Volunteer Abroad

The 10 Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2020

Jacqueline Peveto
Topic Expert

Jacqueline is a writer, artist, and enthusiast for anything else involving imagination and paper. She both studied abroad and volunteered abroad in Japan.

Volunteering is one of the best ways to see the world. Getting involved in sustainable projects and in the lives of people in need give you the opportunity to make it a better place, and you’ll see countries in a way tourists never can.

There are incredible opportunities for volunteers all around the globe. But how do you decide where to go? To help you get started, we have compiled a list of the top ten places to volunteer overseas in 2020. These rankings are based on their popularity and reviews from volunteers on Go Overseas and Google. The availability of internships is also a contributing factor.

Country Rank (2020) Previous Rank (2019) Change
India 1 5 +4
Japan 2 2 0
Costa Rica 3 3 0
Peru 4 1 -3
South Africa 5 4 -1
Puerto Rico 6 7 +1
Canada 7 - New
Israel 8 - New
Nepal 9 6 -3
Guatemala 10 - New

1. India

India has moved to the top of the list for best destinations for volunteering abroad in 2020. This vast and beautifully varied nation continues to draw volunteers, and the need for enthusiastic helpers is still great. Rapid economic growth in India has led to progress in many sectors, but the speed of change has brought problems such as environmental damage, loss of wildlife habitats, and polluted, unsanitary cities. Communities have been impacted with limited access to housing and clean drinking water.

No matter what your interest, there is a project looking for someone just like you. Get hands-on training in urban clinics and gain valuable medical experience and insight into India’s healthcare system. Reach out to populations of street children, teaching English and other valuable life skills. Work to protect animals endangered by habitat destruction by volunteering at elephant sanctuaries and sloth bear rehabilitation centers. From the bustling centers of Mumbai and Bangalore to the rural communities in the Himalayas, you’ll have the chance to explore India and its culture while making a difference in people’s lives.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in India:

2. Japan

Japan holds steady at No. 2 for volunteer destinations. While this technologically advanced nation has all the modernity and infrastructure of other developed nations, there is still a need for volunteers, who can gain valuable exposure to Japanese culture, traditions, and language. Volunteers are able to get involved in unique placements such as assisting in local artisan workshops, learning how to craft taiko (traditional drums) or wagashi (confections). You can work at a tea plantation in Uji near the old capital of Kyoto and take on every part of the tea-making process. From the big cities to the more rural communities, you can step into local cafes, restaurants, and art centers and help real businesses.

With an aging population, Japan always has a demand for volunteers with a heart for the elderly, working with them in senior homes or private residences to provide therapy or physical exercises. The second highest need is for English teachers who can help students gain valuable skills and educational resources. The Land of the Rising Sun is an excellent destination for those looking to experience daily Japanese life and get involved in its distinctive combination of modern innovation and ancient culture.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Japan:

3. Costa Rica

From service to adventure, Costa Rica offers volunteers a wide range of opportunities. Many programs here seek to instill and grow a profound appreciation of nature through wildlife rehabilitation, beach conservation, and ecosystem education. In addition to surfing and kayaking, you’ll have the chance to save sea turtle eggs and help prepare injured or illegally trafficked animals return to the wild. There is a lot of work to be done to keep Costa Rica’s gorgeous tropical rainforests and beaches healthy and protected.

Volunteers can gain personal knowledge of Costa Rica’s pura vida (pure life) lifestyle by engaging with its people on a local level. While domestic violence, human trafficking, and labor exploitation are major issues, human rights programs are on the rise here, seeking to promote awareness and provide counseling in its varied communities. Data collection, administration, and school construction are other avenues open to volunteers who want to make an impact in this country one person at a time.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Costa Rica:

4. Peru

Despite a wealth of natural resources, Peru still struggles with disparities in health care and literacy rates. Cities and rural towns alike are eager to accept volunteers to lend a hand with everything from underfunded orphanages to trail maintenance. Teaching English is a great way to open academic and professional doors for children in schools lacking resources, and sustainability projects in the Andes mountains and Amazon region will ensure that the breathtaking splendor of this country will be preserved for years to come.

There are few other volunteer destinations that are willing to fully welcome you into daily Peruvian life for valuable real-world experience. From medical and dentistry shadowing to teacher mentorships, you will have the chance to learn from experts in your field as you host educational workshops and hone important skills. Volunteers with health professions or training are very much needed, and there are always openings to take care of children affected by homelessness.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Peru:

5. South Africa

Home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, South Africa is known as the “Rainbow Nation” because of its massive diversity in language and cultures. This highly varied country is looking for volunteers in all sectors, ranging from childcare to research expeditions. Volunteers can work with children affected by violence and disease, easing the burden on childcare centers and schools with limited resources by engaging kids in sports camps and afterschool programs. Computer training, community health centers, and small business development programs are also looking for leaders.

