Yes, you can volunteer abroad for free with accommodations and flights included. It doesn’t matter what country you are from, what your previous work experience is, or if you have traveled before. It doesn’t matter how much money you and your family have. You can see the world while helping those in need, but only if you know where to look for opportunities.
Every year millions of people take overseas volunteering trips. Most of them come from western countries and pay hefty prices to do so. Just a quick Google search will make you think that you may need thousands of dollars to cover your expenses for volunteer travel to a faraway country.
The first page of the Google search results can kill your hopes. You will find a plethora of agencies that offer you a placement in exchange for lots of money. These agencies act as middlemen between organizations and volunteers and they charge for that. Does all your money end up in the local community or does it line the pockets of the referral agency? They can afford to run costly Google ads to lure you to their websites, so you do the math.
If you are reading this article, chances are you don’t have the money or you don’t want to spend it on them. You may think that your volunteering adventure is out of reach, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
People from all around the world, young and old, skilled and not-so-skilled, travel abroad to volunteer with all their costs covered, including flights, accommodations, and insurance.
Everyone should have the opportunity to feel the transformative power of volunteer travel abroad. Whether you are from the US, Europe, India, Australia, Nigeria, Brazil, or any other country in the world, there are opportunities for you. But you won’t find them online easily. You’ll need to dedicate a lot of time researching and finding a good fit for your needs and your skillset.
In the following paragraphs, you’ll learn:
- That you can volunteer with flights and accommodations included
- What expenses are involved in volunteering abroad
- What‘s the difference between long-term and short-term volunteering, and why the difference is important for your costs
- How to find free volunteering opportunities and why it is so hard to find them
- Nine free volunteering abroad programs and organizations
- How to fund your trips overseas (if not everything is covered)
- About possible visa issues
What Expenses Are Involved in Volunteering Abroad?
Unless you get involved with completely free volunteering abroad opportunity, your trip may include any or all of the following costs:
Flights (or other means of transportation). This is one of the biggest costs associated with international volunteering. Flights and international travel are rarely cheap, so if you don’t have them covered by the program, prepare to pay for them.
Accommodations. Paying for a place to stay can drain your budget, but many organizations will offer you a free room in exchange for your labor and skills. Most often that will be shared accommodations with other volunteers, sometimes a single room or a homestay, and sometimes a tent (for short outdoor projects).
Meals. Many of the free volunteer placements provide three free meals a day. Sometimes someone else will cook for you, and sometimes you will be provided with a small amount of money that would be enough to cover for your costs at the local grocery store.
Pocket money. Very few organizations and programs will provide you with pocket money or a living stipend. All of them require long-term volunteering and skills that are hard to find elsewhere. The only exceptions are the youth volunteering programs in Europe.
Insurance. Sometimes your host or their financier will pay for your basic health insurance while volunteering.
Local transportation. Costs related to your transportation from your accommodations to your volunteer post may be covered, but that’s not always the case.
Visa. Remember that you will always have to apply for a visa if you need it. The host organization may provide you with documents to support your application, but not all of them do that. In rare occasions, the hosts pay for the visa. Again, this applies only to programs that accept only highly-skilled volunteers and the youth volunteering programs in Europe.
Vaccines. If you are required to get vaccinations before going to another country, you will have to take those costs into account. Hosts rarely cover vaccination costs.
What’s the Difference Between Long-Term and Short-Term Volunteering?
The main difference between long-term and short-term opportunities, as you may have guessed, is the commitment that they require from the volunteer. Long-term placements last for a few months at least and sometimes for more than a year. Short-term opportunities, on the other hand, can last for anything between a few days and few weeks.
However, that’s not all that separates these two types of volunteering. Other differences include:
Skills required. Most long-term volunteer placements require certain skills because the host organization strongly relies on volunteers for their work. These programs and organizations struggle to find local talent in the country they serve or cannot pay for it, therefore they bring help in from abroad.
If they cannot find workers and they can secure funding to pay for flights, accommodations, and meals of a foreign volunteer, they will do it. If they can find it but lack the funds to pay someone, they will bring in a volunteer and maybe provide them with available resources, such as a room or a bed to stay in and food. In the latter case, don’t expect them to cover your flights, insurance, or other costs. If they could afford it, they would pay a local worker to do a volunteer’s job.
The hosts of long-term volunteering projects may ask for a university degree, some working experience, or a proven record of skills. In many cases, they ask for a minimum of one to two years’ work experience, but in rare cases, they may ask for a working experience of up to ten years in the area. This should give you an idea of how hard it can sometimes be to get into these placements.
