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 taking the life-enhancing properties of traveling even further: it’s called volunteering abroad.
Before you decide to volunteer overseas though, it's important to evaluate prospective programs to be sure you’ve picked one whose efforts are 100% responsible and their impact 100% positive. 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. This is the Volunteer Abroad Great Hall of Fame and you're guaranteed to find a project that speaks directly to you.
- Best for Community Engagement: Think Pacific
- Best for Work with Children: Volunteer Programs Bali
- Best for Affordable Programming: IVHQ Ghana
- Best for Diverse Projects: Maximo Nivel
- Best for Environmental Research: Biodiversity Research Institute
- Best for Environmental Conservation: Sadhana Forest
- Best for Skills Training: EMT Hatzalah
- Best for Teaching: Vietnam Volunteering
- Best for Health & Medicine: EcuaExperience
- Best for Teens: Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Best for Community Engagement: Think Pacific
With a 98% positive rating from 115 alumni reviews, Think Pacific’s volunteering projects on the Fiji Islands pips strong competition to the post by taking the coveted top spot in our Volunteering Abroad Hall of Fame.
Their projects allow you to get under the skin of the Fiji Islands, where you’ll live with a local family and spend between four- and eight-weeks supporting community projects here. Alumni rated the program over 9.5/10 for everything from impact to safety, value and -- probably the most important one -- fun.
But don’t just believe our words! These are some things program alumni themselves have said:
- “The experience was challenging, exciting and rewarding. I am so so glad I went. A huge adventure that will allow you to really get beneath the culture of Fiji in a sustainable and responsible way.” -- Katie
- “I would like to thank Think Pacific for the best experience of my life. Living in Namuka village for one month, staying with a wonderful family that I can now call my own and working at the local school alongside an amazing team have given me memories that I will never forget. This experience has been a true privilege.” -- Andoni
Best for Work with Children: Volunteer Programs Bali
Receiving the second top marks for volunteering abroad programs, with a 96% positive rating from 222 alumni reviews, Volunteer Programs Bali comes in second place.
You can expect to be an integral cog in a powerful machine by participating in this volunteer abroad program, where you work alongside other volunteers from around the world in workshops and English classes to Balinese young people. You also get housed with a local family for a truly immersive experience.
Previous alumni rated how this program delivered both a valuable experience and a supportive network of colleagues and program leaders -- thus permitting them to squeeze every last bit of purposeful juice from their time. But what they considered the program’s strength was its attitude towards safety.
Here’s the low-down, according to former participants:
- “VP Bali is the most incredible volunteering program I have participated in. You get two groups of children with a co-teacher and teach them English at different levels. The kids are loving and incredible. The people you meet and the kids are people you will never forget and you will definitely stay in touch with other volunteers. VP Bali becomes family!” -- Maria
- “I have had the chance to live with a loving Balinese family, meet amazing, like-minded people of which some I call my best friends today. But most importantly I got to be the teacher of the most loving kids.” -- Lillemo
Best for Affordable Programming: IVHQ Ghana
IVHQ runs a vast number of programs across the world but the ones that have made a big impact on Go Overseas readers are those in Ghana. A 96% positive rating from 100 alumni hints at how trusted and impactful this volunteer experience is.
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 each and every Monday -- but you can choose to volunteer from one to 24 weeks. What’s more, one week starts at $270 with your volunteer program fees covering housing, meals, 24-hour support, and more. With projects in childcare, health, construction, and teaching, you're bound to find something that calls to you.
Previous participants gave the following glowing feedback:
- “As a pre-med student, I went to Ghana as a part of the medical and healthcare outreach team. We did malaria testing in schools, wound care for the locals in their homes, and examination of patients in clinics. Seeing the differences in the healthcare system of Ghana versus America was such an eye-opening experience.” -- Alexandra
- “Being able to live within the community and see how the children lived is so eye opening as well, as you really get to know them more as time goes on, even though I was only there for a month. I've never had an experience like this one and it really showed me what I take for granted at home.” -- Holly
Best for Diverse Projects: Maximo Nivel
Over to the other side of the globe and the sterling work of Maximo Nivel, whose Costa Rica projects left previous volunteers with that warm, fuzzy feeling. A 96% positive rating from 176 reviews says it all, really.
One of the most appealing features of this project is how Maximo Nivel run 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.
What’s more, projects run in every field from English teaching to conservation and after-school clubs. As a really immersive experience, you'll have tons of opportunities to pick up some Spanish along the way.
Former alumni had this to say about their volunteering experience:
- “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.” -- Indy
- “Traveling from Zimbabwe, I had never spoken Spanish, so was completely thrown in the deep end but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Being fully immersed in the culture has to be the best way of exploring and learning a new language.” -- Nicola
Best for Environmental Research: Biodiversity Research Institute
A 95% positive rating from 84 reviews 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 after all), so their programs are a must for those pursuing a 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 documents or even help prepare all-important research grants. You’re guaranteed to come away feeling twice as intelligent - and having made a considerable contribution to the field of conservation to boot.
