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Should You Pay to Volunteer Abroad?

The Answer Is a Qualified Yes

By

Volunteering abroad.

Javier Pierini/Getty Images

Many of us, when we first think about volunteering, think that it should be enough that we give our time. Why should we pay for the privilege of volunteering?

The truth is that it is commonplace to pay your own expenses when you volunteer abroad. Those expenses include airfare, meals, and lodging.

This type of volunteering is called "arranged volunteering." It is usually done through an organized program that makes arrangements with nonprofits (usually called NGOs or Non-Governmental Organizations) in the country where you volunteer.

Even though you do pay for your travel, accommodations, and meals, there are a lot of benefits that you receive from the organization you work with. These include orientation, language and technical training, a safe and supportive place to live, a safety net through staff that provide logistical support and even counseling, clear expectations for the work you will do, and affordability. It will be cheaper to travel to a foreign country with an organization that handles most of the details than it would be if you tried to do it on your own.

There are many organizations that arrange these volunteer opportunities. They have developed a network of NGOs to work with and have put support structures into place so that volunteers can do their best work with a minimum of confusion as soon as they arrive at their destination. Often, the costs you pay are packaged into one fee to make it even easier to participate.

Arranged volunteering usually means that you will live under conditions that are common to the people in that country. You may stay with a local family for instance. You are likely to work in some human service capacity or with a humanitarian aid project. You may be required to have some language skills or have an expertise such as economic development or teaching.

There is another kind of volunteering abroad called "Voluntourism." This is basically volunteering combined with a vacation. Such opportunities are usually short term and may provide a higher level of creature comforts. Volunteers usually do not need special language or job skills. The traveler/volunteer gets to sample the local culture and perform some meaningful work that benefits a nonprofit organization.

Popular voluntourism programs involve working with environmental groups, participating in scientific research, or helping in architectural or artistic restoration work. Voluntourism opportunities abound and can be found through many mainstream travel organizations.

It is not always easy to separate "arranged volunteering" from "voluntourism." Many opportunities fall somewhere in between these two types of volunteering. One advantage of these volunteer placements is that you can usually take a tax deduction for most of the expenses you incur.

Paid volunteering has become very popular among retirees, baby boomers, and mature travelers of all kinds. It is easy to see why. They may have disposable income, they often have a wish to contribute in some way, and they certainly have a travel bug. Many organizations that set up international volunteer opportunities are actively recruiting older people.

Here is a list of organizations that provide paid volunteer opportunities or that will lead you to additional resources.

Related:

  • Voluntourism vs Philanthropic Travel
  • Making Volunteerism Work: Tips for Nonprofits and Individuals
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