Want to change the world? Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer could enable you to do just that!
Established in 1961, the Peace Corps assists with social and economic development overseas, as well as promotes mutual understanding, peace, and friendship between Americans and people around the world. By volunteering with the Peace Corps, you can immerse yourself in a community abroad and cooperate with local leaders to solve the most pressing challenges.
If you’re not familiar with the process to become a Peace Corps volunteer, it helps to take time to learn how it works and how you can get accepted for a position. If possible, you should talk with the Peace Corps and past Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) to get a better idea of what the experience is like. Reading articles online, like this one, also helps!
In this guide, we’ll cover all you need to know about volunteering with the Peace Corps. We’ll go over where you could volunteer and the types of assignments you could take. Additionally, we’ll detail any skills, education, and experience you may need, as well as provide tips for the Peace Corps volunteer application process.
Furthermore, since the Peace Corps doesn’t suit everyone, and not all applicants get offered an assignment, we’ll provide some great alternatives, such as volunteering with Plan My Gap Year, Maximo Nivel, and Love Volunteers.
What is the Peace Corps?
The Peace Corps has a mission to promote world peace and friendship and assist with social and economic development. The agency does this through education, community, healthcare, agriculture, and environmental initiatives. Peace Corps volunteers work for the world and create bonds between Americans and the communities abroad that they serve.
While the volunteer abroad organizations you read about on Volunteer Forever are non-governmental organizations, charities, and nonprofits, the Peace Corps is a volunteer program overseen by the United States government. The Peace Corps began in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy issued a call to action to the country: Serve your nation and contribute to peace by working and living in the developing world.
President Kennedy first issued that call at the University of Michigan. Though the speech didn’t go long, the idea captivated the imagination of the country. And the Peace Corps received enthusiastic support from the beginning.
Since 1961, Peace Corps volunteers have displayed ingenuity, empathy, and grit as they’ve worked on solving the most critical issues. To date, more than 240,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served across 142 countries, from Ghana to Cambodia to Ecuador.
What countries does the Peace Corps serve?
You can serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in many countries around the world. Currently, more than 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers are serving across 61 countries. 45% of Peace Corps volunteers serve in countries in Africa. The next most common destinations are countries in Central and South America (19%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (13%), and Asia (12%). You’ll also find Peace Corps roles in the Pacific in countries like Fiji and in North Africa and the Middle East in countries like Morocco.
In 2020, the countries with the most Peace Corps volunteers include:
In each country, Peace Corps volunteers help society meet their need for trained women and men. They promote a better understanding of Americans among locals, as well as gain a better understanding of the local culture and people. This is why the Peace Corps is crucial to maintaining positive relations between America and countries around the globe.
Many top Peace Corps countries are ones on our list of the best places to volunteer abroad. These include amazing destinations like Costa Rica, Thailand, and South Africa. As you can see, when you volunteer with the Peace Corps, you can do good, learn about another culture, and have the time of your life!
Note: The countries that the Peace Corps serves change from time to time. When you apply to the Peace Corps, check the updated list of countries. Volunteer programs may stop in some countries each year and begin in others.
If you’d like to volunteer in a certain country and find that the Peace Corps doesn’t have openings there, check our guidebooks for other volunteer opportunities in that country. Whether you want to volunteer in Madagascar or volunteer in Argentina, we have programs to recommend for you!
Who can join the Peace Corps?
To join the Peace Corps, you must meet two mandatory requirements. You must:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be 18 years or older
For Peace Corps volunteer roles, you also must be able to commit to 27 months of service. Assignments first involve three months of training in-country. After training, you’re placed on a two-year assignment abroad.
If you can’t commit that much time, you could serve as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. This is a specialized short-term role that requires more experience and skills than standard volunteer positions. Service time is 3-12 months.
Frequently asked questions people have about Peace Corps requirements include:
- Is the Peace Corps only for American citizens?
- How old do you have to be to join the Peace Corps?
- Do you need a college degree to join the Peace Corps?
- Do I need to speak a foreign language?
- Is there an age limit to joining the Peace Corps?
You don’t need a college degree, though having a degree will enable you to qualify for more Peace Corps positions (and therefore get you an assignment more quickly). Similarly, speaking a foreign language isn’t mandatory, but will open up more opportunities for you, as certain roles require the ability to speak Spanish, Arabic, French, or another language.
