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Can I Volunteer for Free Abroad?

As you think about volunteering abroad, you may be shocked to discover that there is a cost involved and left feeling frustrated. At the end of the day, you are offering your services to better a vulnerable community and just want to do good in the world. You wonder “why can’t I volunteer for free abroad?” Here is our take on why there is a cost to volunteering abroad, as we tackle that common misconception that it should be free.

Reason #1 – Accommodation
After booking your flights, your first worry is to know where you’ll be staying. When booking a volunteer project, you will be assigned a local accommodation. You might be staying in a volunteer house with other participants on the project, or you might live with a local host family to immerse yourself even more in the local culture. Whatever the situation is, part of your money goes to the local businesses and families hosting you. That’s their income for providing a service and just like you, they have rent to pay, bills owing and a family to feed. Do you still think you should be able to volunteer for free abroad?

Reason #2 – Incidentals
When going abroad, there are some extra fees that are easily forgotten but are crucial to your experience and need to be thought about: training, airport pickup and drop off, meals, transport, local guide, etc. Sustainable projects include all of that or most of it. We want to ensure our volunteers are well taken care of and that all of your (and your family’s) concerns are addressed as a standard. We understand how important it is that you know who is waiting for you as you come through the arrivals hall in a new country. We will even track your flight so we know if you will be arriving early or are delayed. Equally, if you don’t receive appropriate training, your impact could be harmful rather than helpful. The care of our volunteers and community partners is always our priority but all of this does cost money. What are your thoughts on volunteering for free abroad now?

Reason #3 – Safety
Ethical standards, best practices, site visits and a child protection policy are all part of any responsible travel company. In an industry that is still largely unregulated (something we are fighting to change), without these, you could be that person supporting a project where children are exploited or animals abused in order to attract international volunteers. Do you still want to volunteer for free abroad with an unregulated organization, knowing that you could be doing more harm than good, and putting the local community (and yourself) in great danger?

Reason #4 – Local Support
When you arrive in a foreign country, you feel a bit “lost”. Lost in translation. Lost with no known landmark. Lost with no friends (yet!). That said, you want a local person to be on the lookout for you, give you a thorough orientation, support you if you need medical attention, guide you on what part of town is safe and not-so-safe, and someone who speaks your language! That person has been trained and is assigned to supervise volunteers. So your fee pays for his/her salary. Because this person is normally a local, you are adding to the country’s economy, and this individual’s personal development and professional growth. This allows us to operate sustainable programs, which is the very reason you want to join, isn’t it? Would you expect this person (who I can guarantee will be your closest confident in country) to not be paid? Are you beginning to change your opinion of the myth that volunteering abroad should be free?

Reason #5 – Donations
In order to make a project viable long-term and sustainable, financial resources are essential. You can’t go abroad and start building a school on your own. You need local support and funding. The funding for the projects comes from volunteering. In fact, this funding allows you to educate and empower the local communities with new skills, which they can then pass on, with the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency. So your volunteer fee doesn’t just impact one person, but a whole community, a whole generation; young and old. Do you really want to take this lifeline away and continue asking ‘Can I volunteer for free abroad?’

Reason #6 – Admin Support
Living abroad (whether for 2 weeks or 3 months) is vastly different than staying at home with your normal comforts, surrounded by your friends and family, whom can help you. When choosing a volunteer opportunity abroad, you want to make sure the organization you choose is at the top of their game and knows what is going on in-country. You will want to have as much information as possible prior to going, including information on visas (often more complicated with volunteering), vaccine requirements, dress code, cultural customs, amongst others. The fee you pay for your project should cover all of this information and much more as you prepare for your trip, sometimes planning a year or two in advance. There is also a dedicated monitoring and evaluation team to help measure the impact our volunteers make; we want to produce these results, because quite frankly, if there is not evidence of sustainable change, what is the point of volunteering at all?

Instead of asking ‘Can I volunteer abroad for free?’ change your mentality to questioning how your volunteer fee is used. Any reputable volunteer organization will be able to provide a breakdown. Ensure the time and money you invest has a positive, rather than detrimental, impact on the local community or environment. Whilst growing in your own personal development and professional growth journey, help empower, educate and create opportunities in the developing world. Become a global citizen, be a part of sustainable change and please please please, pick your volunteer organization wisely. Ask those questions and do your research!

P.S. We understand that money isn’t infinite so you may want to check out our blog highlighting our cheapest volunteering opportunities.