Volunteer Abroad for Free
It is a common misconception that all volunteering is free. While in America there are many free volunteering opportunities, this is not always the case when volunteering abroad.
Many people become disheartened when discovering that volunteering overseas can come with a fee. However this does not mean that is is not possible to volunteer abroad for free.
For those still wondering how to volunteer abroad for free, we will outline how this may be possible for you.
Firstly we will outline why most overseas volunteer programs come with a fee. Then we will cover 4 ways you can volunteer abroad for free, as well as giving you tips on how to save money on volunteer programs that come with a fee.
- Why Does Volunteering Abroad come with a Fee?
- The Importance of Duration and Skills
- Volunteer with a Registered Non-Profit and fundraise for the fee
- Become a group leader and volunteer abroad for free!
- Use your skills and look for long term volunteering & internships abroad
- Volunteering with the Peace Corps, VSO or the UN
- How to reduce costs while volunteering abroad
Why Does Volunteering Abroad come with a Fee?
Firstly, it is important to understand why all volunteer placements overseas are not free. Volunteering abroad is quite different to volunteering in America. When volunteering with local charities in your home town, you don’t need to arrange accommodation, and things like travel costs and meals generally don’t come into consideration as they are part of your everyday life already.
With international volunteering these costs need to be covered as well. Like any other overseas travel, you will have to take into consideration the expenses for flight tickets, visa, travel insurance, accommodation, daily travel, meals, vaccinations and so on. Generally, many overseas volunteer programs will include accommodation, daily travel to the project and some meals in the fee. It is important to understand that it is not the 'volunteering' that you are paying for, it is the associated costs incurred while abroad.
Additionally, reputable volunteer organizations will donate part of your placement fee directly to the project. Most projects in developing countries do not receive any government funding, so they rely on volunteer donations and private donors to operate and keep running. Furthermore there are support costs to cover for organizing your volunteer placement; both in helping you to prepare for your placement and support from local staff during your placement. It is important to understand where your money goes when you volunteer abroad.
The Importance of Duration and Skills
There are generally 2 main factors that come into play for free volunteer opportunities abroad. The time you can commit and your skills and qualifications. Generally, short-term volunteer placements that don't require set skills and qualifications have a programme fee. This fee is necessary for projects to cover their costs of full-time staff to keep their programme running year-round and resources for training unskilled volunteers. So while you can still be valuable as a short-term volunteer, there is an inherent fee that you need to cover.
If you have 3 - 12 months to commit to volunteering abroad and have the right qualifications, you may be able to find free internships abroad. While internships themselves are generally free, you will in most cases still need to cover your own accommodations and living costs. For highly skilled professional with certain degrees and 1-2 years to commit to volunteering overseas you may be able to volunteer for free with organizations such as the Peace Corps.
These long term programmes for professional volunteers are generally the only truly free opportunities as they generally include accommodation and a stipend for living expenses. However, the application processes are rigorous and the requirements high. These are large international organizations with huge amounts of funding so they are able to offer these positions for free whereas small local projects can not do so.
With this in mind we will now cover the ways you can volunteer abroad for free.
Volunteer with a Registered Non-Profit and Fundraise for the Fee
There are many options to volunteer abroad, and most do come with a price tag. Particularly short-term volunteer placements. As outlined above, program fees will generally cover things such as accommodation, transport, some meals, as well as pre-departure support to help to organize your trip and support in country. When looking to volunteer abroad, choosing the right volunteer organization is important; you want to choose an organization that is transparent in where your fee is going. Volunteering with a registered non-profit charity is your best option as their accounts are independently audited so you can be sure your money is going where they say it is.
While still not exactly free, you can turn volunteer abroad programs with a fee into free volunteering by fundraising for your programme fee. There are many online platforms for fundraising, such as Fund My Travel, where you can share you story and start to raise funds. Set up your page and start sharing it with friends and family on social media! You can also ask your family and friends to contribute towards your trip in lieu of birthday and Christmas presents.
