Teen volunteering is an enriching and inspiring experience that will profoundly impact both you and the community you’re immersed in. Whether you’re looking for volunteer opportunities for high school students or mission trips for teens, with International Volunteer HQ you’ll be able to engage in meaningful community development projects while experiencing a new country and culture.
It’s an experience that will stay with you for life and every year thousands of teens choose to volunteer abroad with IVHQ - the trusted provider of safe and affordable volunteer work for teens. Teen volunteer abroad opportunities are available in more than 40 destinations and there are 13 programs which offer independent volunteering opportunities for 16 and 17 year olds. And, if you’re wanting to travel and volunteer with a group of students from your high school, we can customize an itinerary for your group too!
Volunteering for Teens
Here’s what you’ll learn from this article:
- Is volunteering abroad under 18 possible?
- What are the benefits of joining a teen volunteer program?
- Key information for your parents
- How becoming a teen volunteer abroad impacted me
- Volunteering for teens - expert tips
- Recommended volunteer opportunities abroad for teens
Is volunteering abroad under 18 possible?
Don’t let age be a barrier! Volunteers between the ages of 16 to 18 years old can travel and volunteer alone on select IVHQ programs with parental/guardian consent.
Volunteers under the age of 18 can participate on the following programs:
- Bali - Ubud
- Sri Lanka
- Peru - Lima
- Peru - Cusco
- Costa Rica
- Ecuador - Quito
- Ecuador - Santa Elena
- Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh
Teen volunteers under the age of 18 will be required to provide IVHQ with parental consent and two character reference letters in order to participate, and may be asked to provide further documentation to the local team depending on their chosen project.
If you are volunteering abroad under 16 years of age, you can volunteer with a parent, guardian, or relative who is 18 years or older. Volunteering with a family member can be an awesome experience that brings you closer and gives your family holidays a greater sense of purpose. This means you can roll up your sleeves and get stuck in on the same meaningful project and when you have downtime you can head out together and explore all your destination has to offer. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What are the benefits of joining a teen volunteer program?
There is no doubt that volunteering as a teenager is a great way to add to your education and it will stand out on your college application and resume. After all, nothing teaches you more than traveling the world and accumulating experiences. Our local team will ensure you are matched to a placement which will allow you to make a valuable contribution to the project and community you are volunteering in. Crossing boundaries to work side-by-side with people from different parts of the world fosters global understanding and is something every volunteer on an IVHQ program takes away from their time abroad. Not only that but living in a country different to your own means that you will be immersed in a new culture, cuisine, and way of thinking. This time abroad will shape you and how you work as a team, manage time and communicate with others.
Already having experience living away from home is an added bonus when it comes time head off to college, suddenly freshman year doesn’t seem quite so daunting when you’ve traveled all the way to Bali and back again. Actually, you’ll find that you feel that way about most situations you face when you return home.
So what about my parents?
Chances are your parents will also want to learn more about IVHQ, especially if they are coming with you, so make sure they read our information for parents as you continue to explore our teen volunteer abroad programs. No doubt you have already fielded questions around your safety while abroad. You aren’t alone! Having placed more than 100,000 volunteers abroad, we’re always happy to speak with parents to ensure all their questions are answered and they feel comfortable with your volunteer trip plans. Through our online safety training, comprehensive information booklets, ongoing support from experienced Program Managers, and round-the-clock support from our local teams - volunteers are well supported to make the most of their time abroad.
How volunteering as a teen impacted me:
By: Grace Dalton, USA, IVHQ teen volunteer
Going into the IVHQ program, I didn’t really know what to expect at all. It wasn’t until I arrived with my sister and mom at the school where we would be teaching music for the next six weeks that the whole thing truly hit me. Volunteering in Kenya as a teenager completely changed my perspective on the world.
We come from Virginia, United States of America, and to see, teach, and even live with all these children who are so full of smiles and laughter but have a life completely different to mine was both eye-opening and heartening to witness.
Volunteering was a really humbling experience. I consider traveling a huge part of my life, thanks to my mom who has given my sister and I the great opportunity to see the world at a young age. In my experience, volunteering is the best way to travel. You get to live in a completely new corner of the Earth but help other people in the process. I encourage anyone, if the funds and time are available to you, then go and experience this.
It’s definitely hard work, and it can be tiring. Working with children can be difficult, especially as a teenager, because sometime kids will try to question your authority. On the flip side, they also see you as a friend because you’re closer in age. But one thing you can know without a doubt is that working with children pays off. Seeing the kids enjoy themselves, singing all together and laughing, makes it all worth it. Knowing that you’ve made an impact in their life, no matter how small, drives me as a volunteer. I’m sure it’s true for all the projects. Hard work pays off, every time.
Volunteering for teens - expert tips from an under 18 volunteer:
- Overpacking is something you definitely want to avoid, especially if you think you think you’re going to carry your luggage frequently. Bring durable clothing that’s easily mixed and matched, and leave unnecessarily heavy or valuable items at home.
- Before you leave home (especially if you’re going to be away for a long time), spend a day with your friends and loved ones you’re leaving at home. You’ll have a good memory of them while you’re away, and have a chance to get everyone’s contact information so you’ll stay in touch while away.
- Try to live as a local. Eat the local food, observe the traditions and customs of those around you, and learn at least a few words of the language if it is foreign to you. Even one or two words never fail to impress the locals.
- Talk to your friends and family back home frequently, but stay off your phone/technology during the day. Take in the new sights around you.
- On the same note, don’t view the world through your phone. It’s important, and extremely tempting, to take plenty of pictures on your trip but there needs to be a balance between snapping lots of great candids and just viewing the sights for yourself. As a sixteen year old girl, I know how hard that can be. Really. But it pays off to put your phone down and watch that sunset, halfway around the world from home, and just have it as a memory.
