Volunteering Abroad: What to Know Before Helping Internationally

If you're excited at the opportunity to volunteer abroad, here are important things to know and keep in mind before you apply to a program.

Volunteering abroad is an incredible opportunity to make a difference, gain valuable life experience, and even explore a new part of the world. Volunteering abroad can be an excellent option for high school and college students. With the right program, you can gain insights into a new culture and broaden your worldview in ways unimaginable.

However, volunteering abroad is not a decision to be taken lightly. Before you commit to a volunteer abroad program, there are several things you should consider. This article will cover the basics of volunteering abroad, including where to go, the costs involved, choosing a program, a list of top programs, rules and requirements, and possible scholarships. By following our complete guide, you can start embarking on the experience of a lifetime.

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What is Volunteering Abroad?

Volunteering abroad is a great way to make a difference and gain a unique travel experience. It’s an opportunity to learn about a different culture, make new friends, and gain valuable experience and lessons in life.

Additionally, volunteering abroad is a relatively flexible opportunity, meaning that you can explore various programs and paths to find an opportunity to truly thrive and make meaningful connections with those you are helping. Whether you’re looking for a short-term trip or a longer-term commitment, many volunteer abroad programs are available to suit your needs.

What Types of Volunteer Abroad Programs are Available?

Volunteer abroad programs come in many forms, from short-term volunteer trips to longer-term placements. Short-term volunteer trips are great for those looking to gain a unique travel experience and knowledge of a new culture while helping make a difference.

Long-term volunteer program placements are excellent for those looking to gain more experience and make a more significant impact. These placements are more involved and intensive than short-term programs but are incredibly rewarding because of the wealth of opportunities they offer.

Typical volunteer abroad programs include teaching English, working with children, working with animals, building and construction, healthcare, conservation, and working with refugees. Depending on the program, volunteers may be asked to provide basic needs for those in need, such as food, clothing, and shelter, or to help with more complex tasks, such as teaching, building, or providing medical care.

Related Read: Online Volunteering: How and Where to Volunteer Virtually (7+ Ideas!)

How Do I Decide Which Volunteer Abroad Program is Right for Me?

Choosing the right volunteer abroad program can be a daunting task. With the proper knowledge, you can confidently decide which program will suit you best. Below are some factors to keep in mind when selecting a program:

  • What type of volunteer work or program interests you?
  • Are you looking for a short-term or long-term placement?
  • What type of organization or program do you want to work with?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • How far are you willing to travel? (volunteer overseas or neighboring country?)
  • What are your skills and interests?
  • How much time and money do you have to commit to the program?

What Skills Do I Need to Become an International Volunteer?

There is no one-size-fits-all response to this question, as the skills you need will vary depending on your program and the activities you will be participating in. Often, volunteer program organizations won’t require a vast skillset, and you may be able to volunteer without any required skills apart from knowing the native language of your destination country.

Some volunteer programs, however, will select candidates based on skills in a specific field; however, this is typically reserved for programs focusing on medical care where experience is necessary to provide a safe environment. Students without this experience still have a wealth of opportunities when volunteering abroad.

Before applying for a program, consider your skills and how to apply them to various volunteer opportunities. If you love working with children, consider volunteering in a program where you will visit schools and help children learn.

Related Read: Why Volunteer? 5 Great Benefits of Volunteering & Community Service

Deciding Where to Go

The first step in volunteering abroad is deciding where to go. There are volunteer programs in every corner of the globe, from North America to Africa to Asia. Different destinations will provide different experiences, making it essential to consider your primary interests and skills when deciding where to go. For example, if you want to gain medical experience, a program in a developing country may be a great option.

Among the most popular destinations for international volunteerism include the following:

  • Cambodia
  • Thailand
  • Peru
  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • The Philippines
  • Costa Rica
  • Tanzania
  • Nepal
  • Ghana
  • Morocco
  • Myanmar
  • Ecuador
  • Argentina

Additionally, many regions across South Africa, the Middle East, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Australia, and Central America are among the most-visited regions for volunteering abroad.

