Whenever you plan an international adventure, it’s natural to do your research, budget, and try to cut costs when possible. After all, it can cost a boatload to travel overseas. If you’re planning to volunteer abroad, you’ve made the decision to broaden your horizons and travel in a meaningful way, while also putting in hard manual labor…for free. So why do all these volunteer abroad programs expect you to pay them?

group photo of volunteers in blue shirts

It’s frustrating not being able to volunteer abroad for free, but it’s actually for the best!

No matter what you heard from friends or read on the internet, you can’t volunteer abroad for free. But before throwing away the idea of volunteering abroad because of the cost, listen up because this is actually a good thing. You may be asking yourself, why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad? Well, it’s time to find out where your money goes when you join cheap volunteer abroad programs.

Why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad?

Volunteering abroad may mean working for free, but have you ever thought about the work that goes into organizing and managing a volunteer abroad program? Here you’ll find all the reasons you can’t volunteer abroad for free, so you can stop wondering, why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad?

1. Operation costs

Have you ever wondered where the supplies come from on a volunteer abroad program? If you’re volunteering at a hospital, you need medicine and medical equipment. If you’re volunteering on a construction site, you need building material, concrete, paint, and tools. You can’t carry out a mission without the equipment and supplies, and if you volunteer abroad for free, where do these things come from?

A huge portion of your program fee goes toward buying the materials needed to carry out the placement. That’s right, there’s a reason there’s no such thing as free volunteer abroad! Without program fees, there would be no opportunity for you to make a difference.

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2. Living expenses

In addition to operation costs, most volunteer programs house and feed you. You may stay in a volunteer house with meals provided, and others may opt to live with a local host family who cooks for you each night. Some programs even offer packages that include airport pickup and roundtrip transportation to the work site each day. And that ain’t free!

view of basic room

Your accommodation is usually included in your program fee, and it’ll vary depending on where you’re volunteering.

Volunteering abroad may require a program fee, but consider what you would spend on your living expenses if you were traveling on your own. Often, the fees you pay are worth the price. If you try to cheat the system to volunteer abroad for free, your organization will be paying to host you, making your stay an even greater burden. 

3. Salaries for volunteer organization staff

While wondering why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad, you may not immediately think of the people behind the scenes. Someone needs to run these volunteer programs and make sure the organization is managed properly to make optimum impact. While non-profits often make some money through donations and grants, many volunteer organizations charge program fees so they can pay their staff.

If you’re wondering if the program is trustworthy, ask them where your money goes. Most volunteer programs won’t let you volunteer abroad for free, but they will at least give you a clear breakdown of how they spend the program fees to sustain the organization.

4. Logistics

Planning overseas travel can be overwhelming, especially if you’re traveling to a place you have never been before. You need to work out your flights, visas, transportation, accommodation, and so much more with a volunteer placement abroad. But with volunteer programs, you don’t have to lift a finger. It’s almost like buying an all-inclusive holiday, only you get a whole lot more out a volunteer experience by giving back to the community.

Instead of wasting time searching for free volunteer abroad programs, pay the fee to let someone take care of the logistics for you, link you to a partner organization, and take the pressure off your shoulders.

5. Orientation

group of volunteers in india

High quality on-site training is another reason why you’ll be hard pressed to find free volunteer abroad.

You may be working for free, but volunteer work is still work. You need to learn about your new role and undergo some training so you can make a real difference. Luckily, most volunteer placements offer an orientation program so you can meet your fellow volunteers and learn about the work you’ll do once you get started.

Sometimes these orientations even include a cultural excursion and language training to help you get acquainted with the etiquette of your new surroundings. If you volunteer for free, you’ll miss out on this introduction to the placement, as they won’t be able to pay the staff to provide it.

6. On-the-ground support

Volunteering abroad puts you in a new environment. You’re in a different country with a new culture and customs. You experience the challenges that come with any type of international travel, while also being subject to extreme living conditions when you stay in rural communities exposed to poverty.

What if you get sick? What if you have trouble with your visa? What happens if you don’t speak the local language? All volunteer programs have local support to help you in those situations, so you won’t ever feel alone. On-the-ground support can give you (and your parents) a little peace of mind that you wouldn’t have with free volunteer abroad programs.

