Are Low Cost Volunteer Abroad Programs Really Worth It?

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So, you want to volunteer abroad, but you’re a bit strapped for cash. Well, like anyone would, you sit down at your desk and Google “cheap volunteer abroad programs,” and bam, results galore! But, as you start clicking on these options to save baby turtles and teach children, something is niggling at the back of your mind. Is a cheap volunteer abroad program really the best bet?

Are Low Cost Volunteer Abroad Programs Really Worth It?

That’s a good question you’re asking; there’s a lot you should think about before volunteering abroad. Let’s take maybe five steps back and first ask — who is really benefiting from your volunteering? After all, volunteering isn’t about you. It’s about the people or the animals or the land that you are trying to help. We don’t go volunteer just to have some laughs and some Instagram pictures; we volunteer because we have something to offer to someone who needs it. 

Questions to Ask Before Signing Up for Low Cost Volunteer Abroad Programs

Before you volunteer, you always need to ask some hard hitting questions, and no, the first one shouldn’t always be “how much does it cost?” Remember, there are better qualifications to seek than the price tag. Ask questions like: 

  • Does the staff include locals?
  • How do they measure project success?
  • Have they ever “worked” themselves out of a job (AKA eradicated a problem?)
  • Is it sustainable?
  • Who is funding it? 
  • What does the recent research say about how efficient or ethical this type of work is?

Make sure this is a project you really want to be a part of, that is truly making a difference. Make sure it’s not a middle-man led scam, asking for money to line their own pocket. Maybe you’ve made sure of all that and found a great project, but you still don’t understand why it’s so expensive for you to go and help. After all, you would be paying to go do free work right?? That sounds crazy!

[First-time volunteer? You NEED to download this EBook!]

Relief volunteering in Haiti
Remember that volunteering is about the communities you’re serving, and not about you!

Look at it in context: for many of these projects, they try to keep their overhead costs as low as possible, pouring their money into the projects while also making sure to pay local staff a living wage. That means there isn’t much money left over to host a volunteer. And hosting a volunteer is work; it takes staff time to welcome, train, guide, and orient most volunteers. It takes them away from other urgent matters. They love that you are there, but they have bills to pay! And a project that can ask for higher pay probably does it because they have high quality work they are doing.

If you’ve gotten some satisfying answers about the project or program, but the money is still an issue, take off your detective hat and put on your accounting one (Do accountants wear hats?). If cost is still prohibitive for you, maybe there are some creative ways to still make it work!

Look into other ways you can participate in low cost volunteer abroad programs. Can you support the organization in additional ways to lessen the cost, such as writing for their blog? Try negotiating duties with them. What talents can you bring to the table that they are in need of? Maybe you’re a stellar handy person that can fix that leaky plumbing or an artist who can paint them a mural.

If that doesn’t work, consider creating a savings plan and volunteering abroad in the future. Dust off that piggy bank, or a savings app like the “cool kids” use, and start saving those pennies. If you have generous family members or friends with extra cash, maybe ask them to donate to your volunteering as your birthday gift!

[Save & compare low cost volunteer abroad programs with MyGoAbroad.]

serving rice as a volunteer abroad
What is more important? The cost of the program to you, or the potential cost/benefit to the local community?

Consider finding local volunteer opportunities within your own community that are low cost to you, instead of going abroad. You can support the cause without leaving your town. If you care about working with students, find a school where you can volunteer. If you love animals, check out the humane society! Some international organizations even have projects and headquarters right at home in the U.S., so look into getting a feel for the project and organization that way, first. 

A Short List of Recommended Low Cost Volunteer Abroad Programs

If you’re dead set on going abroad to volunteer, and you want to to start planning now, check out some of these programs!  This list is by no means exhaustive… but it’s here to help you jumpstart your (cost conscious) search for volunteer programs. 

Medical Volunteering in Kenya

Tailored for medical and pre-med students, you won’t be handed doctor’s responsibilities, but you will be able to shadow a doctor and assist in ways they feel are appropriate. Get your learning cap on (I’m just really about hats these days)!

Help Teach in Zambia 

Help students with one-on-one tutoring and support local teachers in their classrooms. A great opportunity if you are passionate and skilled in education!

Volunteer at an Animal Rescue Center in Costa Rica

Do you have a way with wild (and not-so-wild) things? This could be the opportunity for you! Help support animal rescuers in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. 

smiling and laughing children in Cambodia
Before you get to work with these precious smiling faces, do your research and ensure your low cost volunteer abroad program is ethical and sustainable.

Work in construction, women’s empowerment or more with Love Volunteers

Offering a range of programs, Love Volunteers keep costs low with small overhead. You can work in education, wildlife conservation, or even specialized placements in areas like law or media.

IVHQ is one of the leaders in affordable volunteering, with programs ranging from Turtle Conservation to Construction, all over the world! Read some of the reviews of excited past volunteers and dust off your passport, because they are sure to give you wanderlust.

[Not finding what you’re looking for? Browse ALL volunteer abroad programs right now!]

Find & Vet Low Cost Volunteer Abroad Programs Today

There are tons of other affordable volunteer opportunities out there, where you can use your skills to get some real work done for others! Just make sure you do your research and aren’t part of the problem by engaging in any unethical behavior, or using resources inefficiently.

People volunteering at a food bank/food drive in your local community
If the cost of volunteering abroad is just too much, dip your toes into the world of volunteering in your own backyard.

Whatever your financial plan or situation, know that volunteering abroad is a great dream to have. And even if it takes you a few years and a few piggy banks full of pennies, it will still be worth it! Do your research, save your money, and go on that adventure!

Still struggling to get your search started? Let an Online Advisor do the work for you!