Are you looking for the best volunteer abroad programs in 2020? Here are the top 13 volunteer opportunities, AND four new volunteer abroad programs.
As the world’s best volunteer abroad organisation, IVHQ is taking the struggle out of your search for the best volunteer abroad programs. We’ve compiled the 13 life-changing and meaningful adventures that receive the top reviews from volunteers, plus tips and exclusive insight from the people that work with these programs every day.
Before we dive into the best volunteer abroad programs, we need to provide a little context on what criteria the programs are being measured against. We’ve pulled out all the stops for this one, with feedback from over 10,000+ volunteers and expert insight from our trusted volunteer staff. So here it is…
Jump straight to what you’re looking for:
- Best volunteer opportunities in Africa
- Best volunteer travel programs in Asia
- Best volunteer opportunities abroad in South America & Central America
- Best volunteer abroad programs in Europe
- Best volunteer programs according to Lonely Planet’s 2020 travel guide
- Best volunteer abroad programs for high school students
- Best volunteer abroad programs for college students
- Top volunteer abroad programs for older adults
- Best volunteer vacations for families
- Best medical volunteer abroad programs in 2020
- Top volunteer programs for one week
- Best new volunteer programs
What makes the best volunteer abroad programs?
Before you embark on your volunteer experience, it pays to be supported by the best of the best. As the world leaders in volunteer travel, IVHQ has an easy to use website and a support team to help you find the right program for your motivations and skills. Once you’ve found the right program, you’ll be provided with a dedicated volunteer travel expert, a detailed program guide and access to the IVHQ mobile app to ensure you’re well prepared to head abroad. It’s IVHQ’s wraparound support and superior pre-departure tools which set the tone for the journey of a lifetime.
24/7 support abroad
As mentioned above, once you’re registered to volunteer with IVHQ we work to ensure your experience abroad goes to plan. This care and attention to detail is continued by the local teams that we work with in each country. They’re there to support you throughout your volunteer experience. This includes things like your airport pick up, orientation and 24/7 support while abroad. IVHQ works with these teams day in, day out to ensure that when you set off abroad, you’ll experience the best program and volunteer project possible.
Responsible volunteer work with an ethical organisation
A lot of different elements go into a volunteer experience, and the last thing you want to do is lose focus of what really matters. That’s the volunteer work itself! IVHQ programs are designed to bring volunteer work to the forefront and guide each day of your time abroad. It’s crucial that when you’re looking for legit volunteer abroad programs, you consider how your time abroad will impact the community you’re there to support. Your focus should be on helping and working with the local community, so it’s key that your volunteer work is driven by their needs and your stay doesn’t put any pressure on the community itself.
That’s why IVHQ works with local organisations in each destination and operates with an open and transparent fee structure so you know exactly where your money is going. Your Program Fee is paid separately because this goes to IVHQ’s in-country local team to cover the expenses associated with your stay. This focus on the local community and transparent and fair fees are two defining aspects that help make IVHQ the world leader in volunteer travel.
Trusted accommodation and meals
Depending on the exact program you take part in, you can be served up to three meals a day. Meals are typically made up of local cuisine, with some Western staples. Traditional home cooked meals abroad? That’s a big yes from us! After a day of volunteering, nothing beats coming home to comfortable accommodation, filled with like-minded individuals and a welcoming host family. IVHQ ensures that you have a safe and vetted place to stay and trusted meals. We’ve found that goes a long way to helping you set off abroad in confidence.
The best volunteer abroad programs are the ones that make the biggest impact in the community you’re in. IVHQ programs are handpicked to make the biggest difference for those you’ll be working with while also giving you the most meaningful volunteer experience.
