Thinking about a gap year abroad?
That’s awesome! You’re moving in the right direction.
In recent years, the gap year has gone increasingly mainstream. 35% of high school students contemplate doing a gap year, according to a CNBC report. And it’s easy to see why.
A gap year, or taking a year off school, gives you time to ponder your next step, learn new things, travel abroad, and make friends. Whether you want a year off before high school or graduate school, a gap year abroad or at home can benefit you tremendously.
So, where will you go? You could explore your home country. Or, you could do a gap year in Europe—a common choice. But the whole world is in front of you.
Enter South America—your destination for the ultimate gap year abroad.
How You Can Spend a Gap Year Abroad in South America
South America delivers when it comes to options for a gap year abroad. During your year on the continent, you could:
- Learn Spanish in Peru and visit sites like Machu Picchu
- Volunteer in Ecuador and tour the pristine Galapagos Islands
- Teach English in Argentina and live it up in bustling Buenos Aires
- Coach sports in Brazil and dive into life in Rio de Janeiro (stay for the Carnival!)
Do you see why a gap year abroad is so amazing?
First, you can do something productive for your education and future. Second, you can have tons of fun as you meet people from different backgrounds, see world-famous sites, and experience new places. Think of all the excitement that awaits!
Whether you want to work, volunteer, intern, or study abroad in South America, you can find plenty of opportunities. The region has growing importance in the world, and many countries have been enjoying great economic growth, such as Colombia, Guyana, Peru, and Chile.
In this guide, we’ll cover the ways you can do your gap year abroad in South America, including:
- Studying abroad
- Doing an internship
- Working, including teaching English
Best Volunteer Programs in South America for Your Gap Year
Volunteering in South America enables you to help communities in need and immerse yourself in the local culture. You’ll return home with a better perspective, greater cross-cultural awareness, and a wealth of new knowledge and skills, such as the ability to speak Spanish
Below, we’ve listed some of the best gap year programs in South America for volunteering. Read through and see what projects catch your eye.
Note: Since you’re on a gap year, you most likely wish to stay longer. Fees per day get cheaper the longer you stay, making volunteering a cost-effective way to travel in South America. Programs include accommodation and meals, which further lowers your expenses.
With affordable, year-round programs across more than 50 destinations, any international volunteer should consider IVHQ for service projects. Founded in 2007, International Volunteer HQ has sent more than 112,000 volunteers abroad, including many to South America. Renowned educational institutions, such as UCLA, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan, choose to volunteer abroad through IVHQ. That’s a testament to the quality of their service work.
If you’d like to volunteer in South America during your gap year abroad, IVHQ has a good selection of projects.
Price: $850 for 4 weeks; $2,045 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-12+ weeks
IVHQ runs eight volunteer projects in Cordoba, a city known for its Spanish colonial architecture. You could volunteer in childcare and act as a positive role model for disadvantaged children. Or, you may wish to care for the elderly who face abandonment. Other projects include:
- Community Development
- Special Needs Care
- Sports Coaching
- Construction and Renovation
By volunteering with IVHQ in Argentina, you can make a big difference and uplift vulnerable communities. Past volunteers give IVHQ excellent reviews for how they manage the program. Here’s what Laurence, a former participant, said:
“I just wanted to say thank you for all you have done! I had an amazing time in Argentina and part of the reason why was IVHQ! Thank you for answering all my questions. You really made me feel ready to handle this amazing opportunity.”
This project includes free Spanish lessons as well. During free time, you can put your Spanish to the test as you tour Cordoba. Stroll through Sarmiento Park, look at masterpieces at the Evita Fine Arts Museum, shop and dine, and more.
Price: $600 for 4 weeks; $1,560 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-24+ weeks
Make your way to Bogota, Colombia’s capital city. There, you can do good by tutoring and caring for children at daycare centers, teaching English and other subjects in local schools, or constructing and renovating homes, community centers, classrooms, and health clinics. Two other popular volunteer projects with IVHQ in Colombia include:
- Feeding the Homeless: As a volunteer for the homeless in Bogota, you’ll prepare and serve meals for around 200 men and women each day.
- Elderly Care: Too many elderly people have been abandoned in the city. Join the effort to rescue and provide companionship, food, and shelter for the most vulnerable senior citizens.
When you’re not volunteering, get to know Bogota. Stand in awe in Plaza Bolívar, walk through the National Museum of Colombia, try all sorts of local cuisine, and check out the nighttime entertainment. Already packing your bags?
