Volunteering abroad can provide you with invaluable personal and professional experience. However, your volunteer abroad venture will likely require some careful budgeting, even if you are receiving a stipend or some form of compensation.
Check out these six tips for picking a location, finding grants and scholarships, setting a budget, and more.
Tip #1: 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 more affordable for many individuals. However, it is farther from the U.S. and pricier to reach than similarly low-cost-of-living locations in Latin American or the Caribbean. Keep in mind, some countries with a lower cost of living may present more risks to your safety and health.
Before selecting a location, check your destination’s Country Information page on the U.S. Department of State site for details on travel advisories, potential risks, and advice for those traveling to the destination. Also check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website for information on potential health risks and recommended vaccines before traveling to your destination.
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!
Tip #2: 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 which may cover your housing and living expenses, like:
- Atlas Corps – Enroll in an ongoing training program and work for nonprofit, private, and government sectors to address social issues.
- Mercy Volunteer Corps – Work with poor and marginalized groups in education, healthcare, or social services in the United States and South America.
- United Nations Volunteers – As a qualified and highly motivated volunteer, work for one of many development programs around the word. This organization specifically seeks out skilled workers from many different industries.
Tip #3: Seek Out Grants and Scholarships
There are many organizations willing to assist international volunteers with funding. Sometimes your volunteer program may offer grants you can apply for.
You can also seek financial support from outside organizations. For example, Youth Hop features an extensive database of grants for international volunteers, regularly updating with new sources of funding.
PRO TIP! Most grants and scholarships require you to be accepted into an organization’s volunteer trip before you can apply. Make sure you solidify your volunteer trip plans before looking for grants.
Check out this curated list of 20 grants and scholarships for those planning to volunteer abroad to get started.
Tip #4: Fundraise
Don’t feel like you can’t ask for help from those you know when paying for your volunteer experience abroad. Family and friends may be able to help you meet your financial goals for your trip. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
Create a GoFundMe account or use another crowdfunding website to allow people to easily contribute online.
People may be more willing to support you if they know you will be spending your time abroad volunteering and helping people.
There are many other small steps you can take to cut back on expenses and save money too, like:
- Track your spending.
- Cook more meals at home and eat out less.
- Buy secondhand.
- Sell clothes, electronics, and other items you don’t use anymore.
- Start a side hustle.
Discover more tips for how to fundraise for your volunteer abroad trip.
Tip #5: Reduce Expenses from Back Home
Even though you won’t be living in your home country during a volunteer abroad trip, you may still be responsible for some expenses. These expenses may include:
- Rent or mortgage
- Storage fees
- Credit cards, student loans, and other regular bills
- Fees for a kennel or pet-sitter if you are leaving pets behind
The longer your trip is, the more financial responsibilities you might have back home.
Before traveling, reduce these fees as much as possible. Consider waiting to travel until after your rent has expired and before renting a new place so you won’t be responsible for those costs while you're gone. Instead store your items in a storage locker or with family or friends.
If that isn’t possible, consider subleasing you space to another renter while you are gone. (Just make sure your landlord is okay with it!)
Homeowners can consider renting out their home while they are gone. Reach out to friends and family who may be searching for a rental space around the time you plan to leave.
If you have a pet, consider leaving it with family or friends instead of paying for a kennel.
How to Reduce Utility Costs While Abroad
If you plan to leave your home empty while abroad, consider these tips for reducing your utility costs while you are gone.
- Close all doors, windows, blinds, and curtains to keep the house sealed and shaded from the sun – and thus prevent wasting energy.
- Clean air filters to improve efficiency.
- Unplug appliances and electronics.
- Shut off the hot and cold water valves for your washing machine.
- Turn off the gas for a gas dryer.
- Empty your refrigerator and unplug it.
- During the summer months, set your thermostat to 80-85 degrees. During the winter months, set it at around 55 degrees.
Tip #6: Budget Like a Pro
Look at your volunteer abroad experience as a chance to rethink your style of living in order to stretch your budget.
Consider taking these steps to ensure you are on top of your finances for your trip:
- Track your savings and spending on a weekly basis with apps like PocketGuard or Mint.
- Let your photos and journal serve as keepsakes, rather than making purchases.
- Reserve splurges for special occasions.
- Connect with locals to find out ways to make the most of your money and have a more authentic experience.
- Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
- Looking into purchasing city passes to save money if you plan to visit multiple museums or landmarks.
- Use available public transportation.
- Find things to do that are 100% free.
Are You Covered for Unexpected Medical Expenses While Volunteering Abroad?
Did you know that many health insurance plans do not provide coverage outside of your home country?
Consider purchasing a travel medical insurance plan that provides coverage for unexpected injuries and illnesses as well as helpful travel assistance services. Look for the following important benefits to ensure you have coverage for eligible emergency scenarios:
- Emergency Medical Evacuation
- Hospital Room and Board
- Local Ambulance
Consider purchasing a budget-friendly travel medical insurance policy like Atlas Travel® to help cover unexpected medical expenses while volunteering abroad. A 20-year-old U.S. resident volunteering in Thailand could get 6 months of Atlas Travel medical insurance coverage for $215.34* with an overall coverage maximum of $100,000 and a $100 deductible.
*Price based on this specific scenario in February 2023.
BONUS TIP! Let the Experts Help You Plan
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.