copies rather than electronic copies, especially if access to internet or electricity is uncertain at your destination. You don’t want to be caught without them if you get into any sort of sticky situation.

  1. Packing for your Volunteer Abroad Trip

You’re probably going to need supplies wherever you’re going! Hopefully your organisation will provide you with some sort of packing list to prepare you for your placement, but you cannot rely on this entirely:

  • Consider your personal needs. (Are you a light sleeper who needs earplugs to sleep in a new space, especially if you will be sharing accommodation? Would you prefer your own snorkel mask as opposed to a rented one?)
  • Find out if you will need an adapter or voltage converter for any electronics you bring along.
  • Check the weather forecast for where you are heading.
  • Think about the conditions on the ground at your project. (Would it be better to have a large backpack, rather than a rolling suitcase, if you will be working in a rural area without paved roads)

It’s also a good idea to ask your volunteer organisation what products can be easily purchased once you arrive, especially if you are limited on space. If you don’t want to worry about that bottle of sunblock exploding in your suitcase, ask your organisation if it would be easy to purchase in-country. If not, and you know you’ll need it, make sure you have it!

Double and triple check your list before you leave. Do you have everything you need? Did you get your phone charger?! (We’ve had more than one volunteer forget this crucial piece, leaving it plugged into the wall before they left home. Don’t let this be you!)

What to Expect While You Are Volunteering Abroad

You’re packed, prepared, and ready to go! You’re heading off on an adventure, and you’re excited to get to work at your project. But do you know what to expect once you arrive? You will encounter a lot of new situations during your time abroad – both inside and outside of your volunteer project – so it’s a good idea to think about this and manage your expectations, especially if you are a first-time traveller.

  1. Forget everything you thought you knew. Be open-minded!

When travelling in a foreign country, sometimes you must throw everything you think you know out the new window. A new culture, a new language, and new ways of doing things may bring some frustrations and uncertainty. You will need to do your best to remain flexible, patient, and open-minded. It is almost guaranteed that at least something will go wrong on your trip, but it will be much easier to deal with if you are prepared for that possibility. Overall, you are going to have a wonderful experience if you can go with the flow, so don’t let the little things ruin it for you. Remain receptive and open to new experiences, and just take a deep breath if things aren’t going as smoothly as planned. Be sensitive to the fact that you are a guest in a new country, among new people, and their ways may not be your ways – do not rush to judgement. Treat every new situation as a learning experience!

  1. Culture Shock

Depending on how long you are abroad, you are likely to experience at least some form of culture shock. Culture shock expresses a lack of direction and the feeling of not knowing how to do things in a new environment, and this feeling generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place where everything is different. Although culture shock can be difficult to overcome, it is also an opportunity for learning and acquiring a new perspective!


The symptoms of culture shock differ from person to person, but they commonly include:

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
  • Preoccupation with health
  • Aches, pains, and allergies
  • Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
  • Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
  • Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
  • Loss of identity
  • Unable to solve simple problems
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Unexplainable crying
  • Boredom
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture
  • Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
  • Longing for family, extreme homesickness
  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused
How to Fight Culture Shock

Culture shock can be overcome, and it will usually start to pass the more time you have to become accustom to your surroundings. Some ways to combat stress produced by culture shock are:

  • Develop a hobby or continue to practice things that you also do at home.
  • Be patient – the act of acculturating is a process of adaptation to new situations.
  • Learn to be constructive. If you encounter an unfavourable environment, don't put yourself in that position again. Be easy on yourself.
  • Learn to include a regular form of physical activity in your routine. Exercise, swim, take an aerobics class, etc.
  • Relaxation and meditation can be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress.
  • Make friends! This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
  • Maintain contact with the new culture. Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice the language that you are learning. This will help you feel less stress about language and useful at the same time.
  • Allow yourself to feel sad about the things that you have left behind: your family, friends, etc.
  • Accept the new country. Focus your power on getting through the transition.
  • Maintain confidence in yourself. Follow your ambitions and remember why you travelled here.
Don't get overwhelmed

Depending on the country and region you are travelling to, be aware that you may also encounter heart-breaking situations or sights, especially in regions with high levels of poverty or in developing countries. You may even experience upsetting situations within your volunteer project. These may be every-day sights to the people who live there, so be sensitive to that fact and try not to become overwhelmed. You will also be able to see and experience amazing, beautiful things you never expected, so do not let only negative situations colour your view of an entire country or culture.

Volunteering abroad to help sloths"
  1. Day-to-Day Life of a Volunteer

The type of volunteer work you are doing and the schedule of your chosen project will determine what your day-to-day life is like. Many of Globalteer’s projects have a Monday through Friday work schedule, giving volunteers free time on the weekends for leisure, tourism, or additional travel. Some projects may only require your time in the morning or afternoon, meaning you have half the day free to explore the local city. Others may be more demanding and need your attendance 7 days a week, with very little free time. You should be aware of your expected working hours before you arrive, and whatever the schedule, you are likely to develop a routine after a week or so. You’ll be aware of your time for work, for leisure and relaxation, or for travelling farther afield.

