Can You Volunteer Abroad Cheap or Free? The Real Cost of Volunteering Overseas

This is a guest post from Nicoleta, who shares her best tips for how to manage the true cost of volunteer work abroad, whether you’re trying to volunteer abroad free or just cheaply as possible. While volunteering is a wonderful way to give and visit the world at the same time, there’s often a cost associated with volunteering overseas, and she shares her insight into how much it costs to volunteer abroad. This is part of our series on jobs you can do as you travel the world and teaching English overseas.

I truly believe that travel is one of the best things that anybody can do with their lives. Seeing amazing countries, learning about different cultures and having the freedom to explore whatever you want is a liberating and exhilarating experience like no other.

For those looking to add another dimension to their travel, spending some time as a volunteer can be an excellent option.

volunteering t shirt

Can you volunteer abroad cheap or for free? The real costs

As a volunteer, you not only get all the benefits of regular traveling, like seeing new places and meeting new people, but you also get a uniquely intimate insight into a culture and the chance to give something back.

If you’re considering becoming a volunteer, then you might be wondering how much it’s all going to cost. The truth is, there is no straight answer to this question, as different companies charge vastly different amounts.

However, there are some general common factors that can help you to know how much to budget. If you do it right, volunteering can actually save you money when compared with more traditional forms of travel, such as staying exclusively in hotels and moving around every day or two.

So, here are the basic costs of volunteering abroad, broken down for you to better understand and plan effectively.

How much does it cost to volunteer abroad?

The costs to volunteer overseas include the volunteer project fees, flights and transportation, meals, accommodation, visas and more!

The volunteer project itself

By this, I mean the fees that the volunteer organization charge, and it’s this that is likely to have the largest effect on your budget.

Project fees depend massively on the individual organization, as well as the location of the project, and various other factors. At the upper end of the scale, you may be expected to pay hundreds of dollars per day, and at the lower end, you may only need to cover a fraction of that.

It’s vital to look at what’s covered by the fees and whether there will be any additional costs. You should also check out things such as the quality of the accommodation as well as reviews by past volunteers, which are available through any good organization like uvolunteer.

The only way to accurately find out the cost of the project is to do some research and shop around.

what you need to know about flights and transportation when volunteering overseas

Flights and transportation for volunteering

The cost of your flights is likely to be another significant expense for any low cost volunteer abroad vacation. Obviously, the actual costs vary depending on how far you need to fly and the season, so this will be something you need to figure out before committing.

In terms of general transportation costs, many organizations will cover the most vital costs as part of the program fees. For example, good organizations will cover airport transfers, as well as any transport needed as part of the project.

Food and drink while volunteering

This can be another hidden cost, with some organizations failing to provide any food despite high fees.

If you don’t want to shell out for every meal, then try to look for a company that covers some of your meals as part of the program fees. For example, you may have lunch provided while you are working.

Drinks and alcohol are likely to be something you need to account for too. Volunteer placements are inherently social, and you can expect to be surrounded by other young volunteers who are up for having a good time, so you’ll probably end up going for a few drinks now and then.

volunteering overseas what you need to know about food and drink

Sightseeing and traveling after your volunteering

Volunteering is by no means all about work, and with the right organization you will have plenty of time to yourself. As you’re in a foreign country, it’s a good idea to use at least some of this time to explore the area.

So, if you’re wanting to travel to other areas and go sightseeing on your weekends, then you’ll have to factor in the costs.

As the countries with the most legitimate projects are usually in developing parts of the world, these costs are going to be lower than at home. For example, if you’re working as a volunteer in Thailand, then getting around, sightseeing and accommodation will all be very affordable.

volunteering Boti falls

Visas for volunteering

Visa costs for volunteering are rarely going to set you back a huge amount, but it’s still something that’s worth factoring into your budget.

For most countries that you are likely to go to, volunteering visas will generally not cost more than around $50 for a month or so, if anything. However, you will need to look carefully at the precise rules surrounding visas and volunteers, as some countries class volunteering as work. In these cases you may need to acquire a working visa, which can be a more complicated process and cost significantly more.

Plan ahead to avoid being hit with any surprise volunteering costs

The secret to accurately judging the costs for a volunteering trip is to plan ahead, so you don’t catch yourself asking why is volunteering abroad so expensive? Choose a good organization, figure out exactly where you want to go, for how long, and whether you want to continue traveling afterwards. Taking your time with this part of the process will help you to budget effectively, and save money in the long run.


Nicoleta Radoi is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada and is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food.

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