Traveling overseas generally ranks among the best experiences that people can have. It's recognized for its capacity to grow you as a person, the way it widens your awareness of the world, and broadens your goals and ambitions in life. But there’s one way to take the life-enhancing properties of traveling even further: it’s called volunteering abroad.
To inspire you to head down the purposeful path of volunteering, we’ve compiled this list of the ten best programs, as evaluated and experienced by Go Overseas users. These international volunteer opportunities are the best of the best and you're guaranteed to find a project that speaks directly to you!
Is volunteering abroad worth it?
We may be biased, but we think volunteering abroad is definitely worth it! Giving back to global communities introduces you to new people and cultures, helps to expand your worldview, and allows you to travel the world with purpose. Finding the international volunteer program that's the best fit for you is key to a meaningful and impactful experience.
Can you volunteer abroad for free?
While it is possible to volunteer abroad for free, many programs charge a program fee. These fees cover things like your housing and meals, project supplies, transportation, and support. A portion also goes back into the program. It may seem counterintuitive to pay to volunteer, but reputable programs will make sure your contribution goes toward the most important things.
Read more: Why You Should Pay to Volunteer Abroad
Where is the best place to volunteer abroad?
This is a question that depends entirely on you and your goals. There are tons of great volunteer programs all over the world but of course, some countries have more opportunities in specific fields than others. For example, if you're interested in volunteering with sea turtles, some of the best countries are Costa Rica, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
Once you identify the type of volunteer work you'd like to do, you can start to narrow down the best countries!
1. Best for community development: Jamaica Volunteer Programs
Program length: 1-12 weeks
Price point: $$$
What's included: hostel accommodation, breakfast and dinner daily, airport pickup, in-country transportation, and 24/7 support while in Jamaica
- Volunteers can plan and carry out their own community projects.
- Full and organized daily schedules ensure your volunteer time yields maximum impact on local projects.
- Lunch is not included so volunteers will need to budget an additional $10-15 a day.
- Additional weeks are at a fixed price so volunteering doesn't get cheaper the longer you do it.
Jamaica Volunteer Programs works to uplift and empower the community through various projects. Whether volunteers are helping on construction sites, helping to promote youth development initiatives, or feeding hungry local residents through their soup kitchen, there are ways to lend a hand.
Volunteers typically work on-site from 8 am to 3 pm with an hour break for lunch. This is enough time to make an impact but also gives you the opportunity to explore Jamaica during the evenings and on weekends. Meet local people from the area as well as other volunteers to cultivate lifelong friendships!
"My time with Jamaica Volunteer Programs was outstanding and unforgettable. The whole organization of the program was reliable and uncomplicated. The Volunteer House is a beautiful clean place with a stunning view. I felt comfortable from the first day on!"
2. Best for work with children: SAVE Volunteering
Program length: minimum of 2 weeks for most projects
Price point: $$
What's included: varies by program but most include airport pickup, accommodation, all meals 5 days a week, 24/7 support
- Working with children can bring a lot of laughter and positive energy into your life.
- Supportive staff and friendly volunteers help solo travelers feel welcome.
- You'll need a lot of energy to keep up with the kids! Most daily schedules run for between 6-8 hours.
- Volunteers with dietary requirements might need to supplement meals with their own food if the program can't provide alternatives.
SAVE Volunteering hosts a number of volunteer programs focused on working with children in South Africa.
SAVE works with children both in Cape Town and in rural areas outside of the city. You may choose to join a project focusing on sports and youth development or one teaching preschoolers in disadvantaged areas of the city. If you also love animals, combine your work with children and horses through their horse and community program. Other programs include health education and skills training.
The organization requires that all volunteers undergo a police background check to ensure the children are protected. They are committed to responsible volunteering and the principle of doing more good than harm through their projects.
"You have no idea how much an impact this program can make until you do it! The children and teacher give off such positive energy and you can’t help but be happy when your with them. Great program leaders and very safe. Would highly recommend for anyone wanting to travel and volunteer!"
3. Best for affordable programming: IVHQ Ghana
Program length: 1-24 weeks
Price point: $
What's included: housing, meals, 24-hour support
- Past volunteers reported feeling safe, supported, and welcomed during their projects.
- IVHQ has affordable programming across 7 areas.
- Volunteers for medical programs need to have at least two years of experience or schooling.
- Projects run between 3-5 hours a day which may not seem like enough time for some volunteers.
IVHQ runs a vast number of programs across the world but the ones that have made a big impact on past volunteers are those in Ghana. Their projects in Ghana have over 100 glowing reviews with a nearly 5 star rating.
Some of the bonuses of this program are the flexibility it grants and its affordable price point. Not only does it run year-round -- with starting dates the 1st and 15th of every month -- but you can choose to volunteer from one to 24 weeks. One week starts at $270 and your volunteer program fees cover pretty much everything you need. With projects in childcare, health, construction, and teaching, you're bound to find something that calls to you.
