What better place to volunteer than in the land of buena onda (good vibes)? Chile, a country that values hospitality above all else, is a place for volunteers who want to slow down and build relationships while learning to enjoy the journey. Volunteering in Chile is the perfect option for volunteers wanting to gain experience teaching English, as it is taught in every primary and secondary school throughout the country. Volunteers work with youth and community development, the indigenous Mapuche people, or environmental conservation is also offered. Not to mention the activities and sights that accompany volunteering in Chile, because of the nation’s diverse and pristine landscape!
Chile is South America’s most prosperous country and is situated between the Andes and the Pacific coast, stretching along the entire bottom half of South America. It is the longest country in the world with geography that varies from the driest desert on earth to vast southern glacial fields and everything in between. The locations with the most volunteer placements in Chile include the capital city of Santiago, the beach city of Viña del Mar, nearby Valparaiso, and various rural destinations. There are also various remote locations that offer volunteer programs in Chile, where volunteer work and live amidst the beautiful nature of Chile or with the indigenous Mapuche people.
Santiago, the capital city, is the most developed area in Chile. In additional to the lure of a big city lifestyle, Santiago also boasts many nearby attractions, and is known for being calm and clean. After a fulfilling day of teaching, community development, human rights activism, or working with animals, volunteers will enjoy hanging out in Santiago’s cafes, touring the vineyards, and visiting the shops, businesses, and nightlife of the city in their down time.
Viña del Mar is just over an hour drive away from Santiago and is located along the Pacific Coast. Sandy beaches, museums, historic buildings, conservation efforts, and various service projects are some of the many reasons volunteering in Viña del Mar is a great choice.
Valparaiso, Chile’s most chaotic yet charming city, is built around the largest, and nearly the oldest, port in the country. Surrounded by endless hills, long staircases, eclectic architecture, and crazily-angled streets, Valparaiso offers volunteer placements in teaching as well as working within the unique community.
Due to a recently stated goal of the Chilean Ministry of Education, encouraging Chile to become fully bilingual, teaching English is the most popular placement for volunteering in Chile. There are a few teaching placements in Chile that even offer a monthly stipend from the Chilean Ministry of Education and many programs accept all levels of teaching experience in a variety of locations to choose from. Most teaching placements require volunteers to be eighteen years of age or older, native English speakers, and possess basic to intermediate Spanish language skills. Some even offer or require Spanish lessons in-country as part of the volunteer program.
Youth Development, such as volunteering in care centers, orphanages, and underserved communities, is another popular way volunteers can choose to volunteer with children in Chile. In addition to various mountain and indigenous Mapuche communities, Santiago, Viña del Mar, La Serena, and Valparaiso all offer volunteer opportunities for those who wish to volunteer with children or in community development.
Chile’s pristine yet fragile environment naturally gives way to many opportunities for ecotourism and environmental conservation volunteering too. Conservation projects allow volunteers to live in and take advantage of the breathtaking locations throughout Chile while being a part of the effort to save them. Conservation volunteer opportunities in Chile are more popular in the coastal cities of Viña del Mar and La Serena, mountain communities like Patagonia, and in national parks, such as Torres del Paine National Park.
Other opportunities available to individuals interested in volunteering abroad in Chile include working with exotic animals in a Safari-Park, healthcare positions, social justice work, and human rights activism.
Although Spanish is not always required, it is definitely preferred, and a basic level of understanding prior to departure will be very helpful for those who choose to volunteer in Chile. Volunteer programs can last as short as one week or as long as a year, though teaching placements tend to be longer on average than other placements.
Compared to other South American countries, Chile is not cheap, but it is still less expensive and more economical than both the United States and Europe. Late-December to mid-March makes up the busy season in Chile, when every town and city puts on festivals involving music, feasts, and fireworks. During this time, prices of goods and services can often double what they typically are during the rest of the year.
ATMs are not always readily available at more remote locations, plus Santiago usually has the best exchange rates, so try to exchange what you think you will need for basic necessities when you first fly in. The national currency is the Peso which exchanges at a rate of about $.07 cents. Living expenses while volunteering in Chile will be very reasonable, considering most programs provide housing and at least some food compensation. Even without a home-stay or meals provided, hostels and markets are inexpensive and smart budgeters can expect to spend less than $25 per day for all living expenses. As with most places, tipping in restaurants is expected; ten percent of the total bill is sufficient.
Host family accommodation and meals are provided and pre-arranged by the majority of volunteer programs in Chile. Some English teaching programs, such as those that place volunteers in a family whom they teach English to, will even give you the option to connect with the family you will be staying with prior to departure. Select volunteer opportunities in Chile, such as conservation and animal, usually offer volunteer lodging instead of host-family stays.
A passport valid for the extent of your stay is the only requirement for volunteering abroad in Chile, except for individuals from neighboring South American countries who only need to show their national identity card. A tourist fee, $132 for U.S. and Canadian citizens and $56 for Australians, will be required upon arrival when flying into Santiago. At that time, you will receive a tourist card with an entry stamp, which will be valid for 90 days and is required to leave the country.
Those who plan to volunteer in Chile for longer than 90 days may either renew their card for an additional 90 days at the Departmento de Extranjeria, or apply for a temporary resident visa. It’s not difficult, but for those who don’t enjoy standing in line for hours and spending an additional $100, taking a stroll across the border (and using it as an excuse to visit neighboring Peru, Bolivia, or Argentina) is just as effective.
The weather is something to be aware of before deciding to volunteer abroad in Chile. Earthquakes and rip currents are normal, and smog issues and volcano eruptions do happen occasionally. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to what the weather is like (seasons are opposite of the United States!) in the city you decide to volunteer in so you can pack accordingly. What you need to bring and wear will vary drastically based upon where you will be volunteering in Chile.
It can be seen as a benefit or a challenge, but be prepared for a slower pace of life during your volunteer program in Chile. Don’t get frustrated when plans change or unforeseen variables pop up. Enjoy each moment and learn to focus on the journey instead of the destination. Buenaonda can be a life-changing perspective that you might just bring back home with you when you leave!