Not all volunteer opportunities are created equal. As I noted in a previous post about help exchange options, many volunteer programs—regardless of intent—aren’t feasible for budget travelers due to significant costs. Sometimes the prices are justified (e.g. a remote location), but unfortunately, instances of programs charging top dollar and catering towards high schoolers using parental funds for a resume boost are all too common.
I’ve compiled a short list of resources and specific programs focused on budget-friendly international volunteer opportunities. Most of the programs only ask for a small admin fee and help with things like lodging and food costs—all of which are very understandable requests. Feel free to include additional resources in the comments or share previous low-cost volunteer experiences.
International Volunteer HQ
International Volunteer HQ is an impressive New Zealand-based program with inexpensive international volunteer opportunities available in over 30 countries. Costs include a registration fee of $279 and additional program fee based on the individual program and duration of the stay—most options will hit $1000 in total costs around the 3rd or 4th week and include all the essentials like food, lodging, etc. The programs are slightly more expensive than others, but the site explains the fees in great detail and the opportunities are more varied and flexible in terms of when a volunteer is able to attend. The organization comes recommended from a number of respected websites and personal friends.
Love Volunteers is very similar to International Volunteer HQ—both in terms of both costs and range of locations. A $249 registration fee is valid for a year and costs for individual programs vary by location and number of weeks. Many of the opportunities are feasible for under $1000 for 4-5 weeks, while others—sometimes in the same location—might be significantly more expensive. All of the costs seem very fair for the type of program offered—in other words, wildlife and adventure-oriented programs cost more money than volunteering on a farm. The website itself is perhaps the best designed of the bunch and includes testimonials for each program, intuitive overviews, and insight into the how the organization’s overall volunteer structure works.
Canadian Alliance for Development Initiatives and Projects
I found CADIP years ago when trying to dig through expensive volunteer programs and find a diamond in the rough—a site offering both a number of locations and fair fees. With a program fee of $340 and necessities like food and lodging covered by the host, costs are among the cheapest I’ve found online. Note some of the programs in developing countries charge a little extra, which makes sense, and accommodations tend to be on the rustic side. Most of the programs range from two to four weeks, but long-term placements are also possible. The website might look dated, but the number of regions and countries available at such a fair cost is hard to beat for international volunteer opportunities.
SE7EN isn’t a direct provider of volunteer opportunities, but rather provides a website for volunteers and hosts to connect. Users must spring for a 15 euro membership lasting two years to contact hosts, but the site offers a money back guarantee for anyone who doesn’t receive a response from a host in 30 days. The costs are minimal for anyone serious about volunteering and the site consistently offers between 700 and 800 free or low-cost international volunteer opportunities. In a sense, the site is very much like the volunteer version of HelpX, a site dedicated to work exchange programs with a similar membership fee and community of hosts seeking help from travelers.
Volunteer South America
Volunteer South America only focuses on international volunteer opportunities in a specific region of the world, but very much warrants a mention due to the sheer volume of postings on the site and the ease in which users are able to see a brief overview of programs. The website, which also covers Central America, lists opportunities in a rather haphazard fashion, but makes up for the mess with a mouse-over feature enabling visitors to read the most important facts without clicking on the link. An added bonus: most of the volunteer programs range from free to extremely inexpensive and is without question the most comprehensive collection of links I’ve found for Latin America. The only caveat here is the fact volunteer opportunities aren’t directly associated with the site, making quality control a bit difficult. I tend to use the site as a starting resource for volunteering in Latin America and then do more research on the most interesting opportunities.