"I am forever changed by this trip. The people and children in Ghana are the most kind and hard-working people I have ever met. Each and every person that I met left a lasting impact and I can’t wait to go back to Ghana one day!!"
4. Best for diverse projects: Maximo Nivel
Program length: 1-52 weeks
Price point: $$
What's included: host family accommodation in a shared room, breakfast and dinner 7 days a week, airport pickup, 24/7 emergency phone support
- You can choose from 11 different volunteering fields in cities, small towns, and coastal locations.
- Maximo Nivel arranges various activities like salsa dancing, cooking, and tours.
- Daily transportation costs are not included so you will need to budget more based on your project.
- Volunteering projects only last 3-5 hours a day so this may be too short for some participants.
A favorite of past volunteers, Maximo Nivel's Costa Rica projects are highly rated across the board for safety, fun, and programming.
One of the most appealing features of this project is how Maximo Nivel runs programs across the country: everywhere from the bustling capital city San Jose to the beachside Guanacaste province and the tight-nit Monteverde community in the western cloud forest. With this much geographical variety, you can be guaranteed to find a place that feels like home.
You can also find projects run in every field from English teaching to conservation and after-school clubs. An immersive experience, you'll have tons of opportunities to pick up some Spanish along the way.
"I spent 5 weeks in Manuel Antonio volunteering with Maximo Nivel. I did both the Teaching English project and the childcare project and found them both an amazing and rewarding experience. Getting to know the locals in this way opened my eyes to a new culture and feeling like I was helping the lives of these kids was my reason for coming."
5. Best for environmental research: Biodiversity Research Institute
Program length: a minimum of 2 weeks
Price point: $
What's included: accommodation in a hostel, internet access, project costs
- There are different areas of research whether you're interested in bioluminescent mushrooms, bioacoustics, or amphibians.
- Volunteers gain real hands-on, important research experience five days a week from 9 am to 3 pm -- no fluff here!
- Food is not included so IPBio suggests you budget between $80-$190 a month to cover the cost.
- You'll need several vaccinations such as Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and Diphtheria.
The near-perfect five-star rating gives you a sense of how powerful previous participants found the experience of conducting scientific research in Brazil's Atlantic forest.
The Biodiversity Research Institute (IPBio) has substantial credentials when it comes to empirical research (they’ve been accredited by UNESCO), so their programs are a must for those pursuing science or conservation degrees or careers with a focus on supporting conservation and eco-tourism.
Not only do you acquire hands-on experience in these fields, but you can also choose to work on wildlife communications or even help prepare important research grants. Enjoy bonding with your fellow volunteers in the jungle while making a difference for the planet.
"I absolutely had a great time during my 8-week stay as an Eco-Volunteer. I highly recommend volunteering if you are a recent graduate who wants more hands-on work in collecting data. The staff at IPBIO are very friendly and the locals are so hospitable. The other volunteers were amazing and the volunteer house itself was very comfortable."
6. Best for marine conservation: Gili Shark Conservation Project
Program length: minimum of 2 weeks
Price point: $$
What's included: dive certifications, shared accommodation, breakfast fives days a week, 8 dives a week, in-country transportation, visa support
- If you stay at least three weeks, you have the opportunity to earn three PADI dive certifications -- all included in your program fees!
- Choose from a variety of marine conservation projects including coral reef restoration and work with sharks and sea turtles.
- Lunch and dinner are not included so you'll need to bring extra money to cover these meals.
- Transportation to the Gili Islands may be expensive depending on where you're flying from.
The Gili Shark Conservation Project, located on the beautiful Gili Islands in Indonesia, offers conservation students, professionals, and enthusiasts alike the ability to work on important marine conservation projects. Engage in research through open water dives while you earn specialist PADI certifications.
Most volunteers stay at least two weeks and the Gili Shark Conservation Project has welcomed volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60 -- volunteering is for everyone! Train to become a research diver all while surrounded by great new friends and the stunning scenery of Indonesia.
"During the project, it was so special to be in the water twice a day, discovering the underwater world. I learned about all the different species of tropical fish, made friends with many sea turtles, and even saw a couple sharks up close! But more importantly - the facilities and the staff were amazing."
7. Best for volunteering with animals: Twala Trust Animal Sanctuary
Program length: 1-12 weeks
Price point: $
What's included: accommodation, all meals, donation to the program
- Only 6 volunteers are working at any one time -- no overcrowded, chaotic programs here!
- Volunteer work is very hands-on and professional veterinarians work on-site, giving a look into medical exams and procedures.
- The days start at 6:30 am and last until 5 pm. Get ready to work hard!
- The sanctuary is around an hour outside of Harare in a rural location so there won't be bustling nightlife or sights to explore in the evenings.
Twala Trust Animal Sanctuary protects and cares for over 50 species of animals and birds on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe. Past volunteers have nothing but good things to say about their incredibly immersive experience at the sanctuary.
