Free/Affordable Volunteering Abroad
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Free/Affordable Volunteering Abroad
For many, the financial aspect of volunteering abroad is the most important consideration in their decision. We have articles showing you how to navigate the finances with articles about flights and visas. However, for a number of you, especially those of you looking to volunteer abroad in the immediate future, saving and fund-raising may not be a viable option. In this article, we will help you to find free volunteer opportunities abroad.
How can I find free volunteer abroad opportunities?
Type “free volunteer abroad” in google and do extensive research
This may seem obvious; this may even have been what brought you to this article. You may initially be overwhelmed by the huge number of results you see and many will be useless or misleading. However, a number of these websites will point you in the right direction, offering a great many resources and ideas for how you can find programs that enable you to volunteer for free. This stage may be time consuming, and require you to take notes of the different options you find, but, if carried out effectively, it can really pay off in the long run.
Do further research to find the right opportunity.
What you may find is that the organizations and websites which come up again and again in your research actually require some sort of sign up or membership fee. Do not be put off by this. This membership fee (usually no more than $50), buys you access to large databases of free and even paid volunteer opportunities. This fee is paid by both the volunteers and those looking for volunteers and as well as paying the organizations running costs, helps to ensure that both parties are serious and committed. Most of these websites allow you to browse the opportunities before you pay your membership so you can see if the opportunities available are of the type you are looking for. You will not be able to contact the hosts or create a profile without signing-up officially. Here are some of the most popular websites to help you start your search.
Help stay (www.helpstay.com ) For approximately $22, you will gain access to a database of opportunities on farms, in schools, in orphanages, eco-lodges and many other opportunities. The website offers a number of free volunteer opportunities, usually in exchange for room and board, some opportunities are even paid. The website also functions as a contact platform between hosts and volunteers.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF): WWOOF specialises in organic farming opportunities around the world. Volunteers (known as WWOOFers) help on the land and sometimes around the home in exchange for food and accommodation. Experience in farming is not necessary for most opportunities as there is a strong emphasis on learning and sharing knowledge. You will have to find the WWOOF portal for the country you wish to volunteer in and pay a membership to a regional WWOOF organisation.
Moving worlds (www.movingworlds.org): Moving Worlds is a platform that primarily connects skilled professional volunteers (IT engineers, city developers, grant writers) directly to social impact organizations around the world that provide local benefits in exchange for your skills.
The volunteer experience was very eye-opening and I felt very much needed at the site. I would greatly recommend it.
The strong ties we built and the rewarding experiences that we made here were really very priceless.
A lifetime experience, which has opened my eyes to so much, and impassioned me to pursue future volunteer trips.
Overall a great experience! I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't recommend the program to others!
Find local organizations offering free volunteering abroad (or at least minimum cost)
If you have specific ideas about where you want to volunteer or the type of volunteering you would like to do, you can try targeting local organizations directly. Sometimes you may have to pay a small fee and this means that other costs will be your responsibility but this is very likely to work out cheaper than paying a large international organisation. This means that you will not necessarily have the support that an international organisation would offer but if you an independent person and feel confident about your ability to organise the various aspects independently, then this is the option for you.
Read volunteer blogs to get inspired
The internet is making it increasingly easy to find opportunities to volunteer abroad for free and also to connect volunteers around the world. Often, people who take part in volunteer projects, will keep a blog or some sort of online record of their experience. These are a great insight into the volunteer abroad experience and what it involves, and also a great way to get in touch with former volunteers. You can ask them for details of their project, or even direct contact details for local organizations enabling you to avoid the international fees. Establishing a rapport with former and current volunteers may also give you access to opportunities that may not be open to everyone
Utilise a friend who has recently volunteered abroad
If you already have friends who have recently volunteered abroad for free, this can be even more useful for you! You can get an honest account of the organisation and the experience and they can also hopefully put you in touch with the local organisation. Being introduced by someone you know personally and of whom the organisation has a positive opinion can be a real bonus.
Try to share your skills in exchange for free volunteering
Think about what skills you have to offer in a developing country. Are you a qualified/experienced teacher? Can you coach for any sports? Do you have handy skills such as carpentry or painting? Chances are, whatever skills you have will be sought after by a volunteer project somewhere. The websites we mentioned above, like Help Stay and Moving World often have projects on their databases which are requesting particular skills for their project for which they will offer room and board and sometimes pay. If you’re struggling to think of skills you might have, think of this the same way you would think about writing a resume. Think about all of the experiences you’ve had and what skills you used for that and how they could be useful to somebody else. Have a look at work exchange websites and see what skills they are looking for. Everybody has something to offer.
