As a country with four official languages, small plates with big flavors (tapas), and one of the greatest hikes ever known (the Camino de Santiago), it is no surprise that Spain is a top destination for those interested in meaningful travel. But beyond this Iberian Peninsula’s efficient and affordable system of trains, planes, and automobiles lies needs deeper than tourism’s reach. There are many volunteer projects in Spain that give visitors the opportunity to make a difference in areas like human rights, education, and conservation and leave a lasting impact on the Spanish people.
Spanish cities both big and small offer quality volunteer placements that can, and will, make a difference in local communities. Each city in Spain has a unique landscape and cultural identity, making it extra intriguing to get lost, talk to the locals about what they’re most proud of, and uncover what each city’s unique characteristics are. Here are just a few of the top locations for volunteering in Spain:
Valencia is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea as well as some incredible protected forests. This environment makes it especially suitable for volunteer projects revolving around conservation and ecology. During time off, volunteers can go for hikes, explore Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias, or enjoy the famous Valencian paella!
Barcelona is a city that never sleeps, so there are plenty of activities to take advantage of day or night! Gaudi’s architecture is speckled throughout the neighborhoods and up to the hills of Park Guell. During the day, the city’s beaches are full of volleyball players, sunbathers, and sailors, while at night, the beach lights up with dance clubs that explode out into the sand. The best musicians in the world flock to Barcelona’s summer music festivals showcasing genres from electronic to indie rock to jazz and more!
Tenerife. Located in the Canary Islands, Tenerife is a big change from continental Spain. The island life moves at a much slower pace, and the city has a small town feel to it. Volunteers should expect to fall in love with the sea breeze, whale watching, and hikes scattered around the island.
Segovia is located in central Spain and is lucky enough to have the famous trail El Camino de Santiago pass through it. If volunteers are down for a walk around town, they can even follow this route for a few miles and have a truly existential experience! The Roman ruins and Segovia Cathedral are two of the many stunning architectural wonders volunteers can explore in this quaint Spanish city.
Volunteer Programs in Spain
Spain is a great destination for volunteering abroad because of its affordability, diverse landscape, and multitude of volunteer opportunities. Education placements can be found in just about any city, while volunteer projects related to conservation are found mostly in the coastal areas of the country.
Conservation. Spain has a large amounts of protected natural areas, both on land and at sea. Some popular conservation volunteer projects in Spain include restoring habitats through planting trees, maintaining walking trails, and helping to eradicate invasive plants. Near the sea, volunteers have the chance to collect behavioral and environmental data about whales, turtles, and other sea creatures.
Education. Teaching English to children or adults is a common volunteer opportunity available in most cities in Spain. The economic crisis hit Spain hard, and many Spaniards are interested in improving their English skills to increase job prospects. Other education-related volunteer program options in Spain include after school tutoring programs for disadvantaged youth, working in childcare, and giving community talks about general public health issues.
Human Rights. In large cities, like Barcelona, volunteers can make a huge difference with underserved populations by helping support refugee communities and victims of sex trafficking. Volunteering in Spain in the realm of human rights often focus on providing educational support for disadvantaged populations and community outreach in needy communities. An intermediate level of Spanish is preferred for this type of volunteer placement in Spain.
Volunteer programs in Spain vary in length from one week to six months. Keep in mind that many projects related to education or human rights prefer that volunteers commit to a longer period of time, in order to build relationships and optimize community impact. Spanish is not necessary for most volunteer placements in Spain, but is preferred for those placements with a higher need for community outreach directly with locals.
Costs & Affordability
Spain is one of the most affordable countries in Europe, but costs of volunteering in Spain can still add up quickly. Many volunteer programs in Spain have everything from housing to food to airport pickup and drop off included in program costs that can add up to $1000 to $1500 for a two week program. However, keep in mind that inner city transportation is almost never covered by program costs, so if you have to commute from your housing to your project site it will most likely be on your own dime!
In Spain, a coffee will run you $1, a city bus/metro ticket is $2 one way, and a three course lunch is about $12. As in most places, costs are more expensive in large cities, like Barcelona or Madrid, and less in smaller, less touristy cities, like Segovia and Malaga.
Accommodation & Visas
Volunteer programs in Spain typically include lodging in a shared apartment or dormitory with other volunteers. However, some programs offer opportunities to teach English to a local family through homestay accommodation. Expect communal areas, like kitchens and bathrooms, to be much smaller than you’re used to in Spain. It is also very rare to have a clothes dryer in Spain, so be ready to line dry!
No visa is needed for volunteers that plan to stay for less than 90 days. For volunteers interested in volunteering in Spain for more than three months, be sure to consult your volunteer program provider for the most up-to-date visa requirements. You can also visit GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more information on visas.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteer programs in Spain are easy to come by, but make sure to do your research on each placement to make sure it is making a positive impact on the community the project is serving.
Spain has been struggling quite a bit since the economic crisis, and the unemployment rate is still over 20 percent. Therefore, the need for volunteers is high, especially in education, social welfare, and human rights programs. Despite the economic hardships the country has had, the streets of cities and small towns are still alive every day and night with festivals, people chatting at restaurant patios, and street art. There is a lot to enjoy in España and at very affordable prices.
Spain has many unique cultures and four unique languages nestled into one small country. Talk to locals about their region, their food, what they're proud of, and what makes them different from the rest of the country, you’ll be intrigued by all that you learn!
There is a lot more to Spain than running with the bulls, sangria, and flamenco dancing. Each region has its own culturally rich traditions, and as a volunteer in Spain, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the vida español!