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How much does it cost to volunteer abroad?

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How much does it cost to volunteer in Peru?
How much does it cost to volunteer in Peru?
What you need to know:
  • There is a wide range of program costs when it comes to volunteering abroad
  • Flights to and from the programs tend to account for a large portion of the costs
  • You can save money by volunteering closer to home!

You probably know this by now, but almost every volunteer program requires their volunteers to pay in order to volunteer abroad--but rather than listing the reasons why, or what program fees cover, in this article we'll be taking a close look at just how much your volunteer abroad experience might cost you.

To research this subject, I started with the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry, 2009 report, which found that volunteers are most interested in traveling to Peru, Costa Rica, Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

From there, I narrowed down international volunteer organizations working in these countries. Three are included under each destination to give a broad idea of the costs and types of work available.

Calculating the costs:

To calculate costs, I took several criteria into account:

  • Program fees: All program fees are based on two-week stays as noted on the organizations' websites.
  • Flights: For one week, I tracked lowest-cost round-trip flights via Kayak.com for each destination. It's best to apply for volunteer programs several months before your estimated travel date, so the first two weeks of August were used for these examples. As each placement varies geographically--and in fact some organizations have several programs working throughout the same country--capital cities were used as destination points. Checked baggage and other fees were not included.
  • Passport: One American adult passport book totals $135. This is added to the higher-end fee only, as it applies to individuals currently without passports.
  • Visa: I opted for a tourist visa option for American citizens. If this is required, then it is included in all final costs for that destination.

And finally, it's important to consider vaccinations, travel insurance, and spending money. Because these costs are highly available depending on where you're going and what you're doing, a numeric value is not included for them.

Got it? All right--let's see how much it costs to volunteer abroad!

Volunteering in Peru:

IVHQ Volunteers
IVHQ Volunteers

International Volunteer HQ's programs in Peru start from $425 for two weeks. This pays for in-country support and supervision, airport pickup, accommodations and meals, and other administrative costs. Placements include childcare, construction, English teaching, environmental conservation, and healthcare.

United Planet's program in Peru starts at $1,665 for two weeks. This covers pre-departure training, airport transfer, travel insurance, accommodation and meals, support and supervision, excursions and cultural activities, and Spanish lessons. Placement areas include childcare and healthcare.

Teach Huaraz Peru accepts volunteers for $200 placement, plus $105 per week for housing and meals. The placement fee covers airport transfer, orientation, Spanish and cultural lessons, excursions, and support. Projects encompass children's education and facility construction and renovation.

Flights and Visa Requirements
  • From San Francisco to Lima: $977
  • From Denver to Lima: $1,351
  • From New York City to Lima: $931
  • Visa: Not required
So, for a two-week volunteer stint in Peru, it will cost...

Lower end: $1,341
Higher end: $3,151

Volunteering in Costa Rica:

Global Volunteer Network Volunteers
Global Volunteer Network Volunteers

WIDECAST Latin American Programs' volunteer placement starts at $315 per week, for a total of $430 for two weeks. This includes orientation and training, accommodation, food, in-country support, and program expenses. Volunteers assist with sea turtle monitoring, environmental conservation, and farming.

Global Volunteer Network places volunteers in Costa Rica starting from $797, plus a $350 application fee, for two weeks. Costs cover training and support, airport pick-up, accommodation and meals, Spanish lessons, salsa lessons, Internet usage, and program operation expenses.

i-to-i's Costa Rica projects start from $1,299 for two weeks. This includes airport pick-up and drop-off, orientation and training, housing and meals, and administrative costs. Programs focus on sea turtle conservation, home construction, English education, and childcare.

Flights and Visa Requirements
  • From San Francisco to San Jose: $692
  • From Denver to San Jose: $482
  • From New York City to San Jose: $522
  • Visa: Not required
So, for a two-week volunteer stint in Costa Rica, it will cost...

Lower end: $1,112
Higher end: $2,126

Volunteering in Australia:

i-to-i Volunteers
i-to-i Volunteers

Australian Tropical Research Foundation's volunteer program starts from two weeks at AUD35 (about USD37) per day, which covers food and accommodation. Volunteers assist with animal care and feeding, wildlife research and tracking, reforestation, and construction of station buildings.

i-to-i's Australia program starts from two weeks at $1,259. This pays for orientation, accommodation and food, and support, and volunteers assist with reforestation, environmental conservation, and wildlife research.

Tolga Bat Hospital's volunteers work two weeks or longer with a starting cost of AUD30 (about USD32) per day, which covers housing, food, and program expenses. Volunteers assist with bat care and feeding, gardening, and research projects.

Flights and Visa Requirements
  • From San Francisco to Canberra: $1,388
  • From Denver to Canberra: $1,511
  • From New York City to Canberra: $1,579
  • Visa: $64.95
So, for a two-week volunteer stint in Australia, it will cost...

Lower end: $1,900.95
Higher end: $3,037.95

Volunteering in South Africa:

GVI Volunteers
GVI Volunteers

AVIVA places volunteers throughout South Africa on education, environmental conservation, wildlife care and research programs starting from PS690 (about USD1,140) for two weeks. Fees cover pre-departure support, orientation and training, accommodation and meals, and in-country transportation.

GVI's South Africa volunteer programs start from two weeks at $1,200, which covers accommodation and food, orientation and support, expeditions, transport to and from the project site, and all materials needed to complete program work. Volunteers help with children's education and care, wildlife research, sports programs, community development, and environmental conservation.

Volunteer Africa 32 Degrees South hosts volunteer programs starting from two weeks at ZAR7,584 (about USD1,130). This covers accommodation and meals, transport to and from the project site, program management, and a donation to the community partner. Volunteers assist with education and environmental conservation.

Flights and Visa Requirements
  • From San Francisco to Cape Town: $2,349
  • From Denver to Cape Town: $2,390
  • From New York City to Cape Town: $1,969
  • Visa: Not required
So, for a two-week volunteer stint in South Africa, it will cost...

Lower end: $3,099
Higher end: $3,725

Volunteering in the UK:

Habitat for Humanity Volunteers
Habitat for Humanity Volunteers

3H Fund volunteers pay PS60 (about USD99) to work for one week in England, covering all accommodations and meals--because all 3H Fund holidays last up to one week and most cost PS60, I've doubled this price to assume you'll volunteer for two trips back-to-back. Volunteers act as caretakers and assistants for disabled individuals who otherwise would not be able to vacation on their own.

Earthwatch offers volunteer programs in England starting at $2,495 for two weeks. This pays for accommodations and meals, orientation and training, and project expenses, and volunteers assist with scientific research and data collection.

Habitat for Humanity's volunteer program in Northern Ireland lasts 10 days and costs $2,220, which covers accommodation, meals, support, and workshops. Volunteers assist with construction projects and attend workshops focused on conflict resolution and peace building.

Flights and Visa Requirements
  • From San Francisco to London: $1,399
  • From Denver to London: $1,386
  • From New York City to London: $901
  • Visa: Not required
So, for a two-week volunteer stint in the U.K., it will cost...

Lower end: $1,099
Higher end: $4,029


And there you go! An honest look at the approximate costs of volunteering abroad in some of the more popular destinations.

To sum up, England ($1,099) and Costa Rica ($1,112) had the lowest costs to volunteer for two weeks, while South Africa ($3,725) and England ($4,029) had the highest potential costs to volunteer. As you can see, volunteering abroad is not exactly cheap, so make sure to carefully research and read reviews of each of these programs before you too much money on a bad program.

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