Volunteer Abroad For Free – No Fee Projects, Scholarships, Fundraising
(Updated for 2017)
Volunteering overseas is a great way to travel while using your time and expertise to help a community in need. Not only do you have the potential to provide positive benefits to the host community, you have the opportunity to develop your intercultural and professional skills. Though the benefits of volunteering abroad can be great, many aspiring international volunteers face “sticker shock” when confronted with the costs of serving overseas and realizing that they may not be volunteering for free.
FREE VOLUNTEER ABROAD PROGRAMS
Aspiring international volunteers are often surprised (and frustrated) at the lack of free international volunteer abroad opportunities and the need to pay for all of their transportation expenses, in-country costs, and program fees (more on this below). However, there’s no need to be discouraged as our team of expert writers has identified several great strategies to help you volunteer abroad for free, including finding high-quality, low-cost programs like Love Volunteers, which offers 150+ projects around the world starting at $175 per week. These three strategies on how to volunteer abroad for free are
Reducing your trip expenses
Applying for volunteer abroad scholarships and grants
Running a successful fundraising campaign
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - REDUCE YOUR TRIP EXPENSES
First, we’ll need to understand the costs associated with volunteering abroad. Aside from the general program fee that a volunteer placement organization may charge, there can be other costs including travel to and from your destination. For example, here’s a typical cost-breakdown for a large, high-quality established volunteer organization such as International Volunteer HQ or Global Vision International :
Volunteer Program Fee: $180 - $1500+
Airfare: $500 - $1,000 (depending on location)
Miscellaneous Expenses (Travel Insurance, Vaccinations and medications, etc): $500
Total Trip Cost: $1,180 - $3,000+
Understanding Program Fees
A volunteer organization often charges a program fee to cover the costs associated with hosting you as a volunteer.
For example, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)'s program fee provides funding for the organization to administer/oversee its projects, recruit new volunteers, provide direct funds to the local community, pay for overhead expenses (i.e. staff salaries), and provide for room & board for its volunteers.
For many reputable volunteer organizations such as Global Vision International, charging a program fee enables the organization to shift the burden of its expenses to its volunteers, freeing up more resources for the communities they are serving.
Furthermore, organizations such as Global Vision International run programs specifically for teenage volunteers and incur additional overhead in order to provide for a well-run and safe volunteer exprience. Lastly, the program fee enables the volunteer organization to be more independent and not rely on government funding.
Strategy for Reducing Program Fees
One way to save money on an impactful program abroad is by earning TEFL certification at home, and then getting paid to teach English overseas.
For example, International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT) provides certification through an online course, in-class courses in 27 different countries, and a combined course that lets you take a 120-hour online class at home and finish your certification through an intensive, 5- to 10-day program in a classroom abroad. With more than 100,000 graduates to date, ITTT offers lifetime job support for students who successfully complete certification, meaning you’ll be able to teach English anywhere in the world, with support from ITTT’s staff.
Another way to reduce the cost of volunteering abroad is to enroll in a program that pays you to participate in its projects. Global Vision International, an award-winning organization with over 24,000 program participants since 1997, is offering paid teaching internship placements in Thailand. This teaching abroad placement pays a monthly stipend and provides you with accomodations and is one of the few opportunities that we have found where you are essentially paid to travel abroad. If you able to make medium-term commitment, in which you are provided housing, meals, and a living stipend ($700 to $1,000 per month), you can essentially cover the entire program fee, TEFL training course and certificate, and airfare with your monthly earnings. To learn more about getting paid to teach English abroad and apply, click here.
Another way to reduce program fees is to participate in volunteering abroad programs for free is to find a no-fee volunteer project. For example, volunteering with the Peace Corps, United Nations (UN) Volunteers, or Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) does not require a program fee and may cover all of your expenses including airfare, room & board, and a stipend. However, these well-known international volunteer programs are highly selective and may require a significant time commitment (27 months for Peace Corps and 6 months for UN Volunteers).
If you are interested in long-term volunteering abroad, then check out this article for more information. If you’re looking for a short-term volunteer opportunity, then read on for more alternatives.