Operating across 15 countries in Asia, Africa, and South America, Plan My Gap Year prides themselves on offering life-changing volunteer abroad experiences. An award-winning organization, PMGY is known for their commitment to making an impact and excellent volunteer support. They have a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars across 1,641 reviews on Trustpilot.
Each year, PMGY sends more than 4,000 volunteers overseas. If you want to volunteer in South America during your gap year, put PMGY at the top of your list. They have numerous affordable programs.
Price: $939 for 4 weeks; $2,124 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-12+ weeks
Care for abandoned and injured dogs in Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes that once was the capital of the Inca Empire. As a dog shelter volunteer, you’ll assist local staff with all sorts of tasks, from feeding the dogs and cleaning the facility to creating enrichment activities. You’ll spend lots of time with these cute pups! You’ll also work on welfare campaigns to raise awareness about animal issues in the city.
When you’re not at the dog shelter, take a trip back in time by trekking through the Sacred Valley and visiting Machu Picchu, which are both near Cusco. And if you like Peruvian food, Cusco’s dining scene is top-notch. Dig in.
Price: $984 for 4 weeks; $1,764 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-12+ weeks
Go to Quito to work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Due to neglect, abandonment, and abuse, more than 200,000 children in Ecuador need a safer, more stable environment. As a childcare volunteer, you’ll spend your time at a community center, church, or daycare. Your main duty will be to interact with the children through games, activities, and songs, as well as assist with chores, such as cleaning and preparing meals. Your efforts will provide the children with much-needed companionship, stimulate their creativity, and help them stay positive. It’s a ton of fun, and you’ll see your impact right away.
During free time, you can learn Spanish through PMGY’s local courses. You can also do activities in and around Quito. Hike the Pichincha Volcano, snap photos of the Basilica of the National Vow, and more. And don’t forget to arrange a trip to the Galapagos Islands!
Best Study Abroad Programs in South America for Your Gap Year
As we’ve said before, a gap year abroad should be fun. But it shouldn’t just be fun. You should focus on your learning and growth and think about your future. That’s why many choose to study abroad in South America on their gap year.
Below, we’ve listed some of the best study abroad programs in South America for those taking a gap year. See what classes fit your interests and goals!
If you’re planning a gap year in South America, look through Maximo Nivel’s programs. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel has become the leader in volunteer, intern, and study abroad programs in Latin America. An internationally accredited organization, Maximo Nivel runs four local institutes in Latin America.
For study abroad in South America, Maximo Nivel offers affordable tuition fees, high-quality courses, around-the-clock student support, and the ability to transfer credits to your university. You can earn college credit during your gap year abroad!
Price: $5,345 for 7 weeks; $6,580 for 14 weeks
Length of stay: 4-28+ weeks (1-2+ semesters)
Few study abroad destinations top Peru. From the Spanish language to education to veterinary science, you can choose among all sorts of subjects. You’ll find the anthropology and sociology classes amazing, especially since Peru is one of the greatest ancient centers of civilization. With its natural beauty and incredible biodiversity, Peru also makes the perfect location for environmental studies, which Maximo Nivel offers. Other courses include:
Unsure of what to study? Take a combination of courses to see what you like. You’ll return home with a better idea of where you want to take your education. When you enroll, you can opt for classes during the fall, winter, spring, and/or summer. There’s a lot of flexibility with how long you study, and any credits should transfer to your home university (ask in advance).
You’ll stay on Maximo Nivel’s campus, which includes free Wi-Fi, an onsite snack bar, and 24/7 support. During free time, explore Cusco and the surrounding landscape and historical sites. So, are you ready to go?
Price: 2 hours per day – $295 for 4 weeks and $70 for every extra week; 4 hours per day – $590 for 4 weeks and $140 for every extra week
Length of stay: 1-4+ weeks
Want to speak Spanish? Then register for Maximo Nivel’s Spanish Immersion program in Cusco. They run one of the best rated Spanish schools in Latin America. You’ll learn from a certified, native Spanish teacher. And you can choose the type of class that fits you best: one-on-one sessions, small group lessons, language exchange, or university courses. The courses also make a point to take you beyond the classroom with immersion activities. Learn Spanish naturally as you explore the local culture.
You’ll stay near Plaza de Armas and Cusco’s best nightlife and sites. Practice your Spanish as you get to know the city!
Based in Pennsylvania, USA, A Broader View aims to make travel meaningful. With placements in more than 25 countries, ABV works to support low-income communities and important ecosystems around the world, from Asia to South America. Their programs get great reviews from past volunteers. They have a rating of 4.99 out of 5 stars across 263 reviews on Volunteer Forever.