You can also go back to basics with some more traditional fundraising ideas such as having a bake sale or selling your clothes. Sponsored runs, walks, bike rides or other activities are also a great way to raise funds and awareness for your volunteer project! Many volunteers successfully fundraise enough to cover their total programme fee and sometimes additional funds to make an extra donation to the project.
When fundraising for your volunteer placement, remember to be clear about what you are fundraising for. If you are fundraising for your total placement fee be clear that the money you are raising will be going towards you overall volunteer placement and what that includes.
Become a group leader and volunteer abroad for free!
Some organizations accept volunteer groups abroad. If you become a group leader, then it is possible that your volunteer abroad trip will be free. The volunteer organization will cover your expenses while abroad for your role as a group leader. Basically, you will be carrying out more work than a normal volunteer by recruiting your group and coordinating the volunteer group placement with the organization.
If you're at university, then you could work with your student union to promote the volunteering trip. Corporations often encourage volunteer work and some give staff extra vacation time to volunteer. Group volunteering is also a great way to forge friendships, build teams and is a great addition to the leader's CV.
Use your skills and look for long term volunteering & internships abroad
Another option to volunteer abroad for free is to look for free internships abroad. Free internship abroad programs generally require longer commitments (3-12 months) and particular skills. This is perfect for people taking a Gap Year after university or a career break. Or maybe it is even a requirement of your university degree. Many non-profit organizations and projects overseas rely heavily on internship programs for the general running and operations of their projects. As non-profits and charities this allows them to run and operate the projects while being able to utilize their limited funds better, where they are most needed in the project.
With a bit of searching you should be able to find an internship overseas to utilize your skill set. If you are having trouble finding an internship aboard that requires your specific skills, don’t be disheartened, start reaching out to volunteer organizations outlining your skills; they may still have something for you or could help point you in the right direction.
While the overseas internship itself may be free, you will generally be required to cover the cost of your accommodation and meals, as well as flights and other general living expenses. So you will still need to take this into consideration when planning your budget.
Volunteering with the Peace Corps, VSO or the UN
The majority of truly free volunteer programs abroad require large time commitments and very specific skills and requirements. These are generally through large international organizations with large amounts of funding that allow them to cover costs of being able to offer these placements for free. The Peace Corps is only open to United States citizens and requires a 2-year commitment. They have specific openings for certain professions and a rigorous application process.
Likewise, positions with the UN Volunteers require specific skills, experience and qualifications. They require volunteers to be 25 years and older with a degree in specific areas with at least 2 years of relevant professional experience. While placement lengths are generally shorter than the Peace Corps at around 6 months, they require volunteers to be able to commit to extensions once in the position if required.
Volunteer Service Overseas again has a rigorous application process for their free volunteer placements abroad. Volunteers are required to commit to 12 months after training (3-5 months). So you need to be able to commit to around a year and a half if you have the right skills and qualifications.
Not everyone has 1 – 2 years to commit to volunteering abroad; but if you do and have the right skills and qualifications these are some good options to consider. Volunteer placements with these large international organizations are probably the only truly ‘free’ volunteer opportunities abroad; as these programs include accommodation and a stipend for general living expenses for volunteers.
How to reduce costs while volunteering abroad
If you put enough work into fundraising or have the rights skill and can commit to long-term volunteering abroad it is possible to volunteer abroad for free. However, if it is not possible for you, there are ways to save money and make your volunteer placement more affordable.
- Book early! This goes for both your placement and flights. Booking your placement early will allow you time to pay of your placement fee in affordable installments. Generally the later you leave flights to book the more expensive they will become.
- Consider volunteering outside of high season. If you are flexible on your dates this will allow you to find better deals on flights and accommodation.
- Try to find a programme that includes accommodation and meals as part of the placement fee.
- Utilize the local staff. They live in country and will be able to give you great advice on local places to eat and drink so you can avoid the touristy places that tend to come with higher price tags.
Whether volunteering abroad for free or paying a placement fee, volunteering abroad can be one of the most fulfilling and eye-opening experiences; and a huge benefit to both the volunteer and the project you are volunteering at.