Outside of the Peace Corps, UN Volunteers, and VSO, there are several volunteer organizations that do not explicitly charge a program fee. We’ve included several resources below that include no-cost and low-cost volunteer projects overseas such as International Volunteer HQ, which is one of the most affordable volunteer programs in the world and offers projects starting at $180. Keep in mind that these free volunteer abroad opportunities may require you pay for your own room and board.
One specific organization to look into is Love Volunteers, which offers 150 different projects in 34 countries around the world, placing thousands of international volunteers into meaningul and life-changing projects. In fact, Love Volunteers is one of the fastest growing volunteer organizations in the world with over 20,000 volunteers placed since 2009 and 4,000 volunteers placed just in the last year. Some of Love Volunteers' most affordably priced programs (which include three meals a day and homestay/volunteer house accomodations) include their 1 week placements in Honduras ($190) and Nepal ($195). Please note that there is a $249 registration fee to reserve your spot in the program and you'll be responsible for your own travel insurance and airfare.
Another low-cost volunteer abroad program to consider is Agape Volunteers, which operates low-fee volunteer projects throughout Africa and was named one of Volunteer Forever's Best Volunteer Abroad Programs. Agape's projects start at USD $510 (£330) and already includes the registration fee and your travel insurance, making it one of the most affordable volunteer programs in the world. Agape Volunteers was founded by Oxford graduate, Guillaume Lefevre, in 2011 and boasts a perfect 5-star rating on Volunteer Forever. The program offers volunteer projects in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Tanzania with projects ranging from medical volunteering to coaching a football academy in Nairobi. Definitely check out Agape Volunteers if you are looking for a reputable and affordable volunteer abroad trip to Africa.
If you're interested in volunteering abroad in destinations outside of Africa, we recommend that you look into Volunteering Solutions, which has hosted over 10,000 program participants since 2006. Volunteering Solutions offers affordably priced volunteer and intern abroad programs in 30+ countries. The most affordably priced Volunteering Solutions project is based in Nepal and only costs $200 for one week in addition to a $225 program fee. Volunteering Solutions also offers several other very low cost volunteer projects, which can all be found on their program costs page. We recommend applying to Volunteering Solutions if you're looking for a well-proven volunteer program with a wide variety of projects and destinations.
Another option is to find a volunteer program where your service trip counts as academic credit. Maximo Nivel, which operates interculteral centers in Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala, has partnered with California State University Monterey Bay (a regionally accredited university) to enable their volunteers, interns, and study abroad participants to earn university credit for their trips (see this page to see how your trip can earn university course credits). Earning academic credit hours for your volunteer trip may enable you to graduate early, potentially saving you thousands of dollars and offsetting the cost of your program. Please be sure to check with your university to ensure credits will transfer if you decide to volunteer with this organization (Maximo will also work with your university to assist with transferring credits).
Additional Resources for Volunteering Abroad for Free
Understanding Airfare Costs
The vast majority of volunteer organizations (aside from the Peace Corps, UN Volunteers, and VSO) require participants to pay for their own airfare. As with the program fee, paying for your own airfare means that volunteer organizations do not have to divert limited resources from supporting their beneficiaries.
Depending on the volunteer project, airfare costs are typically the biggest or second biggest expense for international volunteers. In order to volunteer abroad for free, we recommend following one of our strategies below for reducing or eliminating your airfare costs.
Strategy for Reducing Airfare Costs
One way to fly for free is to ask for your family and friends for airline miles. If you know someone who flies frequently, they have likely accrued lots of airline miles that they can redeem to book a ticket for you. Keep in mind that international trips typically require lots of airline miles, so asking for a free ticket can be a big favor. You’ll want to communicate to your airline miles donor that airfare is one of the largest expenses of volunteering abroad and reducing this expense will make it much more likely that you can volunteer overseas.
Furthermore, if airfare cost is a significant concern, you can consider volunteering closer to your home country. For example, if you live in the United States, volunteering in Costa Rica rather than India can save you $500 or more in airfare.