Without further ado, here are the 13 best international volunteer programs, as decided by 5000+ reviews:
Best volunteer abroad programs In Africa:
Volunteer in Victoria Falls
Not only is this one of the best opportunities to volunteer in africa with animals, it’s one of the top wildlife conservation volunteer programs. Volunteers are based on a private game reserve near the magical Victoria Falls. Volunteer work is focused on the unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in conservation management activities and assist with ongoing research. Imagine volunteering in a setting where your backyard has breathtaking views over a zebra-filled savannah - Victoria Falls is just that!
While the work is physically demanding, you’ll be beyond rewarded for your efforts with highlights including a one night stay, camping in the reserve itself! It’s an unforgettable experience that will stay with you long after you leave, and in your free time it’s a playground waiting for you to explore. Find what volunteer projects are available…
Volunteer in Ghana
Volunteers on the Ghana program consistently rave about the people involved. The local people you’ll work with and the incredible support team will make you feel at home from the moment you land. The local team has a long history of providing wrap-around support to achieve positive outcomes across the communities they work in.
As a volunteer you’ll develop a strong sense of connection to the program, and you’ll go the extra mile at placement - it’s what makes Ghana special. There are also plenty of opportunities for volunteers to make the most of weekends. You’ll be able to find secret spots to explore, thanks to the popular tips the local team can offer. Explore the projects…
Volunteer in South Africa
If you’re a first time traveler, solo traveler or have never been to Africa, volunteering in South Africa is an excellent volunteer abroad choice! It has the character of Africa, with all the home comforts to put you at ease. Set in Cape Town against the striking backdrop of Table Mountain, this stunning city will quickly captivate you. Not only that, but the volunteer work itself gets rave reviews from IVHQ volunteers.
This program gets some of the highest IVHQ feedback scores of people saying they’d recommend it to a friend. This is such a popular volunteer destination that we have two programs here. Find out which program is best for you or explore the volunteer work options in South Africa…
Best volunteer abroad programs in Asia:
Volunteer in India - Kerala
India has captivated travelers for generations, and for good reason! It’s mixture of vibrant sights, sounds and colors, spirited people, dynamic cultures and vivid atmosphere all combine to make it a truly remarkable country to visit. As a volunteer you’ll build authentic connections with locals by supporting volunteer projects that meet the needs of the local communities. It’s a rare chance to get up close and personal with the Indian people and to get a true sense of what they, and their country, is about.
India can be a daunting place for first-time travellers, solo explorers or females travelling alone, but as a volunteer you’ll have a trusted support network and 24/7 local team guidance which takes the hassle and stress out of travelling to India. Explore Kerala, a laid-back region in southern India, or volunteer in Delhi, the fast-paced capital of India.
Volunteer in Vietnam
Vietnam is known for its culture, cuisine and natural beauty. As a volunteer in Vietnam, you’ll get to experience a mix of all that, as well as a few local secrets and some classic highlights. At the same time, you’ll have a meaningful and positive impact on the Vietnamese community you’re immersed in, making it the best way to see Vietnam.
Volunteers are highly valued by the local community and the welcoming nature of the IVHQ Vietnam local team makes it firm favourites with volunteers. You can volunteer in Vietnam teaching English or if you’re on the path to a medical career, this is one of IVHQ’s best medical volunteer abroad programs. Learn more about becoming a volunteer in Vietnam.
Volunteer in Bali - Ubud
If you’re looking for the best opportunity to volunteer in Asia, look no further than Bali. You can choose from two volunteer programs: Bali - Ubud or Bali - Lovina (find out which option is best for you).
This program is perfect for surfers, nature lovers or anyone looking for a volunteer opportunity off the beaten path. The Bali - Ubud program is one of IVHQ’s most popular volunteer abroad programs, with between 40-80 volunteers starting each month. There are six different projects available, so there’s plenty of variety. Ubud is known as the cultural hub of Bali, and as a volunteer you’ll see the inspiring customs, natural beauty and laid back lifestyle it has to offer.
