Can you define what free volunteering abroad means?
Is it free because you don’t pay any fees or because all your costs are covered, including your flights and accommodation?
Exactly, no one can define precisely what free volunteering is. It may be anything from no-fee work exchange to volunteering with all costs covered.
While I was doing my extensive research to find the placements that suited my needs and budget, I realized that there are many shades of free volunteering abroad.
That experience thought me that there are many kinds of free volunteering that provide different benefits to wannabe volunteers like I was.
To choose wisely what’s best for me, I had to learn about all of them.
What You’ll Learn in This Article?
Now you’ll learn:
- What free volunteering abroad really means
- The various types of volunteering placements to choose from, depending on your budget
- What may be included in each volunteer placement
What Free Volunteering Abroad Really Means?
When someone on the internet tells you that they offer free volunteering abroad opportunities, that may mean any of the following:
It means that your host organization won’t ask for any fees to let you volunteer with them, but you’ll have to pay for your travel, accommodation, food, local transportation, and other costs.
These organizations are usually small grassroots NGOs.
They may provide education to children, a shelter for animals, farms, hostels, and others. In most cases, they do not require you to have previous experience and skills.
Your enthusiasm and willingness to help will be enough.
Some organizations may ask for a small donation or a fee from volunteers.
This money goes towards arranging your stay with them, so in return, you are likely to get room and board for free.
You may think that if they ask for a small fee, then that is not free volunteering.
But, if you do the math you’ll see that the fee actually saves you money.
If you volunteered for no fee, then you would have had to cover all the costs associated with your travels.
Let’s take traveling to Central America for example. Volunteering there for five months would require around $600 per month plus flights.
The hosts may ask for a fee of $80 per week that covers your room and board with a local family. You would pay $320 per month and have your accommodation, food, and local immersion ensured, only for half the costs.
That’s not a bad deal.
Accommodation and Meals Included
This is the most common form of free volunteering out there.
Many organizations are able to provide you with free accommodation and food in exchange for your help and do it gladly.
You may sleep in a volunteers house, a room shared with other volunteers, stay with a local family, or in another type of accommodation. Whatever you are provided with, you’ll have your own bed for free.
Food is often provided as well. You can expect three meals a day, sometimes less than that, sometimes more. Make sure to talk to your hosts about that when arranging your trip.
You have to take care of the rest of the expenses, such as the costs to travel there, pocket money for spending in your free time, insurance, visa if necessary, and others.
These placements may require some skills and professional experience. However, you’ll be able to find some that do not require a lot more than enthusiasm to help and learn.
Free Volunteering with All Costs Covered
These placements pay for all the costs of volunteering.
Volunteers usually don’t have any expenses to travel there and share their expertise.
Flights, accommodation, food, insurance, visa, vaccinations, pocket money, and any other expense that you may incur during your trip will be paid by your host organization or a third party that sponsors the whole arrangement.
There are two types of completely covered volunteering abroad experiences: for highly skilled professionals and for young people.
The placements for highly skilled professionals exist because local organizations cannot find such professionals locally.
They get funding from external sources to bring volunteers from somewhere else and in return to their skills and time, they cover all their costs for travel and stay.
These placements always require possessing certain skills and often some working experience. Some of them require as little as one year of previous working experience, while others require candidates to have worked at least 10 years in the chosen field before applying to volunteer with them.
The programs aimed at young people do not require any skills or working experience. All they want from you is to be at a certain age and sometimes to be a citizen of a country that participates in the program.
In most cases, these programs are funded either by governments or by a religious body, such as the church. They often cover all the costs. The few exceptions do not pay for flights.
These programs and organizations always receive a large number of applications.
The United Nations Volunteering Program, for example, receives ten times the applications they need. That means that only 10% of them are getting in.
Not all of them are as popular as the UNV, though.
Many of them are not well known and sometimes struggle to find suitable volunteers, hence they accept most of the applications as long as the candidates meet the requirements. If you want to learn more about them and where to find them, click here.
What Is Included in Volunteering Abroad for Free?
Every single volunteer listing contains information on what the host organization provides the volunteers in exchange for their help.
If they say that they cover all your costs, including flights, accommodation, and meals, it means that they will ensure that you arrive there at no cost for you, you’ll stay there for free and never be hungry.
But, what kind of accommodation they’ll provide you with? Do they provide vegetarian meals? Will they send you the flight tickets at your home address or will reimburse you the costs?
