Taking time off to volunteer abroad is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture while letting your inner altruist put your talents and good will to use. Being a volunteer in a community means you are more than just transient traveler, and likewise your host country/community will become more than just a place you visited. Embarking on a volunteer gap year truly is a whole other way to see the world and with so many destinations and programs to choose from, you’re sure to find your perfect fit.

Service Learning

Understandably, you may be getting more out of your volunteer placement than the community you are helping. You are gaining valuable professional skills and experience in development. That is not to say you’re not helping your community, but if one of your goals of a volunteer gap year is to expand on or supplement your education, a service learning project, which combines classroom instruction with community service, may an ideal combination. Longer term educational travel programs in developing nations tend to combine education, travel, and community service into their programs, so it’s not a bad idea to start your search there.

Education and Youth Development

One of the most popular volunteer programs also happens to be a cornerstone of development: education. Depending on language requirements and your country of service, volunteers can expect to teach English, Science, Art, Sports Education, Math, IT Skills, and so much more. Education isn’t just limited to teaching children though, but if it is, any responsible program will require a background check from you.

Environmental

Worldwide, there are countless volunteer positions to help with environmental conservation or education. Each country and region has its own environmental issues and therefore the specific work you will be doing is dependent on where you are placed. For example, you could help conserve turtle populations in Costa Rica, or orphaned elephants in Thailand. If you are interested in a specific aspect of environmental conservation, such as marine biology, start your search with the type of environmental conservation you hope to do, rather than a destination.

Health

Volunteers with a background in health are highly sought out in volunteer abroad positions and bring an incredibly valuable set of skills to the field. However, even if you aren’t a qualified nurse or health practitioner, plenty of other volunteer positions in the health field, like promoting HIV/AID awareness or educating children on basic hygiene and nutrition, are open to interested volunteers with less of a background in medicine.

Gender Equality

Both in developed and undeveloped nations, gender discrimination is significant issue for women and a hindrance to their professional advancement and personal rights. However, empowering women abroad and working for women's rights is especially significant in countries where the divide between women and men is strong. Help empower women abroad by providing education, health care, shelters, and giving them access to loans, finance, and vocational trainings.

Agricultural

Whether you have a background in farming and agriculture or not, a volunteer placement in agriculture may be for you. WWOOF, of course, is the most well known organization linking volunteers with organic farms in need of an extra hand, but many other organizations still need assistance in promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

Ghana
Located on Africa’s “Gold Coast”, Ghana is known for it’s warm climate and even warmer people. However, despite recent advancements it’s poverty level still sits at 28.5% (CIA World Factbook) and a host of development projects in health, education, and environmental conservation have popped up as a result. Volunteer here to help one of Africa’s most vivacious nations work towards development.
Thailand

Thousands of visitors flock to Thailand’s idyllic beaches bustling capital each year. Understandably so, it’s a great place to visit, but an equally welcoming place to volunteer. Volunteer projects here are fairly diverse, with options such as working with refugees, elephant conservation, education, health, and youth development. Warm weather and great food are a few other perks to a volunteer placement in Thailand.

India

India is a country like no other and it’s hard not to walk away from this colorful, bustling nation of 1.2 billion without feeling affected by it’s lively personality. Of course, it isn’t all just bright colors and spicy street food. India still faces complex issues surrounding poverty and development and volunteer placement here won’t just give you a chance to work towards helping India achieve its goals as an emerging nation, but will give you first-hand insight on the social issues the nation faces.

Peru

Peru is a fascinating country with diverse and beautiful ecosystems, ancient history, and an enchanting contemporary culture that volunteers are bound to fall in love with. Unfortunately, its high level of poverty and less than ideal living conditions mean that volunteer projects and the dedicated people working on them are much needed. Programs in health, gender equality, youth development/education, community development, and environmental conservation are some of the programs volunteers have to choose from.

South Africa

In terms of both culture and environment, South Africa is an amazingly diverse nation with a rich and complex history. It stands out among African nations for the leaps and bounds it has taken in development, but though it is one of the most economically advanced nations in Africa, it is still catching up to the West in terms of development and standards of living. Better healthcare/health awareness, gender equality, education, and environmental awareness are all examples of areas South Africa is working on improving with the help of volunteers.

Also popular? Japan, Spain, Romania, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Nepal, and Argentina.

Getting Your Family on Board

Volunteering abroad can be a taxing experience, both emotionally and physically, so it’s essential to have a support system back home. Especially when you’re having a particularly rough day, you want to be able to call your family and have them remind you that you made the right decision, and not saying “I told you so.” Get your family on board by researching all safety, health, and financial concerns, making contingency plans, and sharing all of it with them. Don’t forget to also discuss all the great benefits and experiences you’ll be getting out of your placement either!

When To Take a Gap Year for Volunteer Travel

If you are planning a volunteer placement independently, when you go is totally dependent on you and the country you have chosen to volunteer in. Even program run volunteer placements are generally flexible in their departure dates, especially shorter term placements that cater to voluntourists who may not have an infinite amount of time. However, if you are looking for a longer term placement or to work with a specific organization, they may replace volunteers only every 6 months to a year, depending on their program. Ideally, you should be flexible with either your placement or departure time.