Volunteer in Nepal
Volunteer in Nepal and experience it all! It’s a country full of color, culture, incredible landscapes and friendly people. The fantastic thing about the Nepal program is just how varied the placements and locations are. IVHQ’s Nepal volunteer program is perfect for volunteers looking for a wide range of volunteer opportunities in truly unique locations throughout the country.
It’s known as a very safe option for people travelling solo, and IVHQ volunteers have found there’s plenty of opportunities to explore in your free time. A special one week program is also available if you’re looking for short term volunteer opportunities in Asia.
Best volunteer abroad programs In South America & Central America:
Volunteer in Colombia - Cartagena
Something about the Colombia - Cartagena volunteer program means volunteers become incredibly passionate about their work and always go above and beyond to make a difference. It could be that there’s a project to suit every volunteer’s skills and motivations. It might also be the fact the team that provides in-country support is driven and enthusiastic about their city and what they do. Either way, you’ll never regret volunteering in Colombia.
Volunteer Ecuador - Quito
Volunteers on the Ecuador program can choose from a range of volunteer abroad projects, including Teaching English, Street Children Work, School Support, Kindergarten, Summer Project and NGO Support. The program is based in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito and its hinterland. Nestled high in the Andes, Quito is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in South America. Despite this aesthetic beauty, there is a great need for volunteers to assist with the development of the city.
Past volunteers have told us they can see just how worthwhile their work has been. This means when it comes time to pack your bags, you can set off knowing you’ve signed up for a life-changing and meaningful experience!
If you’re looking for something in a more tropical setting then explore the IVHQ Ecuador - Santa Elena volunteer program based on the Pacific coast.
Volunteer in Peru - Cusco
For the many volunteers, their experiences volunteering in Peru are some of the best of their lives. With 10 different project options, you can choose volunteer work such as Amazonian jungle conservation or the medical volunteer project.
You can also volunteer in Peru - Lima on IVHQ’s most affordable volunteer program, starting from $180 for one week of volunteering. Both locations are close to the iconic Machu Picchu, as well as Rainbow Mountain, Lake Titicaca, the Salt Mines, and Cusco City. It’s easy to see why Peru is such an incredible destination explore!
Volunteer in Costa Rica
Volunteering in Costa Rica allows you to see many sides to this beautiful country. Known for its beaches, volcanoes and biodiversity, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the vast rainforests and coastlines when you’re not on your volunteer placement. IVHQ offers two unique placement options:
One is in the capital city of San Jose and the other is in the National Park of Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast. In both placements you can take part in Childcare, Teaching English, and Healthcare. Unique to our San Jose location is Eco-Agriculture Conservation, Construction and Renovation, Special Needs Care and Turtle Conservation.
When you’re not volunteering, there is no shortage of volcano, wildlife or island day trips right on your doorstep, and we can help you plan this before you arrive.
Best volunteer abroad programs in Europe:
Volunteer in Italy - Naples
Volunteering in Italy - Naples will have you situated on the Southern coast of Italy. This picturesque city sits along the coastline, with the nearby Mount Vesuvius as its iconic backdrop. Volunteer opportunities in Naples include After School Care, Teaching English, Environmental and NGO Support.
Whether it’s the mouth watering Italian cuisine (welcome to pizza heaven), significant historical sites like Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, or the stunning Mediterranean, Naples has you covered. You can experience all these in your spare time, and your IVHQ Travel Expert can help and local team can help arrange it for you. Volunteers can take on a program from two weeks with fees starting from US$715.
Volunteer in Romania
Is the appeal of Europe drawing you in? Then the Romania volunteer program is the stand-out option, with its misty mountains, vast forests and fascinating history. The IVHQ volunteer program consistently gets fantastic feedback, with the in-country program support often singled out for special praise.
The team welcomes every volunteer into their homes and community, giving volunteers a rare insight into authentic Romanian life and culture. There is plenty to keep volunteers busy in their downtime, with the rest of Europe on your doorstep. The program is based in the town of Miercurea Ciuc in the distinctive region of eastern Transylvania. IVHQ has a wide range of volunteer abroad projects available in Romania - explore them here.
