The 10 Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2017

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Where should I volunteer abroad?

For all you philanthropic world adventurers out there itching to explore and serve the lesser known corners of the world—we got the perfect solution. Volunteering abroad satisfies that burning hunger to accomplish something bigger than yourself, while also giving you a sparkly, new, and intimate perspective of people, communities, and ecosystems you may have only heard about on National Geographic documentaries. Traveling around and playing tourist is all fun and games until a voice in the back of head starts whispering that maybe it’s time to give back. Besides, sightseeing and eating out for three meals a day gets old.  

The 10 Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2017

 Spice up your travels with some good ol’ impactful hard work! It’s good for the soul, and that’s especially true if you get to feast on Moroccan couscous or scout the Thai jungles on your free time. A two-year assignment with the Peace Corps isn’t for everyone, which is why there are volunteer projects of all shapes and sizes to suit anyone from those with one-week vacations to aspiring doctors. Plunge into some meaningful travel this year that will help make the world you love a better place. Did we mention volunteering abroad is oftentimes more affordable than your average vacation?

Saving the world might seem a little intimidating, so to help simmer up some inspiration, we’ve dished out the 10 best places to volunteer abroad in 2017.

1. Thailand

Thai women with their dyed silks
The Land of Smiles is present in every generation you'll meet.

Already an up-and-coming destination on many travelers’ radars for its cheap eats and tropical beaches straight off a postcard, Thailand is easily the best place to volunteer abroad. The versatility of volunteering in Thailand ensures that you’ll find volunteer opportunities to match any taste. Work with human trafficking victims to help them find a new start in life, or muster up your strength to bathe rescued elephants in wildlife sanctuaries.

Pros:

As prime tourism material, Thailand gives volunteers access to a wide spectrum of activities to do when you’re finished putting in your hours of hard work. With low prices, you can embrace your inner foodie and shopaholic, snorkel off the picturesque beaches, or take expeditions deep into the jungle.

Cons:

Be on the lookout for fraudulent volunteer organizations more interested in your wallet than in creating a positive impact. With lax government oversight and an increasingly lucrative industry, the temptation for corrupt middlemen grows. To avoid the risk, check out our database of verified program providers (look for the Star Icon!).

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

2. South Africa

South African boy playing a drum
How does community work in South Africa sound?

Still wondering “Where should I volunteer?” Here! Join the fight in South Africa to conserve critically endangered animals, such as members of the Big 5, or lend a hand in healthcare clinics to treat prevalent diseases, like HIV/AIDS. Community work and wildlife conservation are popular volunteer placement choices in South Africa, due to persistent social inequalities and wildlife parks. Whether you volunteer in Cape Town or the vast grasslands of Kruger National Park, you’re bound to find the right volunteer fit for you.

Pros:

Even as Africa’s largest economy, South Africa is still very affordable if you try to live like a local (stay away from those fancy restaurants while volunteering!). Although there are 11 official languages whizzing around the country, you’ll find that English is still widely spoken, which means less relying on interpreters to get work done.

Cons:

Many disadvantaged communities and social inequalities can cause culture shock amongst the less seasoned travelers. However, choosing to volunteer in these underfunded areas can be an eye-opening experience that widens your world perspective.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

3. Australia

Kangaroo
Hop into a volunteer project in a wildlife sanctuary

Not only is Australia a top travel destination, but it’s one of the best places to volunteer abroad. Let out your inner Snow White and make all sorts of new animal friends as you dive into the Great Barrier Reef or take a walkabout in the Outback. With volunteer possibilities that involve cuddling koalas, handling palm-sized sea turtles, and feeding charismatic dolphins, any natural lover should be on the next flight to the Land Down Under. Not only are conservation efforts aplenty, but you’ll also be able to work with humans in community development projects.

Pros:

A high standard of living and well-developed economy make Australia a safe and comfortable destination for those not ready to completely rough it. Speaking the same language as the locals also opens up communication so you can volunteer more effectively without interpreters.

