It’s time to take your passion for helping others to the next level! Becoming a long term volunteer abroad is one of the most accessible ways to travel the world, and give back to the amazing communities that host you. With infinite program options and plenty of need, there are always spots waiting to be filled with volunteers of every shape and size, and long term volunteers are in particularly hot demand. Whether you want to volunteer at an orphanage or as a computer trainer—in urban India or rural South Africa—your skills and spirit can be put to good use in communities worldwide.
You know you want to volunteer abroad long term, but getting started can be intimidating. The world is so big, and the choices are so bountiful! To turn your volunteer dreams into reality, break things up into bite-sized steps—
1. Ask yourself these questions
Are you ready to volunteer abroad?
Start with this handy checklist. The most important prereqs for volunteering abroad are an open heart and schedule. Beyond that, if you have:
- Tried short term volunteering abroad and loved it;
- Honed a skill that could improve the lives of others around the world;
- Dreamed about committing more time to volunteering; and
- Just discovered a large empty space in your calendar;
… you are ready to be a long term volunteer abroad!
“Then, where is this uneasiness coming from?” you might ask. Like starting college, a new job, or parenthood, one is never fully ‘ready’ for long term volunteering abroad. You’ll never know how much good you can do until you take the leap of faith and become a long term volunteer abroad, so don’t let doubt hold you back. If you need that extra push, learn more about the benefits of volunteering for everyone involved.
How long do you want to work on a particular project?
There are volunteer projects and programs as short as one day and as long as a few years – so how long you stay depends on your schedule and project needs. Maybe you have commitments back home, and can only stay a few weeks at a time, or perhaps your schedule’s clear as far as the eyes can see, but you want to move between projects to really see and experience the world.
Whatever your availability, make sure you communicate this clearly to your volunteer coordinator, as some projects may require longer term commitments. A local organization throwing a big event may just need a few extra hands for the week; whereas a school looking for an English teacher may need someone to stick around for the whole term. If you’re not sure how long you can/want to volunteer abroad, let your answer to the next question guide you…
What is your ultimate goal as a volunteer?
Like most who are passionate about volunteering, your ultimate goal is probably to help people! (Go you!) Intentionally or unintentionally, volunteering will also help you – whether it’s learning about development, beefing up your foreign language skills, or challenging you to question everything you know about the world. Volunteering long term ensures you have time to digest these lifelong gifts.
Long term volunteering also gives you time to listen to local needs and become a part of the community you are serving. Most volunteers are only able to offer days or weeks, which is great, but can result in scattered progress and inconsistent programming. Sure, you came in with a plan, but sticking around means you have time to really see it through and watch it evolve. Long term volunteers are not just pop-in visitors; they’re family.
2. Do your research
Where do you want to go?
So many places in the world, and so little time! Time to crack out the ol’ bucket list and start brainstorming some long term volunteer ideas. Start with the causes that tug at your heartstrings, and let them lead you to a locale where you can help.
The beauty of being a long term volunteer abroad is that it will give you a more in-depth perspective of wherever you decide to go. This is not just a superficial touch-and-go stop over; plan on really getting to know a new place. Volunteers who love exotic animals should consider volunteering in Thailand. Those who prefer a bit more (human) socialization could look into community development programs in Brazil. Strapped for ideas? Check out these 25 incredible places to volunteer abroad according to experienced volunteers!
What skills can you offer to communities/projects?
Finding the right long term volunteer program is like dating: the goal is to find an organization whose needs match your skills and interests. If you are a seasoned gardener, consider joining an agriculture volunteer program. For medical students, opt to volunteer in a hospital or clinic.
Do: Look for year long volunteer programs abroad where you can offer real value to local communities!
Don’t: Be put off thinking you need a resume that touches the floor to be a valuable volunteer.
Know how to coordinate a great game of flag football? Sports volunteering may be just the thing for you. Speak English? Share a valuable linguistic skill with an underprivileged classroom through volunteer English teaching.
What projects are in need in your destination of choice?
Volunteering is all about putting the needs of others before self interest. It means giving time and energy to a worthy cause. So, make sure your efforts are going toward communities or environments where there is real need. If your interests lead you elsewhere, consider working abroad or interning abroad.