Also, if you’re a student, you can use your volunteer program's recommended flight provider to book your airfare. For example, participants with IVHQ get access to cheap airfare tickets through their partnerships with STA and Expedia. These tickets can be cheaper than airfare booked through other travel sites.
Lastly, check with your volunteer organization to see if they offer a stipend or bursary for flights. While most volunteer organizations do not help pay for their volunteers’ airfare, some organizations may provide stipends or bursaries for high need projects. For example, People and Places, an award-winning sustainable volunteer organization, covers airfare for its volunteers for two of its Gambia volunteer projects.
Understanding Miscellaneous Costs
Miscellaneous costs such as travel insurance and vaccinations/medications are typically always required depending on your volunteer organization’s requirements and your destination country.
If your volunteer organization requires travel insurance, consider World Nomads, which provides coverage in 150+ countries and offers some of the most competitive prices online. Also, your volunteer organization may have specific vaccinations depending on where you are volunteering. To protect your health, we recommend asking your health provider about the recommended vaccinations for your destination country. You can also check out the travel vaccinations pages for the US Centers for Disease Control website and the UK National Health Service website.
Strategy for Reducing Miscellaneous Costs
Although many volunteer organizations recommend travel insurance from a specific insurance provider, it may be cheaper for you to purchase your travel insurance from a third party provider. We recommend checking with your existing insurance providers (auto insurance, renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc) to see if they offer a low-cost travel insurance policy. You can also check with World Nomads, which offers low-cost travel insurance specifically for international volunteers.
For vaccinations and medications, we recommend checking with your health insurance provider or student health clinic to see which vaccinations are provided free-of-charge.
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - APPLY FOR VOLUNTEER ABROAD SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS
If you’re not able to fully eliminate your trip expenses per the strategies above, you should consider applying for volunteer abroad scholarships and grants. We’ve put together the most comprehensive list of volunteer scholarships and grants and have listed over 200 funding opportunities to help you volunteer abroad for free:
You can also sign up to be the first to know about the next award of the Volunteer Forever scholarship ($500-$1000), which offers eight scholarships per year to travelers going on volunteer, intern, teach, and study abroad programs.
Keep in mind that these scholarships and grants may be limited and applying for them can be highly competitive. For example, the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award, which offers up to $15,000 for a volunteer trip, is only offered to one graduating college senior per year.
Also, please be aware that these scholarships and grants may only be available for participants in specific volunteer programs. For example, Travelocity’s Travel for Good Program, which provides $5,000 for volunteering overseas, is only available for participants volunteering with Cross Cultural Solutions, Globe Aware, Earth Watch, and a few other organizations.
Lastly, applying for these volunteer abroad scholarships and grants may require a significant time investment. Since these volunteer abroad funding opportunities are highly competitive, the vast majority of scholarships and grants require either a written proposal, scholarship essay, video submittal, letters of recommendation, and/or an interview.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to apply for these funding opportunities. We highly recommend applying early to ensure you have sufficient time to pursue other funding opportunities in case you are not awarded a volunteer abroad scholarship or grant.
Though applying for volunteer scholarships and grants can be time-intensive and highly competitive, they can be great opportunities to substantially fund your volunteer trip. Due to the long timelines and uncertainty with competing for these funding opportunities, we also recommend fundraising for your trip expenses. The next strategy lays out exactly what to do to fully fundraise for your trip expenses so that you can volunteer abroad for free.
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - FUNDRAISE FOR YOUR OVERSEAS VOLUNTEER TRIP EXPENSES
Crowdfunding to pay for your volunteer trip expenses has become an increasingly popular way to volunteer abroad for free. Indeed, one of Volunteer Forever's most popular programs, Volunteer Eco Students Abroad, has nearly 500 volunteers fundraisers crowdfunding for their volunteer trips expenses.
In fact, Volunteer Forever fundraisers have already raised nearly $2,000,000 to make their dreams of volunteering abroad come true. Many of our fundraisers have been able to completely pay for their volunteer trips through crowdfunding. With so many successful volunteers on our platform, we’re able to share the secrets to running a successful volunteer abroad fundraising campaign.
