Volunteering abroad is one of the best ways to get to know a country and make a difference. You'll get to connect with locals, see places that tourists typically never get to see, and contribute to projects that can positively benefit communities and the planet. If you approach it with the right learning mindset, you'll definitely be in for an exciting and gratifying experience.
Whether you’re interested in empowering local communities in Thailand or conserving wildlife in Ecuador, we’ve identified the most inspiring destinations to consider taking your volunteer efforts in 2022.
Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying travel restrictions, we will highlight countries that are actively soliciting guests in our recommendations. We will also be highlighting virtual offerings later on in this list, so travelers can prepare to go forth—physically or virtually—in the coming year and give back in 2022. You can stay up-to-date on COVID-19 restrictions by visiting travel.state.gov to research restrictions by location.
How did we pick these locations?
To determine the locations for this article, we looked at various factors, such as the location’s history, cost of living/average salaries, things to do, and the number of programs offered in the location.
Lastly, we used our own industry knowledge to ensure we're recommending locations that are vetted both by you, the community members, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the locations included are the best of the best!
To help us determine the countries to include on this list, we compiled the top countries with the most volunteer programs on Go Overseas. However, not every location from this chart was added to our overall list, as we also took into account project options, community reviews, and whether the destination is currently open for travel.
Best for working in health: India
For volunteers passionate about healthcare and looking to share their skillset, India could be a destination worth exploring. Though the country has experienced rapid economic growth, many communities still do not have access to clean water, proper housing, or basic hygiene amenities.
Medical and dental volunteers are needed to help assist in clinics and hospitals, as well as spread awareness to promote the basics of health and topics like COVID-19, infectious disease, global health programming, and more.
Working in health isn't the only option for volunteers in India. You can also contribute to projects that focus on promoting gender equality, youth development, or environmental conservation.
Popular volunteer programs in India:separator_solid
Best for rural development: South Africa
Volunteering opportunities in South Africa are quite diverse. If you're looking to work in conservation, education, rural development, or youth development -- you're likely to find your perfect project-match in South Africa. In the national parks, you may work with all kinds of wildlife, from big cats to birds and even marine wildlife. In rural areas, there are plenty of opportunities to work in community development, such as helping construct buildings or empowering the youth through education projects and after-school activities.
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Best for community development: Nepal
Home to the magnificent Himalayan mountains and the densely forested Chitwan jungle, Nepal is a nation of immense diversity and packed with adventure. However, it is one of the least developed nations in Asia. Volunteers can lend a hand in infrastructure projects, such as helping with earthquake recovery efforts or constructing classrooms in local villages.
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Best for environmental conservation: Peru
Peru has always been a popular destination for visitors interested in conservation, thanks to its gorgeous mountains and beaches, amusing wildlife (llamas and alpacas and more), and rich cultural history. From the Andes to the Amazon, Peru has it all.
Volunteers can find projects ranging in a large variety of focuses, from health care and water sanitation, to sustainable farming practices.
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Best for youth development: Ghana
Located along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, Ghana is becoming increasingly popular for travel and volunteer work. It's a safe nation to visit (with a stable democracy) and an array of education and leadership development opportunities, especially for volunteers interested in helping empower women. Volunteers can contribute to leadership workshops, to help women in Ghana gain the necessary skills and knowledge to join the workforce, as well as communication skills to improve independence.
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Best for wildlife conservation: Ecuador
Ecuador is home to the country's stunning and world-famous Galapagos Islands. Environmental and wildlife conservation are major projects in Ecuador. Volunteers can work alongside locals to help with reforestation, environmental education, monitoring animal behavior, and even the release of animals back into the wild.
Though having a background in biology or animals is helpful, volunteers at all skills levels are welcome!
Popular Volunteer Programs in Ecuadorseparator_solid
Best for climate change research: Canada
For vaccinated U.S. travelers, visiting our friendly neighbor, Canada can be a great place to pursue your volunteer endeavors. Thanks to the country's enticing program options, as well as its convenient geographic location, Canada can be a considered a highly manageable volunteer location in 2022.
Canada is also home to many animals, such as their national animal (the beaver), moose, polar bears, and more. For volunteers interested in protecting the environment of Canada's wildlife, heading to the Arctic to research climate change and environmental conservation may be an adventure worth embarking on!
Popular volunteer programs in Canadaseparator_solid
Best for animal rehabilitation: Costa Rica
Costa Rica is typically at the top of every volunteer or traveler's bucket list, and for good reason. The country is considered one of the most sustainable countries in the world and offers amazing volunteer abroad opportunities in different sectors. It has fared fairly well during the COVID-19 crisis and is welcoming visitors for 2022.
In Costa Rica, nature lovers will find their paradise. There are many volunteer abroad opportunities to get immersed in the one of a kind nature of the country. You can work to help to rehabilitate wildlife in their natural habitat, save sea turtles or help researchers gather more information about the ecosystem. All of this while you also get to know the people and learn to love the way of life in Costa Rica -- Pura Vida! In many volunteer programs you can also teach at schools or get involved with the health system.
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Best for human rights advocacy: Thailand
Thailand has made it on the list this year as a destination that has a lot to offer. Most people only think of the beach and the small islands when they hear Thailand, but actually the mountain forests and the rich cultural background of the country are just as interesting. Thailand has imposed a strict lockdown very early and has fared quite well during the Covid-19 crisis. As it depends on tourists, it is planning to open soon with strict health requirements.
In Thailand you also have many different opportunities to get involved with projects. You can teach children in rural areas, work with elephants in the forests, or with marine wildlife along the long coastline. Many projects are looking for support from volunteers to get back on track after the hiatus due to Covid-19.
Popular volunteer programs in Thailand:separator_solid
Best for marine conservation and research: Australia
Ever wanted to explore the depths of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the world? Volunteering in Australia can help make that dream a reality. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, with many unique creatures calling it their home. However, issues such as climate change and pollution, have threatened the reef's water quality, harming many species. Volunteers in Australia can help restore and protect these creatures' habitat, as well contribute to valuable marine research.
Though Australian borders are not yet open to U.S. citizens, the country's prime minister said travel should resume in 2022.
Popular volunteer programs in Australia:separator_solid
Who says you need to go overseas to make a positive impact abroad? While the travel industry adapts to this new wave of safe travel, we completely understand if international travel isn't something everyone is comfortable with yet. In 2022, virtual volunteer programs will definitely remain a trend to help ensure travel is accessible for all.
Taking advantage of virtual opportunities is a great way to give back and help support communities and nations, from the safety of your home.
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Ready to plan your dream volunteer trip in 2022?
Volunteering abroad may look slightly different in 2022, but if you plan ahead, read up on local health protocols, and take care to practice social distancing, you’ll be able to give back abroad safely.
This post is updated annually, and it was most recently revised in November 2021.