What relevant work experience varies greatly from one organization to another, but any experience counts. That being said, if you apply for a teaching position, but you have teaching experience only in the informal sector, feel free to apply. You don’t have to be a teacher in a school to qualify. Informal teaching experience may count as well.
If you have experience in doing marketing on your own projects, you can apply even if you haven’t worked for a marketing agency or other company. Everything counts. Skills are skills no matter where and how you’ve gained them.
There are also long-term volunteering opportunities that don’t require any skills at all. These programs cater to young people, aiming to provide them with opportunities to gain new skills while immersing themselves in another culture. These programs are often financed by governments or churches. Unlike the organizations that rely on the skills that experienced volunteers bring on the table, the host organizations receiving young volunteers don’t rely too much on skills. Instead, they give them the time and space to figure out how they want to, and can, help. The host organizations are aware that they are accommodating a volunteer who is a young person and lacks skills that they could take advantage of. They take part in the programs because they don’t have any expenses around the volunteers, they could use some help, and they could help a young person build character through giving, helping, and cultural immersion.
Short-term volunteering opportunities, on the other hand, rarely require anything more than a willingness to help. Skills are desirable, but your hosts may be happy to have you even if you are doing that kind of work for the first time in your life. That’s why short-term volunteering opportunities are a good way to learn new skills while traveling abroad.
However, short-term volunteering projects do not cover all volunteer expenses. Most often they cover only room and board. The volunteer usually has to take care of the rest.
Adaptation period. When volunteering short-term, there is not much time to adapt because you don’t have too much time to spend there. You have to start helping immediately. The tasks you’ll be given on such projects tend to be rather simple. You won’t need to spend much time adapting to the new environment. If your tasks include grape harvesting or receptionist work in a hostel, there is no doubt that in a couple of days, if not hours, you’ll figure out what you need to do.
Long-term volunteering projects are different. If they don’t require many skills, you may be able to adapt quickly and get right into the regular work. If you are a highly-skilled volunteer and your hosts rely heavily on your work, you will get some time familiarizing yourself with your new surroundings so you can give your maximum to your posting.
Volunteer benefits. Long-term volunteering provides more benefits to volunteers. Short-term projects will provide you with accommodations and meals in exchange for your work, while long-term placements will most often provide something more. It may be a living allowance, flights costs, insurance costs, visa support, and other benefits.
Long-term projects are well-funded, most often from outside sources, therefore your hosts can afford to have you for free. A third party, such as government, churches, an international body, or a humanitarian fund will pay for all your costs in return for your work.
Short-term projects are usually not funded by third parties, so your hosts won’t pay your costs. If they have some space to provide you with accommodations and some food to spare, they’ll be glad to provide it. If they don’t, you’ll have to take care of that yourself. However, most hosts will provide room and board and will be happy to have you long-term if you are willing. Just don’t expect any more benefits, you are there to help and they are providing a lot already.
So, How Can You Volunteer Abroad for Free, Even With Flights and Accommodations Included?
There are two ways to volunteer abroad for free without paying anything from your pocket or investing just a small amount.
The first one is to find a volunteering program or organization that covers all the costs of their volunteers.
The second one is to find a volunteering placement that you like and raise funds for your trip.
For the first one, you have to choose from whatever you have available, but you won’t have to raise any funds, or you’ll have to fund a small part of the trip.
For the second, you have more flexibility to choose where and when to go, but you’ll have to figure out how to pay for it.
In both cases, you’ll have to do some trade-offs.
List of Free Volunteering Abroad Opportunities
Volunteering abroad for free with paid travel and accommodations is possible. To get a feeling for what these opportunities look like, what they require, and what to expect from them, check out the following organizations and programs.
Programs that cover all the costs, including travel and accommodations
The UN needs a lot of volunteers for their work, approximately 2000 per year. For that reason, they recruit professionals from all around the globe. Most of the posts require two years’ experience.
If chosen, your flights, accommodation, meals, insurance, visa, and other costs will be covered. In addition, you’ll receive a living stipend to live like any other local in the country.
The UN has a huge pool of potential volunteers. The competition is fierce. In fact, they receive at least ten applications for each placement.
The Peace Corps also receives more applicants than there are placements available, even though they only accept applications from US citizens.
They require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree. In exchange for your work overseas, you’ll have all your costs covered, including flights and accommodations.
The Peace Corps volunteers are the face of the USA in the locations where they serve, therefore the screening process is quite long. If you pass it successfully, you’ll spend two years serving abroad.
The European Solidarity Corps, formerly known as the European Voluntary Service (EVS), is the European version of the Peace Corps and the UN Volunteers.
