How to prepare to volunteer abroad

Visa & Passport

When preparing for international volunteer placements, one of the first things to consider is visas and passports. Here, we will help you to get ready for international volunteering by explaining the kinds of visas you are likely to need and how to apply for them.

What kind of visa do I need?

It is likely that the organization who you have applied to is officially considered a volunteer travel organization and runs fixed-term volunteer programs, usually of 1-12 weeks in duration. As you will not be making money from your volunteer work, you will most probably be able to carry out your placement with just a tourist visa. Some programs however, are paid, such as teaching in certain countries or international work experience placements/internships. If your program is paid or is longer than 12 weeks you may need to apply for a working visa so check and confirm with your volunteer organization. It is also worth noting that some countries have introduced specific 'volunteer visas' so see see if this is applicable in your country of choice.

Is there any volunteer or working visa?

Currently, only India and Tanzania offer specific volunteer visas. In most other countries, volunteers can carry out their work with a tourist visa. However, any work for which you are receiving payment is likely to require a work visa. Your volunteer abroad organization should help you with this aspect of preparing to volunteer abroad so get in touch with them to see what you need to do.

Do I need to apply for a visa in advance? Will I just be issued one on arrival?

Visa requirements and processes vary from country to country and also depend on your nationality. Those with passports from developed countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and most EU countries are likely to be given a tourist visa on their arrival in the country, often without having to make any application in advance. In most Latin American countries for example, tourists are issued a stamp which allows them to stay in the country for up to 90 days by immigration officials in the airport.

Some countries have a more rigorous visa process which you will need to begin prior to your travel. To be sure, check the website of the embassy of the country where your volunteer work will take place or with the countries own immigration website.

Work visas may need to be applied for in advance of your travel or once you are already at your destination. Either way, you are likely to need certain documents so find out what these are with plenty of time as some may take a great deal of time to prepare. We will go into more detail about the documents you may need later on.

Can I extend my visa if I decide to stay longer?

It is normally possible to extend a tourist visa by making an application but in many countries, it is necessary to leave the country for a certain number of days in order to 'renew' a tourist visa. Whatever the situation in the country that you are in, you should NEVER overstay a visa so make sure you know what date your visa expires.

How much does a visa cost?

The cost of a visa varies according to many factors such as the destination country, the type of visa, duration of stay and your nationality. Therefore please check with the appropriate embassy to find out what the cost will be. The following website should help you to find the details of your local embassies.
In addition to the cost of the visa itself, it is important to note that there may be associated cost such as paying for copies of the necessary documents (see below)

What documents do I need for visa?

In order to be granted a tourist visa you are likely to need a passport valid for at least 6 months after you arrive in the country. Some countries also require proof that you will be leaving the country before the end of your visa, i.e. proof of a return flight. Remember, most airlines will allow you to change your flight dates for a small fee should you decide to stay longer. If your plans are open-ended it may be worth buying a return flight and changing the flight date or looking into buying a bus ticket if that is possible online. You may also be asked for the contact details of where you are staying which you should get from your volunteer abroad organizations. You may also be required to fill out a form which is likely to be given to you during your flight or available in the airport.

If you are planning on applying for a work visa you will likely need more specific documentation such as an official copy of your birth certificate, a background check and proof of work which your employer should be able to help you with. Please check with the appropriate embassy to confirm what documents you will need.