They say the best things in life are free (and we agree). We say volunteering abroad is one of the best things you’ll do in your life (and our volunteers agree). With the right know-how, time and preparation, you can volunteer overseas for free — or very cheaply.
After all, this is one of the best ways to see the world without breaking the bank!
Read on to find out how to volunteer abroad for no cost (or a very small cost!), tips for finding free volunteer opportunities overseas, and a list of low-cost and free international volunteer programs…
- Why isn’t volunteering abroad always free?
- How to plan a free volunteer abroad trip
- Free volunteer abroad opportunities
- Low-cost volunteer abroad programs
- How to cut your volunteer travel expenses
- Is it possible to volunteer abroad for free?
Why isn’t volunteering abroad always free?
While it is possible to find free volunteer abroad opportunities around the world, the majority of international volunteer organizations charge a fee to cover the administrative or operational costs of their programs. This typically covers things like accommodation, meals, transportation, in-country support, and an orientation.
These organizations want to provide a safe, affordable, and impactful way for people to volunteer abroad — and they need to charge a fee to cover the costs associated with this.
The benefits of choosing to pay to volunteer abroad include:
- You’ll have the reassurance of safety, support and a framework which helps you get the most out of your time abroad.
- You’ll positively impact the community you’re going to support. You’ll cover the costs of you being there and put money back into the local economy.
- There are so many ways you can offset the costs associated with your international volunteer experience. In this guide, we’ll explain how to keep your volunteer travel costs to a minimum by sharing tried and tested tips that can enable you to volunteer abroad for free!
How to plan a free volunteer abroad trip
If your goal is to volunteer abroad for free, you generally have two options:
1. Choose a “free” volunteer abroad program
It’s important to keep in mind that even if you find a “free” volunteer abroad program that charges you nothing to participate in, there will still be some costs involved. You’ll need to pay for your own flights, travel insurance, vaccinations, transportation — and in some cases your accommodation and meals too.
You may also find that free international volunteer programs require you to join for fixed dates (often for a longer time period) and/or to have certain skills, qualifications or experience.
This doesn’t mean that these free volunteer abroad opportunities aren’t worthwhile — but they might not be your best option if you don’t have lots of time and experience on your side.
2. Choose a low-cost volunteer program and offset your expenses
If you have limited time and minimal travel experience but still want to have an impact abroad, then choosing an affordable volunteer abroad provider may suit you better. This will give you the security of knowing exactly what to expect from your trip, more structure and support, and you’ll be able to choose a specific project or cause to contribute towards.
The good news is, you can still volunteer abroad for free, or very cheaply, when you take this route. You can do this by choosing a low-cost provider and program, and cutting your expenses through forward planning, fundraising, and more!
Free volunteer abroad opportunities
Wondering how to find free volunteer abroad programs? Look no further! While free options are few and far between, we’ve compiled a list of the best!
The reality is that since you are not paying for these free volunteer opportunities, there is no service obligation to you. This means you should be mentally prepared for basic accommodation, no formal structure, possible tasks that aren’t in the description, and food that may not meet certain dietary requirements. If you’re unsure, it’s always good to ask your host specific questions before you go.
Nonprofit organizations that offer free volunteer opportunities abroad:
These organizations are worth taking a look at if your plans are flexible and you have experience, however, please note that most of these require training and/or qualifications:
Peace Corps For those with 2 years to dedicate to volunteering abroad and the right qualifications, the Peace Corps offers free volunteering options for US citizens. The Peace Corps has built a trusted reputation for delivering passionate volunteer work around the world. If you want to join, you must be at least 18 years-old and apply at least 9 months in advance. You then must complete an intensive application process before you can be accepted into the program.
Love the idea of the Peace Corps but don’t think you’ll qualify? Check out this list of the Best Peace Corps Alternatives.
UN Volunteers UN Volunteers also provide specialized skills to communities for long-term durations. With openings listed on a need basis, you must become part of the UNV talent pool to be considered available for the position. Openings can range from 6 months in duration and extensions may be required whilst in-country. In order to be considered, you must be 25 years-old or older, have a university degree or higher technical diploma and at least 2 years of relevant work experience in a professional background, and good working knowledge of English, Spanish or French. Confirmation on your deployment can take up to 6 weeks and approximately 2,000 assignments become available per year.
Volunteer Services Overseas Volunteer Services Overseas has built their reputation around volunteer work in Africa and Asia, having worked in the region for almost 60 years. VOS requires a thorough screening process depending on your personal and professional commitments, with 3 to 5 months of time needed for training. With a key focus on matching highly skilled individuals to communities in need, volunteers can expect to work in their chosen community for up to 12 months.
Websites that list free volunteer opportunities:
There’s also a range of websites where you can find free international volunteer opportunities. These allow prospective volunteers to find local hosts, most of whom are peer reviewed so you can see what other people who’ve volunteered with them have said. There is usually a membership fee of around $20-$40 to get access to these hosts.
Most volunteer opportunities on these sites will be in agriculture — think family run farms and businesses — or people looking for general property maintenance, childcare and English language learning. Here are some of the most popular ones to check out:
Workaway This site offers a diverse range of volunteering opportunities all over the world, in both cities and rural areas. Projects you’re likely to find could include volunteer work in hostels, private homes, ranching, farming, vineyards, and small family-run businesses.
WWOOF This stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and is great for people who don’t mind going off the beaten path and getting their hands dirty. If you’re looking for outdoor volunteer work where you can learn about organic agriculture, then this is for you!
Help Stay This website offers a range of pre-vetted volunteer projects around the world, as the HelpStay staff also review hosts, which can add a layer of safety and security. Some hosts do charge a fee to cover the cost of you staying though — roughly $10 a day.
