Volunteer Abroad

The 9 Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019

Photo of Jacqueline Peveto
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.

Best Places to Volunteer Abroad - Peru

From time constraints to program fees, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to volunteering overseas, but first, you need to answer the most important question: where will you go?

To help you jumpstart planning your time abroad, here’s a list of the nine most popular countries for volunteers. Each destination was chosen because of their popularity on the Go Overseas website and Google, as well as the number and variety of volunteer programs each one offers. We pulled this list together to help you see which countries are most popular among fellow volunteers over the past year.

Country Rank (2019) Change
Peru 1 New
Japan 2 New
Costa Rica 3 New
South Africa 4 New
India 5 New
Nepal 6 New
Puerto Rico 7 New
United States 8 New
South Korea 9 New

As we've never done a list like this before, every country is 'new' to this list. But, we plan to update it every year, so if you decide to volunteer abroad again in 2020, come back to see which new countries have made the list, moved up, or dropped off.

Want to escape the crowds while volunteering abroad? These destinations might not be the best fit for you. However, we did put together a list of up-and-coming destinations for volunteering abroad in 2019 that you might love!

Read on and get inspired for the most popular places for volunteering abroad in 2019!

#1. Peru

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: Peru
Photo by Robert T., Maximo Nivel Peru Alum

Between the breathtaking, rugged Andes and its deep historical roots, it’s no surprise that Peru is a magnet for volunteers. Go Overseas currently has over 200 programs listed for this destination, featuring a vast array of placements that can cater to almost any budget, time allotment, and project interest. Here is just a short list of opportunities available to you:

  • jungle conservation
  • childcare
  • medical missions
  • veterinary internships
  • wilderness experiences
  • construction/renovation projects
  • English education teaching

Due to a large part of the Peruvian population moving away from rural settings into urban ones, communities in both are facing numerous challenges. Development in these communities and volunteer work in all sectors is needed to improve the quality of life for the people of Peru, especially indigenous groups that receive little to no government aid. If scaling Andean peaks and exploring Incan ruins while making a difference in the lives of Peruvians is something you’d like to do, explore Cusco, Lima, Puno, or Lake Titicaca and find the right placement for you.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Peru:

#2. Japan

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: Japan
Photo by Sarah R., Japan Empowerment Program Alum

Volunteers to the 'Land of the Rising Sun' have the opportunity to experience the unique combination of innovation and tradition that defines Japan and its people. As one of the safest countries in the world, it’s friendly to travelers, and though a strong economy means the need for volunteers is lower, the types of placements available are different than what you might find in other countries. Take your passion for teaching English to summer camp or the soccer field! You can care for Japan’s older population as well, caring for the elderly at group residences or private homes.

Cultural exchange is a priority for most programs in Japan, and from Tokyo and Osaka to smaller mountain villages, you’ll be invited to learn firsthand about Japanese culture by helping with local festivals and workshops. For an even more hands-on experience, choose a homestay in a rural area for the chance to see another side of Japan and roll up your sleeves practicing sustainable farming methods. Cities impacted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake are still undergoing recovery efforts and need volunteers to step into reconstruction projects, plan activities for affected families, and assist local businesses.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Japan:

#3. Costa Rica

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: Costa Rica
Photo by Tiki S., Rustic Pathways Costa Rica Alum

Come learn what the meaning of pura vida is all about! Volunteers to the lush, tropical country of Costa Rica have a plethora of options when it comes to projects, ranging from after-school projects to medical checkups. Many placements work hard to ensure volunteers are immersed in culture during their time overseas, making these opportunities ideal for not only improving your Spanish but also learning about the daily life and customs of the Ticos, as the people of Costa Rica are known. As you build sidewalks and lay floors for schools, you’ll have the chance to establish connections with the local community.

Costa Rica is known for its gorgeous national parks, but volunteers are necessary to keep up the good work. Protect sea turtles from poachers and support eco-agricultural conservation by contributing to research on jaguars and aquatic birds. Programs pushing to make strides in gender equality are also looking for participants to help their efforts to empower women and fight the rise of sex trafficking in Costa Rica.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Costa Rica:

#4. South Africa

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: South Africa
Photo by Sammy G., ISV South Africa Alum

South Africa, which is only about twice the size of Texas, is full of incredible diversity: the number of races and tribes that call it home gave rise to its nickname as the Rainbow Nation. Some of the greatest sights on Earth can be found here, from Table Mountain to the largest game reserve in Africa, Kruger National Park.

As a volunteer in South Africa, you can go on safari and change lives by lending a helping hand to programs and non-government organizations taking on the challenges facing this richly cultured country. In the outback of the Greater Kruger, you can monitor populations of lions, rhinos, cheetahs, and elephants or combat rising rates of HIV/AIDS through medical missions.

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:

#5. India

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: India
Photo by Alice B., IVHQ India Alum

Home to over 1.3 billion people, India is not only popular for volunteers but also in constant demand of them as well. No matter what your interest, there is a good chance there is already a program looking for someone just like you.

