If you’re looking to volunteer abroad in 2021 but eager to avoid the well-trodden paths of other civically-minded expats, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled unique volunteer abroad programs and off-the-beaten-path destinations for adventurous travelers looking to expand their horizons while giving back to local communities. Whether you’re interested in empowering women in Cambodia or monitoring climate change in the Canadian Arctic, we’ve identified the most inspiring programs to consider in 2021. From the Outback of Australia to the Himalayan villages of Nepal, read on for the ten most up-and-coming volunteer abroad destinations for 2021.
Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying travel restrictions, we will highlight countries that are actively soliciting guests in our recommendations. We will also be highlighting virtual offerings later on in this list, so travelers can prepare to go forth—physically or virtually—in the coming year and give back in 2021.
Forgo the more popular Central American destination of Costa Rica, and spend your volunteer abroad experience in Panama. With an emphasis on community development and outdoor education (including several partnerships with Outward Bound), Panama is the perfect unexpected volunteer abroad destination for the curious and outdoorsy traveler. Additionally, Panama has been welcoming American visitors since October 2020, so this is a good bet for early 2021 travel.
Inspiring volunteer opportunities in Panama:
Fiji is synonymous with luxury and romance, but you don’t need to be a billionaire to volunteer abroad in the Fijian islands, as there are several affordable programs from trusted organizations such as International Volunteer HQ. The country reopened its borders to all tourists (including Americans) this summer. The entrance requirements for U.S. visitors do remain fairly strict, however—but the final destination is certainly worth the extra testing. Fiji features many exciting volunteer experiences to pursue in the new year, including various options focused on marine conservation in the famously gorgeous aquatic paradise. Whether you’re working in conservation or humanitarian efforts, there’s something for everyone on this idyllic island in the Pacific.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Fiji:
Another location with trending volunteer abroad programs to pursue in 2021 is Malawi, located in southeastern Africa. Malawi is a fascinating place to volunteer overseas thanks to its unique combination of medical and outdoor adventure programs. Unlike many other countries around the world, Malawi is currently open to U.S. tourists from all 50 states, making this destination more feasible for volunteering abroad in 2021—though, of course, testing precautions are in place. But whether your focus is on teaching, healthcare, or the environment, volunteers are sure to find their perfect fit at one of the many programs available in Malawi.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Malawi:
Cambodia is an exciting place to volunteer overseas, and the country is currently open for visitors (albeit with strict requirements to minimize the potential spread of Covid-19). Whether you’re interested in fighting climate change, teaching English, or preserving marine life, there’s no shortage of opportunities for travelers looking to give back. In particular, we recommend volunteering with women while visiting Cambodia, as the nation’s extreme poverty (almost half the population lives on $2 a day) has caused an environment of gender-based violence. We suggest volunteering with SHE Rescue Home at an after-care facility in Phnom Penh for girls between the ages of five to 16 who have been trafficked or are otherwise at-risk.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Cambodia:
Though Australia is always a popular destination for living and working overseas, 2021 will be a significant year for travelers looking to help rebuild and conserve the nation’s wildlife and natural environment. Given the devastation of the recent wildfires in Australia, now is the time to sign up for volunteer programs dedicated to environmental conservation. Volunteer programs centered around caring for the native wildlife will be of particular interest, as nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced during the bushfires of the past year. Australian borders are not yet open to U.S. citizens, however, so travelers will have to plan their trips accordingly (potentially for the end of the coming year).
Inspiring volunteer programs in Australia:
Located along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, Ghana is becoming increasingly popular for visitors. It is a safe nation to visit (with a stable democracy) and an array of exploration and education opportunities. From forts and castles to beaches and baboons, there’s no shortage of diversions for visitors. And this extends to its volunteer programs, as well, which are affordable and diverse. (And there’s also the option to volunteer for women’s rights in Ghana, as well).
Inspiring volunteer programs in Ghana:
Home to the magnificent Himalayan mountains and the densely forested Chitwan jungle, Nepal is a nation of immense diversity. There’s never a wrong time to travel abroad to Nepal, but 2021 will be a particularly enticing time to go overseas to this South Asian country—we suggest an excursion in the Himalayas with GIVE Volunteers. If international travel isn’t feasible (either due to the pandemic or personal reasons), sign up for a GAP Year Nepal program which will allow you to volunteer virtually and support local initiatives without being physically on the ground. This mixture of new volunteer opportunities and robust virtual offerings ensure Nepal will be a fascinating destination to volunteer abroad in 2021.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Nepal:
Peru is always a popular destination for visitors, thanks to its gorgeous mountains and beaches, amusing wildlife (llamas and alpacas and more), and rich cultural history. From the Andes to the Amazon, Peru has it all. And the country will become even more of a trending destination in 2021 with its diversity of volunteer programs that span both price-point and interest. You can volunteer at a home for girls with Volunteers Peru, or focus on teaching English, or conducting environmental research, as well. Additionally, there is an array of online and in-person options for volunteers to pursue in this South American nation.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Peru:
Canada is a reliably popular place to volunteer abroad. Still, we expect the destination to be significantly trending in 2021 due to both the enticing options for programs and the country’s geographic location. Canada will likely be more manageable for U.S. travelers to access in the coming year. Would-be volunteers from the U.S. who are considering working further afield should reconsider their neighbor to the north. Whether you’re interested in wildlife rehabilitation, sustainability, or environmental research, there’s something for everyone in selecting Canadian volunteer programs.
Canada is famously wild and pristine in many parts of the country and never is this more apparent than in the far north. Experience groundbreaking Arctic research options with Earthwatch Institute by signing up for Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge, easily one of the most fascinating and worthwhile endeavors one could pursue in the coming year.
Inspiring volunteer programs in Canada:
Given the spread of Covid-19, 2021 is the year to look into virtual volunteer programs. Though the vaccine may be coming sooner rather than later, there’s no guarantee when it will become entirely safe to travel internationally again. But just because borders are closed doesn’t mean you can’t give back or help support communities and nations overseas. We recommend looking into the Virtual Global Health Fellowship as a means of volunteering internationally from the safety of your home.
Inspiring virtual volunteer programs:
Volunteering abroad may look slightly different in 2021, but if you plan ahead, read up on local health protocols, and take care to practice social distancing, you’ll be able to give back abroad safely.
This post is undated annually, and it was most recently revised in December 2020.