Your day will be filled with feedings, dog walks, and opportunities to cuddle and help rehabilitate orphaned or injured animals. Veterinary medicine and vet tech students are especially welcome -- the sanctuary also runs a free clinic and other outreach programs for animals and their owners in the local community.
If you love animals and aren't afraid to work hard on busy a team, Twala Trust may be the perfect place for your volunteer abroad experience.
"Twala feels like a big family of animals and people and once you stay there you become part of it. There can max be 6 volunteers at a time which basically means you matter! There's a lot of different things you can do but the most important one is loving the animals."
8. Best for teaching: The Excellence Center
Program length: 1-13 weeks
Price point: $
What's included: accommodation with a host family, daily breakfast, tours and excursions, 3 hours of Arabic classes a week, pre-departure and in-country support
- Outside of teaching duties, there are plenty of opportunities for excursions to historic sites and meaningful interactions with the Palestinian people.
- Start and end dates are at the discretion of the volunteer and are available year-round.
- Volunteering in an active conflict zone can be stressful and emotionally draining.
- Women do not have the option to stay in dorms and must follow other precautions such as avoiding nighttime walks.
If you've wanted to volunteer in Palestine but have been concerned about safety, look no further than The Excellence Center, a program with a stellar track record of both impactful programming and keeping volunteers safe. Past volunteers say they are surprised at how peaceful life actually was in the occupied West Bank while working with The Excellence Center.
During your stay at the center, you will teach English to men, women, and children while also spending some time as a student yourself. Skilled teachers help you tackle Arabic and make you realize it's not as daunting as you first thought. In your free time, you will learn from local community members through cultural exchanges and visit historic sites in places like Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Tel Aviv.
Safety and security are top concerns for The Excellence Center and they are constantly monitoring conditions in the local areas. You will be supported completely throughout your stay -- their nearly 5-star rating from almost 200 past volunteers is a testament to just how organized and professional the program is.
"I originally signed up for a one-week program in Palestine but extended it to two because of how much I was enjoying the experience. I was initially a bit apprehensive about safety but not only did the Centre always ensure that we were suppported, but the situation in general was much safer than I was expecting. The staff were always incrediby friendly and eager to learn about where all of the volunteers came from."
9. Best for health & medicine: Volunteering Solutions
Program length: 2-24 weeks
Price point: $$
What's included: accommodation with a host family, meals, 24/7 support, airport pickup
- Medical or nursing students and professionals will be given more hands-on tasks.
- Working 5-6 hours a day, 5 days a week means you have evenings and weekends free to enjoy the local area.
- Local transportation costs are not included.
- Living with a host family can be challenging if there are language barriers.
Volunteering Solutions places qualified professionals as well as medical and nursing students in hospitals and clinics around Cusco. Tasks depend on your experience, knowledge, and expertise but generally require you to shadow doctors and act as their assistant while seeing patients. Projects have a special focus on helping local residents in medically underserved areas of the city.
While in Cusco, you'll stay in a shared bedroom with a host family who you'll eat with and have the opportunity to get to know. It's also a great opportunity to practice your Spanish!
To facilitate interactions between both the people you work with and the patients, you'll need an intermediate level of Spanish to join the medical project.
"My host family was amazing and made some fantastic food. The excursions we did were so fun and had some breathtaking views! The health center I worked at had some really friendly nurses and doctors who really wanted to help me learn and gain medical experience."
10. Best for teens: Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Program length: 10-21 days
Price point: $$$
What's included: airport pick up, three meals a day every day, accommodation, low student-to-staff ratio, excursions, insurance, 24/7 support for parents
- Accommodation is in comfortable facilities like eco-lodges and boutique hotels.
- Each volunteer leader is assigned to only 8 participants meaning there is a lot of oversight and personal attention.
- For some families the programs can be pricey for the short length of time.
- Programs don't run for longer than 21 days for those hoping for a longer-term experience.
Global Leadership Adventure provides short-term volunteer experiences for teens aged 14-19 in Costa Rica. Participants can choose from a number of programs that pair meaningful volunteering with activities like surfing, hiking, and ziplining.
One of the highlights of this program is the variety of experiences open to participants; everything from sea turtle conservation to supporting and empowering rainforest communities is on the task list.
Parents loved the support available to them and their teen volunteers alongside the focus on safety. If you're looking to jump into your first volunteering experience abroad, do it with GLA!
"As a parent of a participant, I was very pleased with the whole GLA process from start to finish. Their communication was just the right amount. I felt extremely comfortable with the leadership and organization of the program and staff. My son is a rising senior and felt very comfortable in a foreign country meeting new people in his group."
Make a global difference in 2023
Whether it's Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, or the Gili Islands in Indonesia, we're sure one of these incredible programs has sparked your curiosity to pursue a volunteer trip overseas. These unique and impactful projects are sure to leave you with lasting memories and a renewed or new passion.
Don't wait! Start planning your 2023 volunteer abroad adventure with one of the best programs in the world.