If the wild beauty of South Africa’s safari calls to you, there is plenty of need for volunteers to go out with experienced researchers and guides who will teach you mammal, bird, and reptile identification and how to track animals for data collection. Experts at the Karongwe Game Reserve will give you firsthand instruction in conservation and wildlife preservation amid the natural wonders of South Africa’s geography.

Participating in after-school initiatives and providing education and opportunities for underprivileged children and women can turn the tide against a long history of poverty and gender-based violence. Building projects impact whole communities and improve the quality of life for neighborhoods affected by economic disparity. There is much work to be done to ensure South Africa’s future, and whether you’re coaching tennis or teaching people how to run their own businesses, you can be a part of efforts to make the Rainbow Nation even brighter.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in South Africa:

6. Puerto Rico

Where else can you get an education in coral reef studies and youth development? Puerto Rico offers volunteers ways to get involved with its culture, learn Spanish, and improve the quality of life for its oldest and youngest citizens. From Boys and Girls Club meetings to planting seeds in the rainforest, you can learn about this tropical archipelago by seeing it in ways a sightseeing trip can't allow. Environmental stewardship and ecosystem restoration projects always need helping hands, and sustainable development projects are beginning all over Puerto Rico in rural, urban, and coastal settings.

Hurricane Maria relief efforts are still underway, so, in addition to learning basic construction skills, you can partner with local members of the community to rebuild and repair homes. Programs that work with kids, youth, and their parents strive to help families get back on their feet and improve their quality of life. Work with programs that are attempting to balance necessary economic growth with environmental preservation.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Puerto Rico:

7. Canada

This destination might surprise you, but there are plenty of volunteer opportunities not too far from home if you’re U.S. based. Canada’s diverse features make it a prime location for people who love the outdoors. Programs will let you lead hikes, horseback rides, canoe trips, and even whitewater rafting. You can get involved in the day-to-day activities of running a small eco-tourism operation all while enjoying the Northern lights and pristine mountain ranges. Cycle across parts of Canada and give workshops on environmental and social justice issues. Community development in the form of afterschool clubs, women’s programs, cultural centers, and shelters needs volunteers to reach populations of homeless, autistic children, and other groups in need of support.

You can even join a research project at Hudson Bay to study the impact of climate change. Travel north and collect data with polar bear specialists as you learn about conservation. Canada’s ecosystems are home to beaver, moose, and bison, which are all impacted by modernization. Traveling by snowmobile and sleeping in an igloo is just part of the work you could be doing as you partner with locals to preserve Canada’s natural and beautiful heritage.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Canada:

8. Israel

This country is new to the list, but it offers unique opportunities to interested volunteers. Many programs in Israel offer participants cutting edge leadership training seminars and the experience to put the tools learned into practice. You can learn what it takes to help at-risk youth, how to close achievement gaps by tutoring students in one-on-one settings, and how to build community and encourage collaboration between diverse populations. Several programs will allow you to teach English to low-income students in the big cities of Nazareth Illit and Jerusalem or smaller locales like Mitzpe Ramon.

If the outdoors calls to you and you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you experience the long and ancient history of this country up close by participating in archaeological digs. Agriculture is a huge part of life here, and farms are always eager to take volunteers to help them harvest grapes and olives. The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens annually welcome helpers to care for their thirty acres of native and international plants. What better way to discover Israel and its many cultures than by working side by side with the people who live there?

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Israel:

9. Nepal

Participate in the cultural heritage of the Nepalese people among the magnificent Himalayas. As you trek the magnificent Himalayas or support an inner-city clinic, you can discover the cultural heritage of Nepal. Programs in this country ensure volunteers are working on projects that address long-term needs such as supporting women to be financially independent and developing much needed public health services and infrastructure. Since the earthquakes of 2015, the country has been struggling to recover services, and poverty remains a large problem.

Teaching English is a large emphasis for volunteer projects, and your classroom can be anywhere from public schools to Buddhist monasteries. Your placement might be in one of the big cities like Kathmandu or in a remote mountain village. If you have medical training, you can put your skills to work at remote health posts to support rural clinics. Agriculture is a huge part of the Nepalese life and economy, and volunteers are welcome to join in the daily activities of planting, caring for livestock, and harvesting.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Nepal:

10. Guatemala

Programs in Guatemala offer volunteers a chance to improve their Spanish while developing intercultural and leadership skills in real-world contexts. This country, known for its exceptional biodiversity and stunning natural beauty, has needs for volunteers in various areas. Construction projects will allow you to roll up your sleeves to build and repair homes, add classrooms to schools, and make improvements to clinics. Medical professionals can promote health in rural communities by contributing to medical, dental, and veterinary programs.

Volunteers working with children in homelessness and poverty can help schools lacking resources by studying with kids. English is a popular subject, but if your Spanish is good, you might be able to teach other subjects. Guatemala’s special needs populations, such as autistic students and the elderly, benefit from volunteer efforts in community service projects which help raise the quality of life of citizens countrywide.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Guatemala:

Volunteering is a great way to experience a country and get to know its people. If you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, you will find neighbors and friends in any part of the world. We hope this list has given you some inspiration for your next project!