This how-to provides some practical information on volunteering
outside the UK, as well as details of websites and publications that can help
you find an opportunity.
Things you'll need
- Time to do some research
- You might need to pay your own expenses so you will need to fundraise before you leave
Look at the different ways to volunteer outside the UK
Volunteering opportunities available in the rest of the world are as diverse as those available in the UK. It’s therefore a good idea to consider very carefully the sort of activity you want to do, your reasons for doing it and the resources available to you before you start looking for an opportunity.
Opportunities arranged from the UK come in a variety of forms, with the most common being
- professional volunteering for at least a year, which typically covers the cost of flights, accommodation and subsistence
- non-professional volunteering for anything from a few weeks to a year, for which volunteers will usually have to fundraise or contribute financially
- time limited fundraising challenges.
It is best to apply well in advance. Not all projects are well organised, so it’s a good idea to find out as much as you can beforehand. If possible, speak with volunteers who have returned from the project to find out how they found it.
It is also possible to travel to a country and then find voluntary work. However, you should check first if your visa allows volunteering and bear in mind that it can take many weeks to be selected onto a volunteer programme.
Think through your options carefully
Volunteering overseas can be an extremely rewarding experience, but is not something that should be entered into lightly. There are some things you need to think about before parting with any money.
- Length of time you want to volunteer for.
- Fees - most organisations will ask you to pay an administration fee for arranging the trip for you. Find out what this covers.
- Will you need to organise your own travel, accommodation, food, visas and financing?
- If you want to use particular skills whilst volunteering.
- Do you have any language skills – how will you communicate?
- Insurance – do you need your own insurance?
- Health – will you need vaccinations, how accessible will healthcare be
- whilst you’re away?
You may also want to weigh up the balance between the adventure for
yourself and the contribution you make in another society.
Volunteering abroad may affect your entitlement to certain state benefits on your return to the UK. You can avoid this by making National Insurance
contributions whilst you are away, to find out more visit the HMRC website.
Check out the organisation you might volunteer with
It is important that you check out any organisation thoroughly before handing over any money or leaving the country. Ask if you can be put in touch with people who have been on the organisation’s projects before. If possible, try to speak in person with someone who has volunteered with them rather than simply trusting testimonials. Many organisations have ambassador or alumni schemes which visit trade fairs, schools or student unions to talk about their experiences.
Consider insurance issues such as whether you will need your own travel insurance, whether the organisation’s insurance will cover you for the kind of work that you will be doing, and what would happen if you needed to get back to the UK before completing the placement.
Spend some time researching the country that you want to go to, and don’t forget to check out the political situation, details of any visas or vaccinations you’ll require as this will help you plan for your trip and ensure that you’re properly equipped when you get there.
The Ethical Tourism website offers advice & information for people who are interested in international volunteering and want to make sure that what they do is of value to themselves and the people they work with.
Raising the money
Unless you have savings or will be doing paid work overseas, you are likely to have to raise some or all of your own expenses before you go. You don't
necessarily have to be put off an overseas placement simply by the cost; if it is what you really want to do, there are ways of raising the money.
If approaching grant-making organisations, or businesses to sponsor you, do some research before getting in touch. Local contacts may work better; for instance, you could contact the local branch of the Lions, Rotary Club or
Round Table to find out if they can help. If there is a local newspaper where you live, they might be willing to write a short article about your trip. Often a local approach such as this can be far more fruitful than approaching larger organisations.
There are numerous ideas for fundraising. For instance, you could organise a club night, a dinner, a sponsored walk or swim.
Websites like www.justgiving.com can help you gain sponsorship and give
you some ideas. The organisation you want to volunteer with may also help
you raise the funds you need.
Have a look at the Do-it section on volunteering overseas.
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.
VSO offers international volunteering opportunities in more than 30 developing countries in Africa and Asia.
WorldWide Volunteering (WWV) maintains an online database of over 3,000 organisations with more than 1.9 million volunteer placements each year.
Idealist has a database with thousands of worldwide volunteering opportunities.