Volunteer in Mexico

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Volunteering in Mexico, one of the most diverse countries in the world - biologically, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally - means you'll never be bored. Mexico is home to one of the new seven wonders of the world (Chichen Itza), dozens of biosphere reserves (monarch butterflies, coral reefs, volcanoes, and more), spectacular beaches, world-renowned cuisine, and the second-largest city in the world (Mexico City). There really is something for everyone!

Maintaining this diversity while growing economically has been one of Mexico's foremost challenges. Popular volunteer projects in Mexico include environmental initiatives and work with poor communities. Unfortunately, the country also continues to struggle with providing basic services, particularly in rural areas, which means that health and education volunteers in Mexico are regularly needed. Many volunteer opportunities are only available to volunteers with some Spanish.

  • Average cost of living: USD $500-$1200/month, varies widely depending on city (at the low end: $200 on food, $300 rent and utilities). For more information visit Expat Forum and Corbett Barr.
  • Work Visa: Difficult, but tourist visas are automatic for U.S. citizens
  • Popular Destinations: Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas
  • Poverty level: 18.2% (CIA World Factbook)
  • There are nearly 300 languages currently spoken in Mexico.

Environmental: Mexico is one of a few "mega-diverse" countries in which most of the world's biological diversity is found. A number of different projects work to maintain this diversity, and volunteers might conduct flora and fauna censuses or provide community education about conservation. Experience in biology and botany is a plus.

Work with Children and Youth: Social services in Mexico are chronically underfunded, particularly those that work with orphans, children in poor communities, and children of single mothers. Volunteers in this realm nurture these children, and their work is truly an investment in Mexico's future.

Education: Schools in Mexico can't keep up with growing numbers of students. Poor students rarely have access to English and computer classes, which provide economic mobility, and volunteers can help create these opportunities for underserved youth.

Health: Volunteers, particularly those with a medical background, can work in clinics throughout Mexico or help with outreach projects. These positions typically require the highest level of Spanish.

Gender Equality: Violence against women in Mexico puts them at an extreme economic and social disadvantage. Women make significantly less money than men and many times they need to travel for work. Volunteers can help change the long history of discrimination and sexist attitudes.

  • Volunteer Support: Many large cities in Mexico have fairly large populations of expats from the U.S., so you can expect to find organizations of foreigners, English-language bookstores and libraries, and stores that will sell comfort food and familiar brands. The U.S. embassies and consulates are also very helpful in case of emergency and the economic dominance of English means that you can almost always find someone to translate in a pinch. (Similarly, many doctors have trained in the U.S. and speak excellent English.)
  • NGOs/Nonprofit/Volunteer History in Mexico: Since the 1990s, perhaps the most visible role of NGOs has been in preventing violence - and mediating - between the government and indigenous peoples. However, NGOs and nonprofits are currently active in many realms of political, social, and economic life in Mexico.
  • Know Before You Go: Due to the drug war, customs agents are particularly diligent about medication. If you need prescription meds, bring enough for your entire stay, or get the chemical formula and have it filled locally. (The second option is usually cheaper, even without insurance.)
  • How Volunteering in Mexico Will Help Your Future: The U.S. and Mexico are so politically and economically intertwined that up-close-and-personal knowledge of Mexico (and Mexican Spanish) is immensely valuable in many fields. If nothing else, your newfound cultural competence will make you a valuable asset in customer relations.
  • How to Save Money While Volunteering: If you're interested in learning more Spanish, see if you can arrange an intercambio - a language exchange with someone interested in learning English. Live in a homestay or with local students - either way, you'll live cheaply and really improve your Spanish. Cook meals instead of going out, and learn what's local and in season to eat the most cheaply.
  • Best Places to Volunteer: Mexico City, Oaxaca, the Yucatan, anywhere near a beach.
  • Questions to Ask: Are you responsible for arranging your own housing? Is there an option to take language classes? How much free time will you have? Are there opportunities to travel within Mexico?
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Mexico:

The diversity of Mexico makes it difficult to make country-wide recommendations, although typhoid and hepatitis A and B vaccinations are recommended for all travelers. Anti-malarials are recommended for a small number of rural areas, and insect protection measures are advised due to the prevalence of dengue fever. Long-term volunteers might consider travel insurance.

Although the U.S. media paint Mexico as dangerous, the truth is that drug-war-related violence is limited to the border region and the states of Sinaloa, Michoacan, and Guerrero, particularly Acapulco. General street smarts are all that's required for most of Mexico: the traffic is usually the single biggest hazard to your safety.

Visas for Volunteering in Mexico:

Citizens of the U.S., E.U., and many other countries do not require visas to enter Mexico as tourists, and can stay for up to 180 days.

Contributed by Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein

Jena is finishing her Ph.D. in Linguistic Anthropology and lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. In addition to being an activist and scholar, she's also an aficionada of Oaxacan chocolate, chapulines, and calendas.

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Programs & Reviews

IVHQ offers a highly affordable volunteer program in Merida, the capital in the state of Yucatan on Mexico's Caribbean coast. Volunteers can join projects in Mexico year-round, and begin on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month. At any...
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UBELONG offers 1-week to 6-month volunteering opportunities in Merida. There are over 40 projects in different fields, including: caregiving, education, health, and business development. Highlights Affordable: Without compromising quality...
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Mexico is a beautiful country, and a great place to spend time on a volunteer program or internship. Mexico is a real meeting-place of cultures: a modern, industrialized and well-educated country thats full of history. American, Spanish...
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Mexico is the Central American heartland that epitomises the best of Latin fiesta spirit and the legacy of the Mayan civilization. Mexico's environment is under great threat from human influences including the development of the coastline...
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Volunteer in colonial Oaxaca, Mexico for complete social and cultural immersion. Oaxaca is one of the most biodiverse areas in Mexico and is known for the craftsmanship of talented local artisans among other various things. Adelante's...
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Our Oaxaca volunteers have the opportunity to work with one of four local development organizations. Volunteers working with Puente a la Salud support nutrition and food sovereignty programs in host communities. With the Trilingual Project...
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PEACE provides children and adults with programs and opportunities to develop the necessary skills to be successful, positive contributors to their multicultural/multilingual communities. The program offers an after school program in...
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Experience Mexico as a "non-tourist." Volunteers practice English in small groups with college students. The purpose is on for the students to learn conversational English, not grammar, so virtually anyone can be of service. Each class...
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Volunteer and teach in Mexico! AV is devoted to placing enthusiastic individuals in third world countries, and seeks volunteers that will help out at underprivileged Mexican communities by teaching kids at public schools. Volunteers will...
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VolunQuest is proud to be the only private organization that allows volunteers to participate as teachers in the public school systems in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Our volunteer teachers teach the national English curriculum to...
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Combine exciting adventure travel with a project placement and experience the best of Central America on an unforgettable adventure trip with Frontier through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Travelling with a group...
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You can make a difference when you volunteer with GVI in Mexico! From helping the local wildlife to working with underprivileged children, you can make a difference, as well as immerse yourself in a fascinating new culture. GVI currently...
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Come to Chiapas and have an impact on peoples' lives while improving your Spanish. Work on community building projects in and around San Cristobal, Chiapas along with area residents. All of our projects have been specifically identified to...
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Q+A Community

Do you have a burning question about volunteering abroad in Mexico? We're here to help! Most questions are answered within 24 hours. Here are some example questions:

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