Wanna Be a Costa Rica Volunteer? How to Minimize Cost + Maximize Impact

by Published

You’re more than ready to know the way to San Jose. Costa Rica is bursting with adventure and you’re wanting to soak it all in while making a sustainable, meaningful impact on your local community. 

Between volunteer projects, allow your eyes to feast on the countless natural waterfalls, the exotic species in lush tropical rainforests, or the blossoming arts and culture scene unfolding in that urban mecca we call San Jose. Oh, and not to mention the top rated beaches caressing the coasts. 

Costa Rica has a cornucopia of experiences, sights, and activities to offer. And, the volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica are not an exception. You can volunteer in Costa Rica with animals, like sea turtles or at a sloth sanctuary, or with children in school or at an orphanage. But, you’re not looking to break the bank. You’re a humanitarian on a budget, after all. Here’s how to be the BEST Costa Rica volunteer, maximizing your impact while minimizing your costs. 

Parrots in the jungle

If you’re serious about volunteering in Costa Rica, you better squawk the squawk.

Can I volunteer for free in Costa Rica?

Can you volunteer for free in Costa Rica? Why yes, of course you can (with a slight catch). The truth is—and read carefully—you can volunteer virtually anywhere in the world for “free.” Including wherever you’re reading this from. Volunteering doesn’t cost a thing—well, except for your time. But, to give your time and energy shouldn’t cost a dime. And if it does, well, that’s what we call a job. You’re voluntarily reading this article, aren’t you? It’s free.

So, where’s the fine print? What’s the kicker? While volunteering is free, most international volunteer programs are not—ask any Costa Rica volunteer. Most Costa Rican volunteer opportunities are not free. Why? Well, it takes someone else’s time and energy to work between you, the local organization where volunteers are placed, often times local host families, airport transfers, etc. It takes someone’s time to maintain the program's website and answer emails. It takes someone’s time to be available for you once in country if anything less than ideal arises. 

One more time for the people in the back: volunteering abroad is not free because someone else is organizing projects for you, employing local coordinators, and that takes time, resources, and especially money.

Orchestrating these logistics takes time, money, and effort. But, don’t let this discourage you. With a few points in mind you can minimize your costs and maximize your impact when you volunteer in Costa Rica.

[Get matched with Costa Rica Volunteer programs]

Okay, so I can’t quite do that. What about free room and board?

Maybe, but there are other ways to minimize costs. If you can’t change the price of the program, think about what other expenses are flexible and how you can get the most bang for your buck. You can try and find volunteer programs in Costa Rica that offer free room and board, or you can look into alternative housing options—Couchsurf much? 

As most programs are flexible and run year round, you can volunteer in Costa Rica anytime that is convenient for you. Check into flight costs and see when you can snag the most affordable tickets. Costa Rica is one of the world’s top destinations, so avoiding peak tourist travel seasons can help you find more reasonably priced flights. So… Not during spring break. And well, if that’s not an option, check into local hostels or consider maximizing your cultural experience with a local host family.

Have you considered volunteering for more than a week or two? You should. Most programs offer discounted rates when volunteers commit to longer stints. Plus, long term volunteering is the best way to really maximize your impact. You might not be able to ask your boss for the next three months off, but think about maybe two or three weeks. Consider your time constraints, (if you have any!) and use that to your financial advantage.

Look into other alternatives where you can work to earn free room and board. Obviously you need to leave time for your main purpose too—the volunteer project!

[Make sure your program ticks the right boxes with MyGoAbroad]

man snorkeling

Costa Rica is just a country you have to sea for yourself.

How to maximize your impact

It’s important to be intentional with your time as a volunteer. Beyond just getting your hands dirty with your Costa Rica volunteer project, you need to take certain steps to educate yourself and ensure you do the most good and the least harm to the local community.

Sustainable impact happens when we are well informed, so brush up on a few things while you anticipate your soon-to-be unforgettable experience. If you plan to volunteer in Costa Rica at a sloth sanctuary, spend some time reading about the local sloth population and related current events and progress in conservation. If you’re more interested in volunteering with Costa Rican sea turtles, get your hands on some related reading material. Understand the economic and environmental impacts of your project on the country, and the world. 

It’s also not a bad idea to study a bit of Spanish. While many of us might like to believe that the rest of the world speaks English, spoiler alert: not quite. Check out some of the free language applications or see what your local library has to offer. Studying Spanish before departure will allow you to communicate better with locals you’re working closely with once abroad, and give you something to do when you can hardly contain your excitement leading up to the trip.