Volunteer Programs To Match The Best Lonely Planet Destinations In 2020:
Every year, the Lonely Planet Best in Travel guide gives travelers a look at the coolest up and coming travel destinations all over the world. In 2020, four IVHQ volunteer programs feature in some of Lonely Planet’s best places to travel:
Volunteer in India - Kerala
IVHQ’s India - Kerala program is based in the coastal city of Kochi, which is an eclectic old town recognised by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit in 2020. This is India done differently - tropical, laid back and without the intense hustle and bustle of other parts of the country. With a perfect mixture of cool, contemporary cafes and shops and authentic cultural galleries and shows, Kochi is genuine and enjoyable.
The Kerala volunteer program has six top-rated volunteer programs in Kindergarten, Teaching, Women’s Education, Special Needs Care, Medical and Dentistry.
Volunteer in Morocco
Morocco’s biggest city, Marrakech, has been named Africa’s Capital of Culture in 2020. Not only that, but Morocco is one of Lonely Planet’s top countries to visit, as a unique cultural destination that’s made vast improvements in its infrastructure to make for a better tourist experience.
IVHQ has two programs in Morocco - one based in Rabat, Casablanca and Sale that has six community-based projects, and one in Marrakech that’s home to seven projects. Morocco is a fusion of colourful European, African and Middle Eastern influences that result in an upbeat lifestyle perfect for travellers seeking an upbeat trip.
Volunteer in Costa Rica
Another one of Lonely Planet’s top countries to visit in 2020, Costa Rica is a shining light for sustainability across most of what it does. Many of the best attractions are based in nature, and it’s cosy enough that you can visit rainforests, volcanoes and beaches in just one day.
Costa Rica is one of IVHQ’s most popular programs, with 12 diverse and responsible projects that include unique Turtle Conservation and Eco-Agriculture Conservation options.
Volunteer in Argentina
Northeast Argentina is stunning, untouched country that Lonely Planet has recognised as one of the top 10 regions to visit in 2020. The famous Iguazú falls are a highlight, and the rugged beauty of the surrounding National Park will keep outdoor lovers happy and entertained.
Best volunteer abroad programs for high school students:
We’ve got 15 volunteer programs around the globe that high school students can take part in. Whether you’re travelling as an individual or with a group, read our comprehensive high school volunteer abroad guide, which details the destinations available, as well as the ways in which you can volunteer and the support that’s provided.
Also, new for 2020 is the chance to take part in a tailored experience just for teenage volunteers abroad! Our Youth Adventure Packages are set tours that offer the perfect mix of seeing the attractions of a new country and volunteering on meaningful projects as a teen. You’ll also be traveling with people your own age and have just the right amount of supervision to keep your parents happy!
Best volunteer abroad programs for college students:
Volunteering abroad as a college student is the perfect opportunity to broaden your career prospects and immerse yourself in a foreign community during your break period. If you’d like to learn a little more about how volunteering abroad can benefit you, read our helpful blog - Volunteer Abroad For College Students.
Whether you’re setting out for your first adventure abroad or you’re well traveled, here are some amazing volunteer destinations that are popular with college students because of their program price, flexibility and community impact.
Top volunteer abroad programs for older adults:
When we leave our youth, it’s all too common to lose our spirit for adventure and feel as though opportunities aren’t suited for us. Luckily, volunteering abroad has no barriers for older adults. If you’re looking for a new life direction or if you’re highly skilled at what you do, volunteering allows you to connect with a local community and provide meaningful support in your chosen field.
