The Best Spanish Speaking Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

Traveling abroad is an adventurous and promising opportunity to enhance language learning with the bonus of new experiences, friends, and perspectives. Dedicating that trip to volunteering not only makes the travel fulfilling and supports your destination, but also provides even more opportunities to interact in Spanish. For Spanish speakers especially, there are a number of fantastic volunteer opportunities abroad where you can give back AND improve your language skills.

Decide a destination based on the dialect you’re most comfortable with or want to learn. Then choose from total immersion, classes, tutoring, or a home stay for practice and review the programs offered. You may additionally consider fields you’d like fluency in, or would simply enjoy more, like food, health, conservation, or sports.

We’ll break down the best options for Spanish speaking volunteers by region and highlight the advantages of each.

Central America

Central American countries feature affordability and proximity, catering more to short-term stays. Our top picks don’t require visas or immunizations and are generally very safe. English is common in these destinations providing a less intimidating learning experience for beginners in Spanish.

Costa Rica is all about nature, the beach, surfing, and coffee. The country is so peaceful there’s no military and the national mantra Pura Vida speaks to the relaxed and friendly culture. This is an ideal place to work in conservancy or wildlife or to teach English, with attractions like a cloud forest or volcanoes. Costa Rica is bursting with volunteer opportunities.

Distinctions of Costa Rican Spanish include the use of usted over tu almost exclusively, an English pronunciation of “r”, and regional slang you may pick up on. You’ll want to have dude (mae) and Costa Rican (tico) down before you go.

A popular program here is Cross-Cultural Solutions, which includes Spanish lessons before and during your trip and places you in an orphanage, school, or nursing home to assist as needed. A unique opportunity in Costa Rica is work with Greenheart Travel and their animal rescue center in the rainforest promoting wildlife protection and environmental conservation.

Panama is visited as much for its history as its beaches. Secluded villages and primitive natives offer a unique immersion opportunity for advanced speakers and work with several volunteer organizations. Plus, you could see the Panama Canal, a National Marine Park, and tropical islands while volunteering in Panama.

Panamanians have Columbian and Caribbean influences in their dialect, often pronouncing “ch” as “sh” and “s” (and sometimes “g”) with an “h” sound. The country has also developed terms exclusive to the region that volunteers should ask their hosts about upon arriving.

A highly rated program here is Amigos de las Americas, which is exclusively offered to high school and college students and requires two levels of Spanish speaking classes. The program fosters immersion with home stays and promotes environmental protection and community development in rural towns. For opportunities to aid in farming and agriculture, consider Global Works, whose program includes snorkeling, surfing, and even dancing.

South America

South America’s Spanish-speaking countries serve as prime destinations for immersion. English is particularly scarce in poorer areas where volunteering is needed most and the dialects, although there are many, are compatible with the rest of the America’s and often fuse in cities.

Peru is home to both Machu Picchu and the Amazon offering natural and urban appeal and a variety of volunteer needs. This is a popular destination for work with children, particularly in orphanages, and many programs are free of or very low on fees. As such, it is an oft-chosen destination for volunteering abroad.

Peruvian Spanish comprises four regional dialects between the Andes, the Amazon, the coast, and the northwest region of Tumbes (referred to an Equatorial Spanish). The differences range from gender distinctions to vowel pronunciations, and should be reviewed before committing to a region.

A well-reviewed option is UBELONG, which boasts over 40 diverse projects in everything from child trafficking to psychology and specifies the language level needed for each option. This and IVHQ, a program with childcare and orphanage opportunities, are both extremely affordable, with fees below $200 a week.

Argentina plays host to the metropolis of Buenos Aires and the natural wonder of the Andes alike. Many volunteer programs focus on economic development and self-sufficiency in response to the country’s economic climate, but volunteer opportunities cover environment, health, and youth as well.

Argentineans have their own take on yo and vos, and introduce common words only used here. For example, che is the very common “hey,” onda is used to describe a vibe or feel, and pedo (the word for fart) has eight translations depending on the saying it’s been thrown into. In addition, pronunciation overlaps with the same sounds for “ll” and “y” or “s” and “z”, all determinations you’ll have to pick up on over time.

Volunteer in medical care with South America Inside, which offers Spanish coursework and a variety of other programs, or find unique placements like dentistry and journalism with Projects Abroad. BridgeAbroad even offers a dual program for language study and community service in Buenos Aires with food distribution as an option.

North America

You don't have to look much farther than the southern area of North America to become immersed in a Spanish speaking country. While Mexico is the prime spot for those looking to practice Spanish, there are pockets scattered throughout the US and Mexico that also serve as useful places to pick up and work on that Spanish.

Mexico offers the unique convenience of maintaining some American familiarities while still encountering an entirely different culture. The country is diverse in nationalities, economic statuses, and even languages, but Spanish practice is a guarantee. Not only is Mexico a destination for beaches and the outdoors, it’s rich in culture and renowned for food, and filled with volunteer opportunities.

The Mexican dialect is what most Americans and Canadians may be used to from Mexican immigration. A fusion of influence from Spain and the Aztec empire, consonants are strongly pronounced, many vowels are not stressed, and vosotros is not used. You’ll find frequent use of double negatives and many words that are no longer used in Spain, but most peculiarities are secluded in small regions outside of major cities.

Teach life skills, sports, or computer classes with PEACE, or teach English or yoga with Love Volunteers, who include Spanish lessons in their fee. For a unique and active experience, volunteer in marine conservation with GVI, scuba diving to the second largest barrier reef in the world and surveying coral, turtles, and crocodiles.

Europe

Home to many cultures and lifestyles, who wouldn't want to head over to Europe for a cultural and language emersion? Europe gives you a chance to experience the "old world" and learn the origins of customs that have carried over into the "new world" today.

Spain gives you an excuse to see Europe while furthering your education and giving back. Volunteer options range from archeology or environment to teaching or health. Your field selection will determine whether your stay is located on the coast, in a rural town, or within a major city. Wherever you stay while volunteering in Spain, take the time to explore your new surrounding's rich history, eclectic art, and distinct cuisine.

Spain’s tongue is most known for the “th” pronunciation of “s” sounds. Other contrasts to Latin American dialects are the uses of vos and vosotros, a “j” or “h” sound for “ch”, or unfamiliar suffixes. Many speakers equate these differences to those between British and American English, assuring learners of either that they won’t hinder comprehension or advancement.

The local’s inherent hospitality makes Spanish imperative, but creates advancement opportunities regardless of your level of speaking. In Barcelona, Connect-123 will match you with an organization based on your interests and skills, or COINED can connect you with social work or healthcare opportunities.

For an experience unlike any other, join CADIP to rebuild a medieval castle in Algerri, trace prehistoric routes in Selva de Mar, or paint and renovate a youth center in a suburb of Barcelona.

Photo Credits: TVBETH, theo0023, Steven_ng, irfan458, and Alex Ferroggiaro

Ashley fell in love with travel between volunteering in Honduras and studying abroad in Florence. She grew up in Orlando, attended college in Nashville, and is now a travel writer and editor in New York City contributing to Rand McNally, The Daily Meal, and Men's Fitness.