Post your volunteering interest in volunteer / travel discussion boards
As I’m sure you are aware by now, there are a number of discussion boards and forums dedicated to international volunteering. Here people discuss projects they are working on, offer opportunities and request opportunities. These can be a great place to conduct research before signing up for any kind of volunteering opportunity as here is where you are likely to see honest opinions of different projects and organizations. It is highly recommended to actively participate in these organizations in order to get tips on finding programs and saving money. You may even get put in touch directly with local projects.
Visit local organization directly
Have you already booked a flight? Or are you already in the country? Maybe, you’ve been travelling and are looking for a way to extend your trip without spending as much money. If this is the case, try getting in touch with organizations directly. Do some research and get together a list of schools, orphanages and NGOs. You might even be able to get hotel or hostel staff to help you contact them over the phone. It’s amazing the kind of bond you can create by volunteering in this way. Also, if you look at websites such as Help Stay, some hosts are looking for volunteers to start as soon as possible so already being in the country will definitely increase your opportunities. This method may seem scary, but if you’re adventurous and open to different opportunities, you are bound to find something, and you’ll have great stories to tell afterwards!
Ask your friends who are living abroad
There are certain destinations, such as Thailand and Costa Rica, where ex-pats tend to put down roots and stay for a while, often working as English teachers or working in tourism. If you have any adventurous friends in far-flung destinations, ask them if they know of any opportunities or have any connections that could be helpful for you. Living in a country for a while usually means creating extensive links with the wider community. The bonus of this is, you will automatically know at least one person before you arrive!
What are the problems associated with free volunteer program?
Volunteering abroad for free does come with the potential or certain limitations and downfalls. You need to be cautious when carrying out your research in order to avoid finding yourself in a tricky situation. Here are some things you should be on the lookout for:
Housing or accommodation costs
If you have found a free volunteer program or project, you may need to find and pay for your own accommodation and food. Do a little bit of research into how much these things should cost and what your options are. You may find that options are limited to hostels or that you end up paying over the odds. This can be avoided completely by finding a project which offers accommodation in exchange for labour.
Whilst certain costs need to be accounted for, even when paying a large fee, such as air fare and vaccinations, you will now have to think about other expenses such as in-country transport and food.
Again, you will obviously have to prepare for little surprises no matter how you choose to volunteer. However, these can increase, or at least the impact of them can when you are there independently. For example, volunteers have arrived at a project, to find that they are expected to make a compulsory donation to the project.
You are likely to face a more chaotic working environment when working on a volunteer project abroad. This is to be expected. You should brace yourself for things to run a little inefficiently and expect things to change at the last minute. This is even more likely to be the case with the smaller organizations you will be working with if volunteering for free. You can at least try to get a feel for your schedule and expectations by contacting the organisation in advance and asking for details. If they are unable to provide anything, consider finding another option.
Volunteering abroad for free: a checklist
If you have decided to volunteer abroad for free, this means taking on the organisation tasks that the international volunteer organiser would have been responsible. To help you out, here are some questions to ask yourself when you have found and organisation before you take the step of booking your flight or committing to anything. These questions will ensure your safety and also that you have the best volunteering experience possible.
How legitimate is the organisation?
Do some research on the organisation to find out if they have any links or accreditations from other organizations? Also check that who you are contacting is legitimately who they represent themselves to be.
What are the hidden costs?
Find out if you have to pay for food/accommodation/laundry etc. and try to get approximate costs if you do. Check that fine print!
Do reviews from past volunteers seem genuine?
Read a selection of reviews, both positive and negative to get a good overall impression of the organisation. If you can’t find negative reviews, you should be wary as this can mean the reviews you do see have been put there by the organisation.
Can you get a good feel for the company’s vision and values?
There are no hard and fast rules for this but have a look at the website and any social media available for the company and see if you can see what they stand for and what their goals are. Next ask yourself if this is line with your values.
How up to date is the website?
A website that contains out of date information should be a huge red flag. Most organizations upload blogs and photos of their work to show what they have achieved. If these photos are very out of date, you should be extremely suspicious of the organisation. This may mean that they are extremely disorganised and don’t keep their website up-to-date or even worse that they are not actually running any successful projects.
How do they respond to your communication?
If an organisation takes a long time to respond to your emails, you should take this as a sign that they may be slow to help out further down the line. If messages are taking more than a couple of days to be responded to, and no apologies are made, you should probably look elsewhere.
How many volunteers have they had before?
Try and find out how many volunteers they have had in the past. The more volunteers there have been before you, the better they will be at welcoming and working with volunteers.