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How to volunteer abroad? Travelling the world seems to be the most popular way to spend a career break or sabbatical, but volunteering abroad can enable you to not only travel but allows you to give back to society, have fun and is extremely rewarding.


How to volunteer abroad?

If you have decided that you want to spend your time off helping others you need to do your research, decide what type of volunteering program you want to get involved in, choose the right organisation, ensure you have the correct visas and vaccinations and finally, have fun!

Volunteering abroad on a career break or sabbatical can be the most rewarding way to spend your time off. The world has become very money orientated but giving up your time for a good cause is priceless and very fulfilling. Volunteering abroad can be a great way to enhance your CV and show that you have spent your time away from work productively and that you have a caring personality.

According to NCVO, 38% of people reported they had formally volunteered at least once a year in 2017-18.

Volunteering is something that a lot of people would like to do more of but busy lifestyles just get in the way. Making monthly donations to charities is a great way to help, but getting your hands dirty and really getting stuck in is where you will make a big difference and you will take away so much more from the experience. Taking a career break or sabbatical gives you the time you desire to do something of this nature and help where help is needed.

Define volunteer: a volunteer is someone who gives up their time for free to get involved in an activity which is going to help people or the environment. Becoming a volunteer would be the free choice of the individual and the volunteering activity could be a part of a private, voluntary or public organisation.

There are thousands of diverse volunteering opportunities on offer and you need to pick one based on your interests and passions. Just remember that you don't have to get on a plane to get involved in exciting volunteering projects, once you start looking you will realise there are loads of ways you can volunteer close to home in your local community.

Different types of volunteering projects abroad:

- Volunteering with children

- Volunteer with animals

- Help with conservation projects

- Medical volunteering

- Community development

- Business-related volunteering

What to do something different?

How about setting up your own volunteering organisation? If you are really passionate about something, then this could be a great way of helping a cause which is important to you. Doing this could teach you some amazing skills which you can transfer to your job when you get home. Doing something of this nature could even open other doors to a new career in the charity sector.

How to find the right cause and voluntary organisation?

You are going to be giving up your valuable time and so you want to make sure you pick the right volunteering project and organisation. As you can see there are a lot of volunteering abroad projects on offer. You want to make a difference but you also want to enjoy what you will be doing. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you want to make it count. I recommend writing a list of your interests and activities which you enjoy and this should help you narrow down choosing the right project.  For example, if you want to work with animals but you don't like physical work but you are good at research, compiling reports and analysing statistics, then you could look a project which needs volunteers to research about animals which are becoming extinct.

Where is your help needed the most? What are your interests?

Whether you want to volunteer abroad or at home, there are lots of different organisations who can assist you in booking a volunteering project.

VSO, Earth Action, National Trust, The Conservation Volunteers and Do It are just a few examples of organisations who can assist you with volunteering on a career break or sabbatical.

You can easily undertake a bit of research on the internet and see where are volunteers needed. Natural disasters, for example, can cause a sudden demand for volunteers in a certain country and a career break gives the flexibility to go where the volunteers are needed.

Make sure you do your research and read firsthand reviews of the volunteering organisations, to see the type of support and experience that the volunteers had.

Top Tip: Follow your passion, as you are going to be giving up your time for free you need to be passionate about what you are doing.

Will I have to pay to volunteer abroad and why?

Many people seem shocked that you have to pay to volunteer abroad but if you didn't pay for your expenses then the charities would be at a loss. Even though you are giving up your time you will still be expected to pay for your accommodation, food and any other living expenses, just like you would if you were living at home. The expenses won't usually be too high but you still need to take these into consideration when planning to volunteer abroad on a career break. Click here to read an article on how to save for a career break which you might find helpful.  

If you volunteer abroad with a reputable organisation, you will have ongoing support throughout your volunteering journey and it shows that it is a sustainable organisation. With some organisations, you will get training and they may even help you with obtaining your visa if required. Even though it seems odd that you have to pay to give up your time for free, these costs have to come from somewhere.  

You may be able to find free volunteer abroad programs but make sure to do your research, as there could be hidden costs or the living conditions might not be up to standard.  It really comes down to the type of experience you want.  

How long do volunteering projects last for?

This really depends on the type of project you decide to get involved in. Some projects can last years but there are loads of volunteering projects which last as little as 1 week. Some people dedicate themselves to one project, whereas others will volunteer at different organisations while travelling around the world.

Just remember that your career break is your one chance to spend your time how you want, so if you are not enjoying yourself, then there will always be another project which suits you better.

Am I too old to volunteer abroad?

No! Whether you are looking to volunteer abroad at 40, 50 or 60, you are never too old to volunteer abroad. It is prudent to pick a volunteering program which suits your fitness levels, travel style and personality. There is not usually an age limit on volunteering programs.

Top Tip: Check your travel insurance and make sure that the type of activities you will be doing are covered.

Do I need to have any previous experience to volunteer abroad?

No, not for the majority of volunteering projects. For example, If you want to volunteer your time teaching English in Cambodia, then some organisations will specify that you will need a TEFL certificate, which you can read about here. Or if you are looking to volunteer in the professional sector, such as business startups, then the organisation may expect you to have a level of experience. However, the majority of the projects don't require any previous experience.

Do I need a visa to volunteer abroad?

This really depends on where in the world you are volunteering and what you will be doing. Your first point of call should be your volunteering organisation, as they are best placed to know if you need a visa.

When I was planning my career break I always used, where you can search for the country you are visiting and it will give you safety advice, travel information and entry requirements. Just please note that this is information for individuals with a UK passport.

Top Tip: In addition to sorting out your visas remember to visit your doctor to see if you need any vaccinations.

Benefits of volunteering?

So what are the benefits of volunteering?

It is not selfish to ask this question, as you need to enjoy your time whilst helping others. Most people don't take more than one or two career breaks in their working life, so if you have decided to volunteer on your career break you want to learn new skills and creating lasting memories.

Volunteering abroad may allow you to live with locals and really get to know the culture. Most of the volunteering projects are off the beaten tracks so you may get to see things you would usually get to see. Taking part in volunteering projects are also a great way to meet like-minded people and make lasting friendships. Volunteering is gold dust for your CV, just make sure to pick out the key transferable skills and discuss theses in further detail at the interview stage.  

By volunteering abroad, or at home, it will make you appreciate what you have and you will be making the world a better place.


Have you volunteered and have a story to tell? I would love to hear from you for the Career Break Interview Series. Drop me an email at

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How to volunteer abroad or overseas


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