Cons:

The comforts of developed countries come with a price, and Australia can get costly if you stay in the cities. Another factor to consider is Australia’s distance from virtually any other continent, resulting in higher airfare costs.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

4. Peru

Quechua people in Peru
Volunteer with indigenous populations across Peru

If you’ve ever dreamed of laying eyes on the mysterious fog-shrouded ruins of Machu Picchu, while having a more powerful impact than just spending your pesos on alpaca figurines, think about volunteering abroad in Peru. Home to a significantly large indigenous population that’s endured centuries of oppression, the Land of the Incas warmly welcomes volunteers to assist in community development projects, education, and health care in struggling rural areas and underserved communities. Those with a resilient outdoorsy spirit can volunteer in the Amazon for environmental conservation — the variety alone makes it a natural contender as the best place to volunteer abroad.

Pros:

South America’s a big place, which makes travel to Peru a long and expensive journey away from home. If Peru’s been sitting at the top of your travel bucket list and you’ve also been having a burning desire to help a sister (or brother) out, then combine your goals into one mega-journey. Stick around before or after your volunteer project to trek up the Inca Trail or take selfies with long-lashed llamas.

Cons:

Some of Peru’s popular cities, like Cusco, are situated right smack in the middle of the Andes, which makes altitude sickness an unfortunate reality for many travelers. If you’re planning to volunteer in high altitudes, you’ll need to give yourself a few days to acclimate, so consider taking on slightly longer volunteer projects.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

5. Morocco 

Three Moroccan women in traditional clothing
Empower local women in Morocco

The mint tea alone is enough to make Morocco one of the best places to volunteer abroad. From the chaotic, narrow streets of densely packed bazaars to remote Berber villages, Morocco stands as a product of European, Northern African, and Islamic influences colliding over centuries. Volunteer possibilities include lending a hand in the many orphanages scattered throughout the country or helping students develop their English through teaching volunteer placements. Ladies can also help fill in the gender equality gap through meaningful work by empowering women through various women’s rights organizations and workshops.

Pros:

Morocco is a relatively inexpensive destination, so you won’t have to anticipate breaking the bank just to afford volunteering in Morocco. You’ll also be able to afford sticking around for longer projects.

Cons:

Female volunteers may encounter unwelcome attention and sexual harassment from some Moroccan men, especially in more populated areas where tourists’ presence is common. Our suggestion is to ignore this kind of behavior and to dress conservatively to avoid standing out.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

6. Cambodia

Young monks in Cambodia walking bikes
Get involved in a number of humanitarian projects in Cambodia

After enduring decades of political turmoil, Cambodia still faces many socio-economic issues including widespread poverty, hunger, and human rights violations. Voluntary aid plays a vital role in helping improve living conditions and environmental conservation efforts. Help educate young Cambodian minds through English teaching, get your hands dirty with construction projects, or participate in a wide range of other exciting opportunities in the Kingdom of Cambodia!

Pros:

Cambodia isn’t just a trendy backpackers’ paradise with world-renowned religious sites and cheap eats, but also a nation in genuine need of aid for community development. That’s why it makes this list as the best place to volunteer abroad. Volunteering with the right project and adequate preparation can leave a powerful impact on communities for years to come.

Cons:

Many travelers may experience a large degree of culture shock at first if not well informed about the country’s culture, history, and current state. High unemployment and poverty are prevalent in some areas that seem a world away from anything you’re used to.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

7. India

Indian women sitting together
Leave your mark on India’s millennia-long history

With 22 official languages, a rich, complex history dating back millennia, and of course the insanely catchy songs rolling out of Bollywood, it’s not hard to understand where all the hubbub over India comes from. Because a billion inhabitants call India home, volunteer opportunities working with people exist left and right, in health clinics, childcare, and women's empowerment especially. English teaching volunteer placements are also a hot option due to the language’s integral function in business and education.

