Volunteer Abroad Cost Expenses
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Unfortunately, your trip of a life time is not going to be free and often the costs for volunteering abroad can be surprisingly high. It is extremely important to consider the financial side of things before you apply for and pay for a volunteer abroad program. Beyond the initial program fees there will be a number of other expenses involved for volunteers. In this article we will look at what your fees get you and what they don’t and we’ll also be giving you some rough ideas about other expenses.
How much does it cost to volunteer abroad?
You will find that international companies tend to be more expensive than local companies. Also, bigger, more popular companies may be somewhat more expensive.
Certain types of program are more expensive than others. More specialised and professional programs such as dentistry or medicine tend to be more expensive than wildlife conservation or work in an orphanage. However, there are ‘scholarships’ and discounts with some companies for people with the specific skills that they need.
You will also find that volunteering in poorer countries such as Uganda and Nepal will be cheaper than in developing countries like Argentina and Costa Rica.
The cost of a volunteer abroad program can range anywhere from $200 to $5000 for a 2-week program. It is important to compare programs offered by different companies to make sure you make the right decision.
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!
What does the fee cover?
When comparing the different programs and prices, you will want to look carefully at what is included in the fee. Prospective volunteers too frequently make the mistake of choosing the cheapest program they can find, only to realise later that very little is included and they will have to cover a large amount of the costs themselves. Generally speaking, when you are looking at program fees, you should expect the following to be included:
- Accommodation (usually with a host family or sometimes in volunteer housing)
- At least 2 meals a day
- Airport pickup
- Support of local staff
What other costs should I aware of?
In addition to the fees, which will essentially cover most of your necessary costs when in country, you should also consider these other expenses associated with volunteering abroad:
Remember to look in advance and compare to get the best price.
Initial appointment needs to be 4-6 weeks before travel and you are likely to need multiple appointments to get all necessary doses and all vaccinations
Depending on your nationality and your destination, you are likely to only need a tourist visa which is usually fairly easy to obtain. Apply with plenty of time to account for any potential problems
Some more expensive companies do include insurance but this is rare. When you get insurance make sure it covers the activities you will be performing
- Pocket money
Remember, you are only going to have your main meals included while you are there and often only breakfast and dinner. You are responsible for anything else you want to eat and money for things such as excursions, a cup of coffee, souvenirs, personal toiletries.
It is really important to be prepared for all of the costs of volunteering abroad before you book. If you book and then realise you can’t really afford it, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. The best way to enjoy your trip as best as possible is to budget before you go!
Where does money go?
This is a question that many volunteers ask themselves. Fees can be extremely high and it sometimes difficult to see where the money goes. There is no definitive answer to this question but generally you can assume that a chunk of the money is going to the above things you get for the course (accommodation, food etc.). Hopefully, a significant portion is going directly to the project itself. Money will also be going to the company for program development, program coordination, information materials etc.
However, this doesn’t really account for the programs whose fees are significantly above average. In these companies unfortunately, there is likely to be a high profit margin. If contributing to helping is really important to you, you should probably be wary of these companies.
The websites of most volunteer abroad organizations will outline what the money goes towards. If not, you can contact them directly to find out. If you cannot get this information, it usually means they have something to hide and you should avoid these companies.
Do my host family, project get money? How much?
Whilst host families and projects are happy to accept volunteers, they are not doing so for free. They always receive money for doing so, usually enough to cover the costs of having the volunteer there and a little extra. Depending on the country and the cost of living, host families usually receive $50-$200 per month.
Will there be any grant, discount or deals from volunteer organizations?
Volunteer organizations do not receive government support and as such they are unable to offer grants or scholarships. However, there are funds and support available for those who truly do not have the funds. For example, Travelocity offers grants to travel with one of their approved partner organizations or Volunteer Forever also offers occasional grants. Grants are usually offered sporadically and requires a lengthy application process. Grants are typically only offered to specific nationalities, age groups or programs.
There is also the possibility of negotiating your own discount directly with the volunteer abroad organisation although, needless to say, this is by no means produces guaranteed results.
Is there any way to reduce the cost ?
It is always possible to reduce the costs of your trip if you are savvy and organised.
Flights: We go into this in more detail in another article but you can make huge savings on flights if you look far enough in advance and use flight comparison sites. There are also good discounts to be found in travel agents where you can often negotiate good prices.
Season: Carrying out your trip during low season will save you money across the board. Firstly, your flights are likely to be cheaper. Secondly, the organisation may be more open to giving you a discount as the programs are likely to have spaces. Also, any trips you take during your time off may also be significantly cheaper as many tourist destinations have seasonal pricing.
Insurance: Just like with flights, shopping around for travel insurance can find you huge savings. Also, check your bank or credit card company as they may include insurance or offer a special price for customers. If you are under the age of 25, find specialist travel agents to offer you are good deal.
General expenses: The best way to reduce expenses whilst your away is to live like a local! Don’t get sucked in by all the tourist traps and overpriced restaurants. Head anywhere you see locals eating and you will find the prices a lot lower!
Do I need extra money? Why? How much?
You will definitely need extra money but the amount depends entirely on you and where you are going. If you don’t plan on doing much beyond the project, then obviously you shouldn’t need much extra money. If you want to travel and explore, then you will obviously need a bit more. Your program will cover room and board but you might want to check what that means. Some programs do not include lunch for example.
Have a look online on traveller’s forums to find out what the approximate cost of living is in your destination.
Also, when creating your budget, remember to factor in a little emergency money. You can budget as much as you like but you may find yourself waiting for a bus that never arrives and having to take a taxi, or find that the only food options when you’re on an out of town trip are more expensive than you budgeted for.
When Is the deadline to pay the fee?
This varies between providers so you will need to check with them. Usually it is required at least a few weeks before the program, especially during high season when places are extremely valuable. If you are having problems paying on time, you can try contacting them directly to see if something can be arranged.
What happens if I cancel?
Again, different companies have different refund policies. In some cases, everything but your deposit is refunded, in some cases nothing at all. Full refunds are not very common. Please check with your provider to find out what their refund policy is.
Can I raise funds? How can I raise funds?
There are many ways you can raise funds for your trip which we will go into in more detail in another article. For now, here are some ideas:
- Use a crowd sourcing website such as GoFundMe
- Hold a fundraising event
- Write fundraising letters to target individuals and businesses
- Look for existing funds, grants available
- Sell unwanted items online or in yard sale
There a number of things you can do to raise money for your trip, you just need to be focussed and creative. If you want it to happen, you can make it happen!