What to Know before Choosing an International Volunteer Opportunity

volunteerMany of us who grew up in wealthier countries–where governments are stable, basic human needs are met and opportunity for prosperity is abundant– feel compelled to contribute to the betterment of people who were not born into such fortunate circumstances. There is no shortage of organizations, and volunteer programs, offering you the chance to travel to a foreign country to take part in projects that will help advance a good cause. So, the hard part is not finding the opportunity to help, but choosing which opportunity to pursue. Here are some important considerations for volunteering abroad to ensure you get the most out of the experience.

What Are Your Goals and Expectations?

Clearly defining goals and expectations is an important first step in finding the right volunteer opportunity. How long are you able to volunteer? Do you want to work independently or do you prefer a group? Do you want to arrange a trip through an organization or do you prefer to contact programs directly to arrange a volunteer stint? How much immersion into the local culture do you want? What do you hope to get out of the experience? What type of work is most desirable?

Logistical Considerations

Volunteer opportunities can range from anywhere from completely rural areas to the middle of cities, close to a variety of conveniences, such as supermarkets and internet cafes. You need to think carefully about what type of environment you are best suited for. This is especially important if you will be volunteering long-term. What type of climate do you prefer? Weather considerations are especially important if you will be relying on a bicycle or your own two feet to get you from point A to B. Some volunteer opportunities will provide basic accommodations such as a hostel-style dorm room where you are sharing the space with others, while some may set you up with a local family. What situation is most ideal for you? Do you need more privacy or are you okay with being in close quarters with others?


Many volunteer projects do not require participants to have any specific skills—all they want are people with an open heart, an open mind and enthusiasm for the cause. But, with that being said, you should still carefully consider the nature of each program and what you will be doing. Is it something you think you would be good at? Is it something that you actually want to spend your time doing? Do you think you will be able to make any real contribution to the cause?

If you do have a special skill set, you can probably do the greatest amount of good volunteering by seeking out programs that need people that can do what you do. If your motivation to volunteer is driven by the desire to acquire knowledge and skills that would serve you well in your current career path, or a new one you hope to carve out, look for opportunities that will provide the most hands-on experience.


Volunteering abroad can be expensive; placement organizations have to pay for staff and other overhead costs; organizations rely on the fees to fund their programs. Unless you are planning on hopping on a plane and hoping to find a free opportunity when you are already in the country, you will likely be paying a nice chunk of change for the experience. To make apples to apples comparisons between programs, make sure you have a full understanding of what the program fee entails for each organization you look at. Do costs include airfare or medical insurance? Are meals included or are you responsible for your own? Is accommodation covered? How much of the fee is going to program you are volunteering for or the local community? What sort of in-country support is provided and is this assistance included in the quoted fee or extra?

Kelli Cooper enjoys blogging about volunteering and charitable works; if you a interested in learning more about issues that are affecting people worldwide and those who are helping advance human rights and betterment, check out the John Studzinski‘s profile and other interesting information from Human Rights Watch.

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