Zero risk booking! Free changes & full refund options

The Ultimate Guide to doing an Internship vs Volunteering Abroad

Internship vs volunteering

Internship vs volunteering: Which one is right for you?

You’re approaching your break period and there are hundreds of options available to travel abroad and further your life experience and career prospects. You know you want to travel and you’d love to mix that with a relevant learning experience, but the problem is, it can be hard to differentiate which opportunity is right for you. Like, am I better to intern or volunteer abroad? And, what’s the difference between the two?

IVHQ specializes in providing top-rated, affordable volunteer programs all over the world, while our sister company, IAHQ, coordinates internships that are relevant to a career or field of study. Together, we’ve teamed up to provide you with a comprehensive guide on taking an internship abroad vs volunteering abroad. You might just be surprised which one is right for you…

What is Volunteering Abroad?

Volunteering comes in many different forms. We are all familiar with lending a hand within our school or sports club. There are consistent mutual benefits that are exchanged - all adding up to create a better community and a better you. Volunteering abroad is no different, you’re just adding to the experience by going global. You’ll have the opportunity to understand and collaborate across cultures, languages and ways of thinking to develop your global fluency.

As an IVHQ volunteer, you’ll also work with local teams on volunteer projects that have a long-term community focus. This allows you to make a positive impact, whether you volunteer for six months or for short and immersive programs for as little as one week.

Internship vs volunteering - construction

As a volunteer what will I end up doing?

So why would you choose to volunteer abroad? No matter your life situation or experience, volunteering abroad allows you to take your skills into a community and contribute to projects that require extra support. The best part about it is the shared exchange that takes place. Working in a foreign community allows you to expand your perspective on the world, learn from others and do your part to give back at the same time.

You choose the location and the general project you want to commit to, and IVHQ streamlines the process by placing you on the community project where you are needed most. Because of this community focus you can either choose your volunteer trip based on a destination you want to explore or filter your options by the type of volunteer work you want to take part in. Here you can explore more than 15 skill-based project types or 40+ countries around the world.

Living abroad as a volunteer

As a volunteer, you’ll be fully supported before, during and after your trip abroad. When you apply for an IVHQ volunteer program, you’ll be connected with your personal Program Manager, who is an expert in the country you’ve chosen to volunteer in. They’re on hand to help with every aspect of your preparation and can help to answer any questions you have.

The moment you step off the plane, one of our local team members will be there to pick you up from the airport and take you to your accommodation, which consists of volunteer-style hostels or local homestays (depending on the destination you volunteer abroad in). While you’re away, you’ll be supported by the local coordinator and placement staff. Our in-country staff are all local, so they’re super helpful when it comes to planning adventures in your home away from home.

Internship vs volunteering - living abroad

What are the key benefits of volunteering?

  • Helping on a positive community-driven project
  • Global connection
  • Hands-on experience
  • Collective involvement
  • Personal growth

What services are available with IVHQ?

  • One week minimum time commitment
  • More than 50 destinations
  • More than 15 skill and career based options
  • Fees from US$180
  • Tailored pre-departure support
  • Included accommodation - some meals* - transport
  • Weekend travel and experience add-ons

*Dependent on destination

Internship vs volunteering - placement

What is an Internship Abroad?

When you think of a traditional internship, you might think of being office-bound and working 9-5 within the confines of your hometown, while juggling all your regular responsibilities on the side. Enter the wonderful world of an internship abroad. This is the opportunity to experience relevant and goal-oriented opportunities in an international setting, which builds your cultural intelligence, global network, employability and even foreign language proficiency. You get all of this while enjoying the incredible opportunity to explore the world around you.

What kind of internship can I take abroad?

Taking an internship abroad may sound daunting, but it’s easier than you think. IAHQ simplifies the process and provides you with all the support you need to secure your customized internship placement. This is based on the wide range of career field options that Intern Abroad HQ has available. Throughout your internship, you’ll also remain supported by IAHQ. Internships are focused on soft-skill development, so they include an academic experiential learning framework. This covers weekly guided reflections, with themes, objectives and skills that relate back to your career focus.

Internship vs volunteering - medical

Living abroad as an intern

Once you’re in-country, your internship program includes your accommodation (in homestays or share houses with other interns). You’re supported day-to-day by your internship coordinator, supervisor, and other on-the-ground team members who provide you with friendly ongoing guidance, plus help with scheduling extras such as tourism excursions or language lessons.

What are the key benefits of an internship?

  • Career readiness
  • Global networks
  • Cultural intelligence
  • Professional growth

What services are available with IAHQ?

  • Two week minimum time commitment
  • More than 10 country options
  • More than 20 career focused fields
  • Fees from US$545
  • Tailored pre-departure support
  • Guided reflection work
  • Accommodation - some meals* - transport

*Varies between destinations

What’s the difference between internship and volunteer opportunities?

Internship vs volunteering - volunteer

Internship vs volunteering - internship

Directly comparing a volunteer program to an internship

So what exactly does the above mean? Let’s contrast a popular volunteering program with a popular internship destination. That way you can see how your time abroad would vary.

Healthcare volunteering in Tanzania

  • Start Date: 1st and 15th Monday of each month - year round
  • Minimum Duration: One week
  • Registration + Program Fee: Starting from US$649
  • Inclusions: Airport pick up, orientation, meals, accommodation
  • Optional Additions: Tours

Weekly structure and requirements:

  • 2nd year medical students and above
  • 15+ hours a week volunteering
  • Shadowing local doctors
  • Work based in clinics and hospitals
  • Hands-on work determined by level of study

Medical internship in Tanzania

  • Start Date: Starts every Monday - year round
  • Minimum Duration: Two weeks
  • Registration + Program Fee: Starting from US$909
  • Inclusions: Learning Support Service, airport pick-up, orientation, meals, accommodation
  • Optional Additions: Language lessons and tours

Weekly structure and requirements:

  • 2nd year medical student and above
  • 25+ hours a week interning with experiential learning curriculum
  • Specialized department placement
  • Shadowing local doctors and nurses
  • Work based in clinics and hospitals
  • Hands-on work determined by level of study

Internship vs volunteering

Do I have the option to volunteer and intern abroad?

Yes, you can do both. The option is completely up to you! Some people will take an internship and others will volunteer. The opportunity is also there to take part in both.

It’s the subtle difference in focus that separates an internship from volunteering, but there are some consistent benefits that are shared.


  • Cultural immersion
  • Personal and career growth opportunities
  • Flexible time commitments
  • Affordable options
  • Dedicated expert support
  • Proven safety record
  • Global community


So should I intern or volunteer?

If you’re looking to take an experience that primarily focuses on career development and exposure to your professional field, with the potential to gain credit or broaden your skills then an internship is best for you.

If you’re looking to gain life experience in a less formal environment, while being immersed in a new culture, surrounded by like-minded individuals set on self discovery and giving back, then volunteering is your best option.

For some it can be clear cut what direction they’re looking to go down. For others it can be one in the same, so there is no wrong decision in picking one over the other.

All this information is great! Now what?

If you’re thinking volunteering abroad is right for you, get in touch with our travel experts:

If an internship abroad is in your future, contact our internship experts:

You can also discover the full range of short term volunteer abroad programs with IVHQ, or apply today to take a meaningful volunteer trip with IVHQ.

How to get started

Pick a destination + project and apply for free
Meet your personal volunteer travel expert
Pay the Registration Fee to secure your place and upgrade your MyIVHQ account
Get ready to volunteer abroad, we’ll support you every step of the way!