Moreover, the Peace Corps aims to have a volunteer force that reflects the diversity of the United States. Men and women from a variety of races, ethnic groups, religions, and sexual orientations serve in the Peace Corps. Minorities make up 34% of the volunteer force. This enables the agency to bring diverse perspectives and solutions to issues developing countries face.
Additionally, while many think of Peace Corps volunteering as being geared towards the youth, understand opportunities for all age groups exist. There is no upper age limit. In fact, around 5% of Peace Corps volunteers are over the age of 50.
By the way, if you’re 50 or older, know an abundance of volunteer abroad opportunities are available to you. Read our guide on volunteer abroad opportunities for seniors and retirees.
Since the Peace Corps has two mandatory requirements (you must be 18 and a U.S. citizen), as well as requires a long-term commitment, many folks simply can’t join. Don’t get dismayed about that. You have alternatives to the Peace Corps.
For instance, you could volunteer with the United Nations if you’re a citizen of another country. You could also volunteer with non-governmental volunteer abroad organizations. Organizations such as Plan My Gap Year and Maximo Nivel have both short- and long-term volunteer opportunities that are similar to Peace Corps assignments.
Or, if you’re still in high school, you could volunteer with an organization that has programs for teens. Projects Abroad, an organization that’s sent more than 125,000 volunteers overseas, has many high school volunteer programs abroad, from childcare volunteering in Nepal to public health internships in Mexico.
What do Peace Corps volunteers do?
Peace Corps volunteers address the most critical problems communities face. For their assignments, Peace Corps volunteers join one of six project sectors:
- Healthcare: Get people the medical services they need
- Education: Teach lessons that will benefit students for a lifetime
- Agriculture: Lead grassroots farming projects and end hunger!
- Community Development: Build strong, sustainable communities
- Environment: Protect the planet and build a greener future
- Youth Development: Empower the next generation.
What you do specifically depends on the needs of the host country and your skills and experience. If you have a background in healthcare, you could fight to end HIV/AIDS. If you graduated with a degree in education, you could teach digital literacy to local youth. Or if you’ve worked in a science-related field, you may take an assignment to manage natural resources.
Going through the list of current openings is a good way to understand what Peace Corps volunteers do. Here are a few examples of the types of jobs Peace Corps volunteers do:
- Community Health Educator in The Gambia
- Main tasks: Raise awareness for preventing malaria, educate community members on neonatal and children’s health, and teach youth health and life skills
- English Teacher in Myanmar
- Main tasks: Support local English teachers, lead activities that promote English language education (like English clubs), and run lessons that encourage using English (such as speech competitions)
- Rural Agricultural Development Facilitator in Guatemala
- Main tasks: Promote more efficient farming production techniques, reduce the use of harmful pesticides, improve the allocation of resources to rural farmers, and enhance the delivery of produce to communities
Whether you’re a recent graduate or mid-career professional, the Peace Corps has volunteer positions to suit you. The Peace Corps can be your bridge towards a career in a certain industry, or a continuation of your life’s work. Sharpen your skills in your field, or take on a new challenge and build your skillset.
Before you apply for a position with the Peace Corps, make sure you meet the requirements, especially the education, language, and experience requirements. You should also make sure the assignment suits you. The Peace Corps is a long-term commitment, and you don’t want to agree to a role that doesn’t suit you. After all, you want to get the most out of the experience.
A good way to see what you’ll enjoy is to volunteer on a short-term project before joining the Peace Corps. For example, through Love Volunteers, an organization known for affordable and impactful service initiatives, you can volunteer for one to two weeks on projects similar to what you’ll find with the Peace Corps. From education support in India to women’s empowerment in Colombia, Love Volunteers offers you many different ways to do good.
Why join the Peace Corps?
Because you can change the world! Peace Corps volunteers enact positive change by promoting peace and friendship. The work of Peace Corps volunteers moves societies towards a brighter future. PCVs help expand access to education and healthcare, develop the next generation of leaders, improve food production, and boost environmental conservation,
If you have a passion for serving others and uplifting those who need it most, volunteering with the Peace Corps will bring you great personal satisfaction. You not only get to help people, but you also get to learn about other peoples and cultures. This will enable you to develop as a person in amazing ways.