If you want to study abroad in South America, ABV is a wonderful choice, especially if you’re interested in learning Spanish and more about local culture. Read more below about how you can spend your gap year abroad with ABV.
Price: $2,160 for 4 weeks
Length of stay: 1-4+ weeks
Improve your Spanish in La Serena, a city in northern Chile. Each day, you’ll get one-on-one or small group Spanish lessons from a local tutor, ensuring you have the individual attention necessary to learn quickly. The program includes a stay with a host family, which means you can practice your Spanish all day. You’ll learn a lot about local culture during your time in ABV’s program.
Your Spanish lessons can be combined with any volunteer project in Chile, such as eldercare or teaching English. Give back to the community as you learn the language. During free time, check out La Serena, a truly wonderful city. From the historic architecture to the beaches of Avenida Del Mar, La Serena delights. Already thinking of your adventure to Chile?
Price: $1,520 for 4 weeks
Length of stay: 1-4+ weeks
ABV’s Spanish language program in Sucre combines classes with service work, making for an immersive experience. Lessons are customized to suit your level and focus on grammar, vocabulary, and conversation skills. Each day, you can take what you learn in class and practice it while volunteering. Volunteer projects include childcare, helping at-risk youth, and medical care.
When you have time to yourself, tour Sucre, Bolivia’s capital. Walk around Bolívar Park, visit the House of Liberty Museum, and see the Metropolitan Cathedral of Sucre. Yes, you’re going to have a great time in Bolivia!
Best Internship Programs in South America for Your Gap Year
Gain real-world experience during your gap year abroad! An internship is a great way to see if a certain career path suits you. No matter what you plan to study at university, you can find a related internship in South America.
To streamline your search, we’ve listed some of the best intern abroad programs in South America below. Apply for one, and jumpstart your career during your gap year.
Projects Abroad began in 1992 and has placed more than 122,000 volunteers and interns abroad. As champions of responsible volunteer travel, Projects Abroad aims to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Many of their internships in South America have big goals, such as improving human rights, empowering women, and providing greater access to medicine.
If you want to intern in South America during your gap year abroad, Projects Abroad’s programs in Argentina and Ecuador are worth your consideration. Upon completion of the internship, you’ll receive a professional evaluation and a Certificate of Hours worked (which can help with obtaining academic credit).
Price: $3,660 for 4 weeks; $6,700 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-52 weeks
Get your medical career off on the right track with this internship in Cordoba, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Sierra Chicas. As an intern, you’ll rotate departments, learning directly from nurses and doctors. Former students have been able to work in a variety of roles during one internship, from kinesiology and dermatology to cardiology and surgery. As you observe doctors and nurses in each role and attend medical lectures, you’ll find out what specialties interest you most. You’ll also get to participate in community outreach and improve medical services in rural areas. How awesome is that?
Past interns have had wonderful experiences, such as Emily from the UK. Here’s what she had to say:
“During my four weeks in the hospital, I was able to see and experience more than I could have ever imagined and more than I had in the past three years of undergraduate studies. I was very thankful for the generosity shown by the staff at the hospital!”
When you’re not at the hospital, have fun in Cordoba. Sing and dance at the pubs, walk along the Suquía River, and visit the Jesuit Block (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). So, are you ready for an adventure in Argentina?
Price: $3,260 for 4 weeks; $5,900 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 2-52 weeks
Have an interest in social work, education, or childcare? Then apply for this internship in Ecuador. Each day, you’ll work with disadvantaged kindergarten children, helping provide them with access to quality education, better nutrition, and a stronger support network. You’ll also help with the care and educational support of special needs students. During your internship, you’ll assess each child inside and outside the classroom. In addition to identifying their strengths, you’ll help develop a plan for them to grow and develop in the best manner possible.
You’ll live and work on the island of San Cristóbal, which is a part of the Galápagos archipelago. You can stay with a local family or in shared lodging with other interns. Be sure to enjoy the splendid nature and wildlife during free time!
Love Volunteers began in 2009 and has become known for their affordability, transparency, and commitment to making an impact. Former participants give Love Volunteers a 96% rating, a testament to the quality of their programs.
If you to do an internship in South America during your gap year, consider Love Volunteers’ medical placement in Argentina. After the program, you’ll get a Certificate of Internship Completion to add to your resume!
Price: $1,079 for 4 weeks; $2,319 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 1-12+weeks
Say hola to Buenos Aires, where you’ll help supply medical services to those who need it most. Depending on current needs and your experience and education, you’ll shadow doctors and nurses in one or two departments, such as pharmacology, orthopedics, neurology, or family medicine. If you want a fast-paced, challenging environment, ask to work in the emergency department. Overall, this program is great if you wish to learn about healthcare in another country and culture, increase your skills and knowledge, and build an international network.