These are questions that you must ask before leaving if you want to avoid surprises later on.
Hosts do their best to ensure that the helping hands are happy while staying with them, but their possibilities are not endless. Here is what you can expect from them.
No two accommodations are the same.
Your image of a nice room may not be the same as what people in rural Asia find nice, so make sure you adjust adequately.
One thing is for sure – volunteers never live in luxury. They mostly live in basic accommodation.
This may include, but is not limited to:
Many organizations possess or rent a house or an apartment where they accommodate volunteers. These houses are fully furnished, have enough beds for everyone and a fully equipped kitchen.
Volunteers may have to share the room with another volunteer. In less common occasions, they have their own room only for themselves.
This option means that you’ll stay with a local family in their home. You’ll live with them as if you are a member of the family. Volunteers who stay in a homestay may have their own room or share it with a family member.
The host family opens its doors to the home just as it is.
There are some minimal standards they have to meet, like five people must not sleep in the same small room, but you should expect whatever the local standard is. Nothing more than that.
A bed in a hostel
If you opt for a work exchange program with a hostel, you’ll get a bed in a dorm room in the very same hostel.
Do not expect a single room, since these are their most expensive asset and bring most revenues.
For short-term volunteering project that involves work in outdoors, tents are a viable option.
Instead of a tent, some short-term project may provide premises where you can camp only with your sleeping bag.
Some or all of your meals may be paid by your hosts.
Most of them provide volunteers with all three meals a day. Very few of them provide only one meal while on duty.
Meals may be omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher, or any other type.
Make sure you talk to your hosts about your dietary requirements prior to departure to ensure that they can provide what you need.
In any case, the food will be local.
Organizations use three ways to provide food to volunteers:
- Cook the meals and serve them
- Provide them with food and volunteers cook themselves (they can buy something else if they don’t like it)
- Provide volunteers with money to buy food or
- A combination of any of these.
Travel costs include the expenses you have to travel from your home country to the volunteering post and back.
Hosts that cover travel costs pay for flights, train ride, bus ride, or another mean of transportation.
They pay for it in any of the two following ways:
- They buy the ticket for you and send it to your home address or email or
- You buy the tickets yourself and they reimburse your expenses upon presenting it to them.
The second option is more common.
You’ll need some money to buy the ticket, but you’ll get the money back as soon as you arrive there and show it to them.
When your hosts provide visa support or cover the visa costs at all, it may look in any of the following:
Visa Support and Visa Costs Covered
They will take care of all the document you’ll need to support your visa application. Then you’ll apply for the visa, and when you arrive there, they will reimburse your costs.
Visa Costs Covered
You’ll take care of your application yourself, and if you get a visa, they will pay for it when you arrive there. This rarely happens in practice.
They will provide you with all the necessary documentation to support your application, but you’ll pay the visa application costs.
If your potential host organization does not state on the website that they support visa applications, don’t hesitate to ask them. Maybe they will be willing to provide some help.
But, do not be pushy either. Maybe they just don’t want to deal with authorities.
Living Stipend (Pocket Money)
The living stipend, also known as pocket money or monthly allowance, is provided to some long-term volunteers to enable them to live like the locals.
The living stipend is not a salary. It is just the pocket money that your parents have given you in the past or still gives you.
It is not enough to live like a rockstar, even in underdeveloped countries, but you won’t live worse than the locals either.
After all, you go on a volunteering trip to see and feel how people live there.
In some cases, the money for meals and local transportation are part of the living stipend.
If you volunteer in a big city and you need to use some mean of transport between your accommodation and volunteer post, the host may provide you with:
- Money to buy tickets for local transportation
- A monthly or yearly transportation card
- A bike
However, in most places, volunteers only walk for a few minutes to arrive at their post.
In rare cases, host organizations provide basic medical insurance to volunteers. If they don’t, ensure to get one for yourself, because things get ugly when you need a doctor and you are not insured.
If you travel to a country where certain vaccinations are obligatory, this may add up to the costs. Vaccinations are rarely covered by host organizations.
It is hard to define what free volunteering abroad is. It may mean different things, so you have to check what exactly your potential host may provide to you.
If it fits your budget, that’s great. If it doesn’t, keep searching for opportunities. But, don’t quit from that volunteering adventure.
Searching opportunities on Google may take a very very long time and not give you the right opportunities. To save yourself time, nerves, and money, check out our paid list with many free volunteering placements, even with flight and accommodation included.