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.
Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. With more than 150 different programs, including programs specifically for teens, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish.
Join GoEco on the beautiful island of Nusa Penida, just off the coast of Bali! Work hands-on with injured sea turtles and release the rehabilitated turtles back into their ocean home. The only requirements for this program are that you have good English proficiency, have a genuine interest in sea turtles, and have a good level of physical fitness. As part of this project, you will also teach the local community about the importance of sea turtle conservation. Whether it’s hatching or nesting season, there are always sea turtles in need of your caring hands at this rescue center. This reasonably priced program starts at $1050 for 13 days. Learn more here!
Located in the mainland of northeastern Tanzania, this teaching and community involvement project doesn’t require any specialized experience or skills, although prior experience with teaching is helpful. This project is affordably priced at $800 for 13 days and gets reduced to around $287 per week if you sign up for 8 weeks. The primary responsibilities are teaching English to a community in a rural village setting while becoming immersed in the Massai culture. In your free time, you will have the chance to hike the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro or visit nearby safaris. For more information, click here!
Maximo Nivel is Volunteer Forever’s top-ranked volunteer abroad program with close to 1,000 reviews and a near-perfect 5-star rating. Their projects are very affordably priced, starting at just $595 (for one week) and appeal to a broad base of participants from high school students to graduate students and working professionals (and everyone in between). They have lots of projects where you don’t need any experience or credentials to help as well.
Maximo Nivel was founded in 2003 and has hosted over 25,000 participants for its volunteer abroad, internship abroad, study abroad, Spanish Immersion, Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Semester Abroad, and High School Abroad programs. Maximo Nivel offers its projects in three countries in Latin America: Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru.
Whether you’re looking for a one-week adventure or a full gap year experience, Maximo Nivel is definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a high-quality, affordable, and enriching experience in Latin America.
If you’re physically fit and ready to work hard, then check out Maximo’s beach conservation program in Costa Rica. The project is based in Costa Rica’s first official national park and you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside biologists and environmentalists. As a volunteer, you will help with trail maintenance, light construction, beach cleanup, day patrols, assisting with ongoing research, orienting new researchers, and leading and facilitating English-speaking visitors and school groups.
This program requires that you be able to commit to a minimum of one week. The program fee is $745, but each week is cheaper the longer you stay. The cost of the program includes accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support. Click here to learn more and apply!
If you’ve always wanted to become fluent in Spanish, now is your chance through Maximo Nivel’s Spanish language immersion programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru, where you can take courses customized to your learning requirements. Group classes range from 2 to 8 participants, allowing for a great balance between engagement and personalized attention. You also can choose to take private classes while visiting Central or South America. You can learn at your own pace and choose how intensive your instruction is – whether you would like to take a full day of classes every day, or even just one hour of tutoring while exploring the area and immersing yourself in the culture. Volunteering with Maximo Nivel is an excellent way to learn a new language while spending time abroad.
Since 1992, Projects Abroad has hosted over 132,000 participants on their volunteer, intern, and teach abroad projects. With such a long and established history, Projects Abroad describes itself as providing the gold standard of volunteer support and safety so that travelers may fulfill their potential, discover themselves, and create positive change in the world. Long-term, sustainable solutions are at the core of their programs, where you can be part of their ongoing efforts to meet specific goals in places where extra support is critical. Projects Abroad works directly with local community members and organizations, ensuring that their work meets real needs.
Programs run year-round, allowing volunteers and interns to choose their own start and end dates. With a hassle-free experience and dedicated in-country staff available 24/7, you don’t need experience or qualifications to sign up for most trips.
Teenagers who are physically fit and ready to work hard should check out Projects Abroad’s building project in Nepal. The project is based in Kathmandu and you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside skilled masons, architects, and engineers. As a volunteer, you will help build classrooms from the ground up and renovate existing classrooms. You will definitely get your hands dirty on this project where you will mix cement and concrete and lay bricks (all under supervision). Note that no prior construction experience is required.
This program requires that you be able to commit to a minimum of two weeks. The program fee is $2645 and it includes accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support. Click here to learn more and apply!
Wrapping it all up
Even if you don’t have a degree, specialized skills, or experience there are plenty of opportunities for you to volunteer abroad. In doing so, you’ll not only gain the skills and experience you desire, you’ll also be able to directly contribute to an overseas community in need and experience a wonderful new destination in the world.