Several programs feature wide ranges of time commitments, making it easy for you to find the perfect placement. Rapid economic and population growth in India has contributed to several pressing challenges, including severe public health shortages, high levels of poverty, and environmental damage from plastics and chemical pesticides.

Find meaningful adventure in Mumbai, Bangalore, Rajasthan, or any of India’s growing cities as you work to help underprivileged communities gain access to better education, healthcare, infrastructure, and even human rights. Medical and dental students can gain valuable experience alongside doctors serving slum clinics overwhelmed with high rates of HIV/AIDS cases, malaria, and other diseases caused by poor sanitary conditions. Through construction projects to build eco-toilets and conduct home repairs, you can impact the lives of the 70% of India’s population that has limited access to housing and clean water.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in India:

#6. Nepal

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: Nepal
Photo by Karley K., Volunteering Solutions Nepal Alum

Mt. Everest not only draws climbers to Nepal but volunteers, too! Today, this country nestled amidst the dramatic Himalayas and flourishing, green valleys faces challenges inherent to its exotic geography. Because of Nepal’s visual appeal, tourism has surged, leading to environmental destruction that’s only exacerbating damage already done by economic development. Programs need volunteers to spread awareness of these problems and help seek solutions. You can play an even more active role by joining teams to clean up villages.

Another challenge to Nepal’s infrastructure is its remote towns and villages, which often lack access to electricity, water, and vocational opportunities. Placements with urban clinics, remote health posts, and internships are available to medical students looking to gain firsthand knowledge from experts and support these rural communities with little to no healthcare. Nepal is still slowly recovering from its destructive 2015 earthquake, and you can support rebuilding efforts for schools and other structures in cities all over the country, including Pokhara, Bhaktapur, and even the capital city of Kathmandu.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Nepal:

#7. Puerto Rico

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: Puerto Rico
Photo by Sarah M., Broadreach Puerto Rico Alum

In the fall of 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall. Recovery efforts are still underway and many more volunteers are needed to bring aid and relief to thousands of Puerto Ricans who are still without electricity and clean water. Construction projects are ongoing for re-development of areas impacted by the storm.

Since increased industrialization stands as a threat to the rainforests of this tropical island, Puerto Rico has many programs already in place for environmental conservation, focusing on water monitoring, protection of endangered plant species, and beach cleanup. However, since Hurricane Maria, many of these programs need assistance rebuilding their facilities and repairing bridges, structures, and roads rendered unsuitable for use.

In addition to reconstruction, you can make a personal difference in the lives of Puerto Ricans by stepping in to host educational programs for children and help local families get back on their feet. Programs are eager to take on volunteers, and some placements that already feature no program costs are offering free housing and meals to participants. Puerto Rico is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami, making it a convenient volunteer option for U.S.-based participants.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in Puerto Rico:

#8. United States

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: United States of America
Photo by Beckie B., All Hands and Hearts Alum

Whether you’re coming as a traveler or looking to learn more about your home country, the United States offers a wide range of volunteer options to suit any time requirement, interest, or level of experience you might have. The needs and challenges of communities in this country are as varied as the geography from the East Coast to the West.

Underserved and impoverished people groups are in need of willing volunteers to get involved with empowering youth through outdoor activities and counseling. Unique opportunities to the U.S. include the chance to make a difference in the lives of native American populations -- many reservations welcome volunteers to help them improve the quality of life for people in the tribe, projects such as organizing libraries, painting classrooms, and providing programming and education for children.

Hurricane relief for East coast communities impacted by 2018’s Hurricane Florence is already underway. In the Gulf area, recovery work from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010 is still ongoing, and volunteers can step in to provide assistance for homeowners dealing with contractor fraud and other legal matters. Habitat restoration and animal rescue is also a concern in this area.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in the USA:

#9. South Korea

The Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2019: South Korea
Photo by Tessa V., CIEE South Korea Alum

Birthplace of some of the world’s most advanced information and communication technology, South Korea is a scientifically advanced country that still honors its ancient culture. Because of their history and powerful neighbors, South Koreans are affected by complex challenges in their economics and politics. Disparities within single cities leave a wide gap between the rich and the poor, leaving some South Koreans without access to the resources that would help them stay competitive. You can help teach English to students who can’t afford private tutors. Understaffed orphanages need assistance with the daily care of the children there and you can provide them with the support and early development they need to succeed.

South Korea is also home to over an estimated 20,000 North Korean refugees, and organizations are looking for volunteers to help refugees practice public speaking, English language, and other vocational skills. There are also initiatives in South Korea working to promote justice for their northern neighbors. Language cafés are other popular placements, promoting cultural exchange and connections with people who might become friends for life after quiz night.

Popular Volunteer Abroad Programs in South Korea:

See all volunteer programs in South Korea →

There’s a lot of work to be done out there! With opportunities for all levels of experience and skill, the perfect volunteer placement is waiting for you. All you need to do now is answer that big question: where will you volunteer abroad in 2019?