Volunteer in China, a vast country filled with modern skyscrapers, rural farmlands, and palaces from ancient dynasties. Explore one of the only man made landmarks that can be seen from space, the Great Wall of China, and practice Mandarin, the most spoken language in the world. With a great need for volunteers in the fields of education, childcare, and wildlife conservation, China has a volunteer placement for everyone. Combine ancient cultural exploration with fulfilling community service, and you have volunteering in China, the trip of a lifetime.
Shanghai, the most populous city in the world, is located in east China on the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta. Originally a fishing village, Shanghai is now a popular tourist destination, known for its modern skyline, historical and cultural landmarks such as the Yu Garden, and as the global finance center. Popular placements in Shanghai include working in orphanages, teaching English, or volunteering with children with disabilities.
Beijing is China’s capital city located in the north. Volunteering in Beijing gives volunteers the chance to visit the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Full of historical buildings and landmarks from ancient Chinese dynasties, Beijing is a city that allows travelers to immerse themselves in China’s extensive history. Placements in Beijing are similar to Shanghai - working with children with disabilities and orphanages are both very popular. There are also plenty of opportunities to teach English in Beijing.
Another popular location for volunteering in China is Xi’an. Located in the northwest of China in the center of the Guanzhong Plain, Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Warriors and is one of the oldest cities in the country. Volunteers can visit sites such as the Shaanxi Grand Opera House, the Xi’an mosque, or take a dip in the Huaqing Hot Springs. Popular volunteer placements in Xi’an include teaching English and helping with childcare.
Chengdu is a city located in southwest China and is known as the “country of heaven” or “the land of abundance”. Home to to Panda Research and Breeding center, Chengdu is a popular place for volunteers seeking to work with pandas.
Volunteer Programs in China
Unfortunately, China’s one-child policy and its value of male babies in society has caused child abandonment to become a prevalent issue. Consequently, there’s a great need for volunteer work in orphanages in China. In orphanages, volunteers may assist orphanage staff in daily chores, care of children, spending time playing with the kids, or helping them with homework. There are many orphanage placements, for those who choose to volunteer in China, throughout the country.
Panda conservation is an important and popular volunteer project in China. In the past, panda populations were declining and their survival was being threatened. Although still an endangered species, conservation efforts have allowed these population issues to be resolved. Volunteers are needed to be apart of these panda conservation efforts; activities may include preparing food for the Pandas, cleaning enclosures, or doing some observations and research.
English teaching volunteers are in high demand in China - as a growing global economic powerhouse, the Chinese government is pushing for citizens to learn English. Consequently, teaching English is one of the most popular projects for volunteering in China. As an English teacher, volunteers can work in schools with Chinese students practicing English conversational skills. The main requirement for these programs is being a native English speaker.
Program lengths vary from a couple of weeks to a couple of years. English teaching placements tend to have more options for longer length programs, while orphanage and panda conservation placements typically last no longer than a couple of months. Most programs’ only language requirement is English.
Costs & Affordability
China is a relatively inexpensive country to live in. Although plane tickets to China are pricey, restaurants and souvenir shops are very affordable (though you may need to haggle with souvenir shop owners to get prices down). When it comes to transportation within the city, trains and buses are the cheapest options, while taxis fares will be more costly.
Luckily, many volunteer programs in China include food, accommodation, and even in-country transportation in program prices! This means that many travelers don’t need to worry about anything but personal expenses while they are volunteering in China.
One thing to note is that although it’s cheap to eat out in China, volunteers shouldn’t eat food from the street vendors - street vendors often use cooking oil that is recycled from street gutters, which can be incredibly harmful to humans. When eating out, it’s important to stick to safe, well known restaurants.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation varies for volunteers in China, depending on the program provider and type. Housing options include apartments, flats, hostels, and shared volunteer housing. Some programs also offer the opportunity to live with a local host family, which helps volunteers integrate into the local community and experience cultural immersion.
US citizens are required to obtain a visa before volunteering in China. To apply for a visa, volunteers need to go to a Chinese Embassy or Consulate to turn in required documents (Find one nearest you in GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory). Volunteers will need a valid passport and should turn in their application at least a month before leaving for China.
Benefits & Challenges
Individuals embarking on a volunteer program in China should be aware that pollution is a serious issue in China, especially in cities like Beijing. Some days, the pollution is so bad that it’s recommended to not even be outside. It’s important to check the pollution level daily to know if certain activities, such as exercising (or even being outside), should be avoided. Masks that filter pollution particles can be worn to avoid inhaling harmful substances.