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.
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.
Why Volunteer Abroad?
Because it makes a better person! No, seriously, trust us: it does.
Firstly, volunteering allows you to make a real difference by donating your time and your skills to people who need them. Even better is the fact that volunteering overseas facilitates cross-cultural interaction to a degree that's it's almost impossible to experience in your home country. Look at it this way: Every single second you spend volunteering is one of learning and being inspired by the people you meet.
If you're concerned about traveling more sustainably, volunteering abroad is pretty powerful stuff, too. Not only does it allow you to spend a greater degree of time in one place (thus reducing your carbon footprint), but your money and your work feed directly into the local economy. Alongside this, you can easily see how spending your money locally can change the world for small communities.
What’s more, if you’re in the market for a truly adventurous travel experience, volunteering has the upper hand over most adventure tours. Learning to navigate a new language, get from A to B in a brand-new city or just adapt to a radically different culture is something you can never quite prepare for.
Overcoming the adventure - and having a fantastic time with new colleagues and friends along the way - is a recipe for a delicious sense of satisfaction and pride.
What to Consider Before Volunteering Abroad
Before jumping on that jet plane and heading out to help abroad, you need to sit down and work out exactly what types of activities and experiences interest you most.
The beauty of volunteering abroad is that there are quite literally opportunities to suit all interests you might have - however niche or particular they might be. But it’s also essential to reflect on what things you’re good at, too.
Do you have any specific qualifications or interests that would make you an invaluable team member to a specific project? Make a list of all your passions and you’ll quickly find something that stands out.
Money and time are also other essential pre-departure considerations and will determine exactly what type of program will fit you like a glove. If funds are low, our comprehensive list of volunteer abroad scholarships and grants can put you on a firmer footing, as will this article about how you can land yourself a paid volunteering abroad program.
You also want to evaluate the prospective programs to be sure you’ve picked one whose efforts are 100% responsible and their impact 100% positive.
We’ve picked through the traits of a responsible volunteer program to get you started on this endeavor, while the list below has been vetted and reviewed by your fellow Go Overseas users, guaranteeing you’ll find a program that suits you hands down!
1. Volunteer on the Fiji Islands with 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
2. Volunteer in Indonesia with 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
3. Volunteer Programs in Bali with IVHQ
IVHQ run a vast number of programs across the world but the ones that have made the greatest impact on Go Overseas readers are those in Bali. A 96% positive rating from 133 alumni hints at how trusted and impactful this volunteer experience is.
Some of the bonuses of this program are the flexibility it grants. Not only does it run year-round -- with starting dates each and every Monday -- but you can choose to volunteer from one week up to two months.
What’s more, there’s no chance of feeling alone on this project; you live alongside some of the 40 to 80 other volunteers starting each week on the island, presenting you with a wide-ranging network of support and new friends.
Previous participants gave the following glowing feedback:
- “My experience with the people I met there was really amazing, I knew people from many countries and they made my trip even better. We shared every moment together: from the activities on the introduction week, the classes, the activities we organized by ourselves or the weekend trips.” -- Aina
- “I did the turtle conservation program in Bali for two weeks solo, and found it to be a great way to experience the culture, meet new people and feel like I was doing something worthwhile!” -- Ellie
4. Volunteer in Costa Rica with 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
5. Biodiversity Research Institute in the Tropical Forest of Brazil
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
6. Reforestation Volunteer Program in Southern India
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
7. GIVE Nepal Volunteer Excursion in the Himalayas
Combining a volunteer program with the adventure of a lifetime makes an awful lot of sense, particularly when you’re heading out to the Himalayas of Nepal. With a 99% satisfaction rating from 24 reviews, the combination of work and play offered by GIVE Volunteers seems to have hit the mark with plenty of previous volunteers.
It’s probably something to do with how you can watch the impact of your work as you help to rebuild homes that were lost in the 2015 earthquake and teach English to local children. While this will leave you feeling on top of the earth, you can get there -- quite literally -- by adding on an Everest Base Camp excursion to the end of your program.
Reviewers have had said the following about this project:
- “The culture component of this trip is really strong, which is something I really enjoyed. I felt like the community really enjoyed our presence and wanted to learn from us as much as we wanted to learn from them. It was overall just an unforgettable experience, and I loved everything we did, even when I felt incredibly challenged.” -- Sarah
- “Every aspect of the trip, from the transportation to the tea houses we stayed in, was very well planned out and the experiences we had were unforgettable. At each place we had the chance to visit, we were welcomed with open arms and warm hearts!” -- Jordan
8. English Teaching & Cultural Exchange in Vietnam
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
9. Up with People On Tour
One of the most unusual volunteering programs we have on the site, Up with People On Tour has proven that different is always awesome, thanks to a 99% positive rating from 75 reviews.
The basic premise is that you join 99 other volunteers from 25 other countries to sing, dance and perform community service on your way around the world for six months. You stay with host families in each country you visit, spreading a positive message about volunteering and world peace as you go. The feeling of good from this program is guaranteed to last a lifetime!
Former volunteers have raved about the program:
- “I learned so much about so many different cultures and people and cities and just about the world around me. But something I never imagined was that I’d feel like a sister to someone from Switzerland, or have a best friend in Texas, or meet other people from Bermuda. Now not only do I have so many new skills to put on a resume and college application, but I have a home in at least 25 different countries around the world.” -- Alys
- “Up with people is changing. There’s a before and after up with people. Why? Because you grow in every single aspect of your life, your mind understands new things that maybe you didn’t see before but they were always there, you learn how to truly love everyone no matter what your differences are, you become adaptable to any situation.” -- Angela
10. Volunteer Programs in Costa Rica with 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 Brazil, 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!
How did we pick these programs?
In choosing the best programs to be included in this article, we took into account two main factors: the review scores of each program and the number of reviews that program had received.
For all programs on Go Overseas, we ask reviewers to rate six key variables that reflect the core components of any experience. These vary depending on the type of program, but include items such as Housing, Support, Fun, Value, Safety, and an Overall score. We average these scores in order to find a numerical representation of the typical experience, and we use this number to compare all of the many programs in a certain category.
From there, our goal is to choose those programs which are truly the best: they have more and better reviews than the average for similar programs and are verified by enough reviews for us to feel confident giving our stamp of approval. Lastly, we base these decisions on our own industry knowledge. We want to make sure we're recommending programs that are vetted both by you, the users, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the programs included are the best of the best!
The programs listed below are not ranked in any particular order; instead, they reflect a breadth of excellent program options.