Can you volunteer abroad for free? Sort of.
Updated July 14, 2021 –
The short answer is, if you’re looking at a program that seems too good to be true—it probably is. There are very few opportunities to truly volunteer abroad for free. That Google search result for “Volunteer for free in a new country!” probably includes at least a few hidden (or not so hidden) fees. Traveling often means incurring expenses for transportation, housing, and food at the very least.
Trustworthy organizations that charge an administrative or program fee use that money to operate their programs for volunteers—providing those things like transportation, housing, food—while ensuring that they’re positively impacting the communities they’re working in. These program fees are actually critical to supporting any organization’s operations abroad, because they cover the costs associated with hosting volunteers, which frees up more resources for their local work or causes. It’s important to make sure you’re supporting an organization that isn’t exploiting you or the local communities they work with.
The good news is that there are ways to volunteer abroad for “free” to you (the volunteer). Two words: scholarships and fundraising. Read on to find out more about the costs associated with volunteering abroad, and how to make it work for you!
So, what does it actually cost to volunteer abroad? Well, it’s going to be different from program to program.
The first thing to look at is what the program fee includes. At AMIGOS, your program fee covers all in-country expenses: transportation, food, housing, activities, supplies, excursions, and any potential medical expenses incurred on our programs. Expenses like personal travel souvenirs are not included. Some organizations also have optional weekend excursions or activities that may not be included in the program fee—or might even charge extra for accommodation! Always make sure to read the fine print.
At AMIGOS, our program fees can be found here.
Alright, you’re set on volunteering, but how are you going to afford that program fee?
Usually, scholarships and grants are available from the organization you’re volunteering with, as well as outside sources.
At AMIGOS, when you submit your application, you can also apply for financial assistance. We believe that every young person should have the opportunity to volunteer abroad, and have ample financial resources to provide assistance. Do not let the program cost be the reason you hold back from submitting an application! (We also have application fee waivers if you qualify—you can email [email protected] for more information!)
In addition, some of our programs have special scholarships you can apply for. On our Colorado: Western Slope Project, we have an opportunity to apply for the Centennial Award, which provides additional funding for students who are passionate about service and conservation.
Outside scholarships and resources are also available, especially to students looking to volunteer abroad. This search engine resource from GoAbroad is a great place to start looking.
Fundraising and crowdsourcing is another way volunteers can raise money to cover their program fee or volunteer costs. This has become a popular way for students to raise money for their trips, and there are a lot of platforms to do so! A successful fundraising campaign can mean the difference between paying thousands of dollars to volunteer abroad, and paying next to nothing!
AMIGOS staff will provide you a fundraising toolkit once you’re accepted to our programs. You can create a page on amigosfundraising.org and we’ll guide you through the process! The average AMIGOS volunteer raises at least $2,000 toward their program fee.
Other platforms you can use include:
- Facebook Fundraisers
- Your personal social media
As we mentioned, a reputable organization actually needs to charge a program fee in order to host volunteers while maintaining a positive impact on the communities they are working with.
Additionally, it’s critical that organizations are working alongside local communities, to ensure that volunteers aren’t taking resources or jobs away from the host community or country’s economy. Volunteers can be an incredibly valuable resource to local communities, just make sure you’re working with an organization that you trust!
A great question to ask providers is what your program fee is paying for. If you’re going to spend your time and money on a volunteer abroad program, you’ll want to make sure that your investment is actually benefitting the places you visit. Reputable programs will be upfront about what their fees cover (and what they don’t!) and how they support local communities.
AMIGOS is a nonprofit organization, which means that the fees we charge are reinvested into our programs. Approximately 80% of each dollar raised by AMIGOS goes directly to cover the cost of our programs. Program expenses include room & board, training materials and workshops, supervision of volunteers, a 24/7 On-Call Safety Team, planning and management of the projects, financial assistance, Latin American youth participants, and supplies for volunteers’ community service activities. The other 20% covers the cost to run our organization, including insurance, staff, and our office.
In short, volunteering for “free” isn’t the most feasible possibility. While prices may seem high at first, there are ways to limit your costs and to raise funds to cover any program fee. The impact on yourself and the communities you work with will be worth the investment in the end.