  1. Discover the Culture

Once you have your volunteering routine down, you will also be able to fall into the day-to-day life of the town or city in which you are staying. Exploring local markets, restaurants, and neighbourhoods in your time off can be adventures in themselves. You can get to know the locals in places you visit frequently, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is, even if there is a language barrier. Ask questions, share stories, attend local events or festivals, and try to find interesting things off the beaten path. The project staff can give you recommendations of things to see and places to go.

If you fully dive in, you will learn a great deal – both about this new culture and about yourself. Don’t limit yourself to only staying on the project grounds and talking only to other volunteers. A genuine experience will take you outside of your comfort zone. And only in this way can you truly get to know the community you are there to support.

  1. Making Friends

At your volunteer project, you are likely to meet a lot of likeminded people – after all, everyone surrounding you has a drive to give back through volunteering, a desire to travel abroad, and an eagerness for new experiences, just like you. This will give you the opportunity to form new friendships, both among the other volunteers and project staff. Take advantage of it! Who knows, you may find a new life-long friend or maybe several!

Volunteers often have time to hang out together outside of project hours, on weekends, evenings, or during volunteer outings the project organises. You may get to join a Buddhist ceremony, or be in country during festival season or just join a pub quiz to raise money for the charity project. At Globalteer we often see volunteers go from being complete strangers to the best of friends, with many maintaining contact after their placements. It’s just one of the many ways your volunteer placement could be life-changing.

  1. Sightseeing

Although dedication to your project work should come first, there is no doubt that wherever you travel, you will find opportunities for sightseeing in your time off. Take advantage of it and have a little fun! Every country will have something completely unique to offer – historical sites, museums, ancient ruins, spectacular trekking, scenery, beaches, and much more! If you don’t have enough time during your placement, consider scheduling some time before or after your volunteer experience to travel farther afield. Don’t miss out on the beauty the world has to offer!

We can’t tell you everything you’re going to experience while volunteering abroad – your adventure will be unique to you. So now just dive in! Your passion for the cause you’re volunteering for will be your driving force, and there will be so much to encounter along your journey.  You’ve prepared as best you can, and it’s going to be great!

Steps to Take on Returning Home

Nothing beats the feeling of finally getting home and getting to sleep in your own, comfortable bed after several weeks (or maybe months!) volunteering abroad. But after you feel well rested and are ready to start telling stories from your trip to all your friends and family, don’t forget that your volunteer experience isn’t over yet! There are still some things you can do to support the cause you care about and travelled thousands of miles for.

  1. Send Feedback

After your trip, be sure to get in touch with both the volunteer organisation and local project to tell them about your experience. They will greatly appreciate the feedback; it will help them know what they are doing right or wrong form a volunteer’s perspective. It can help them improve in certain areas, if necessary, and it can let them know what areas you found especially valuable. So send an e-mail! Don’t be shy!

  1. Write Online Reviews

If you had a great time at your volunteer project, let the internet know! Go onto the volunteer organisation and local project’s Facebook page and leave them 5 stars! Do the same on Google Reviews or volunteering sites. This can be extremely beneficial for the project to help them gain more support and volunteers. Taking five minutes out of your day to leave a quick review can do wonders for the project’s visibility.

  1. Write Your Story – Get the Word Out!

Have you ever considered writing a blog? Maybe you have one already? No matter your level of experience with writing, people will absolutely love reading about your international volunteering experience from your perspective. Consider writing up an article about your experience and posting it on your social media profiles, your personal blog, or volunteering forums. This is a great way to get the word out about the project you volunteered for and get others interested in the cause. You could also send your written story to the volunteering organisation you went through, so that they can post it and use it to attract new volunteers! Because at the beginning of this journey, you were just like them – searching the internet for answers about international volunteering. Your article could provide all of the answers for someone who has the same questions you did!

  1. Stay Connected – Become a Supporter or Donor

Don’t let you last day on site be your last contact with the project. Just because the international part of your journey has come to an end, this does not mean that you can no longer be involved. If it is within your means, become a donor! Any amount that you could send back to the project will be tremendously appreciated. Often, past volunteers are a major source of donations for charitable volunteer organisations, so they truly could not keep up their good work without people like you.

And even if you cannot donate, stay connected to them by following their social media outlets, subscribing to newsletters, making sure you have the contact information for the staff and other volunteers, and sharing your story with friends, colleagues, and family. Become an advocate for the cause!

Thank you for reading our Guide to Volunteering Abroad. We hope it has been helpful and perhaps has inspired you to take that next step. Once you’ve gone through this process and had a successful volunteering abroad experience, we can bet you’ll catch the international volunteer bug and want to do it all over again! Until then, if you have any questions about volunteering abroad or any of Globalteer’s many opportunities for doing so, please do not hesitate to Contact Us.

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