Volunteering abroad can provide invaluable personal and professional experiences.
However, the experience will likely require some careful budgeting, even if you are receiving a stipend or some form of compensation.
Here are six tips for picking a location, setting a budget, finding scholarships, grants and/or other sources of funding, and getting advice from those who have already served volunteer stints overseas.
Location, Location, Location
There's no doubt that some regions and countries offer a lower cost of living. But the amount you will pay for rent, food, and other necessities must be weighed with other costs, such as the cost of travel for you and friends or family who may want to visit.
Africa, for example, offers many volunteering opportunities and is typically affordable. However, it is farther from the U.S. and more pricey to reach than similarly low-cost-of-living locations in Latin American or the Caribbean, Rachel Taft writes in Go Overseas.
»Thinking of volunteering in a country that doesn't speak English? Don't worry — there are plenty of ways to get by when you don't speak the language!
Plan for Expenses at Home
Plan to reserve enough monies for the following expenses:
- Rent or mortgage
- Storage fees, if you have disbanded your place
- Credit cards, student loans, and other regular bills
- Fees for a kennel or pet-sitter if you are leaving pets behind
Budget Like a Local
Look at your volunteer abroad experience as a chance to rethink your style of living in order to stretch your budget.
You can also take the following steps to save serious money abroad:
- Track your savings and spending on a weekly basis
- Let your photos and journal serve as keepsakes, rather than making purchases
- Follow the local lifestyle by reserving splurges for special occasions
- Connect with locals to find out ways to make the most of your money and have a more authentic experience
Remember that even if your volunteer experience doesn't offer a stipend, the sponsoring group may be able to arrange for a home stay or room and board, so don't hesitate to inquire.
Follow the Money
Once you know how much money you will need to live during your volunteer stint, look for sources of income beyond any stipend or grant being provided by the sponsoring organization.
Leverage Your Skill Set
If you have healthcare experience, a specialized skill set, and/or are looking for an extended commitment, you might want to consider organizations like Atlas Service Corps, Mercy Volunteer Corps, or United Nations Volunteer, which may cover your housing and living expenses.
Let the Experts Help You Plan, Acclimate
Here are some resources to assist with planning your volunteer experience and getting used to your new surroundings:
- Working Abroad — This site provides everything you need to know about getting a visa and planning an international move. It also shares various resources to assist you.
- Transitions Abroad — As the name suggests, this site offers information and tips on working and living overseas.
- Go Abroad — This site hosts a wealth of information on educational and work opportunities, with online advisers available to assist you.
- BUNAC — The British Universities North America Club provides guidance on visas, tax information, jobs, travel, and social events.
- Easy Expat — This site features continent-specific guides, job listings, and interviews with former work abroad students.