Moving Worlds This option is for people who have certain skills or experience. There are projects available in both creative and technical fields, such as marketing, design, accounting, photography, which give you a chance to use your skills as a force for good!
If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity with a bit more structure and security, check out the low-cost alternatives below!
Low-cost volunteer abroad programs
Looking for the stability and reassurance that a reputable volunteer abroad organization can offer, but want to keep your travel costs to an absolute minimum? We’ve got you!
International Volunteer HQ’s Program Fees start from as little as $20 per day and include:
- Safe, clean and fully vetted accommodation
- Nutritious local meals
- In-country program orientation
- Airport pick up and 24/7 in-country support
- Dedicated pre-departure support from your IVHQ Program Manager
- Personalized preparation tools, training and checklists
- Discounts on language lessons, travel and tour add-ons
- Certificate of International Volunteer Service
This is an incredibly affordable and safe way to travel internationally and provide valuable support to communities who value your support. And with a bit of forward planning, you can easily offset these costs!
What are the best countries to volunteer abroad for free or cheap?
IVHQ offers the world’s most affordable volunteer programs. With 300+ volunteer projects across 50+ destinations, you can choose something that aligns with your travel goals, field of interest, and the causes you care about, without breaking the bank!
Here are some of our most affordable volunteer program locations:
- Nepal - from $20/day
- South Africa - from $20/day
- Cambodia - from $20/day
- India - from $20/day
- Zambia - from $21/day
- Laos - from $21/day
- Ecuador - from $22/day
How to cut your volunteer travel expenses
Whether you decide to opt for a free volunteer abroad opportunity or a low-cost volunteer program, there will still be associated travel costs. The good news is, there are plenty of ways you can offset the expenses associated with your volunteer trip!
Here are a few things to consider…
When’s the best time to volunteer abroad for free or cheap?
With airfares likely to be your biggest expense when volunteering abroad, you might want to plan your trip around when you can get the cheapest flights! This could mean traveling out of peak season or on certain days.
IVHQ gives you the flexibility to plan your volunteer trip around the most affordable travel times, with start dates available year-round and flexible durations. You’re also able to make free changes to your booking up to 14 days before you start.
We also recommend booking your volunteer trip as early as possible to get the most affordable airfares and give you plenty of time to plan for and fund the rest of your trip.
What are my funding options for volunteering abroad for free?
If you’re a student or have limited financial means, you could be eligible to apply for a volunteer abroad scholarship, grant, or funding from various universities, institutions, and organizations around the world.
It’s worth asking your school or college if they offer any grants for volunteer work overseas to help eliminate your associated costs. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- IVHQ Scholarships - although IVHQ does not receive external funding, we occasionally offer scholarships for volunteering abroad
- Go Overseas Scholarships - the team at Go Overseas offer regular volunteer abroad and study abroad scholarships, totaling $175,000 annually
- The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award - $30,000 stipends are offered for graduating college seniors to pursue one year of public service
- Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship - grants to study and intern abroad are available for US citizens who are enrolled in university and are receiving Federal Pell Grant funds
- Sarah’s Wish Scholarship Fund - awarded to service-minded, young American women to help meet the costs associated with volunteering abroad
- Becca’s Closet - scholarships offered to US citizens who have demonstrated outstanding community service during high school and will attend a university
You can also check out the following resources for regular updates on current scholarships:
Don’t qualify for any scholarships? Check out our How To Volunteer Abroad For Cheap blog or learn more about your fundraising options below!
Can I fundraise for my volunteer abroad trip?
Absolutely! Many volunteers use fundraising to keep the cost of volunteering abroad down. Typically volunteers use online crowdfunding platforms to raise funds to support their trips, but don’t write off your more traditional approaches. After all, there’s a reason the humble bake sale is so popular! It works.
Online Crowdfunding - This is a popular option because it’s easy to set up and a great way to get friends and family to support your trip! Many of our volunteers use sites such as Go Get Funding or FundMyTravel.
Fill Your Bank With Empties - Many volunteers take advantage of the opportunity to trade in empty beer cans and wine bottles for cash! IVHQ volunteer, Kaila Cochrane, made around $800 from collecting empties!
Plan A Profitable Party - Whether you’re selling tickets for a dinner party, movie night, dress-up party, or quiz night, you can put the profits towards helping you volunteer abroad for free!
Convert Clothes To Cash - Set a date for a yard sale, host a silent auction, strike up a deal with your friends, run a Facebook auction, list your items on eBay or Craigslist… The options are endless!
Bake Sale - Have your own stall at local farmers markets, festivals, galas, at work or even outside your house. Get your friends and family on the bandwagon to help prepare the goods.
52 Week Challenge - During the first week of the year, you save $1. During the second week, you save $2. Keep adding a dollar each week so that during the last week of the year, you’re putting away $52. This adds up to $1,378 over the course of a year and has proved very successful for previous IVHQ volunteers!
Trade Presents for Donations - If a birthday, anniversary or Christmas is looming and gift-giving is on the agenda, ask your loved ones to substitute your presents for monetary donations that you can use to put towards your upcoming volunteer abroad trip!
Is It Possible To Volunteer Abroad For Free?
“Free volunteering abroad” doesn’t really exist, as you will always have to cover some expenses — be that your flights, travel insurance, or vaccinations. However, there are some volunteer programs you don’t have to pay for, which may be worth exploring if you have time and experience on your side.
If you choose to travel with a trusted and affordable volunteer abroad organization, it’s totally possible to offset the majority (if not all) of your expenses using the strategies detailed in this guide above.
Combining a solid fundraising campaign, a large group of financial supporters, extensive research on general travel expenses along with IVHQ’s affordable program fees, you’ll be able to live the free volunteer abroad dream before you know it!
To discover the adventures waiting for you with IVHQ check out our awesome range of affordable volunteer abroad programs to get you started!