Dr. Russell E. Morgan Jr., a former PCV, sums up his experience well:
“My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer was the most important transformational moment in my life, particularly because it provided me with a foundation for my career. Peace Corps service transforms both the volunteer and the community members they serve.”
As Dr. Morgan Jr. notes, volunteering with the Peace Corps benefits both you and the community you serve. The experience also has its professional benefits.
Since you’ll most likely serve in a field related to your education and expertise, your Peace Corps assignment gives you a wonderful opportunity to hone your skills, increase your knowledge, and gain experience working in a cross-cultural setting. You also can improve those important soft skills, such as communication, listening, and empathy. The experience may even help you figure out what you want to do for your next step in life.
Simply put, volunteering with the Peace Corps will make you a much more attractive candidate in your field. That experience gives you two things to put on your resume that employers value: international experience and volunteerism.
As the Association for Talent Development attests, employers like volunteer experience because skills-based volunteering builds leadership capabilities and shows passion and commitment to a cause. And as an article by Global Vision International (GVI) notes, 60% of companies value international experience as it demonstrates an ability to work across cultures, learn and adapt, and solve problems in different ways.
How does the Peace Corps application process work?
Before you begin the Peace Corps application process, make sure you meet the minimum requirements: You must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen.
Now, let’s go over the Peace Corps application process.
1. Select Your Application Route
When you apply to the Peace Corps, you can take one of two routes:
A. Apply directly to a current opening
Search the list of current openings. Apply to the one that best suits your interests, skills, and/or location preferences.
Why should you choose this option:
- You want to volunteer in a specific country, such as Mongolia.
- You have a specific skill-set that’s a great fit for a PCV role (i.e. you have a Master’s degree in Agriculture, so you apply for a volunteer position in agriculture).
- You want to gain more experience in a certain sector, such as education or environmental science.
B. Apply to go anywhere
This puts you into consideration for many Peace Corps positions around the globe. With this route, you can indicate preferences for the project sector and location. This increases the likelihood you’ll get assigned a role that aligns with your interests and goals.
If you choose this route, the Peace Corps provides you a timeframe for deployment. It’s usually within a range of nine months, with the earliest departure date a little more than three months from when you apply.
Why should you choose this option:
- You want to get an assignment more quickly. With the first option, you can only apply to one assignment at a time. If you don’t get accepted to the first one or two, you may find the process taking months before even getting selected for an interview. It could take a year or more to even get an invitation.
- You’re flexible and just want to join the Peace Corps.
- You’re willing to volunteer anywhere you’re needed.
Note: Once you choose your route, apply. You’ll have to provide medical information, including immunizations, history, current conditions, and ongoing treatment. This is necessary because you must obtain medical clearance to deploy to the host country.
2. Fill out the Application
The Peace Corps application takes around one to two hours. The Peace Corps application will ask about:
- Your personal and contact information (this even includes financials like student loan obligations)
- Your education, work experience, volunteer history, and relevant activities and qualifications
Required documents include:
- Your resume (1-3 pages)
- A short essay detailing your motivation for serving and reasons for applying
- Three references, such as work manager, college professor, or volunteer supervisor
- Proof of foreign language skills, such as proficiency exam results or an official transcript of college coursework
3. Wait for the Interview
If you qualify for a position, the Peace Corps will contact you to set up an interview via videoconference. Wear professional business casual attire
The Peace Corps gives you the interview questions in advance, so prepare well! Do a mock interview with a friend or colleague to sharpen your interview skills and make you more confident.
In general, expect questions about your motivations for serving and reasons why you chose a specific sector or location. You can also expect questions about international experiences, cross-cultural work and study experiences, times you’ve faced challenges (and how you dealt with it), and how you would adapt to certain situations, like living without electricity or inability to access one’s own religious services.
4. Wait for the Invitation
If you do well in the interview, you’ll get a formal invitation with your departure date. When you accept that invitation, you’ll begin the pre-departure process.
5. Get Medical and Legal Clearance
You must get a medical review so the Peace Corps can determine if they can take care of your needs while you’re abroad. You may have to schedule a follow-up appointment with your primary care provider, so allow time for that.
You also need legal clearance. Immediately complete the fingerprint cards you received in the mail after accepting your invitation. The background check can take weeks to several months, so don’t delay.
