13 Best Volunteer Abroad Programs in 2018-2019

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GoAbroad dishes on the best volunteer abroad programs out there this year

Volunteering abroad can be as easy as ABC, but how do you choose from the seemingly endless stream of volunteer abroad companies? 

...the more popular international volunteering becomes, the more difficult it is to pinpoint where to go, what to do and which organisation you want to volunteer with. For starters, the sheer number of volunteering opportunities today can be overwhelming. Then there’s the problem that not all volunteering is good volunteering[...] And, let’s face it, no-one wants to become that volunteer who has just built a bridge where no bridge was needed.”

- Lonely Planet, Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide

Picking the right volunteer organizations abroad is like choosing a travel buddy for a life changing opportunity to touch others’ lives or do something for nature. That’s a pretty big commitment, so we want to make sure you and your volunteer org are a match made in goodwill heaven. 

Portrait of young Peruvian girl

Lend a hand in Peru working with children, it’s a cause in desperate need, and you’d make a huge impact.

First, let's talk about what makes a program one of the best, and what you, would-be volunteer, should look for as you vet international volunteer opportunities. Then, swipe through this guide of the 12 best volunteer abroad programs to find the perfect one for you—broken down by the following categories:

  • Best volunteer programs for high school students
  • Best volunteer programs for college students
  • Best volunteer programs for older adults, and
  • Safe volunteer abroad programs

Let's dive in, shall we?

Animals gathered around watering hole in Zimbabwe

This is the new definition of drinks at happy hour.

What makes a program go from simply “good” to one of the “best volunteer abroad programs?”

If you’ve ever been a sucker for love at first sight, this is one of those times when you want to be extra careful. The most popular volunteer organizations aren’t necessarily the most reputable volunteer abroad programs. Once you think you’ve found “the one”, do your research again to compare and contrast programs in order to separate the mediocre from the finest. 

Good volunteer abroad companies earn a gold star for providing participants with a safe, affordable volunteer experience that positively impacts the host communities overseas. The needs of both sides are met and everyone leave a happy camper. However, the best volunteer abroad programs will go above and beyond to exceed expectations and have a long lasting impact even after the volunteer projects comes to an end. Volunteers’ strengths and skills are taken into consideration to efficiently use their time and the own organizations’ resources. These organizations don’t exist just to facilitate the transfer of labor and aid to another country. Volunteer organizations abroad with a legitimate enthusiasm for achieving their sustainable, philanthropic goals are 👌 .

[Get matched with the BEST volunteer programs]

three-toed sloth in the trees in Costa Rica

Don’t take advice from this sloth. Sign up for volunteer abroad programs ASAP.

5 things to look for in reputable volunteer abroad programs

Just having an aesthetically pleasing website with bright pictures isn’t enough to prove reputable volunteer abroad programs. After completing the first step of assuring you’re being a responsible voluntourist, make sure your volunteer organization is doing the same! How do you find these upright institutions?

Look for...

1. Local community involvement

One of the most important indicators of the best volunteer abroad programs is that the local community should always have some level of involvement. Are members of the local communities involved in the organization’s administration and on-site projects? Does the organization use local resources such as lodging and meals to provide for volunteers? Has the local community fully approved the volunteer projects going on? Find out if the volunteer organization has truly made a point out of serving the host community in every aspect. Sustainable voluntourism, people!

2. Proven impact through volunteer work

A picture may speak a thousand words, but numbers carry an indisputable weight. Statistics about volunteer abroad companies can highlight the number of years in operation, the impact through volunteer projects, and long-term benefits that organization has had since its inception. These are all important pieces of information to demonstrate the company doesn’t exist to exploit host communities for profit. The best volunteer abroad organizations are transparent about their metrics of success.

Woman in blue sari sitting and smiling

Volunteering with women’s empowerment projects in India will put a smile on your face, too.

3. Adequate preparation before volunteering

Apart from your active effort in preparing to be a responsible volunteer during your time abroad, you should choose a reputable volunteer abroad programs that provide adequate preparation. This means distributing pre-departure information about your host community, goals, and details so you can best equip yourself to serve for once you actually hit the ground running.

4. Affiliations with professional organizations

Popular volunteer organizations have typically earned their stripes by having affiliations and memberships with several organizations in the business. The more nods of approval, the safer you can feel about an org’s reputation and standing. 