What Costs are Involved?

Costs can be an essential factor when considering a volunteer abroad program. Most programs require a fee to cover the cost of essentials, including food and housing. Depending on the organization and program, you may be required to donate to the organization.

Additionally, some of the below costs should be considered when deciding on a program:

  • Transportation fees
  • Cost of any necessary visas and immunizations
  • Cost of travel insurance if not provided in the organization’s original package
  • Flight fees, if not covered by the organization
  • Financial penalties if you cancel your trip or end the program early

Ultimately, costs will vary between organizations, making it essential to ask plenty of questions before you decide on a program. Remaining within a specific budget is possible when volunteering abroad. With every organization you consider, inquire about the services included in the volunteer program package, such as room and board, emergency policies, and on-site transportation.

Related Read: 35+ Inspiring Quotes About Volunteering & the Joy of Serving Others

Regulations, Rules, and Standards for Volunteering Abroad

The requirements for volunteering abroad vary depending on the program and organization, but there are some general requirements that all volunteers should be aware of, such as the following:

  • Age: Many volunteer programs require volunteers to be at least 18. Some programs may accept younger volunteers, but they must be accompanied by an adult. If you are a high school student, conduct thorough research to see how to volunteer abroad safely before turning 18.
  • Physical Fitness: Depending on the volunteer work you’ll be doing, you may need to be physically fit and able to cope with long days and challenging environments. This is particularly true for wildlife conservation programs and disaster recovery operations. Getting a physical exam from your doctor and considering your overall physical fitness is essential to ensure you won’t be overwhelmed by physically demanding tasks when volunteering.
  • Language: When volunteering abroad, it is often crucial to understand the language spoken in the country where you’ll be volunteering. Ideally, you will be proficient in the language and able to communicate with the community you’re serving. If you aren’t comfortable communicating in a foreign language, consider volunteering in a predominately English-speaking country. However, there are plenty of volunteer abroad opportunities where only team leaders, local staff, and/or group organizers are required to speak fluently in the local language, but just be sure to know the requirements before applying.
  • Education: Some international volunteer programs require a certain education level, such as a high school diploma or college degree. Check a program for its education requirements before you begin your application.
  • Experience: Depending on your program, you may need some experience in the field you’ll be working in. While many volunteer programs don’t require any experience, you will still benefit from understanding the work you’ll be doing.
  • Cultural Awareness: You should have knowledge of the culture and customs of the country you’ll be visiting. Do thorough research before your trip to ensure you respectfully interact with individuals from different cultures. Without cultural awareness, you risk ostracizing the people you are attempting to serve.
  • Vaccinations: You may need certain vaccinations depending on the country you’ll be visiting. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible to take care of this step in advance.

Along with rules and regulations for volunteering abroad, there are some customs to keep in mind to show respect and kindness toward the individuals whose culture you are volunteering in. For instance, follow the general guidelines below for volunteering internationally:

  • Respect: You must respect the culture, customs, and beliefs of the people in the country where you’ll be volunteering.
  • Safety: Follow all safety protocols and precautions to ensure safety and well-being.
  • Communication: Keep in touch with the organization you’re volunteering with and your family back home.
  • Flexibility: Be willing to adapt to the changing needs of the organization and the people you’re helping.
  • Professionalism: Be professional and courteous at all times.
  • Commitment: Commit to the duration of the program and the work you’ll be doing.
  • Boundaries: Respect the personal boundaries of the people you’ll work with.
  • Reflection: Reflect on your experience and take the time to process your thoughts and feelings.

Related Read: How to Challenge Yourself This Summer: 10 Boredom-Busting Activities

What Programs are Available?

Choosing a volunteering abroad program requires understanding the possible programs available to you. Below is a breakdown of some program options to consider when becoming an international volunteer.

Health and Medical Programs

Volunteer health and medical programs are a fantastic way to make a significant difference for those needing medical attention and without access to quality healthcare. These programs often involve working in underprivileged communities to provide primary medical care, such as vaccinations and essential health education, as well as emergency medical procedures, such as eye surgery. Volunteers may be required to have a background in medicine or healthcare, while other programs are more general and open to all interested volunteers.