[Related: How to Raise Money to Volunteer Abroad]

7. Excursions

Volunteering abroad is not all about work—it’s an adventure, too. After all, you could stay home and volunteer in your local community, but volunteering abroad offers the opportunity to make a difference while also exploring a new country. On days off, you’ll want to explore the local area, whether that means spending the day at the beach, on a safari, or wandering through a nearby village.

Volunteer programs often provide excursions on non-work days, so you can experience more of the country while getting to know your team and the culture better. Instead of wondering why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad, embrace that “all-inclusive travel” mindset. 

4 cheap volunteer abroad programs

group of people putting hands in the middle

So maybe you can’t volunteer abroad for free, but you CAN find cheap volunteer abroad programs!

You may not be able to volunteer abroad for free, but you can certainly save a pretty penny with cheap volunteer abroad programs. Here are a few that offer top-notch service, excellent adventures, and low costs.

1. International Volunteer HQ

IVHQ is a world-renowned volunteer program, and the organization has often been deemed the most trusted and most affordable volunteer program abroad. With placements in over 40 destinations, you can plan the volunteer placement of your dreams, whether that means teaching in Buenos Aires or working in elephant conservation in Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for cheap volunteer abroad programs, IVHQ is where it’s at! With fees as low as $10 per day, you won’t need to break the bank to volunteer abroad.

2. GoEco

If you’re looking for cheap volunteer abroad programs and have a passion for wildlife, GoEco is the perfect program for you. This award-winning program works specifically with volunteer projects in wildlife and environmental conservation. Ever considered volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary with cuddly koalas in Australia? How about rescuing sea turtles in Bali? GoEco is a nature lovers dream come true. Not only can you find some of the best ecological placements, but affordable program fees draw volunteers from all over the world.

3. Love Volunteers

Love Volunteers specializes in cheap volunteer abroad programs and a personalized experience. This small company only has a handful of staff members who are dedicated to helping people in developing countries worldwide. They work directly with local organizations to keep administrative costs low, so most of your money goes directly to the cause. You may not volunteer abroad for free, but at least your money goes to a good place with Love Volunteers. Whether you want to teach yoga to children in India or work on a farm in New Zealand, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of cheap volunteer abroad programs.

4. Kaya Responsible Travel

Kaya is another top program, voted one of the best cheap volunteer abroad programs in the world. They work with sustainable, locally-led, ethical projects, so you can trust them with your money. Kaya works with each volunteer to match your skills and interests to projects that need you. Your experience will certainly be meaningful, as you’ll join a mission that will maximize your specific skill set. Whether you want a short-term program in Latin America, or a long-term stint in Africa, Kaya guarantees the experience of a lifetime.

Volunteer abroad for free with FundMyTravel

The lack of free volunteer abroad programs shouldn’t deter you from making a difference in a community that needs you. If you’re worried about covering the program fee to get you on the ground, there are always ways to raise the funds. Share your experience with others and encourage the people around you to make a difference too, through FundMyTravel. You’ll find people are always willing to give to a good cause, so create a campaign and make it personal. This way, you can cover the funds to get you abroad, and your friends and family can feel like they’re part of the experience!

Free volunteer abroad is too good to be true – for good reason!

volunteer socializing among people

Your volunteer abroad fee will make your life MUCH easier than if it was all for free.

Stop wondering why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad, and embrace the fact that paying to volunteer is worth it! Sure, you may be paying to work for no wage, but you also benefit immensely from volunteering abroad; you’ll quench your wanderlust, learn new skills, and feel all the warm fuzzies that come with helping those in need. And with cheap volunteer abroad programs, you can have the experience of a lifetime at an affordable price. Free volunteer abroad may be too good to be true, but the meaningful experience of volunteering abroad is worth every penny.

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liz gorgaThis article was written by Liz Gorga. Liz is an international traveler, writer, and educator with two home bases: the USA and Australia. She has worked, studied, interned, volunteered, and traveled through more than twenty countries (and counting), and currently resides in sunny Brisbane, Australia. Her life goal is to experience the magic that exists in every inch of the earth, whether she’s hiking in the Himalayan foothills, jumping out of the sky over coral reefs, or devouring a heaping bowl of homemade pasta.