Should I volunteer abroad?

Before deciding to volunteer abroad, it is important to do your research and think about your reasons for doing so.

Written by spunout


Many people choose to volunteer abroad as a way to visit a new country and meet new people while also being able to help others and create positive change. Before volunteering abroad, it is important to be certain about the choice you are making and to be confident with the charity you will be working with.

Questions to ask yourself before volunteering abroad

If you are considering volunteering abroad, it can be difficult to decide how you would like to use your time and which organisation to choose to volunteer with.

When deciding, it is important to consider whether the work you will be doing will be of value to both yourself and the local community, and if the organisation you will be volunteering with is legitimate and puts the wellbeing of the local people and environment first.

To be sure you make the right choice when volunteering, you can ask yourself and the organisation questions before committing to the role.

Why do I want to volunteer?

Ask yourself what your motivations are behind volunteering. Perhaps you want to help others, meet new people, gain new skills, or all of these things. By figuring out your reasons for volunteering before making a commitment, it will be easier to find a volunteering opportunity that is of value to both you and the organisation.

What skills do I have to offer?

Many organisations seek volunteers in a wide range of areas. Some volunteer opportunities are suitable for anyone, while others may require a specific qualification or skillset. If you are not qualified to take on a role that interests you, see if the organisation has any other opportunities that may be a good fit. Think about what skills you have to offer and then search to find the role and organisation you think you can contribute the most to.

How long would I like to volunteer for?

When volunteering abroad, it is best to be able to give an extended period of time. If you can only volunteer for a short period of time, think about what will be achieved in that timeframe, and if you could achieve more by volunteering at home. Read more about the benefits of volunteering.

Where would I feel comfortable volunteering?

Volunteering abroad can be quite a culture shock. Before you commit to anything, consider whether or not you could become homesick or unable to adjust to your surroundings. Some other things to think about include whether you get travel sick easily, if there are certain foods you dislike or can’t eat, and if you would be okay with only having basic facilities such as restricted water or electricity.

Am I ready for the challenges that will come with volunteering abroad?

Volunteering abroad can be a challenging experience, and it is important to understand the realities of day to day life while living abroad before leaving home. To ensure that you can make the most of your time abroad, be realistic with yourself about the sort of experience you will enjoy and aim to find the opportunity that is right for you.

Would I be better donating my money to the charity than travelling to volunteer with them?

Sometimes the benefits of what you will be able to contribute to a community when working with them will not outweigh the expense of travelling. Think about whether your travel money could be better spent as a donation that allows the organisation to employ a local person or invest in a particular project.

Do I trust the organisation I am volunteering with?

Do your research so that you can feel confident with your choice of organisations before leaving. Look online at their website, social media and what previous volunteers say about them. Check to see how transparent they are about how they spend their money and research what good has been achieved by the organisation in the time that they have been working in a community.

Questions to ask the organisation before choosing to volunteer with them

There are several questions you can ask an organisation before signing up to volunteer with them:

  • Is the organisation a registered charity?
  • Is there any volunteer preparation or training before I leave?
  • What are the objectives of the organisation?
  • Can they show me a breakdown of where the money I pay goes?
  • How have previous volunteers made a difference?


Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which a person takes part in voluntary work while they are travelling.

What are the potential impacts of voluntourism?

The word voluntourism is sometimes used to highlight the negative impact that tourists who volunteer can have on a local community. An example of this is how volunteering with orphanages can have a negative impact on the children in them, as they can become attached to the volunteers and suffer abandonment issues after they leave. A demand to volunteer in orphanages in Cambodia led to them being set up for the sake of tourism, with an increase of 75% in five years from 2006-2011. This is why it is really important to think about both the positive and negative impacts of your volunteering experience abroad so that you can be sure you are making a real difference.

Organisations offering volunteer opportunities abroad

When looking for a volunteer opportunity abroad, it is important to look for responsible and recognised organisations.

VSO Ireland

VSO Ireland is an international development organisation that works to fight poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries. VSO volunteers must be from professional backgrounds and their placements are not generally short-term. VSO volunteers provide training to local people in areas including medicine, education and business. Read more about VSO Ireland.

Voluntary Service International (VSI)

The Voluntary Service International is the Irish branch of Service Civil International, which does voluntary and community work across Ireland and internationally. Their mission is to promote peace, social justice, sustainable development and intercultural understanding through volunteering. They offer a wide variety of volunteering opportunities around the world through both short and long-term projects, as well as non-formal education opportunities (international seminars and trainings) and the opportunity to become a local activist. Find further information on volunteering with VSI.

European Solidarity Corps

The European Solidarity Corps funds and supports young people aged 18-30 to take part in volunteering projects at home or abroad. If you are prepared for a challenge and willing to dedicate yourself to helping others, you can register your details on the online portal.  You will be asked for some basic personal information like your name, age and email address. You then select the ‘Volunteering’ option, and choose what kinds of projects or themes you are interested in. This could be youth work, environmental issues, arts, drama or culture. Organisations that run European Solidarity Corps projects can search the portal to find potential volunteers. You do not have to agree to take up a position offered by an organisation; the decision is up to you.

Volunteering placements are full-time (30-38 hours per week) and can last from two months to twelve months. In some cases, you can volunteer for a shorter period of two weeks to two months. Volunteering in a European Solidarity Corps project in another country is not a decision you should take lightly. It’s not a job or a work placement. It is an opportunity to express your personal commitment through voluntary work. For more information, visit the European Solidarity Corps website.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.


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