Photo credit: International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
If you’re short on experience or skills, but want to volunteer abroad, then you are at the right place! In this travel guide, we’ll show you how you can volunteer abroad even if you don’t have any experience, specialized skills / qualifications, or a college degree. We will also provide recommendations on volunteer programs that are open to everyone – as long as you have a positive attitude and willingness to help those in need.
Volunteer abroad skills and qualifications
When people think of volunteering abroad, they typically think of organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and assume they need to have specialized credentials or medical skills. Or, people often think of the Peace Corps (United States) or Voluntary Service Overseas (United Kingdom) where you either need a college degree or three to five years of professional experience for many of their positions. Lastly, people may think of United Nations Volunteers, another well-known international volunteer program, which also requires a bachelor’s or even master’s degree for many of their assignments (along with at least three years of professional experience).
In general, relevant skills and qualifications for volunteering abroad may include the following:
- Medical skills
- Educational degrees and credentials
- Foreign language skills
- Trade skills (plumbing, carpentry, electrical, etc)
- Professional skills (business, law, IT, etc)
Outside of these government-affiliated programs, many international volunteer programs such as International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) may require specific credentials or educational experiences for some of their programs. For example, if you are interested in teaching English abroad, IVHQ recommends a Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, which you can earn online with them before you even depart for your trip. Or if you are interested in a medical, dental, or nursing volunteer trip (such as these from GoEco), it is helpful (and sometimes required) to be a pre-medical or medical / dental student or healthcare professional.
Some international volunteer programs may require or recommend specific language skills. Maximo Nivel, which offers volunteer programs in Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala, recommends Spanish language proficiency for several of their projects in order to have more responsibilities (but non-Spanish volunteers can still be accommodated).
Don’t worry if you don’t have these skills or experiences yet, because later in the article we will share how you can volunteer abroad even without experience or a degree.
What are the benefits of volunteering abroad
There are several good reasons to participate in a volunteer program abroad even if you don’t have any professional experience or a degree:
- Give back to others: First, if you have the motivation and desire to help others, volunteering abroad is a great way to contribute to a community in need. International volunteer projects exist because there are unmet needs that local people, the environment, animals, or wildlife have. As an example, IVHQ offers 44 community development programs in 24 destinations around the world where you can support a local community in need.
- Visit amazing places: Second, you’ll be able to visit and stay at amazing destinations around the world, often at an affordable cost. GoEco offers incredible conservation projects in awe-inspiring places such as the Maldives and Bali. They are also currently offering a special grant for their Bali sea turtle conservation project where your third week is free!
- Learn new skills: Third, if you’re interested in learning a new skill, you can participate in a structured volunteer program with people who have relevant experience and skills. Volunteer projects are a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new environment and focus on learning a new skill. Or you can immerse yourself in a new country and pick up those language skills you have always wanted. As an example, Maximo Nivel offers a Spanish immersion program where you can learn Spanish at some of Latin America’s best language schools for just $60 per week!
- Meet cool people and build your network: Lastly, by participating in an international volunteer program, you’ll meet amazing new people from around the world who have the same passions and interests as you. For example, if you are a high school student and want to meet other mission-driven teens, then check out Projects Abroad’s teen volunteer programs, which are specifically tailored to 15 to 18 year olds.
How can I volunteer abroad without experience?
Don’t despair if you don’t have any experience and think you can’t volunteer abroad. There are several types of programs available depending on your life stage (i.e. teenager) and what you are willing to do.
- Teens: if you are a teenager (under 18), there are specific high school volunteer programs set up just for you. For example, IVHQ offers 17 teen volunteer programs for participants aged 16-17. A full 20% of their volunteers every year are teen volunteers, so they have a lot of experience in finding relevant projects and ensuring safety at their project locations.
- Physical labor projects: if you don’t have specific skills or qualifications, then you can consider participating in projects that will benefit from your physical labor. For example, Maximo Nivel offers sea turtle conservation and beach cleanup projects in Latin America where the only requirements are a positive mindset, willingness to work hard, and flexibility in doing a variety of tasks to support their project.
- Volunteering with kids: alternatively, you can consider childcare volunteer projects, which don’t have any formal educational requirements (just a willingness to have fun and play with kids). Do note that childcare volunteer programs often require a police records check to ensure the safety of the children. As an example, check out GoEco’s childcare volunteer project in Cape Town, South Africa where responsibilities include organizing sports activities and assisting teachers.
How can I volunteer abroad without a college degree?
If you don’t have a college degree yet because you are still in school, there are a ton of volunteer programs that are geared towards current students. Alternatively, you can check out international internship programs to get relevant experience in your field while you are still in school. Or if your profession doesn’t require a college degree (such as tradespersons), you can directly contribute to projects where you have relevant expertise. Here are several types of programs to consider if you don’t have a degree:
- Pre-health programs: many international volunteer organizations offer medical volunteer programs for current pre-health students. Pre-health students include pre-med, pre-dental, and nursing students. As part of these programs, you’ll have the opportunity to shadow doctors and other healthcare professionals, contribute to community health outreach programs, and directly support patients in a supervised environment.
- International internships: if you are a current student looking to gain relevant professional experience in your chosen field, then definitely check out international internships. Intern Abroad HQ and Maximo Nivel are two providers of international internships in the fields of business, law, hospitality, education, and more! Both of these organizations also enable you to earn academic credit for your internships thanks to their partnerships with accredited universities.
- Tradespersons: if you are an electrician, plumber, carpenter, painter, or have other construction-related skills, then you’ll definitely want to check out construction and renovation volunteer projects abroad. While most people think of programs such as Habitat for Humanity, many organizations such as International Volunteer HQ and Volunteering Solutions offer projects to contribute to building and renovating houses and schools overseas.
What volunteer abroad programs are open to everyone?
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
Founded in 2007 by Dan Radcliffe, International Volunteer HQ offers over 330 affordable volunteer trips to over 50 destinations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the USA, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. IVHQ has placed more than 130,000 volunteers around the world on projects ranging from teaching and healthcare, to wildlife conservation and construction, and more. Programs last one week to 24 weeks and start at $20 USD a day.
IVHQ’s Environmental Education program, which is based in Bali, Indonesia, is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to promote local conservation efforts. Volunteers will be based in the town of Ubud and will teach local children about recycling and sustainability. You will also help lead community clean-up events to have a direct impact on the local environment. The program is open to volunteers of all ages and skill levels; no prior experience is necessary.
This program starts at $385 per week with a minimum duration of one week. The cost of the program includes accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support.
IVHQ’s Surf Outreach volunteer program, which is based in Muizenberg, South Africa (a beautiful coastal town near Cape Town), is a chance for volunteers to assist with an after-school program that aims to teach children to surf and protect the beach environment. Volunteers will teach surfing lessons to children from disadvantaged communities and also help with beach clean-ups and environmental projects that promote conservationism. The program is open to volunteers of all ages and skill levels; no prior experience with surfing is necessary.
This program starts at $345 per week with a minimum duration of two weeks. The cost of the program includes accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support. Volunteers will also receive a surfboard and wetsuit for the duration of their stay.