Mexico is a country with a mix of American, Spanish, and indigenous cultures, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and a long history of wars, explorations, and conquistadors. Individuals who volunteer in Mexico will clearly see that the country’s cultural and historical influences still play an important role in Mexican society today. Mexico is still considered a developing country, and therefore there is a genuine need for volunteers in Mexico, especially for those interested in community development.
Individuals who volunteer in Mexico often find the greatest number of placements along the coast. The cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Merida, and Cuernavaca are also quite popular. Cities along the Pacific Coast, like Tecoman, and along the Yucatan Peninsula, like Playa del Carmen, are common destinations for environmental and conservation projects. Tecoman and Playa del Carmen are known for their beautiful beaches, scuba diving, and surfing. Xel Ha is an aquarium park near Playa del Carmen that is considered the largest aquarium in the world. It’s a great place to snorkel, swim with the dolphins, and cliff dive. In Tecoman, agriculture is an important industry, so limes, coconuts, mangos, and bananas are grown there.
Oaxaca, located in a valley about 300 miles south of Mexico City, is a city strongly influenced by Mexico's indigenous cultures. Seventeen unique languages are still spoken there today. Just six miles west of the city are ruins from one of the largest MesoAmerican cities of all time, Monte Albán. Popular volunteer projects in Oaxaca include projects in medicine and social work.
Guadalajara, the birthplace of Mariachi, is Mexico’s second largest city. It’s known to have a vibrant music scene and is home to the largest public market in the Western Hemisphere, the Libertad Market. Tlaquepaque, one of Mexico’s most important art centers, is located just outside of Guadalajara and sells different arts and crafts such as pottery. In Guadalajara, common volunteer projects include medicine, education, and social work.
Projects & Placements
Conservation projects are especially common volunteer opportunities in Mexico, especially along the coastal areas. One of the most popular environmental projects is turtle conservation, since four out of seven of the world’s sea turtles are located in Mexico, and their populations are declining. Turtle conservation volunteers work with young sea turtles who are threatened by the growing tourist industry, rehabilitating them until they are ready for release.
There are a wide variety of social work projects available to volunteers in Mexico ranging from orphanage work to building houses. These projects work with poor communities in cities throughout Mexico, aiding in community development and working towards social justice for underprivileged members of society. It’s helpful for individuals who volunteer in Mexico to have some knowledge of Spanish in order to communicate with locals, but not all programs have a language requirement.
Health projects in dentistry, nutrition, and general medical services are available throughout Mexico, especially in poorer communities where people can’t afford basic medical care. Volunteers are greatly needed to help keep communities healthy and give everyone the medical attention they deserve. Medical volunteers usually need a background in medicine and a higher level of Spanish proficiency.
Volunteers in education, especially English education, are in high demand in Mexico. Since Mexico borders the United States, learning English is especially important to Mexican citizens. English teaching volunteers generally work with children in classrooms. Most programs don’t require volunteers to know Spanish, but some require a basic level.
Programs can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, and those who volunteer in Mexico can often choose how long they stay.
Costs & Affordability
The cost of living in Mexico, when compared to the United States, is incredibly low. The median household income in Mexico is one tenth of that in the United States, which explains why Mexico is so affordable for US citizens. In fact, Americans who move to Mexico are often able to afford luxuries such as maids, cooks and gardeners. Rent, food, and entertainment are all affordable, so those who volunteer in Mexico shouldn’t worry about shopping for souvenirs or going out for drinks or to restaurants during their stay in Mexico.
Accommodation & Visas
Volunteers in Mexico might stay in worksite housing, a volunteer guest house, or a homestay during their time abroad. Homestays allow volunteers to experience cultural immersion, eat home cooked meals, and live with locals during their stay. Volunteer guesthouses and worksite housing offer the chance to build a community with fellow volunteers. A unique housing option sometimes available in Mexico is camping, for example for volunteer participating in turtle conservation projects, where volunteers stay on-site to participate in activities throughout the day and evening.
U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to volunteer in Mexico for less than 180 days. However, for volunteer programs lasting longer than 180 days, volunteers will need to obtain a visa before departing. Visa applicants will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to turn in an application, and they must have a valid passport (Find one nearest you in GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory).
Benefits and Challenges
Safety concerns seem to be a common theme for those who want to volunteer in Mexico. Though organized crime and homicide rates are high in certain areas, such as the state of Chihuahua, many areas of Mexico are safe and have low crime rates. Travelers should always check the US Department of State website for safety information before traveling to any country.