Previous program alumni have waxed lyrical about their experiences:
- “I found the work comfortably structured but also open-ended as I was able to design and pursue many of my own projects. While I was there, I had the opportunity to grow 5+ species of never-before-grown species of mushrooms, and I was able to take part in a lot of the same work the professional biologists on the reserve were doing.” -- Jason
- “The organization is doing such incredible things and it so great to know that the work you do as a volunteer is actually being used for scientific research.” -- Rhiannon
Best for Environmental Conservation: Sadhana Forest
If you’re a keen eco-warrior or just someone who wants to do their part for helping to save our planet, Sadhana Forest’s reforestation program is the ultimate one for you. Scoring an impressive 100% across 20 reviews, it’s fair to say that this project helping to protect southern India’s final tracts of tropical dry evergreen forest left quite the mark on the Go Overseas fam.
Work in an animal rescue sanctuary or alongside local children all in the name of conserving our most important resource: the planet. You’ll need a decent commitment to green living, as the project practices veganism, uses composting toilets and relies on solar energy.
Former green volunteers had this to say:
- “I think it's an amazing learning experience that I wish everyone in the world could experience. I don't say it's easy, but definitely worth the trouble. Everyone is genuine and honestly wants you to have a good experience and are willing to take the extra step.” -- Nandita
- “I have been at Sadhana forest for 2 months now and it’s been an unforgettable experience. Sadhana Forest connects to those who see the problem of forest degradation and are fighting for healthy ecosystems and sustainable living households. It’s a great place to escape from hustle and bustle of the city.” -- Diksha
Best for Skills Training: EMT Hatzalah
United Hatzalah Colombia's EMT Volunteer Program is a fast-paced volunteer experience that also provides valuable training in first aid and pre-hospital care. While in Colombia, you will act as a first responder in real-life emergencies, caring for sick and injured people. Community health camps and local hospitals will also benefit from your skills as a volunteer EMT.
This program, that gives you the chance to earn an international EMT certification while you volunteer, receives consistently top review from past participants. Alumni have enjoyed the quality of the organization's training as well as their ability to make a noticeable difference in the community. Not to mention, it's a great way to brush up on your Spanish skills!
Reviewers have had said the following about this project:
- “After a day to rest after my long flight, I started volunteering along with their first responders, was the best feeling ever to right away being out there attending real-life emergencies with them. this is for sure what they promise! 100 percent hands-on practical from day 1.” -- Pernille
- “The experience itself was absolutely fantastic, giving me a really great taste of what being an EMT is like. It was such a great trip and has now convinced me to get into that line of work back home.” -- Miles
Best for Teaching: Vietnam Volunteering
With a 99% positive rating from 22 reviews and 10/10 for value, this program operated by Vietnam Volunteering is a worthy use of your time.
Participants are immersed in the friendly local culture, helping to boost life experiences for their Vietnamese students who are looking for English tuition. Your work and your explanation of the ins and outs of the English language will give them the leg up towards a skilled and well-paid job.
A large part of this project is the cross-cultural understanding and experiences that you can expect to have, allowing you to leave an imprint with you volunteering - and Vietnam to leave a huge mark on you, too.
Previous alumni have been effusively positive about their experiences:
- “Volunteering with VCV was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was so nice to spend time with local people beside classes, and the teaching experience has been a blast. I've learned more than what I taught and I've met some of the nicest people ever!” -- Sofia
- “I stayed at VCV for two months and it was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Teaching at VCV is an amazing experience, whether you have teaching experience or not. You will teach both kids and adults, which makes your schedule diverse.” -- Kirsten
Best for Health & Medicine: EcuaExperience
EcuaExperience's pre-medical and volunteer program uses a "Help, Learn, and Discover" model. You'll have the opportunity to volunteer while you learn and explore the beauty and diversity of Ecuador. Whether you're a pre-health student or already in medical school, hospital rotations allow exposure to different procedures during the "learn" phase. As a volunteer, you'll engage in a large service project such as building houses for members of the community.
This program isn't all work and no play though. Trips to beaches and rainforests are included where you can enjoy activities like tubing, surfing, and hiking. The program fee includes all housing and breakfasts and lunches. Transportation in-country is provided and you will be accompanied by bilingual guides.
Former volunteers have raved about the program:
- “It was my first long trip alone and I felt at home. We were accompanied by a driver and translator at all times and I personally never felt unsafe. As for the medical portion of the trip, I witnessed procedures (multiple surgeries) and learned skills that I wouldn't have until third year of medical school here in Canada.” -- Shahrzad
- “This trip has impacted me in so different ways and I 100% recommend it to anyone who is adventurous and wants to get first hand experience in the healthcare profession of their choice. The first component of this trip (which was the LEARN portion) I got to watch crazy surgeries and shadow interns. These med rotations helped me solidify my decision of pursuing a career in a medical field.” -- Constance
Best for Teens: Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Sending volunteers out to the rainforest and coasts of Costa Rica, Global Leadership Adventure’s summer and spring break programs scored an impressive 98% satisfaction from 66 discerning Go Overseas alumni.
One of the real keynotes 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.
This one’s also open to high school students, meaning you can snag that first volunteer abroad opportunity early – and begin a life-long love-affair with service projects!
Previous alumni have said the following about this program:
- “We learned so much about the culture and how to respect the way of life while there. One of my favorite lessons learned was responsible voluntourism.” -- Natalie
- "I had an amazing time on the Empowering Rainforest Communities trip to Costa Rica with Global Leadership Adventures. Everything from the wildlife to the food to the culture made a memory for a lifetime!" -- Michor
Whether it's Bali or Ghana, Costa Rica or the Fiji Islands, we're sure there's plenty to whet your appetite for a volunteer trip overseas. Just don't blame us if volunteering abroad becomes a life-long obsession; we did warn you, after all!