The best thing about IVHQ is that you can travel in your own style. Room upgrades are available in most of our volunteer destinations, so you can choose to have your own privacy or be immersed with other volunteers on your program. Take a look at our guide to the best volunteer programs for grown ups for all you need to know, or check out some of these recommended options:
Best volunteer vacations for families:
The family vacation has taken a different form in 2019, with more and more families looking for meaningful experiences over traditional resort-style vacations. Volunteering allows families to work together in ways not possible on your average vacation, while still gaining all the perks of visiting a new destination, experiencing local cuisine and seeing the attractions. Check out our helpful volunteer vacations for families if you’d like to take the family on a trip they won’t forget.
Best medical volunteer abroad programs in 2020:
Volunteering abroad has long been a popular option for students working towards a career in medical fields. Put your theory work into practice, as you provide meaningful volunteer work to often isolated communities. Volunteering abroad is the perfect way to make the most of your break period. Check out our extensive range of medical options in our medical missions blog.
Top volunteer programs for one week:
Strapped for time, but still want to do meaningful volunteer work? IVHQ offers fantastic volunteer opportunities to suit a range of travel styles. Take a look at our Volunteer Trips Abroad You Can Take For One or Two Weeks blog, which details more than 10 destinations and the type of traveller they would suit.
If you’re looking for something else, here are a few other top programs based on FAQs:
Where’s the best volunteer trip if you want a personalized volunteer experience?
If you’re looking for an awesome volunteer program that’s a bit smaller then look no further than volunteering in China.
What’s the best place to volunteer and then fill my weekends with adventures?
You can’t beat spending your weekend on safari in Tanzania.
Best new volunteer programs for 2020:
As part of our commitment to emabling volunteer travelers to see the world and use travel as a force for good, IVHQ is proud to offer four new volunteer opportunities in 2020:
Volunteer in Spain - Barcelona
Take a volunteer adventure in Barcelona to discover the ins and outs of this cosmopolitan city. You’ll be placed at the heart of the city while volunteering on meaningful community-driven projects among the world-famous art and architecture. Volunteer placements include Marine Conservation, Youth Support and Special Needs Support. As an IVHQer, you’ll be immersed in this historic Spanish city, working alongide locals and other international volunteers and making valuable contributions to projects that value your support.
Volunteer in Jordan
Jordan is experiencing a surge in hosting tourists from all over the world, as a place of vast tradition and ancient culture.Volunteering in Jordan offers the ultimate adventure for those wanting to experience the Middle East and get off the beaten track in the comfort of a modern city. Join volunteer projects in Youth Support, Teaching, Special Needs Support, Arts and Music, Women’s Education and a unique Ramadan option during April and May. As an IVHQer, you’ll be volunteering in the capital city of Amman and enjoying incredible attractions like the ancient city of Petra and the world-renowned Wadi Rum in your spare time.
Volunteer in Puerto Rico
A stunning island in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is bursting with character and culture. The country is a unique melting pot of influences from South America, Europe, North America and the wider Caribbean, resulting in a laid back, tropical and Latin feel. Volunteer work in Puerto Rico is focused on assisting with widely felt social issues resulting from Hurricane Maria in 2017, with projects in Youth Support, Environmental Sustainability, NGO Support and Community Development. Puerto Rico is home to many things you can’t find anywhere else - from the brightly-colored Old Town in San Juan to some of the world’s only unique bioluminescent lakes!
Volunteer in Croatia
A gem of the Mediterranean, Croatia is a glistening coastal country that has fast become a favorite for travelers to Europe - especially in the summer. Our Croatia volunteer program is based in the popular city of Split, which is vibrant all year round, and has become iconic as the film set to a whole bunch of Game of Thrones scenes. Volunteer projects include Marine Conservation, Youth Support, Teaching, Animal Care, Special Needs Support and a unique Creative Technologies opportunity. There’s nothing like watching the sunset over the Mediterranean coast from an idyllic beach-side perch.
If you are still having a hard time deciding which program is best for you, IVHQ has programs in more than 50 destinations around the world. So grab out the map and start planning your volunteer trip around the globe.