- Remember it’s extremely common to feel homesick, but the best way to combat it is throwing yourself into your work. You’ll be home before you know it and wishing you were abroad again so make the most of it.
- Spend time with your host family. Letting strangers into your house constantly, cooking for them, and keeping them occupied is no easy feat for anyone. Your host family is giving up their privacy for you to help others and experience the world from a completely new perspective. Sit down with them, ask them how they decided to host travelers, ask them about the area, and be sure to thank them for all they’ve done.
- Don’t rely on finding your favorite food in any restaurant in the area. Even if they do have it on the menu, it’s almost certainly not much like the version you’re used to at home. This is coming from someone who’s had yak cheese pizza from Nepal. It was a new experience that’s for sure.
- Take it all in, take as many pictures as possible, try to keep a travel journal - You’ll want to remember this trip.
Recommended volunteer opportunities for teens:
To give you an idea of the volunteer programs available for teenagers, we’ve listed seven programs perfect for our teen travelers below…
Volunteer in Madagascar
“If you’re looking for a teen volunteer program in Africa, you’ve come to the right place! IVHQ offers a unique program on the island of Nosy Komba off the north west coast of Madagascar. Upon arrival, you’ll quickly be welcomed into local villages, giving you the unique opportunity to experience African customs and traditions first hand. Our teen volunteers in Madagascar enjoy the opportunity to contribute to Marine, Forest and Turtle conservation projects as well as the option to join an Island Outreach project, on a 10-day island tour. It’s one of our best summer volunteer opportunities for teens!” - Claire Chambers (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Bali
“If you are looking for the ideal destination for your first trip abroad, then Bali should definitely be at the top of your list! Whether you’re wanting to meet like-minded international volunteers, explore a captivating culture, relax at the beach, or try to get a bargain at the local market, Bali is the location for you! Our teen volunteers in Bali can enjoy convenient travel around Bali in the weekends, cheap tourist activities and some awesome local cuisine. And during your week, you can will be supporting volunteer projects such as Turtle Conservation, Construction and Renovation, or Kindergarten. The IVHQ Bali program offers volunteers a unique insight into the Balinese culture right from day one of the orientation, so you’ll feel right at home and fully prepared for your upcoming volunteering work. If you are after a culturally-rich, exciting and worthwhile volunteer experience, you cannot look past Bali!” - Lena Wurm (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in the Philippines
“On the Philippines Program, teen volunteers can experience the best of volunteering paired with the stunning natural beauty of Palawan Island. The projects are all about making the most of your time abroad. It doesn’t matter if you choose the Kindergarten project, Teaching project, Construction and Renovation project or the Environmental project, the emphasis is on volunteering while enjoying yourself. How can you not when you are literally right on the beach? Downtime can be spent exploring Palawan and weekends island hopping. Volunteering just got a whole lot more exciting and what a great program to begin your IVHQ experience!” - Sean Markham (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Portugal
“Portugal is an awesome country for teens to volunteer abroad in. And, if you’re a first-time traveler the it doesn’t get any better than Lisbon, Portugal. While volunteering in Portugal you can contribute to 5 volunteer projects including a conservation-focused Environmental Scuba Diving project, Food Rescue or Youth Support. The program is based in Lisbon, the capital and largest city in Portugal, making it a great travel hub for heading to other parts of the country on your free weekends.” - Meika Watson-Burrows (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Costa Rica
“Costa Rica is one of the most popular volunteer destinations among our North American travelers. It has an impressive selection of volunteer opportunities and it also provides a very large foundation of energetic and efficient local support, plus a very welcoming network of volunteers in country. With a vast range of wonderful host families, you can be sure that your first volunteer experience or even travel experience is a safe, reliable and enjoyable one. Take advantage of the fantastic Spanish school, Salsa lessons or explore the surrounding rain forests, cloud forests, marine areas, and unique black and grey sand beaches. With a wide range of 12 project options, including Eco Agriculture Conservation, Construction and Renovation and Childcare, this program not only has the potential to spark a passion for exploring new cultures and traveling, but also add some great experience to your CV and start you on your way to a successful career.” - Rachel Ussher(IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Ecuador
“When looking at teen volunteer programs in Ecuador, you have the choice between the [Ecuador - Quito Program](/volunteer-in-ecuador, or the Ecuador - Santa Elena program. Both options offer structured programs and the opportunity to take advantage of private Spanish language lessons (optional) in conjunction with the volunteering schedule. On the Quito program, volunteers are hosted by local families in southern Quito, within close proximity to the program base and city comforts. Expect to remain focused during the week and (if participating for more than the one-week minimum) enjoy long weekends, with ample time to explore the urban attractions of Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage site) or travel further afield to beautiful destinations such as the Galapagos, the Amazon, Los Baños, Mindo, or the beaches of Montañita.” - Grace Stevens (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Sri Lanka
“Sri Lanka is the perfect location for young volunteers. Life in and around Kandy is a mix of traditional Sri Lankan charm with all the modern amenities, friendly people and a local team that is on hand 24/7. Youth volunteers have the opportunity to work in the local community with children and the elderly, or for those with a love for animals, consider the Wild Elephant Conservation project. During your free time, volunteers can check out the local markets and shops, discover the stunning Sri Lankan beaches or take a trip on one of Sri Lanka’s famous rail lines!” - Samantha Piggot (IVHQ Program Manager)
If you are ready to pack your bags and experience a completely different lifestyle, culture and change your perspective then you can find out more about volunteering with IVHQ here