- Tell A Great Story
- Share Your Great Story
- Stay Persistent and Keep Your Network Engaged
The key to launching a successful crowdfunding campaign is to tell a great story to your potential donors. When asking for donations for your trip, you’ll need to tell a logical and compelling story for why you need funds. Ideally, you should be able to weave your past experience, current educational or professional pursuits, and future hopes and aspirations into a cohesive narrative to explain why you are the perfect person to make a meaningful contribution overseas. In short, you’ll need to provide your intentions of volunteering abroad by tying together your experiences and goals with the needs of the host community you’ll be visiting.
One of the most compelling ways to tell your story is through a personal fundraising video. Our favorite fundraising video is from Julie, a Volunteer Forever fundraiser who raised $3,400 for her trip to Africa. We love this video because it’s simple, yet incredibly authentic and persuasive. We recommend keeping your fundraising video to 2 - 3 minutes; anymore and you may risk losing the attention of your audience.
Once you’ve crafted a great story, your next step is to share that story with your family and friends. Unfortunately, many fundraisers initially have the perception that donors will be coming to them. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. You’ll need to execute a highly coordinated effort to reach out to your family and friends through e-mail, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and even phone calls and text messages.
Furthermore, our analysis of the latest crowdfunding research shows that you should reach out to and get donations from your closest family members and friends first before publicizing your campaign to your entire personal network. This technique demonstrates “social proof” to people further outside your core network. Basically, social proof happens when people close to you have demonstrated that they trust you, which makes it easier for people outside your core network to trust you and support you. Simply put, ask the 10 people in your life you are closest with to donate to you before publicly broadcasting your fundraising campaign on social media.
Persistence is a common trait among our most successful fundraisers. It’s not easy asking for a donation and many times, people may not even respond. Here’s what two of our top fundraisers had to say about persistence:
The best advice I have is Don't Give Up! At one point I was worried about reaching my goal and was afraid of posting too much or coming on too strong. I worried that maybe people thought I was just asking for money. Luckily, someone close to me reminded me to shift my thinking. Although it may feel uncomfortable to ask, fundraising really isn't about the money, it's about providing everyone the opportunity to help! - Lori, $5,500 raised.
"I was extremely persistent and diligent. I learned that people need to be reminded constantly. They are busy. They get distracted. They may see one of my posts and think, 'oh yeah, I want to give to Julie's campaign', but then they forget until they see the post again. That's why I kept posting and sharing. I got over feeling like I was annoying people. I got over feeling afraid that they would say no. I just kept asking, and they gave. Social media and crowd sourcing are powerful tools. But, just like anything else, if we want them to work for us, we must put in the time and effort." - Julie, $3,345 raised.
Heather, who raised $4,300 for her volunteer trip, had this to share about persistence:
"People care about what you are doing and want to contribute and be a part of the goal. Sometimes, they get busy too. A little reminder is all it takes."
We recommend sharing your fundraising campaign at least every three days through social media (Facebook and Twitter). Chances are the majority of your network will not see your posts or have the time available to check out your campaign. Sharing your campaign often ensures that your messages reach your audience during a time when it’s convenient for them to make a donation.
For more awesome tips on running a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, check out these articles on Top 5 Crowdfunding Myths Dispelled, 3 Must-Know Research Insights on Volunteer Abroad Fundraising, and Top Volunteer Abroad Fundraiser Shares her Secrets.
Though the average volunteer abroad trip can cost thousands of dollars, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer abroad free. Whether it’s eliminating your trip expenses, winning a scholarship or grant, and/or running a successful crowdfunding campaign, we’ve shared with you three great strategies to travel and volunteer abroad for free. Best of all, these strategies are not mutually exclusive; we recommend pursuing all three strategies at once to maximize your chances of volunteering abroad for free.
If you're still looking for a volunteer opportunity, check out our list of best volunteer abroad programs and recommended volunteer projects in Africa, Central America, and Thailand. You can also read about 7 Great Medical and Veterinary Volunteer Abroad Projects, 10 Dental Volunteer Abroad Program and Medical Mission Tips for Pre Dental Students, and nursing volunteer abroad projects for students and nurse professionals.