Unlike the previous two programs, the ESC is aimed at European youth. To participate in the program, it is enough to be 18 to 30 years old and a citizen of one of the EU or the partner countries. No working experience or skills are required.
There is an abundance of opportunities to choose from. Most of the young people who have tried to find a placement have managed to do so.
Volunteers have all their costs covered, including travel, insurance, and visas. They also receive a living stipend in an amount that depends on the country they are volunteering in.
Their program costs money, but they offer grants to some candidates. If you get one, your volunteering adventure won’t incur you any costs.
The program is aimed at young people from all around the world. Anyone can apply, no matter the citizenship or the working experience of the volunteer.
However, you can only volunteer in a limited number of developing countries.
For more volunteer placements like these, subscribe to our list and you’ll be the first to learn when our database of such organizations and programs is ready.
Organizations That Provide Accommodation and Meals
If you want to offer a pair of hands in disaster relief, then you should join any of the International Relief Teams. They are sent wherever they are needed.
Volunteers help with anything related to disasters, most of the work includes physical labor.
In exchange, volunteers are provided with a place to stay and food, as well as volunteer friends from all around the world.
Coprodeli USA sends volunteers to Peru. They prefer volunteers with medical and psychological backgrounds, construction workers, and English teachers.
Coprodeli USA requires volunteers to stay with them from one to six months. The organization covers the costs for accommodations and meals for volunteers.
Anyone is welcome. Your nationality doesn’t matter.
CASA (Caring and Sharing Association) Ireland welcomes volunteers from all around the world to help people with disabilities in Ireland. They help in the everyday activities of the organization.
The only requirement is to be at least sixteen years old.
In exchange for their help, volunteers receive accommodations on the organization premises, three meals a day, and some pocket money.
The Sea Shepherd Society watches after the oceans and marine life. They have boats with which they roam the world and work on marine conservation.
They need sailors, welders, navigators, photographers, videographers, cooks, nurses, computer specialists, electricians, and others.
If you are keen to join the crew, you’ll have a company of 5 to 18 other volunteers. You’ll be provided with a place to sleep on the boat, and three vegan meals a day.
For more programs like these, check out our list of 15 free volunteering abroad programs and organizations for your gap year. There you can find more opportunities in more details.
An Organization That Requires No Fees
This organization doesn’t provide anything for help with their wildlife refuge, but they don’t require a fee either. They are located on the north coast of Costa Rica.
Refuge for Wildlife have work for both experienced and non-experienced volunteers, but the latter will be trained by the staff, therefore everyone is welcome.
There are some other services that, for a yearly fee, will provide you with information on where you could volunteer and will eventually link you with the hosts. Here are the most important of them:
Far Away Projects. That’s us. Our service is still under construction, but if you want to get free volunteering opportunities by email until we get started, and to hear from us before the launch, subscribe to our newsletter and our free volunteering email course here.
Workaway. They have a large directory with hosts who need any kind of help. You can find anything from farms, hostels, language schools, local NGOs, families, and everything in-between.
HelpX. Very similar directory with Workaway. Organic farms dominate on HelpX, though.
WorldPackers. Very similar to Workaway and HelpX.
Help Stay. Yet another directory with volunteer travel experiences from all around the world.
WWOOF. If you want to volunteer on organic farms all around the world, WWOOF has plenty of opportunities. You have to get a membership for each country you want to go to.
Giving Way. Their directory provides NGO volunteering opportunities only.
Hostel Jobs. Their directory provides hostel volunteering placements only. You’ll work in a hostel in exchange for a free stay there and meals.
Work Camps. Workcamps are two-week long volunteering events where volunteers gather around a short-term project. They are aimed mostly at young people between 16 and 30 years of age.
How to Find More Free Volunteer Opportunities Abroad
If you are wondering how to find more free volunteering opportunities abroad, the simple answer is by lots of research. Research Google, Facebook groups, forums, Reddit, ask friends, schools, religious organizations, or anyone who could potentially know where you could volunteer for free.
This requires investing a lot of time and effort, so if you want to save yourself from spending countless hours in front of the screen, subscribe to our free newsletter and receive information on free volunteering placements each week.
An online search for free volunteering projects overseas will likely lead you to agencies that ask you to pay. Moreover, they will tell you that it is unethical to ask for a free volunteering placement as if it’s the wrong thing to do.
These agencies occupy the first few pages on Google because they invest in being shown on the first page before any free organization or a program. They hire marketing specialists to rank their websites on the first Google page and run expensive ad campaigns to lure visitors to their websites, after which they sell them expensive volunteering trips.
