So you’ve decided you want to volunteer abroad and be immersed in a new culture while supporting meaningful community projects… But what’s next? To help you on your journey in deciding where to volunteer and how to make the most of your time abroad, we’ve created this how to volunteer abroad guide so you can set out with confidence, knowing that you’ll be traveling with meaning.
Step 1. Make a plan
Before you set out on a volunteer trip abroad, you’re going to need to make a plan. As we all know, plans change, however there are a few essential things that you will need to decide on, so let’s get them sorted.
Keeping in mind your study, work or family commitments, you will need to consider when you can commit to traveling abroad to volunteer. Will it be during your summer break, or are you looking to incorporate some volunteer work with an existing trip? Once you have your travel dates sorted, you will need to decide how much time you can spend volunteering. Some volunteer abroad programs are 1-week, whereas if you’re joining the Peace Corps, you will need to commit to 2 years. Once you have a departure date and length of stay marked out on your calendar, you’ll be well on your way to start researching the suitable volunteer abroad opportunities available.
Step 2. Research
During your planning phase, you would have started to scratch the surface on the necessary research required before volunteering abroad. If you’ve never traveled abroad before, it can be overwhelming to think about setting off into a foreign country, luckily there are some great resources available online. A great place to start is Go Overseas and Volunteer Forever, where you find reviews of volunteer organizations and their programs from past volunteers. From here you will be able align yourself with an organization that’s the best fit for you, taking into account the program destinations and volunteer projects available, as well as accommodation and program costs. For example, at IVHQ we have over 40 destinations, 12 project varieties, home-stay and volunteer accommodation, and programs fees from as low as US$180 for 1 week.
Once you have with the amount of research you have done and selected a company you trust (in this guide we will describe the IVHQ process), the next step should be all about you!
Step 3. Pick a project
With volunteer programs in over 40 destinations and a wide range of project opportunities in the areas of education, construction and renovation, childcare, conservation, wildlife and animal care, community development and social enterprise, International Volunteer HQ is well experienced in supporting volunteer travelers in finding volunteer abroad programs that are well aligned with their unique skills and motivations.
When you’re trying to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, it’s important to consider what your motivations are for volunteering abroad. Are you volunteering to immerse yourself in a new culture, to develop a specific skill, to add to your resume, or give back? Figuring out why you want to volunteer abroad will support you in finding a project that will meet your expectations and make your time abroad a worthwhile and rewarding experience for both you, and the community that you will be immersed in.
Another important consideration is whether you have any specific skills that you can contribute. Some volunteer projects are skills-based while others don’t require any specialized skills or previous experience. Let your personal situation, your career or study experience and skill-set influence your decision. Matching your skills with a certain project type will dictate where you can volunteer, as each destination offers a unique set of projects.
Step 4. Select a destination
Once you determine which volunteer project you’re best suited to, you can start exploring which destination will be the best fit for you. The more time you put into researching the available destinations, the more informed your decision will be. This means when it comes time to pack your bags, you can set off knowing what you’ve signed up for and that a life-changing experience awaits you.
IVHQ offers volunteer abroad programs in the Pacific, Europe, Africa, Central America, South America, Asia the Caribbean and Pacific. Explore the different volunteer opportunities available in these destinations.
Step 5. Understand your program
For the majority of IVHQ volunteer projects, the requirements are fluency in English, a clean criminal background and a willingness to learn. To volunteer independently, you will need to be over the age of 18, otherwise you can volunteer with a parent or guardian, or as part of a group with adult minders. If you wish to participate on a Medical or Healthcare project destinations, you must be qualified or studying/training in a relevant medical field. Keep in mind that the requirements to volunteer with IVHQ do depend on the program and project that you are wanting to join. You can find the requirements specific to each project on our destination pages, under the Volunteer Requirements section.
Step 6. Apply and register to secure your place
Once you have decided your travel dates, where you would like to volunteer and which project you would like to support, the next step is to apply online. It’s free to apply and doesn’t commit you to the program, but it helps IVHQ to answer any questions you may have based on knowing you a little better. We can always change your application details later in the process, should you change your mind about anything. Within 2 working days of submitting your application, you will receive an email from your personal IVHQ Program Manager. They will confirm the project, destination and dates that you have applied for and tell you how to register.
Registering secures your spot on the program. Once you have logged into your MyIVHQ account and paid your Registration Fee, your IVHQ Program Manager will help you in preparing for your volunteer program by supporting you in the following ways:
- On-going support through telephone and email communication
- Connecting you with our local team in your host country
- Organizing your airport pick-up with our local team
- Advising when you need to pay the balance of your Program Fee by (due at least 30 days prior to your program start date)
Step 7. Preparation for departure and arrival
As an IVHQ volunteer, you will receive dedicated support and service from us every step of the way. After applying, your experienced IVHQ Program Manager will guide you through the process of becoming an international volunteer and answer any questions that you may have. They will also help you prepare for your volunteer experience by providing you with access to the following preparation resources:
- Interactive volunteer training to provide guidance in areas such as how to stay safe while volunteering abroad and how to ensure you make a valuable contribution to your host community
- Checklists that help you to remember key things you need to do before you depart
- A comprehensive program-specific booklet with vital program information, contact numbers and a packing guide
When you arrive at your volunteer destination, you will:
- Be picked up at the airport by a representative of our local team
- Join a program orientation alongside other IVHQ volunteers that will cover local customs, transport, safety tips and information about your project, as well as cultural activities
- Receive 24/7 in-country support from the local team throughout the duration of your volunteer program
- Receive ongoing support from your IVHQ Program Manager
Step 8. How to make the most of your experience!
- Research the local culture and understand what is and isn’t culturally acceptable.
- Remember that you must always respect the local approach. The local community that you’re going to be volunteering in has their own customs and way of doing things, which all need to be respected. You are there to assist and work alongside local people, not to show them how things are done. Responsible volunteers aim to achieve the goals of local people first and foremost.
- Make sure you’re ready to do what’s most valuable, not just what’s most exciting. It’s important to have fun on your IVHQ program but you also need to make a responsible impact.
- Always ask people for consent before you take photos or videos. This is especially important if your photos or videos involve children - never take images that belittle or demean children.
- If you want to make an additional contribution to your chosen project through a donation of money or goods, think carefully and seek advice from our local team first. It’s important that any donation you make contributes to something the community genuinely needs, and is something that will have a positive and sustainable impact over time.
- Read the Responsible Volunteering section of our website.
- Prior to arrival, learn some basic phrases and greetings.
- Utilize language-learning smartphone apps.
- When you arrive in country, make the most of language lessons if they are available.
- Approach language and cultural barriers with positivity, patience and respect.
- Our local teams will provide you with 24/7 support.
- And remember that some things are universal - so if all else fails, find some humor in the situation and share a smile.
Step 9. Reflect on the opportunity…. Go again!