Teaching Programs

Volunteer teaching programs offer those looking to volunteer abroad the opportunity to help local communities by teaching core curricula, such as English, math, science, and other subjects. These programs are often located in developing countries, where volunteers can make a big difference in the lives of children and adults who don’t have access to education.

Volunteers can also gain valuable experience in teaching, as well as learning about a new culture and language. For high school and college students pursuing a career as a teacher, these programs are likely most suitable for you and will open up a world of opportunities for your future.

Community Development Programs

Volunteering for a community development program is incredibly rewarding for many young people looking to volunteer internationally. These programs are designed to help communities in developing countries with various issues, from poverty to education and health.

Volunteers for community development programs can participate in various activities, from building homes and schools to providing primary medical care and helping with local businesses. By immersing yourself in a community, you can gain insights into other cultures and genuinely connect with the people you’re helping.

Disaster Relief Programs

International volunteer disaster relief programs are a great way to help those affected by natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis. These programs aid those in need, and volunteers may be crucial in providing relief for individuals struggling to access food, water, and shelter after a natural disaster.

Disaster relief programs are one of the best ways to make an actionable difference in the lives of people in need. Volunteers can participate in rebuilding lost structures and helping communities of people heal from a tragic event.

Refugee Programs

Refugee support programs are a vital way to help those fleeing conflict and persecution. These programs involve providing basic aid, such as food, shelter, and clothing, and helping integrate refugees into their new communities.

Volunteers can offer vital emotional support in refugee camps and settlements and participate in a life-changing program. Refugee volunteers are integral to supporting individuals and families seeking asylum. This program covers a broad range of activities where you can contribute your help to refugees, such as the following:

  • Aiding with education and job training
  • Counseling refugees struggling emotionally
  • Offering first-aid and essential medical services to refugee communities
  • Handling vital resources for communities

Conservation Programs

Environmentalists can consider volunteering abroad for a conservation program to make a difference in the global ecosystem. There are various opportunities to volunteer internationally in countries struggling with environmental dangers, from water pollution and marine conservation to forest preservation and deforesting. If you are passionate about protecting the environment and want to volunteer somewhere where you can help combat climate change, then a conservation program is right up your alley.

Social Work Programs

International social work programs are a great way to help vulnerable populations, such as the homeless or those affected by poverty. Volunteers can work as a team to support struggling individuals by providing essential services, including counseling, education, community work, or fundraising.

Social work programs are gratifying and significantly impact communities and individuals struggling with their living conditions. If you’re interested in the social work field, then this program is for you–however, anyone that partakes in this program will gain valuable skills from experience.

English Speaking Programs

Programs to help children and adults learn English offer volunteers an excellent way to help those in need while learning about a new culture. English-speaking volunteer programs typically take place in schools and involve various activities, from creating lesson plans to providing guidance and aiding students in speaking and understanding English.

As the most spoken language worldwide, this arena has no shortage of opportunities. If you’re confident in your English speaking skills and fluent in the native language of your destination country, you will gain crucial experience from this program.

Related Read: Online Communities: Best 25 to Join for Students and Young Professionals

How Can I Choose a Program and Become a Volunteer?

Given the massive array of programs available for students looking to volunteer abroad, choosing one that speaks to you is inevitably challenging. After you’ve narrowed down your list of volunteer programs that pique your interest, it’s time to start researching. Below is a step-by-step breakdown of how to choose a program to become an international volunteer.

Step One: Consider Your Goals and Budget

After selecting a handful of programs, you are considering pursuing, consider your goals and budget. Depending on these factors, you may find it easier to decide on a program.

Ask yourself what you want to get from the volunteering experience and how much you will spend. Some volunteer abroad programs can be expensive, so having a realistic budget in mind is essential before you start applying.

Also, consider the duration of the program. Some volunteer abroad programs are short-term, while others are long-term. Short-term volunteer abroad programs can be a great way to get a taste of international volunteering without committing to a long-term commitment. Long-term programs are a great way to gain in-depth experience but require more commitment and planning.