Don’t hesitate to contact the volunteer organization to inquire about reading material to help prepare for your new experience either. Or, maybe pick up a novel that takes place in Costa Rica, or written by a Costa Rican author. The idea is to stimulate yourself with culture, history, and current events: to be aware.

You don’t only have to take our word for it though. Check out the reviews here from past volunteers in Costa Rica and see what they had to say about their experience. Have a look at some their photos and articles related to Costa Rica. 

Low cost volunteer opportunities to consider in Costa Rica

These are the most popular causes/projects to get behind as a Costa Rica volunteer. Lucky for you, they also happen to be cost-conscious. 

With Animals

Nurture the animal lover within you and spend your time in Costa Rica volunteering in the heart of the jungle, or out on the shoreline. Work in the jungles with exotic birds, in a Costa Rica sloth sanctuary, or with monkeys, and countless other critters. With so much biodiversity all around, there will always be a place to lend a hand and volunteer in Costa Rica with animals. 

[Browse all Animal volunteer programs in Costa Rica]

tree frog in costa rica

Making an impact as an international volunteer is no croak.

With Children

Share your time, skills, and compassion with children. Volunteer in Costa Rica at an orphanage. Placements can be found in orphanages, early childcare development centers, and afterschool programs to mention a few. Volunteers have the opportunity to promote proper physical and social development through a wide range of placements in both urban and rural settings.

[Browse all Orphanage volunteer programs in Costa Rica]

With Sea Turtles

Dive into a conservation project in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world—volunteer in Costa Rica with sea turtles. With a plethora of sea turtle conservation programs, you are bound to find one that fits your budget. Step out of your shell and sign up to volunteer with sea turtles. 

[Browse all Sea Turtle volunteer programs in Costa Rica]

Affordable volunteer programs in Costa Rica

You may not be able to find free volunteer programs in Costa Rica, but there are many affordable options to look into. Whether you’re interested in supporting education or wildlife projects, here are a few that won’t set your budget back too far:

School Renovation Program with Love Volunteers

Enjoy Costa Rica’s natural beauty while collaborating with an international support team in the seaside city of Jaco Beach. The mission is to repair, renovate, and build underserved schools that are often left in unacceptable conditions. With Love Volunteers, the goal is to provide safe and healthy learning environments for all Costa Rican children. Those into handy-projects do apply!

Related: Read Reviews | Visit their site

Sea Turtle Conservation with Maximo Nivel

So you’re interested in working with sea turtles in Costa Rica? Great! Now you have to decide if you prefer the Pacific or the Caribbean coast. Decisions, decisions. With Maximo Nivel, volunteers have the opportunity to work alongside local biologists and researchers who will expose you to local nesting grounds and nightly turtle-tagging adventures. If you have any doubts be sure to check out the inspiring video on their site.

Related:  Read Reviews | Visit their site

swing bridge in monteverde, Costa Rica

Bridge gaps as a Costa Rica volunteer.

Teaching English with IVHQ

There are a host of teach opportunities in and around the metropolitan San Jose area. This lively capital city offers volunteers the opportunity to teach and tutor younger students and adult learners. You will have the opportunity to conduct your own workshops while working hand in hand with local teachers. 

Related:  Read Reviews | Visit their site

Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project (Sloths + More) with Frontier

Join the efforts of Frontier safeguarding the future of sloths and other primates with a local animal sanctuary. You will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while working with endangered species. Volunteers are shown a global perspective of Costa Rica’s rich ecosystem.

Related: Read Reviews | Visit their site

Next steps to finding Costa Rica volunteer opportunities

You’ve got your planning pants on and you’re ready to go, go, go! These resources are here to make that planning process as cool as the Costa Rican breeze so that you can start living life pura vida sooner, rather than later. 

All that’s left for you to do is brush up on your Spanish, pack your bags, and get going!

Sloth in the trees of Costa Rica

Even this sloth thinks you should stop dragging your feet and sign up for Costa Rica volunteer projects.

Now you’re ready to become a Costa Rica volunteer

Take a look at your expenses and budget where you can. Whether its travel dates or program length consider how you can minimize your costs. Maximize your impact while thinking globally and acting locally. While free volunteer experiences in Costa Rica may be hard to come by, there are many things you can do to ensure a budget-friendly volunteer experience. 

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