Low Cost Volunteering Abroad: How To Choose A Program

Volunteering abroad has become an ever more popular thing to do while backpacking. To cater to this growing market, more and more “middleman” companies have swooped in to create customizable volunteering packages for travelers. These companies can charge you upwards of $500 a week to place you in a volunteer program and essentially promise to hold your hand if anything goes wrong. This can be reassuring for first time travelers, but are ridiculously overpriced and have questionable impact on the local community.

Many of these programs include two weeks of volunteering followed by two weeks of adventure activity. That sounds well and good, but you have to wonder how much of an impact you can have in only two weeks? These companies cater to those “quick, get a picture of me holding up this shovel and carrying a small Latino child, so I can show on Facebook how worldly and caring I am” tourists.

How to Find the Best Volunteer Opportunity

Volunteering seems like a natural thing to add to the itinerary while traveling abroad. You have the chance to give back to the communities that are inviting you in, you can connect with locals, maybe practice the native language, and let’s face it, it’s nice to be able to say you did something productive in between those months of tanning on the beach and drinking rum.

However, for some reason, everyone assumes volunteering overseas equals taking care of kids or teaching English. And while many organizations offer those important volunteer jobs, there are plenty of other opportunities out there. Hate kids? (Don’t worry, we won’t judge you). Volunteer at an animal rescue center. Hate kids & animals? (Ok, starting to judge..). Volunteer to do administrative computer work for an NGO. If you don’t enjoy something in real life, you’re definitely not going to enjoy doing it for free, in another language, in a foreign country.

Figure out your marketable skills. Applying to become a volunteer is much like applying for a job. It’s not as competitive obviously, most organizations will find something for you to do, but they’d rather place you in something you’re good at. Bilingual? Help with translations. Have experience in web design? Update the website. Got legit artist skills? Paint a new welcome sign! Seriously, whatever abilities you have, they can translate to the non-profit world.

low cost volunteering abroad

{ a baby ocelot at a rescue center in Iquitos }

Find Long Term Volunteer Programs

There are plenty of organizations around the world that welcome foreign volunteers. Depending on your level of involvement, some organizations will ask for anywhere from a two week to six month minimum, but the one thing they’ll all tell you: the longer the better. Two weeks is not long enough to make a big impact, and can instead be draining for the administration who’ll need to take the time out to train you. Consider extending your volunteering to a month or longer. You may have to cut some sites out of your itinerary, but trust me it’s worth it. When you’re spending your last couple weeks playing football with the local kids that you’ve actually built a relationship with, instead of roaming around yet another ruin, you’ll be happy.


low cost volunteering abroad

{ making connections with kids in Pisco, Peru }


Not everyone has months to spend volunteering. If you really can only spend a couple weeks giving back, consider donating to the organization instead. Money goes a long way for these programs, and honestly it will probably be more helpful than your inexperienced butt spending a week attempting to teach English to rowdy kids. If you do donate, ask the organization if you can come in for a day and see how their programs run. They’ll be more than happy to indulge you with the obligatory Facebook photos and you’ll have the satisfaction that you’ve actually helped.

Volunteer Teaching the Right Way

If teaching English is something you’re interested in doing then we really suggest you get yourself a little more qualified before taking off on your next trip. As native English speakers we all assume we can teach English, but it’s not as easy as you’d think. Are you ready to explain the difference between a verb and an adverb? Or what a proper noun is? Jules is a former English teacher in Australia and even he has difficultly explaining grammar.

Rather than throw that idea away, get qualified and learn a new life skill along the way. Completing a TEFL course is the perfect way to get yourself ready to teach English, which is such a vital skill for so for many around the world. And it doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive! You can complete an online course over 120 hours that will have you throwing out impromptu English classes in no time! And thankfully for our awesome Don’t Forget To Move readers we’ve got an exclusive 35% off discount code over at myTEFL. Not only are myTEFL one of the leading TEFL qualification providers, but they’re also a socially responsible company that donate proceeds from their sales to local charities in Haiti and Nepal. To check out their 120 hour course simply click here and be sure to add your unique promo code MOVEON to claim your discount.


low cost volunteering abroad


Cost to Volunteer Overseas

While you should be weary of any companies that charge you ridiculous amounts for short volunteer programs, you should expect to pay something. A lot of people are opposed to this. “I’m volunteering my time, why should I have to pay?” Yes, I can kind of understand that logic, but it’s not how it works overseas. It takes a lot of logistics and administrative time to coordinate with volunteers. The weekly dues you’ll pay to volunteer will be going to a stipend for invaluable administrative staff. If room and board is available for volunteers, these dues will likely be going to rent, food and general maintenance. Not sure how much is an appropriate amount to be paying? It really depends on the location and organization. Volunteering in a touristy beach town in Mexico is going to cost more than super rural Indonesia, as the cost of living is obviously higher.


 low cost volunteering abroad

{ building a house for a family in Peru }


Commit to the Community

Volunteering overseas can be a great way to meet fellow travelers from around the world. Volunteering together is a bonding experience and you can walk away with life long friends. This is a definite pro to volunteering, but should not be your main reason for becoming a volunteer. It can be easy to fall into a trap of volunteering with a community during the day and coming back to a house full of volunteers eager to let loose and party it up. That’s fine, but it’s not really that different from traveling and staying in hostels. If the option is possible, do a home-stay. One of the benefits of volunteering is being able to connect to a community. What better way than living and developing relationships with a local family? You may not get the same party atmosphere as a volunteer house, but you’ll gain much more meaningful experiences.


responsible volunteer tourism and travel


Volunteers Abroad Websites and Programs

In the end, if your heart is in the right place, you’ll find something meaningful in whatever you do. Here are some resources for volunteering opportunities:

Free and low cost volunteering throughout Latin America: Volunteer South America

Volunteer, Internship and Job opportunities in global nonprofits: Idealist

Low cost volunteering positions: Omprakash

2 thoughts on “Low Cost Volunteering Abroad: How To Choose A Program”

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing! We love volunteering as we travel but agree you have to be so careful about where any money you are donating actually goes to and if your time is really going to be beneficial! Once you find a good cause however it is always an unforgettable experience! Keep enjoying 🙂


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