Volunteer Abroad in San Francisco

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A Guide to Volunteering Abroad in San Francisco

San Francisco is an ideal place to bridge your current life and your future studies with a little volunteering… and not just because of the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge! Attractions like the cable cars, the museum in the Alcatraz prison, and Fisherman’s Wharf all bring people to the city, but that doesn’t mean that the local residents don’t need a helping hand every once in awhile. When you volunteer abroad in San Francisco, you get to see a side of the Bay area that goes beyond flashy technology start-ups and gets to the heart of San Francisco living.

What you need to know about volunteering in San Francisco

While many San Franciscans enjoy a great standard of living, people fall on hard times easily in the area, given the very high cost of real estate and rental properties. Your work here may help keep families afloat long enough to make their California dreams come true.

Popular causes and projects. English teaching related volunteering is popular, especially given how multicultural the Bay Area is around San Francisco; your ability to speak English and another language could come in handy with the many populations here. The business culture of San Francisco also makes it a great place to make an impact in microfinance, which is an industry that works to get low-interest loans into the hands of deserving impoverished individuals and companies. Want a part in keeping California’s plants, animals, and natural formations safe? San Francisco is a site for volunteers to practice conservation as well.

Short term volunteer programs in San Francisco. Finding volunteer opportunities in San Francisco for a few weeks can be a great way to get to know the whole of the hilly city before moving to another place or commitment. Staying for the summer or for even just a few weeks can be incredibly rewarding. Often less extensive programs have an easier United States visa process, which is another reason to make a short and sweet volunteering trip.

Long term volunteer projects in San Francisco. Volunteering with a San Francisco non-profit or other community partner for more than three months can create lasting bonds and a chance to get to know the people you are serving at a new level. Some programs even go for a year or more! You may need to acquire a visa, so it is a good idea to start planning a long-term volunteer program a few months ahead of time, at least, and to make arrangements with your hosting organization that will allow for such an opportunity.

Life in San Francisco for International Volunteers

When you volunteer in San Francisco, it won’t take you long to find it can be a fairly expensive city to live in, so seeking a simple homestay arrangement where you share your common area with a family may keep your costs down while you volunteer abroad in San Francisco. At the same time, SF offers plenty of private accommodations or shared apartments with other international volunteers or local students.

San Francisco enjoys the amazing sunny weather that California is famous for, but a couple degrees colder. It’s famous for being mild yet a little less hot than you’d imagine in the summertime (that’s how the sweatshirt salespeople make a living in the tourist areas!). If you venture out of the city into the tall nearby mountains near Lake Tahoe or in Yosemite National Park, be aware that snow and other weather can come on suddenly. 

Keep an eye out for the many different pockets of immigrant communities; if you know another language, you can probably find a place in the city to practice it—including the oldest Chinatown in the United States.

Be aware that outside of downtown, there may be more of a reliance on cars than you are accustomed to in other cities, but if you do your homework, buses and other public transportation will make it possible to help the greater good without having to buy your own wheels. 

GoAbroad Insider Tips for volunteers in San Francisco

You are sure to get your exercise in San Francisco as you go from volunteer opportunities to your lodging and back. The city sports some of the steepest urban inclines and declines and would make an amazing place to sled, if there were more snowy days. As it is, skateboarding and biking are possible but considered to be more extreme sports here than in other cities. Consider public transit and good old-fashioned walking if you are hoping for a less harrowing form of transportation.

Most people have heard of the Golden Gate Bridge, but there are also multiple state and national parks with amazing wildlife and flora very nearby. Don’t miss the enormous, ancient redwood trees or the views of the Pacific along the California coast by driving along the 101. Just because you are busy with your volunteer opportunities in San Francisco doesn’t mean you should miss out on all that the Sunshine State has to offer—even including more local favorites like baseball games (Go Giants!) and craft beer!

You will have an exciting and inspiring time in San Francisco proper, but there are many more cities to explore in California and the other 49 United States. Even if you may have to hike uphill both ways to your gig to volunteer in San Francisco, I guarantee the experience will be more like the excitement of a roller coaster than an uphill battle.

Rolling toward another volunteering adventure? Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in the United States.

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A Guide To
Volunteering Abroad in San Francisco


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