Individuals looking to volunteer abroad in South America will find no shortage of opportunities. From local villages in Peru to the poverty stricken favelas in Buenos Aires, in large cities and rural areas alike, international volunteering is in high demand. If you’re looking to truly make a difference, this region will allow you to conduct volunteer work in all types of projects. Not only is South America one of the most affordable places to volunteer abroad, it’s also arguably one of the most beautiful. Those who volunteer in South America can explore the Amazon rainforest, trek the Andes, hit the Argentine ski slopes, or sunbathe in sunny Rio de Janeiro in their free time.
Almost all the nations of South America offer multiple opportunities to volunteer abroad, including those not listed below, however the following tend to have the most prevalent and wide-ranging program options.
Peru – Located on the northwest coast of the continent, Peru is bordered by five countries and home to Incan ruins, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca. Its chief industries are mining, manufacturing, fishing, and agriculture. Volunteer work in Peru is common in urban centers like Lima and Cusco, with volunteer opportunities in education, medicine and community development, or choose a more rural experience volunteering with indigenous peoples high in the Andes. With several National Parks, Peru is also a great place to help volunteer in conservation and wildlife.
Argentina – This country makes up the southeast tip of the Americas, home to world-renowned regions like Chaco and Patagonia. Cities like Buenos Aires and Cordoba offer many volunteer programs in community development, medicine, working with at-risk youth, the homeless, orphans, and the elderly. Volunteers can also find opportunities for volunteer work in conservation, farming and agriculture, and ecotourism.
Brazil – As the region’s largest country in terms of population, metropolises like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo struggle with inner city poverty and have a high need for volunteer projects focused on community development, education, and construction and renovation. These large cultural centers offer more volunteer opportunities in the arts too, like music, dance, and photography. Outside the cities, in the vast Amazon basin, are some of the best volunteer programs in Brazil, specifically in conservation and wildlife biology.
Chile – This long strip of land on the southwestern coast of the continent is full of National Parks and volunteer opportunities in agriculture, sustainable living, ecotourism, summer camps, and trail maintenance. With such a long coastline, Chile is a particularly great location for marine conservation and biology. Popular cities for volunteering in Chile include Santiago, Vida del Mar, and La Serena.
Education – English teachers are in high demand all over South America, in both urban and rural areas. Individuals can choose to volunteer in public or private schools, specific language schools, or even opt for living in homestays with local families where volunteers help teach the family English. While teaching English in South America is more common, there are volunteer opportunities in other subjects, such as math, science, and sports coaching.
Community Development – Most countries in South America are developing nations, and consequently many countries have a specific need for carpenters skilled in home construction and renovation. In addition to basic housing projects, there are many volunteer programs in South America focused on working with disabled children, orphans, and at-risk youth, as well as the homeless and elderly.
Conservation & Wildlife – Whether it’s aviary biology in the Amazon rainforest, marine conservation off the coast of Ecuador, or working with sustainability and ecotourism in the National Parks of Argentina, opportunities to volunteer in South America in the realm of conservation and wildlife are located all over the continent. As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, these type of volunteer programs can be quite an adventure too.
Costs & Affordability
Most volunteer programs in South America charge a program fee, which typically includes accommodation, meals, transportation, visa assistance, and other amenities during the duration of your placement, and helps the local organization continue to run their programs and projects.
The cost of living will vary depending on where you choose to volunteer in South America, but in general you will find living costs in South America to be much cheaper than the U.S., and definitely lesser than Europe. Volunteering in national capitals and other major urban centers will likely be more expensive than volunteering in rural areas of South America, when it comes to accommodation, food, and especially entertainment.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation can vary greatly depending on the volunteer program you choose, but the most common option for volunteers in South America is shared housing in volunteer quarters, such as a house or an apartment. Homestays are also an excellent and widely available housing option, and an especially good choice for those who want to improve their Spanish skills while volunteering in South America. Volunteers who stay in rural homestays, for example in a village in the Andes, should be prepared for simple living conditions. A significant lack of electricity, limited bathing facilities, and access to consistent clean water are all common in more rural areas of South America. The benefits of living and volunteering in these rural areas will most definitely outweigh the minimal challenges associated with adapting to a new lifestyle though.
Visa requirements for volunteering in South America will vary depending on country you choose. Some may have specific visas for volunteers, while others countries, like Peru, allow volunteers to enter the country on a tourist visa, provided they are not receiving compensation for their volunteer work. If the duration of your program exceeds the tourist visa timeframe, you may need to apply for a different kind of visa, an extension, or a work permit. Be sure to check visa requirements for your country of choice well before departure so you have time to apply for the correct visa, if required.
Benefits & Challenges
Giving Back to the Community – Whether you choose a South American volunteer program in education, community development, conservation, or medicine, you can be sure that your service is needed, and you will make a tangible difference in the lives of South Americans. Both poverty and an overall lack of access to resources are huge obstacles for most countries in South America, so locals often depend on international volunteer organizations to implement projects that can help improve their quality of living.
Adventure – The Pacific, Atlantic, Andes, Amazon, Patagonia, Chaco – with an incredibly biodiverse atmosphere, opportunities for adventure and exploration are literally everywhere. Those who volunteer in South America can really take advantage of the region’s natural beauty and participate in all the outdoor activities each country has to offer, from hiking and biking to sailing, surfing, and skiing.
Poverty – It can sometimes be difficult for volunteers to adjust to witnessing heightened levels of poverty or unsanitary conditions. Volunteers should research the country of their choice and be prepared for new experiences they may encounter while volunteering in South America, including unreliable technology and impoverished street beggars.