How to find a great volunteering placement

Volunteering abroad is an amazing experience. You will learn so much while helping the planet and its people – plus you'll make new friends while being the envy of your old ones!

But if you’ve never volunteered abroad before, finding and organising your placement can be daunting. Where should you start? What kinds of things can you do? How much will it all cost?

Here’s a helpful 4-step guide


Lion cub
© African Conservation Experience (ACE)

Diver with a fish
© Coral Cay

Step 1: Have a look at the options – all of them!

Many people who want to volunteer abroad have a vague idea of the area they want to work in, but no firm idea of what it actually is they would like to do.

So having a look at all your options is a great start – you can see a list of vetted and approved volunteer placements here: www.thecareerbreaksite.com/volunteer.

Many career breakers are surprised at the number and variety of volunteering projects on offer. Examples include:

  • Marine research
  • Conservation volunteering
  • Caring for or teaching children
  • Sports coaching
  • Working on a game reserve
  • Community development projects
  • Business development projects
  • HIV/AIDS awareness
  • Managing other volunteers
  • Building or clearing

It's worth remembering too, that many volunteer projects involve more than one type of work. For example, on a conservation project on a game reserve in Africa, you might be doing manual work such as mending fences and clearing paths, but also educational work, such as teaching children in local schools about conservation.

The work on a volunteering placement is also more varied than people often expect – tasks like photographing animals, learning to dive (for marine conservation) and being trained in data collection can be part of your placement.

Some professional people are drawn to the more “hands-on” aspects of volunteering, such as building, caring for orphaned animals or collecting samples for analysis.

However, many choose to use the skills they've learnt in their day job to help communities abroad. A business development manager, for example, might volunteer in a placement looking for alternatives to logging to generate income for the community. A marketing professional could help raise awareness of the importance of supporting an eco-system. Whatever your professional skills and experience, there is a volunteer placement abroad that can use them.


Volunteer project in Cambodia
© Projects Abroad

Kids kayaking
© Real Gap

Step 2: Narrow down your options

This is often the hardest part – choosing what to do from so many exciting opportunities!

So the next step is to narrow down your options. Make a shortlist of the projects that appeal to you the most, then you can start looking at the details. You will need to know:

  1. Where the project is – not just the country, but find out a bit about the general area. Will you be very isolated (perfect for some people) or in the middle of a bustling city? What is the climate like? Will there be internet?! You'll also need to know what kinds of things are in the local area, because you won't be volunteering 24/7 – you will usually get the weekend off to go exploring.
  2. How much it costs. Yes, you will normally have to pay for your volunteering placement (more on this below). Costs vary a great deal, but so do the inclusions.
  3. How long it is. Many volunteering placements are flexible, so you need to decide how much time you want to spend on the project too. Volunteering abroad can last as little as 2 weeks or as long as 2 years! You can of course do more than one – either back-to-back, or as part of a longer career break or round-the-world trip.
  4. How flexible the placement is. You might decide you hate it and want to leave, or more likely, that you love it and want to stay on a bit longer! When looking at the placement, don't forget to check the flexibility of your other travel arrangements, such as insurance, visas and flights.
  5. When you can go. Many volunteering opportunities are available year-round, but some are dependent on things like school term-times, animal breeding seasons, etc.
  6. Who you will be working with. You will normally be working alongside other volunteers, plus local staff, but you need to check. The other volunteers may be from different countries as well, not just the UK. If being with your own age group is important, tell your volunteer organisation. Most will try to place you with similar people – so many people are doing career breaks these days that it's more than likely you'll find people there your own age.
  7. What else is included or available. Placements usually include accommodation, 24-hour support (sometimes from the UK office as well as the local one), some or all meals, and all training and equipment necessary. Very few include flights. Many volunteering placements will have optional extras too, like excursions, language or cookery lessons, and social events, to help you get to know your host country and your fellow volunteers.
  8. Lots more details. The volunteering organisation will give you a wealth of information to help you prepare for your placement, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Lots of them! It's also a good idea to ask advice from people who've been volunteering (the volunteering organisation can put you in touch with previous volunteers), or who've been to the country you're going to.


Monkeys sleeping
© thecareerbreaksite.com

Step 3: Get organised

By now, you should have enough information to be able to choose your volunteering placement.

Now it’s time to:

  • Decide when to go and how long for
  • Decide what else you are going to do
  • See what else you need to organise (flights, insurance, etc)
  • Wrap up things at home (eg renting out your house if you'll be away for a long time)
  • Plan your budget
  • Get your kit together

Your organisation will be able to help with kit lists and organising your visas, and some can also advise on things like flights and overland transport.

Step 4: Go!

And enjoy the experience of making a positive difference to the world!

For more information about volunteering abroad, and to find volunteering placements, visit www.thecareerbreaksite.com/volunteer.

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