Additionally, you have to apply for a Peace Corps passport. You possibly need to obtain a visa for your host country, so do that right away.
6. Complete the Onboarding Process
You’ll have to complete online forms two months before departure. The Peace Corps needs things like banking and emergency contact information. If you have student loans, the Peace Corps will also give you a letter to give your lender, certifying your upcoming volunteer assignment.
One month before you go, you’ll watch training videos. This will set expectations and prepare you mentally for your time abroad.
You’ll meet up with fellow Peace Corps volunteers before you hop on the plane. Bon voyage!
Tips for Getting Accepting to the Peace Corps
Before applying, Peace Corps recommends talking with a recruiter so you can understand the application process and volunteer experience better. Applicants that connect with a recruiter have a 55% better chance on average to become a Peace Corps volunteer.
The application is obviously vital to getting an interview. Take it seriously.
If you’re applying to a specific role, emphasize your sector-specific experience. For instance, if you apply to an English teaching position, highlighting that part-time ESL tutor job you held during college will look good on your resume.
You should also emphasize skills that the Peace Corps values, such as:
- Proficiency in a foreign language: Know French, Chinese, Spanish, or another language? Show it off on your resume. Don’t know another language? Then take a language course and enhance your CV.
- Cross-cultural awareness: Have you studied abroad or worked in a multicultural environment? Make sure that’s on your resume.
- Skills in a project sector: Any education or work experience in teaching, agriculture, community development, or science helps.
- Adaptability and problem-solving skills: Your resume should detail your ability to adapt to tough situations and solve problems.
- A passion for volunteerism: Past volunteer experience helps a lot. If you don’t have it, go do something in your hometown or register for a volunteer abroad trip. See our list of affordable volunteer projects here.
In the essay, discuss your cross-cultural experience, commitment to certain causes, and how you would overcome obstacles while serving. Volunteering with the Peace Corps is challenging and doesn’t suit everyone. Prove that you have what it takes to succeed.
You should also research your country of consideration before interviewing. You want to demonstrate you’re serious about working with that community. Your knowledge of the country and local culture will show that.
Finally, apply early and be flexible. The more time you give yourself, the better chance you have to get a suitable Peace Corps position. And if you’re willing to serve anywhere, you open yourself to consideration for more positions. That increases your odds of acceptance greatly!
EXTRA! More Advice!
The process of applying and getting accepted to the Peace Corps takes months or even longer. So, if you have a specific window of time for volunteering abroad, the Peace Corps may not be your best option at the moment.
Furthermore, though there are only two mandatory requirements, the Peace Corps is highly competitive. There are simply way more applicants than open positions. According to Peace Corps application data, the agency only offers around 23% of applicants a volunteer position.
Yes, it’s that competitive.
The fact is many roles do require a good deal of education, work experience, and qualifications, such as the ability to speak a foreign language or expertise in a project sector. So, if you don’t get accepted the first time around, don’t let yourself get too upset. Again, you have other options.
For example, you could volunteer with Maximo Nivel, a leading volunteer program provider in Latin America. They have many projects like the Peace Corps’. Interested in farming? Join their eco-agriculture project in Costa Rica. Believe in the power of education? Teach English to children in Peru or Guatemala.
Don’t give up if you don’t get accepted the first time around. Take time to bolster your resume. For instance, being able to add volunteer abroad experience will make your application stand out. Consider doing a short-term volunteer abroad trip and then applying again. Read our guide on short-term volunteer programs here!
Do Peace Corps volunteers get paid?
Peace Corps volunteers do get compensation and benefits. There technically isn’t a Peace Corps salary. Volunteers receive a housing and living stipend that allows them to enjoy a modest standard of living in the host country. Upon completion of their assignment, the Peace Corps gives each volunteer $10,000 for the transition to life back home. This resettlement allowance is relatively substantial and helps volunteers out greatly.
In addition to the housing and living allowance, Peace Corps volunteers enjoy other benefits, such as:
- Potential student loan deferment or forgiveness: Some public student loans are eligible for deferment. Some loans, such as Perkins Loans, may qualify for full or partial Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Ask your lender in advance.
- Travel benefits: All your transportation costs to and from the host country are covered.
- Paid vacation days: You get two paid vacation days per month of service. Use that time to travel, relax, learn the local language, and more!
