North America offers an expansive and diverse realm of volunteer opportunities. From Mexico in the south to Canada in the north and the United States right smack in the middle, those who volunteer in North America can make a positive impact in any number of fields. Volunteer work in North America can range from community development in rural towns to environmental preservation in national parks. North America is a beautiful continent with a melting pot of cultures and people so volunteering abroad in North America will no doubt be a rewarding adventure.
Going from north to south, locations begin with Canada. The so called “Great White North” is the world’s second largest country by total area and has a huge amount of land that is unpopulated by humans. From mighty mountain ranges to sweeping arctic tundras, those who volunteer in Canada will find themselves in one of the most naturally beautiful regions in the world. Canada also has one of the highest happiness ratings of any country, and you will find locals to be overwhelmingly hospitable and friendly to international volunteers.
Next is the United States. Supposedly the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. has a tremendous amount of ethnic and cultural diversity within, more so than any other nation on earth. A truly fascinating place to visit for those who have never been, volunteering abroad in the United States will give you an insider’s perspective of the world’s superpower so often read about in the news. You will find a country fraught with beauty and ugliness, success stories and failures, and a large subset of communities that can benefit from the helping hand of a volunteer.
Finally, there is Mexico in the south. The least economically developed of the three, Mexico is a historically fascinating and culturally rich Latin American country which offers abounding opportunities for international volunteers to make a positive impact on local communities. The Mexican people are fun and unceasingly hospitable, and volunteering abroad in Mexico will give volunteers insight into a much different flavor of North America than its two neighbors.
Projects & Placements
It is possible to find virtually any type of volunteer placement in all three of these countries, so we’ll just throw out a few of the most popular choices to get you moving in the right direction.
Since Canada has so much untapped wilderness, volunteers from around the world are beckoned to its lands to help out with environmental preservation and wildlife protection. Volunteering in Canada working with indigenous species, environmental cleanups, and campaigns spreading awareness are all common placements in these areas.
In the United States, volunteering in urban communities that are underserved and overlooked can make a huge impact on the lives of those less fortunate. Whether working at a homeless shelter or community center, in education or healthcare, volunteer work in the U.S. helps soften the effects of inequality that plagues some American cities.
In Mexico, poverty takes on a different form, but is also quite a widespread problem largely because of government corruption and gang violence. Those who volunteer in Mexico can make a difference working hands on through social advocacy, human rights, and other forms of community building.
The possibilities are really quite endless for volunteering in North America, and there are pressing needs in all sorts of communities. Research carefully which volunteer programs and which locations seem like the perfect fit, and start applying!
Costs & Affordability
Costs vary pretty significantly within the United States, Mexico, and Canada. In all three countries the big cities will be more expensive than rural areas though, of course, so keep this in mind when deciding which location you would like to volunteer in. Mexico is significantly cheaper than the United States and Canada because many aspects of its economy are underdeveloped. Within Canada and the U.S, globally oriented cities, such as New York, San Francisco, and Vancouver will be the most expensive places to volunteer.
The fees for volunteer programs in North America can also prove quite expensive. Fundraising on your own is a good way to minimize the hit on your wallet. There are a large amount of affordable programs out there though, so again research thoroughly to find one that fits within your budget!
Accommodation & Visas
Homestays are very popular housing options for those who volunteer in North America for a short amount of time. This is a great opportunity to be exposed intimately to the local culture, while forming a lasting bond with your host family. Individual or group housing is another popular form of accommodation, and often volunteer programs will set volunteers up with an apartment or flat. Living conditions obviously vary depending on where you volunteer abroad in North America, but in all three countries you can expect to be made comfortable.
Visa policies differ for Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, and also differ by length of program and country of origin. The United States typically presents the most arduous visa process, while Canada and Mexico are more lax in this respect. Consult your volunteer program provider about what visa you will need to volunteer and the proper way to go about obtaining it.
Benefits & Challenges
North America is a continent of tremendous cultural, economic, and environmental diversity. In any of these three countries you will get a taste of the “New World” and come to understand how the region has had such a profound impact on the rest of the planet. By volunteering abroad in North America, you can rest assured that you will be working to solve some of the pressing problems within these countries while enjoying your stay as a foreign visitor. North America is the land of opportunity, so come see what it’s all about!