5. GoAbroad Star, Check ++, or Check + Verifications

...and this isn’t to toot our own horn. Each level of GoAbroad verification has specific criteria to fulfill, with the Star Verification being the highest level that volunteer abroad companies can reach. We can guarantee that organizations at these levels of verification are run by very real human beings, have had very real human beings participate, and take a great interest in their own work. Going with these verified volunteer abroad companies ensures that you won’t get duped by the shady, scammy guys.

[Save and compare the best volunteer abroad programs with MyGoAbroad]

Zambia, road sign you are now entering zambia

All signs point to amazing volunteer opportunities in Zambia.

The best of the best, sir!

Let's get down to business—here's our rundown of the best volunteer abroad programs in 2018-2019. We've broken it down by the following:

  • Best volunteer abroad programs for high school students
  • Best volunteer abroad programs for college students
  • Best volunteer abroad programs for older adults
  • And the cherry on top: safe volunteer abroad programs

Get your mouse and browser ready for some serious multi-tab action. Enjoy!

Best volunteer abroad programs for high school students

Psst! Colleges *love* to see community service hours on your applications. High tail it abroad with some meaning; it’s much easier to do with any of these best volunteer abroad programs for high school students.

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1. Volunteer in Social Work in Ecuador with Youth for Understanding

Live with a host family in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, immerse yourself in Spanish, AND volunteer with at a childcare facility! The best volunteer abroad programs for high school students always have a little extra oomp to offer, and this volunteer program has got a lot of oomps

Volunteers will also be able to exercise some tutoring and teaching skills by helping out kids with their English skills. If that’s not worthy for a college application, very few things on this Earth will be!

Find Out More | Visit YFU’s Website

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2. Help the Environment in Costa Rica with Nacel

Study and volunteer in one of the hottest destinations to learn Spanish—Costa Rica! Through this volunteer abroad program, you’ll be living with a host family, attending a local private high school, and participating in an environmental volunteer program. Costa Rica is one of Latin America’s safest countries and is world-renowned for being a leader in environmental sustainability. What better place to learn Spanish and help the environment?

Find Out More | Visit Nacel’s Website

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3. Save the Amazon Rainforest in Peru with ISA

Getting a reality check about how the rest of the world lives is an incredibly important skill to learn while you’re still young and impressionable. Visit and learn about the indigenous people of Peru’s Amazon region, and gain valuable knowledge in sustainable living practices. As a volunteer for this high school volunteer abroad program, you’ll lend a hand in building rainwater collection systems, sustainable farming, and reforestation.

Find Out More | Visit ISA’s Website

Best volunteer abroad programs for college students

If you haven’t yet turned the tassel, consider these top-notch programs designed especially for you. Here are the best volunteer abroad programs for college students:

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4. Get Public Health Experience in Zambia with African Impact

If you’re a pre-med student or interest in public health abroad, this gig’s right up your alley. You’ll get to experience a whole spectrum of health care services in Zambia from educating about hygiene and HIV to assisting the elderly with emotional and physical support. Work side-by-side with other international volunteers to make up for a staffing shortfall to improve the health of the local communities! African Impact is a no-brainer on lists of the best volunteer abroad organizations.

9.2 Overall Rating | Read 76 Reviews | Visit African Impact’s Website

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5. Conserve Endangered Wildlife in Madagascar with Frontier

What’s a lemur? You probably haven’t seen one of these wide-eyed, bouncy creatures in real life, but it just so happens that you can volunteer preserving their habitat. We picked this project out of the best volunteer abroad programs for college students specifically for anyone interested in sustainability, the environment, biology, or ecology. Your work monitoring and surveying Madagascar’s indigenous species will contribute to real research that will better inform the local government!

9.0 Overall Rating | Read 21 Reviews | Visit Frontier’s Website

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6. Run an Outdoor Adventure Club for Kids in South Africa with GoEco

Ever thought of the words surfing and volunteering in the same sentence? Help lead an outdoor adventure club for children aged 12-14 to teach them how to surf, swim, and do a whole range of other activities! 

You won’t have to be jealous, because you’ll be doing all the fun stuff right alongside the kids. If that doesn’t already seal the deal, room and board are included, and you even get some free time on the weekends to really get to know Cape Town.