- Medical and dental insurance: The Peace Corps covers all healthcare-related expenses, including preventative care. If you get injured during your service, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation upon return.
- Career benefits: From TEFL training and certification to resume services to language lessons, you have ample opportunity for learning and development.
The Peace Corps asks a lot of you. In return, they ensure your needs are taken care of while abroad. This way, you can work on what matters: Serving the local community!
How long are Peace Corps volunteer assignments?
Peace Corps assignments last 27 months. It is a long-term commitment, consisting of three months of in-country training and two years on assignment. For many applicants, that length of time isn’t an issue. They view the Peace Corps as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But for others, that may be too long of a commitment.
The Peace Corps offers another option: the Peace Corps Response. Roles within this team last three to 12 months. However, these are highly specialized roles that require a great deal of professional experience and technical expertise.
So, if you’re looking for a short-term volunteer abroad opportunity, consider alternatives, such as service projects with Plan My Gap Year. Through PMGY, you can volunteer for as little as a few weeks to as long as a year. You’ll find roles similar to Peace Corps assignments as well.
What are the best Peace Corps alternatives?
There are many reasons to consider Peace Corps alternatives. It could be that:
- You don’t meet the requirements (you’re under 18 or not a U.S. citizen)
- You don’t get selected for a position (more than 75% don’t)
- You’re still waiting for the Peace Corps to contact you
- You don’t have 27 months to commit
- You want to volunteer for a non-governmental organization (Peace Corps is a federal government agency)
- You want to volunteer in a field that’s not one of Peace Corps’ project sectors, such as journalism
- You want to volunteer in a country the Peace Corps doesn’t serve (note: the Peace Corps only works in countries that request volunteers)
- You want to boost your resume before applying to the Peace Corps
So, if you can’t join the Peace Corps, take a look at similar volunteer experiences. You could:
- Volunteer with an international volunteer organization
- Volunteer with the United Nations
- UN volunteer jobs are open to all nationalities and last six to twelve months. Read our United Nations volunteer guide!
- Join a mission trip
- You can join either a religious or non-religious mission trip. Read our guide on the best mission trips guide.
- Volunteer with an NGO
- Teach English overseas
- Read our guide on Teaching English overseas.
If you’d like to volunteer abroad sooner rather than later, apply with a volunteer or intern abroad organization. Within weeks, you could be embarking on your service adventure. Below, we’ve highlighted four organizations worth your consideration.
A leader in international volunteering, Plan My Gap Year sends more than 4,000 volunteers abroad each year. With PMGY, you can teach English in Vietnam, serve as a medical volunteer in Ghana, rescue wildlife in Thailand, and more. PMGY programs are affordable and impactful, ensuring anyone can contribute to peace and development.
If you want to do good in Latin American, then put Maximo Nivel at the top of your list. Through Maximo Nivel, you can get your TEFL certification and teach English in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Or, you could gain practical experience as you make a difference with an internship in a field like human rights.
Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers provides volunteers with life-changing intercultural experiences abroad. Known for their transparency and commitment to making an impact, Love Volunteers has wonderful programs in areas such as women’s empowerment, special needs education, and construction and community development.
Established in 1992, Projects Abroad has sent more than 125,000 volunteers and interns abroad. In 2020, Volunteer Forever recognized Projects Abroad as the Best Volunteer Abroad Program. Through Projects Abroad, you can gain experience in fields that the Peace Corps doesn’t offer. For instance, you could do an engineering internship in Sri Lanka or a micro-finance internship in Senegal.
Are you ready to serve in the Peace Corps?
You now understand the Peace Corps volunteer program and how to apply and increase your odds of being accepted. You’re ready to start the process!
If you go with an open mind, a willingness to adapt, and a commitment to your role and the local community, you’ll do tremendous good and have a transformative experience. And when you return home, you’ll be excited about what the future holds.
Remember: It’s hard to get accepted by the Peace Corps. And if you get accepted, you’re expected to commit to a 27-month assignment. Therefore, the Peace Corps isn’t for everyone.
So, if you don’t think the Peace Corps is for you at the moment, think about a short-term volunteer trip instead. You can explore other countries, learn new skills, make friends from around the world, and most importantly, contribute to positive change in disadvantaged communities. Like volunteering with the Peace Corps, a short-term volunteer abroad trip can be a transformative experience.