Step Two: Prepare Your Documents

The next step is ensuring you have all the necessary documents to apply for a volunteer abroad program. Depending on the program, you may need a valid passport, visa, proof of vaccinations, and/or a background check. If you’re applying for a program in a non-English-speaking country, you may also need to provide proof of language proficiency.

Step Three: Apply for the Program

Once you’ve identified a volunteer abroad program that interests you and gathered all the necessary documents, the next step is to apply. Most volunteer abroad programs have an online application that you can access easily. Submit any supporting documents and letters of recommendation if required.

Ensure you apply before the deadline–the earlier you begin the process, the better. By applying earlier, you can avoid any time crunches if you run into issues or have questions about the application.

Step Four: Follow-Up

After you’ve submitted your application and some time has passed, you can follow up with the organization for status updates. Because of how important volunteer work is for vulnerable populations and because of the massive pool of individuals interested in volunteering abroad, the selection process is often lengthy. Be patient and maintain contact with the organization regularly–but avoid spamming.

Step Five: Prepare for Your Trip

If your application is accepted, give yourself a pat on the back! You can now begin preparing for your trip–again, the earlier, the better. Research and familiarize yourself with the country and culture you’ll be visiting, and bring all the necessary supplies and equipment you’ll need for the duration of your program.

It’s natural for anyone to stress during the packing process, regardless of the purpose of your trip. To help you out, go through the list of essentials below when packing to avoid sticky situations when you arrive at your destination.

  • Soap and shampoo
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Contact lenses
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Painkillers
  • Ointment and repellant for destinations with high mosquito populations
  • Bandages
  • Prescription glasses
  • Medications
  • Hairbrush and hair ties
  • Face and body lotion
  • Laundry detergent
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Flight tickets and schedule
  • Photocopies of crucial documents, including your passport and ticket
  • Vaccination card
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Portable battery
  • Contact information and addresses for your program
  • Numbers to block your credit cards
  • International insurance card

Depending on the program and the activities you’ll be doing, you may need additional supplies. For instance, if you’re volunteering in an outdoor work-intensive environment, you’ll want to bring clothes suitable for your work. Ensure you have all the necessary supplies and equipment you’ll need for the duration of your program.

Step Six: Enjoy the Experience

The last step is to enjoy your volunteer abroad experience! This is your opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of communities in need and to gain a unique international experience. Make sure you take the time to explore the local culture and make the most out of your time volunteering abroad.

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Which Volunteer Organizations Will Let Me Volunteer Abroad?

There are numerous international volunteer organizations that you can work with to get started on this exciting journey and rewarding experience. Some of the most notable international volunteer organizations include the following for high school students:

  • ARCC Volunteer Programs
  • Projects Abroad
  • Carpe Diem Education
  • Global Works
  • International Volunteer HQ
  • VISIONS Service Adventures
  • The Experiment in International Living

For college students, consider some of the following organizations for your volunteering abroad program:

  • GoEco
  • African Impact
  • ALIORE Worldwide
  • International Volunteers HQ
  • Volunteers for Peace
  • ImpacTrip
  • Give and Surf
  • ELI Abroad


Several scholarship opportunities are available if you want to reduce the cost of your volunteer abroad experience (e.g., program fee, airfare, room and board). Organizations such as the Peace Corps and Rotary International offer volunteer grants and awards, and many universities also offer scholarships for students interested in volunteering abroad.

Additionally, platforms like Goodwall are vital for students seeking volunteer scholarships and support to begin their international volunteer journey.

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Volunteering abroad is an incredible opportunity to make a difference, gain valuable life experience, and even explore a new part of the world. Joining a volunteer organization abroad can be a fantastic option for high school and college students, certain to be a defining experience that will shape your professional life.

However, finding the right program and affording the trip is a significant stressor for many students who want to embark on one of the most valuable experiences of their lives. Services like Goodwall can help you navigate this issue efficiently. Goodwall connects students with scholarships and opportunities to help people change the world one step at a time.

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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