9.4 Overall Rating | Read 5 Reviews | Visit GoEco’s Website

Best volunteer abroad programs for older adults

Kids these days—they always think they’re the only ones who get to have any fun. But check out these incredible volunteer abroad programs for older adults. Yes, that means YOU, baby boomers and generation X! There are tons of reasons why you should consider volunteering in your prime.

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7. Empower Women in India with Volunteering Journeys

Use your wisdom and knowledge built from the last few decades of life to improve the lives of countless women and young girls in India. Many women are still seen as belonging to a lower social class in Indian culture, and don’t have many of the same educational and professional opportunities available to men. 

Volunteer in shelters and girls’ schools to empower them with the skills and confidence they need to succeed!

10.0 Overall Rating | Read Reviews | Visit Volunteering Journeys' Website

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8. Island Coral Reef Conservation and Diving Project in Borneo with Kaya Responsible Travel

There are a handful of volunteer abroad programs for adults such as Kaya Responsible Travel, which accepts participants lets retirees and current professionals utilize their expertise. This program is open to participants ages 18+, who are curious to learn about marine life in the South China Sea and are available to lend a hand on the island of Borneo. Learn Malay, feast on the best cuisine of your life, and immerse yourself in the local culture while putting your best flipper forward!

Find Out More | Visit Kaya's Website and Read Reviews

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9. Work with Children with Disabilities in Peru with Love Volunteers

Because of an understaffed team and lack of resources, volunteers are severely needed to help to work with children with disabilities in Cusco, Peru. From assisting teachers to giving warm companionship, volunteer duties include a wide spectrum to provide for the everyday needs of children of all ages. 

If you have a loving heart and compassionate patience, this volunteer project is especially for you!

10.0 Overall Rating | Read 5 Reviews | Visit Love Volunteers’ Website

avc volunteer armenia logo

10. Develop professional skills in Armenia with AVC

If you already have some work experience under your belt—but you wouldn't mind having a little bit more—why not take some time "off" to develop some new line items for your resume with AVC in beautiful Armenia? Regardless of your background, there's a short term (as little as two weeks!) volunteer program here for you. These programs run year round—perfect for coinciding with your funemployment term or your much-needed vacation/break from the typical 9-5. Come find new passions and career paths with AVC!

Learn more about AVC

Safe volunteer abroad programs

These couple of programs have earned their marks as some of the most safe volunteer abroad programs on the market. If your safety is a concern, consider these (responsible yet) fun options:

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11. Teach Buddhist Monks in Laos with GVI

Buddhist temples often conjure images of peace, self discipline, and quiet. Learn about the lifestyle that Buddhist monks lead by teaching them English, all while accompanied by the support of GVI. GVI is among the safe volunteer abroad programs for its deep-rooted support system and its affiliation with many notable organizations, such as the Red Cross and WWF,

9.7 Overall Rating | Read 93 Reviews | Visit GVI’s Website

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12. Volunteer in Renovation, Construction, and Social Work in France with Volunteers for Peace

Like its name suggests, Volunteers for Peace has spent decades promoting global peace through carefully planned volunteer projects. Having organized tens of thousands of projects since its inception, VFP definitely knows how to treat its volunteers and communities. Serve underprivileged youth in France through social work or participate in renovating a age-old castle through this unique program! 

9.2 Overall Rating | Read 5 Reviews | Visit VFP’s Website

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13. Help Conserve Wildlife in Zimbabwe with IVHQ

With ties to the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority, you’ll be whisked away to another world on this wildlife conservation project as you live and work on a private game reserve. Safety is a top priority for International Volunteer HQ, so you can rest assured you will always have a reputable resource to rely on. When you’re not busy saving Big Cats, you’ll have the chance to assist in community development projects outside of the park. 

9.8 Overall Ranking | Read 4 Reviews | Visit IVHQ’s Website

[Watch this: The Lowdown on How to Volunteer Abroad for Free]

The best volunteer abroad programs—it’s up to YOU to decide

Monks in orange robes receiving food

Volunteer as a teacher and work with young monks in Laos.

The hunt is only the first step. After you’ve decided on which volunteer abroad companies best reflect your values and needs, it’s time to pack those bags and do some good. Remember: Ultimately, the best volunteer abroad organizations fulfill both a community's needs AND your skills/goals. 

Discover a whole treasure trove of reputable volunteer abroad programs and go volunteer abroad!

Find volunteer abroad programs today

Topic:  Top Picks