Unlike them, the organizations and programs that would cover all your costs, or at least the room and board, don’t bother with the marketing part. They may be too busy with other tasks, don’t have the money to invest, or simply get volunteers through other channels. Whatever their reason is, they don’t fight to put themselves in front of your eyes like agencies do. As a result, they are harder to find.
If you want to go the long way, you should check out the following:
Couchsurfing. The couch-exchange platform has a forum where organizations post volunteering opportunities. You are likely to find something by checking it out, but if you don’t, just post a request and someone may respond.
Check these out and you are likely to come across some projects that provide accommodations and food in exchange for your help. In rare occasions, these projects may pay for your travel there.
If you are interested in long-term volunteering and you prefer your flights covered as well, subscribing to our newsletter is the wisest step you can take.
How to Fund Your Volunteering Trip Abroad
If you cannot find a free volunteering opportunity, or you have found one of your dreams but you need money for it, then you have to find a way to fund your trip.
There are two ways to do it: to fundraise or to get a volunteering scholarship.
To fundraise means to either earn the money for your trip or collect the money from someone who may be willing to finance your trip.
Earn and save money. If you work, then trying to save money is a no-brainer. If you do not work or you hardly make the ends meet, consider your options to get a side job, freelance on the side, or find another way to earn more. Then save it all for your trip.
Hold a fundraiser. Organize an event where your guests will have the opportunity to donate toward your cause. Explain to them what you are going to do there, the impact that you are likely to make, and how they can donate to you. This method works differently in different cultures, but it is worth trying. Maybe at least your family and friends will provide you with some funds.
Collect donations. Your relatives, your friends, and even some companies may donate to you if you convince them to do so. To be more convincing, offer them incentives for the donation, such as gifts, postcards, or something like that.
Sell stuff you don’t need. If you possess stuff that you don’t need or it is easily replaceable upon returning home, consider selling it. It may make the difference between going on that trip or staying home.
Get a Volunteering Scholarship or Grant
Some foundations, NGOs, and schools offer volunteering scholarships and grants. Simply said, they will pay for your trip fully or partially if you are chosen.
You’ll have to meet certain requirements, and if you do, apply for a scholarship or a grant. It is likely that more people than scholarships will apply, so be sure to prepare a very good application.
Reduce the Cost of Your Trip
Travel cheap. Do not choose the most comfortable mean of transportation, but opt for whatever takes you to your place of volunteering for as little as possible.
Overland travel may be cheaper than air travel, but if there is a budget airline flying from your city, it may be the cheapest option.
To search budget air travel options, check out AZair.
What About Visas?
In many cases, finding fully-funded volunteering abroad opportunity is not first or the last hurdle to going abroad. Obtaining a visa, if required for your trip, could cause a lot of headaches.
Different passports provide different travel benefits. Your passport, no matter where are you from, allows you to travel visa-free to a limited number of countries.
That’s why it is wise to check out where you can travel visa-free before choosing your placement. Help is needed everywhere, but you can only help in places where you can go.
For more information and advice on this issue, check out our guide on everything you need to know about volunteer visas and how to get it.
In any case, you can rely on the following advice:
Check out where you can travel visa-free with your passport. Add countries where you can obtain a visa on arrival or an e-visa, since e-visa requests are often being granted.
Look for volunteering opportunities in those countries. They have already shown a willingness to welcome people from your country there. Even if you need a long-stay visa, they are likely to give you one.
Avoid countries that are hard to get into if you need a visa for them. These are mostly the English-speaking countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. The European Union countries may also be hard to get into, depending on your passport.
Countries in Asia, South America, and Africa let more people in. There are not many people who have been refused entry into any of those places.
Volunteering in a well-developed country where people usually want to immigrate rarely accept volunteers from countries people tend to emigrate from. If you come from a developing country, it is best to try to get into another developing country. They are more likely to let you in for a longer period of time because they know people don’t want to immigrate there and take jobs from the local people. Also, there are more volunteering opportunities available in developing countries.
Now you understand that you can volunteer abroad for free, with flights and accommodations included.
If you cannot afford to pay anything related to your trip, then you should plan to stay for a longer period of time abroad, since these projects are more likely to cover all the costs.
Keep in mind that covering your costs will likely mean that you must offer some skills. It is perfectly fine to go volunteering abroad to get work experience, but if you don’t have any previous experience, then your chances are slimmer.
Moreover, you go abroad to help, not to be helped in building your resume. That’s why the skills you have to offer are of the utmost importance.
Last, but not least, think about obtaining a visa in advance. Don’t let it stand in the way between you and your adventure.
Volunteering abroad is a big adventure. A highlight of a period of your life. Money doesn’t have to be an issue.
Now go ahead and take action!
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