A ‘How To’ Guide To Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering is an extremely rewarding thing to do. Dropping everything in your life and going to another country to volunteer your time and money to do something that benefits people that you don’t even know can be extremely enriching. However, with so much to think about it’s hard to focus on the right questions that you should be asking yourself. Luckily for you our guest writer Leanne McNulty has been volunteering abroad for a number of years now and she has taken the time to share with us her top questions she thinks you should be asking yourself before you go away to volunteer.

charity: water / clean water india

1) How long do you want to go for?

This, obviously, depends on a lot of variables. Are you a student who wants a gap year or a summer abroad? Are you taking a career break? How long can you afford to be out of work? Whatever amount of time you have, there is something to suit you. You just have to find the right one!!

2) Where to go?

Before you do anything, you need to decide where in the world you would like to volunteer. There are many places in need around the world. Aid is different all over the world. You can do emergency aid, like disaster relief, or focus on a grassroots type project where efforts are being made to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty. There are also a lot of environmental and wildlife charities. Most people choose to work with NGOs and organisations which are already set up, where you can join an established program. You will also need to consider the cost of getting to your chosen country as this will have a major impact on your budget!

3) What kind of volunteer work do you want to do?

Do you have any special skills that would be needed? For example: Teaching, medical or veterinarian skills, and building or construction skills. Remember that even with these skills there is usually some initial training so you may want to think about a breakdown of costs. Popular choices are teaching English to underprivileged children, providing basic vocational skills to adults looking for new opportunities, building wells and schools in areas in need, working for animal rescue centers, and caring for sick and disabled patients.

4) Do you want to pay for a placement or go it alone?

Paying a fee usually means there will be accommodation provided, food, and an English speaking coordinator. On top of these costs, your fee will include a donation to the project. This is a great option for short term volunteering. The disadvantage, however, is that is can be quite expensive. Do your research. Compare the price per night to what an average hostel will cost and also the price of food. There are many organisations that don’t charge, but they can be a little trickier to find. A good option is to raise money to volunteer abroad in order to fund your time away and you should always think of the best ways to cut your costs to save for your move abroad.

5) Choosing your project

If you want to get the best project for you, there will be many for you to choose from. Google is always the best place to start. Most organisations will have a website (though bear in mind, these often don’t get updated very often) which will tell you where the project is, what they focus on and usually, how you can help. You can also search through blogs, Facebook pages and groups to gather information. It may feel like a lot of information at first, but once you have looked at a few websites, and narrowed down your search, you will find a couple of projects to choose from.

6) Applying

When you apply to be a volunteer, they want to know that you are enthusiastic and willing to work hard. You will be asked to describe why you would be an asset and what skills you have that will make you an ideal candidate. This is your chance to sell yourself and your skills. Volunteers need to be energetic and hardworking. If you have done any local volunteering or fundraising, you should talk about this. It is also a good idea to talk about your hobbies.

7) Preparing for your trip

Depending on where you decide to go, it will most likely be very, very different from home! Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when preparing to volunteer overseas.

Climate – Am I going to a country where I can handle the climate? can I bear hot humid places? Do I handle the cold well?

Culture –  Do I need to cover up? Many places in South East Asia, for example are much more conservative than the west.

Medication – Do I need any vaccinations such as Malaria tablets? It is also a good idea to bring some basic medication when you travel in case they are difficult to find; anti-biotics, pain killers, anti-histamines and band aids are a good start.

Diet – Do I have any specific dietary requirements? Vegan and vegetarian diets are very well catered for on a lot of Asian countries now, but it may still be a little difficult in some places.

Materials for teaching – Do I have any I can take with me? If you are volunteering, you will probably have very basic classrooms and may want to bring some teaching aids with you.

Boredom – Can I handle it? Kindles, ipads etc may be very helpful for long bus journeys and quiet nights in!

Emergency numbers – Do I know what numbers I need to call should anything happen to me? You can never be too prepared.

Contacts list – Do I already know anybody there? having people on the ground in the field you are looking to work in can be an invaluable help.

Camera – Do I have one to take with me? You will absolutely want to capture as many of these moments on camera as you can to remember your trip and share it with family and friends at home!

Madagascar Teaching, Wildlife & Diving

Volunteer Abroad Projects

Here are some projects I have worked with and would strongly recommend:

South East Asia Volunteering Opportunities

Globalteer is a volunteer project which allowed me to work with their ‘Globalteer Wildlife Friends of Thailand’ and ‘Globalteer Cambodia Kids Project’.

Anjali House is a great website where you can find ways to volunteer teach, provide basic care and get involved with family support and the arts.

The Green Gecko Project work with former street kids in Cambodia, check out the website to find out more.

Taiwan Volunteering Opportunities

*Note, these organisations do not do volunteer programs. It is usually locals and expats who volunteer their free time here. I do, however, suggest that if you would like to read more about them and donate some money, visit their websites!

Harmony Home is a charity which cares for people living with and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Taiwan and China.

If you would like to work with animals then you can try Animals Taiwan or the TSPCA where you can get involved with the care of stray dogs and cats.

Long term Volunteer Abroad Options

For longer term options you could check out  websites such as the UN volunteer or the Peace Corp.

Websites to get you started on volunteering abroad

There are a number of websites you can use as a beginning, but these are the ones that I have found most useful. I-to-I are a very helpful and well established website that have a number of volunteer projects and information about how to get involved.

Global Volunteer Network is a very well established company that has been running for over 11 years.

(For more information about specific locations, read my ‘how to’ guides for volunteering in Vietnam and Cambodia.)


Leanne McNulty

Originally from Ireland, Leanne has spent most of the past ten years travelling, working and volunteering in the UK, Australia, Taiwan and most recently, Vietnam. In 2008 she volunteered in Thailand and Cambodia while travelling and fell in love with South East Asia. It also inspired her to volunteer more and to become involved with projects as a fundraiser and volunteer in both Australia and Taiwan. She is currently in Vietnam volunteering with three different projects as a teacher.  Apart for a passion for travelling and experiencing new cultures, Leanne enjoys yoga and dance classes in her free time. Check out Leannes time Volunteering in Vietnam through her Volunteering In Vietnam Blog.