What’s also great is Buenos Aires is at your fingertips during off-hours. Attend an opera at the Teatro Colón, one of the best opera houses in the world. Walk around the happening neighborhood of La Boca. And explore the city’s incredible dining scene.
Founded in 1998, Global Vision International has an intense focus on solving big problems. Their internships align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty, clean water, and gender equality. To better achieve their mission of enacting positive change, GVI partners with world-renowned organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, Save the Children, and Panthera.
Through GVI, you can make your gap year abroad truly meaningful. They have a great internship in Peru (details below). Learn and grow as a person, while making an impact!
Price: $3,560 for 4 weeks; $6,520 for 12 weeks
Length of stay: 4-12+ weeks
Passionate about empowering communities? Travel to Cusco, where you’ll work on a variety of community development initiatives. Internship duties include participating in environmental conservation campaigns, like educational workshops, lake cleanups, and reforestation work. You’ll teach English at local schools, which gives children a skill they can use for future employment. And you’ll also help local business owners learn vocational skills and strategies to make their operation more sustainable. As an intern, your efforts will advance the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:
- Decent Work and Economic Growth (8)
- Quality Education (4)
- Clean Water and Sanitation (6)
Completion of this internship earns you a Leadership Development certificate from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). Not only will you do good for people in Peru, but you’ll also gain experience and get recognition for it!
Best Work Programs in South America for Your Gap Year
Want to work during your gap year abroad? You’re in luck. Job opportunities for those traveling in South America abound. Many industries need extra talent, especially hospitality and tourism, agriculture, and education.
To find the right work abroad program, think about what you want out of the job first. Is it to make money to fund your travels? Is it to build your resume? Do you want to see if you like a certain field? This will help you zone in on work opportunities that you’ll enjoy the most.
English Teaching Programs
While you can find English teaching positions in South America on sites like ESL Job Feed and Dave’s ESL Cafe, navigating the job hunt alone may get tricky if you’ve never done it before. And many positions require TEFL/TESOL certification.
The best way to land a paid position as an English teacher in South America is to get your TEFL/TESOL certification through an organization that also offers job placement services. Some reputable organizations include:
- Maximo Nivel: Earn your TEFL certificate and then get paid to teach English in South America. Course tuition costs $495. After completion, you’ll be able to quickly find work as an English teacher for 6-12 months or longer. Even better, Maximo Nivel offers lifetime job placement assistance across Latin America.
- International TEFL Academy: The International TEFL Academy can set you up for a great English teaching position during your gap year. After you get your TEFL certificate through them, they’ll help you find paid teaching work across South America, from Uruguay and Bolivia to Colombia and Ecuador. Costs vary depending on where you do the TEFL course but generally don’t go too much more than $1,000.
For more information on teaching English overseas, read our guide.
Working Holiday Visa Programs
A working holiday visa combines a job with vacationing, making it the perfect way to spend a gap year abroad in South America. With a working holiday visa, you have permission to find employment at a variety of businesses, from ski resorts and hotels to ranches and fisheries. That means you can earn money to fund your travels!
Lots of South American countries have working holiday agreements with other countries. Before you apply for a visa, make sure your home country has an agreement with your destination country. Many countries have working holiday schemes, including:
- Argentina: 11 countries, including Sweden, Ireland, and Japan, have bilateral agreements with Argentina.
- Brazil: France, Germany, and New Zealand have working holiday agreements with Brazil.
- Chile: As one of South America’s most popular destinations for working holiday programs, Chile has agreements with more than 15 countries, including Australia, Canada, Hungary, and Poland.
For most South American countries with working holiday schemes, you can get a one-year visa to live, work, and travel in the country. Check with each country for specific details.
For more information on working holiday visas, read our guide.
Making Your Gap Year Abroad in South America Happen
Whether you want to volunteer to protect wildlife or study Spanish, you have plenty of ways to have a productive gap year abroad in South America. Even better, you don’t have to limit your choices. You can do it all. During your gap year, you can volunteer, intern, study, and work in South America!
Also, dive into the local culture during your year off. For instance, Fronteering, an organization that specializes in off-the-beaten-path experiences, has wonderful cultural programs in South America, including ranch-stays in Brazil and jungle-living with Amerindian communities in Guyana.
Finally, so that your gap year in South America goes even better than you’ve imagined, plan ahead! Consider your budget, interests, and goals. This will help you choose the best programs and seek the best experiences.
That wraps up our guide. The only question left is: How will make the most of your gap year adventure in South America?