Are you willing to go somewhere else to meet the need?
Trick question: of course you are! Otherwise you would be out googling “perfect beach body” or “how to get rich” instead of researching how to dedicate large chunks of your time in service to others. It’s important to keep your interests and skills in mind when coming up with long term volunteer ideas, but don’t forget that the true spirit of volunteering is about giving back to those most in need. Read up on how to choose a volunteer program that ethically and sustainably resolves some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
3. Pick a program/organization/project
Choosing is winning! Now that you’ve done some serious soul-searching, this next step should be a little easier. But, there are still so many long term volunteer opportunities that the choices may seem overwhelming.
This is where you need to do your homework. Do more than just read program descriptions. Dig into reviews of past participants. Take the time to reach out to organizations to find out what they need, get a feel for their culture, and find out more specifics about placements and projects. This is a great time to have them put you in touch with previous volunteers, so you can really learn the ins and outs of what being a long term volunteer abroad is really like. Then you’ll be able to sit down, look at all the facts, and compare programs side-by-side to find the perfect fit.
If year long volunteer programs abroad don’t sound nearly long enough, you can always extend those 1 year volunteer programs to last a lifetime! Not sure how to choose a volunteer program? Check out the programs below for a few great recommendations. When it doubt, go where the need is greatest!
Pro Tip: Continue offering your service to your heart’s content
Just because you’re not in country, doesn’t mean you can’t still be an ally to your favorite volunteer organizations around the globe. Even if you leave after completing 1 year volunteer programs, continue to support the organization or project you volunteered with by being a cheerleader from afar as they work to meet their goals.
5 long term volunteer abroad opportunities
Volunteers are placed in Projects Abroad partner hospitals, clinics, and maternity wards across Tanzania. This program is ideal for long term volunteers, who will gain valuable medical experience and help Tanzanians in critical condition.
Volunteers also have the opportunity to attend regular medical workshops and participate in local excursions.
The perfect program from outdoor enthusiasts, Kaya brings volunteers to rural Cambodia to lend a hand on struggling non-profit development and agriculture projects. After a busy day of gardening or picking, the multicultural team of volunteers explore Cambodia’s main attractions.
Bolster your media skills in the name of supporting a Filipino volunteer organization and beefing up your resume #twoforone! In collaboration with local staff, media volunteers at Volunteer for the Visayans are charged with documenting and spreading the word about Visayan’s programs.
Volunteering Journeys hosts a diverse range of affordable volunteer programs, including opportunities to teach in Thailand, intern in Sri Lanka, and support animal conservation efforts in South Africa. Experience is not required for 1 year volunteer programs with Volunteering Journeys.
This unique program is especially for volunteers who are passionate about protecting the natural environment. Oyster coordinates wildlife survey, trail construction, seed collection, and habitat restoration projects in every corner of New Zealand. Volunteer efforts help combat the threats to this island nation posed by erosion, foreign species, and drought.
Some recommended reading for future volunteers
Becoming a long term volunteer abroad is (by definition) more of a commitment than participating in a short term volunteer program. That’s why thorough research is so important! Comb through these additional resources to make sure you’re ready for volunteer life. Think of the links below as a Long Term Volunteer Abroad 101 syllabus.
- Browse long term volunteer programs on GoAbroad
- Save your favorite programs and start planning your trip with MyGoAbroad
- Use OnlineAdvisor to help find the perfect volunteering programs for you
- Fundraise for your volunteer trip with FundMyTravel
- Explore scholarship opportunities for long term student volunteers
- Watch this video to learn more about how to volunteer abroad for free (kind of)
Use these additional resources to educate yourself on best practices for 6 month volunteer programs or longer.
Now you’re ready to be a long term volunteer—make it count!
Lend a hand abroad with 1 year volunteer programs.
There are those who sit on their laurels hoping the world will change itself, and there are those who get out there and try to make this planet better for all! If you’ve read this far, you probably fall into the second category. Embarking on year long volunteer programs abroad is just the thing for people like you—so work your way through that reading list, and start planning the volunteer trip of a lifetime!