Pros:

As an exceedingly diverse country in religion, culture, and language, your experience will largely depend on the region where you volunteer. Who doesn’t love surprises? It’s one of many reasons India is the best place to volunteer abroad – with so many regions and provinces to call home, you’ll always be experiencing and learning new things. 

Cons:

The late summer months coincide with monsoon season and soaring temperatures, which can severely delay ground transportation and create an unpleasant muggy environment in which to work outdoors. If you don’t bode well in the humidity, postpone your travels to a different season.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

8. Costa Rica

Roasting coffee beans in Costa Rica
Learn about the coffee process in Costa Rica - Photo Credit: Rachel Penners 

SLOTHS! What better way to live out your dreams to see a real sloth in action than in Costa Rica? As a bonus, we’ll even let you volunteer with sloths. If these lazy mammals leave you yawning, perhaps you’ll have better luck searching for that pura vida in the Costa Rican jungles through volunteer projects in jaguar conservation, tree planting, and farming. Other options include delving into humanitarian endeavors related to health and education.

Pros:

As a leader in environmental sustainability, Costa Rica boasts a lush, green future that you can lend a hand in advancing. Strong government policies for sustainability and conservation also make adventure tourism and ecotourism a hit.

Cons:

The volunteer emphasis in Costa Rica is definitely on the wild side, so if you’re not about getting your feet wet, hands dirty, and hair sweaty, you might have better luck in another top destination.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

9. South Korea

Sitting in a subway in South Korea
Combine volunteer work with the world’s fastest internet in South Korea

For those in search of the cushy lifestyle in a country equipped with A/C, WiFi, and 24-hour convenience stores, while still wanting to make a difference in one of the best places to volunteer abroad, start brushing up on your Korean. With a well-developed economy and infrastructure, don’t expect to be building homes or holding microfinance workshops for underserved communities. Alternatively, volunteer projects in South Korea involve childcare, English teaching, and agriculture.

Pros:

South Korea has an extremely low crime rate, stable political situation, and developed economy, which will leave your friends and family back home with a peace of mind when you go out to make an impact.

Cons:

The flip-side to volunteering in a developed country are the limited volunteering opportunities available, especially for international participants held back by a language barrier. While you will certainly have a role in improving children’s English or tending to organic farms, you might find that your good intentions could have a larger impact elsewhere.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

10. Ethiopia 

Ethiopian mother with child
With over 80 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, there’s never a dull moment

This populous, landlocked African country is believed to be the longest inhabited place on Earth by humans. An equally impressive title is Ethiopia’s reputation as the birthplace of coffee, because where would the world be without humanity or our morning fix? Apart from coffee,  Ethiopia has tons of volunteer opportunities brewing from the rural areas to its capital city and headquarters of the African Union, Addis Ababa. Popular volunteer projects in Ethiopia include medicine, community development, and working to improve the lives of street children.

Pros:

In addition to Arabic, English is a widely spoken language in Ethiopia, so you can easily communicate with the communities you volunteer with and many locals. Communication is key to truly appreciate how awesome Ethiopia can be!

Cons:

Say your goodbyes at the airport before you board the plane, because reliable internet, let alone WiFi is difficult to come across in Ethiopia. Petty crime such as pickpocketing is also rampant in cities, so grab a few coffees to keep a caffeinated eye out for potential thieves.

Particularly Awesome Volunteer Programs:

Are you tempted by the best places to volunteer abroad, too?!

Volunteering abroad isn’t just a chance for you to stretch out your legs in a remote corner of the world. Your work as a volunteer can have lifelong implications for international communities by ultimately saving lives through adequate health care or providing funding to open up small businesses. Before setting out, thoroughly research your volunteer destination and the project’s goals and expectations.

The window of time you have to help is limited (sometimes only a week), so be mindful about having the deepest impact you can by being efficient and well informed. Also, remember that if you’re just looking for a fun escape from home, there are other more suitable travel options like adventure travel, instead of volunteer work! 

Set on volunteering? Find a program in the best places to volunteer abroad now!