How to volunteer abroad for less

Other | Friday 16th February 2018 |

If you have ever done a search online for ‘volunteer abroad’ you will know how it can be eye-wateringly expensive. It can come as a surprise when you consider you are giving up your time to help others. Typical programme fees are £595 to £1500 which will almost always exclude the cost of your flight there.

Most of these costs go towards online advertising and office staff, add to this the typical charge of the placement providers for these organisations will be in the region of £150 - £400 per week so these volunteer organisations are not really in a position to lower the costs much.

However, we have some tips on ways to hang on to your cash whilst having quite possibly one of most memorable time of your life helping others abroad

Choose Cheap Destinations

 Volunteering in any country in Asia will induce far less financial strain than, say volunteering in Florida. Even when your programme includes meals you will still have time to explore. In Asia, a weekend beach hostel and meals can be as little as £5 a night, whilst in Australia, you may need £40 a day on your days off. For four weekends in Asia, you would only need £40 compared to £320 in Australia.

And if your volunteering doesn’t work out or you make friends and want to travel instead, best to be in a cheap country than an expensive one. No one wants to change flights and return home early because living costs are bankrupting you! 

Volunteer Flexibly As You Travel

Just like in the UK, many charities and organisations in towns and cities around the world are in need of extra pairs of hands. Arranging volunteering as you travel is ideally suited to confident personalities or anyone wanting to challenge themselves and get out of their comfort zone. 

Talk to hostel owners, shop owners and people anywhere about local charities in need. Do a search online to pull up local results. Don’t speak the local language? Use the Google translate tool, great for writing introductory emails and texts. If your tourist visa does not allow volunteering, keep your volunteering casual, non-committal and informal so you don’t get in trouble. A few random hours a week should not upset anyone, after all, even hotel package tourists these days join day trips to charities to help out for a few hours.

Going Direct

A quick search online for ‘free’ and ‘low cost’ volunteering will give you a number of website databases of people, charities and businesses looking for unpaid help. This is the easiest way to find a host.

Every conceivable type of volunteer activity is available from bar work at backpacker hostels in paradisiacal locations to sheep shearing in the Aussie outback. Traditional volunteering opportunities include au-pair work, teaching English and helping on farms and animal sanctuaries.

You may need to make your own way to your hosts though, most expect their volunteers to be a little more independent. Popular sites include Workaway and HelpX.

Using an Organisation

Volunteer-sending organisations can take the headache out of going direct. You can make use of the organisation’s contact centre staff right up to travel for all the advice you need. They will usually arrange your airport pick up on arrival and put you in touch with others travelling at the same time. They may also be able to pair you up with another volunteer so you can fly together. And if things don’t work out an organisation provides that little extra bit of reassurance.

Low-cost volunteer-sending organisations are hard to find due to the costs of advertising these days so do be prepared to scroll through a page or two of results and contact a few before making your final decision.

If you are considering a more expensive programme, it is worth considering a longer stay to stay on budget. Even a programme charging hundreds of pounds per week may reduce their fees to a modest hundred or so if you have a few months spare.