YOOODDELLLEEEEOOOO!!! Did our amazing Swiss yodeling get your attention? Well we hope so, because Switzerland, the mountainous home to silky smooth chocolate and four languages, is an outrageously awesome place to volunteer abroad. As a well developed, prosperous country, Switzerland is a great, yet highly overlooked, place for volunteer work abroad. But its prosperity shouldn’t take away from the fact that there are volunteer opportunities in Switzerland that can provide very meaningful experiences for international volunteers. If you’re looking for a place that offers the comforts of home, yet still has distinct needs, then volunteering in Switzerland may be just right for you.
Since Switzerland is a tiny country, volunteers may be able to work in several different places throughout their trip. However, it is important to keep in mind a couple of cities that are ideal for volunteering in Switzerland.
Zurich. Located in the North of Switzerland on the shores of Lake Zurich, this large, bustling city is home to quite a few Swiss volunteer organizations that can all use a helping hand. Perceived around the world as one of the most liveable cities, Zurich offers volunteers the chance to work around the city in a variety of capacities, while also being able to experience some of the sights that make Zurich so amazing. Whether you’re fascinated with ancient churches and steeples or want to experience Zurich’s vibrant nightlife in Zuri-West, this city is an incredible destination for volunteer work in Switzerland.
Lucerne. Known for its friendly citizens and quaint churches, the gorgeous city of Lucerne is an ideal place to volunteer in Switzerland. A small yet dense city, Lucerne is located among snowy mountains on the edge of Lake Lucerne. Its colorful Old Town, or Altstadt, and 14th century walls add a medieval charm to its modern Swiss vibe. As with most Swiss cities, Lucerne offers some excellent alpine trekking and hiking opportunities for volunteers’ free time. If you’d like a bit of a quieter, off the beaten path experience, Lucerne is an ideal site for volunteering in Switzerland.
Volunteering in Switzerland
Beyond being one of the richest countries in the world and having an appearance of rustic glamour, Switzerland is chock-full of wholesome volunteer opportunities. With the Red Cross and the United Nations present in Geneva, there are a plethora of organizations to work with and volunteer projects to get started on.
Community Work. Even though it’s one of the most developed nations in the world, there are still communities in Switzerland that need volunteer assistance across a range of projects. Many opportunities to volunteer in Switzerland are based on local construction projects, while others are set in hospitals or working with small children. Community development volunteering in Switzerland is a great option for volunteers looking to truly immerse themselves in Swiss culture.
Teaching English as a Second Language. As one of the world leaders in modern day world politics, it is more important than ever for Swiss youth to grow up learning the English language. Because of this, teaching English is an amazing way to volunteer in Switzerland if you’re looking to make an immediate and tangible difference. Some volunteer teachers will be required to get a TEFL or TESOL certificate to fulfill teaching placements in Switzerland, but it all depends on the specific school or program. Just be sure you look into required experience and training before applying.
Working With Large International Organizations. With the Red Cross and the U.N. headquartered in Geneva, there are plenty of amazing volunteer opportunities in Switzerland just waiting for you to apply. While you might not be able to volunteer in Switzerland directly at the United Nations, there are many great volunteer organizations throughout the country that are always in need of a helping hand. For example, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers, and being able to say that you volunteered for the Red Cross in Switzerland is a potential gamechanger on any resume.
Costs & Affordability
In general, volunteering in Switzerland (or traveling/living) is considered to be pretty expensive; however, as with any volunteer trip abroad, the key to saving your wallet is to budget out everything. One American dollar is about 1.01 Swiss francs, so keep in mind that you’d probably spend the same amount that you would in the States.
One key thing to keep in mind as you plan your trip to volunteer in Switzerland is that you’re going to want to eat, shop, and go to places that Swiss people go to. In Geneva, eating out every night at restaurants won’t save you money, but maybe going regularly to a small café for breakfast only frequented by locals will. Switzerland’s high cost of living is almost as famous as its swanky watches, just make sure to budget everything you do. Finally, grocery shop instead of eating out, stick to Swiss locales, and avoid touristy areas.
Volunteering in Switzerland can be expensive if you go about it the wrong way; make sure to research your chosen provider thoroughly, so you can budget properly and know what you are getting into. The most important thing to find out is whether or not the provider will provide you with housing or a homestay. Staying with a Swiss homestay will not only save money on expensive rent, but there’s also a huge possibility that they will provide two to three meals a day for you.
Accommodation & Visas
Some volunteer programs in Switzerland offer housing for volunteers, and sometimes that means volunteers will be staying in homestays. Volunteer housing varies per program, and if you’re looking to volunteer in Switzerland independently, also prepare yourself to find housing independently. Rent can get pretty expensive close to the city center, so look to find a neighborhood that’s a bit of a walk from the center to find more affordable housing (and get fit like the Swiss).
For most individuals who plan to volunteer in Switzerland for less than three months, a visa is not required, nor is there a cost upon entry. However, as with any country, make sure to check with your host organization to make sure you don’t need any special permits or visas to participate in their volunteer projects. You probably won’t, but it’s always a good idea to check.
For the most current up-to-date info on Swiss visas, check out GoAbroad’s Swiss Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Switzerland is a unique opportunity to live in and gain insight into one of the most successful countries on the planet, while also making a difference in local communities. Along with being one of the safest countries in the world, Switzerland offers the chance to not only learn multiple languages, but gain a deeper understanding of why it’s still important to volunteer and give back even in the most developed of countries.
While the benefits of volunteering in Switzerland seem endless, there are a couple of challenges that you might have to face, the biggest one being affordability. For volunteers who opt to work in Switzerland’s larger cities, the cumulative cost of everyday staples like rent, transit, internet, and food can be overwhelming. Your best bet is to plan ahead, consider fundraising for your trip, and shave off costs whenever possible (do you REALLY need that second helping of Gruyère?!).
Overall, there is much to be gained from volunteering in Switzerland. Follow your sweet tooth to the best dang cup of hot cocoa around, pack your hiking shoes, in case you choose to tackle one of Switzerland’s 208 3,000+ meter high mountains, and open your heart to the good work and relationships you will develop there.