Tips on Funding

If you are volunteering through a program, start with them to find financial assistance or scholarships. For a service-learning trip that gets you college credit, you may also qualify for some sweet study abroad scholarships. Otherwise, there are volunteer placements that don’t require volunteers to pay to volunteer -- although the trade off is that they generally require a longer commitment or some sort of relevant professional experience. Search engines such as Relief Web are a good place to start your search for these.

College Credit

Depending on the type of volunteer placement you sign up for, you may qualify for college credit. If you are volunteering through a program, they should make it clear on their website or program description about whether or not college credit is available. Some organizations will offer to help you turn your experience into credit as well. If it isn’t listed as a perk of your program/organization, talk to an advisor at your college to see if you can’t turn this time off into a college credit. You’ll want to check whether the credit, if issued from a different university, is transferable anyways, so why not go ahead and set up an appointment?

Visas

Most countries will allow volunteers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and most European nations, to work on a tourist visa, available on arrival, for 30-90 days. However, this is something you must double check on well in advance of your departure as some visas can take up to a month or more to process

Be aware that many nations also require yellow fever vaccinations and an up to date WHO card in order for you to enter. Also take a look at the entry requirements for any country you are transiting in en route to your destination, as they may not let you transit without the vaccination either.

Contributed by Jessie Beck

Popular Gap Year Volunteer Abroad Programs

Want to volunteer during your gap year? Check out these programs!
  • Rustic Pathways
    Summer High School Programs in Fiji with Rustic Pathways
    Fiji
    9.55 •93 reviews

    Our community partnerships in Fiji date to 1993. These deep roots mean...

  • Up with People
    Up with People On Tour Gap Year Experience
    Multiple Countries
    9.85 •75 reviews

    Are you ready to turn your dream of travel into a reality? Travel with...

  • Global U
    Global U Gap Year for Christian Entreprenuers
    Multiple Countries
    9.92 •12 reviews

    You sense that God created you for something more, that He wants you...

  • The Leap
    Climate change + cultural immersion in Tanzania
    Tanzania
    9.67 •12 reviews

    Through this unique leap you'll have access to the community spirit of...

  • 38 new reviews
    Aardvark Israel
    Aardvark: Gap Year Program in Israel
    Israel
    8.74 •38 reviews

    Aardvark Israel is a program which combines volunteering/interning and...

  • Kol Ami
    Kol Ami Mechina Leadership Gap Year in Israel
    Israel
    9.2 •35 reviews

    Kol Ami is a life changing leadership program operated by the Jewish...

  • Quest Overseas
    Quest Overseas - Villa Maria Gap Year Program in Peru
    Peru
    10 •13 reviews

    Quest Overseas is devoted to giving their participants amazing Gap...

  • Clear Sky Retreat Centre
    Karma Yoga, Mindfulness and Community-building in Canada
    Canada
    9.8 •5 reviews

    Are you looking to bring more meaning into your life? Integrate your...

  • iSPiiCE
    Volunteer & Teach Gap Year in India | Summer Program
    India
    9.36 •14 reviews

    Gap Year in India at iSpiice, offers plenty of Gap year volunteer work...

Gap Year Volunteering in Africa

Find the best gap year volunteer programs in Africa
  • The Leap
    Climate change + cultural immersion in Tanzania
    Tanzania
    9.67 •12 reviews

    Through this unique leap you'll have access to the community spirit of...

  • Culsans Gap Travel
    Hands on conservation, adventure and wildlife trip in Kenya
    Kenya
    9.67 •6 reviews

    Unlike your regular Gap Year trips, Culsans Gap Travel offers a world...

  • Year On
    Year On | The Year Experience | Gap Year Program
    Multiple Countries
    9.4 •5 reviews

    Year On is a multi-phase experiential learning program that combines...

  • Thinking Beyond Borders
    Gap Year Opportunities Around the Globe with Thinking Beyond Borders
    Multiple Countries
    9.71 •49 reviews

    We believe that a gap year should offer more than just travel or...

  • Camps International
    Camp Kenya - Volunteer in Kenya 1-3 months
    Kenya
    10 •3 reviews

    Kenya is a really popular choice for a gap year experience because it...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: East Africa - Uganda, Kenya & Tanzania
    Multiple Countries
    9.8 •25 reviews

    ARCC Gap East Africa explores the majesty, cultures, and challenges of...

  • Gap Year South Africa
    Gap Year South Africa - Community Development Program
    South Africa
    9.75 •4 reviews

    We offer a variety of volunteer and surfing projects. You can join the...

  • Africa & Asia Venture (AV)
    Make a Difference with Volunteering and Adventure Travel in Uganda - Gap Year
    Uganda
    9.72 •18 reviews

    Go on Safari, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, bungee jump over the Nile river...

  • Carpe Diem Education
    Carpe Diem Education | East Africa Semester: Community Development and Education
    Multiple Countries
    9.8 •15 reviews

    Practice community service and international development in the...

Gap Year Volunteering in Asia

Find the best gap year volunteering in Asia
  • Global U
    Global U Gap Year for Christian Entreprenuers
    Multiple Countries
    9.92 •12 reviews

    You sense that God created you for something more, that He wants you...

  • Rustic Pathways
    Summer High School Programs in Mongolia with Rustic Pathways
    Mongolia
    9.71 •7 reviews

    Our programs work with nomadic communities in the Tavan Bogd mountain...

  • 38 new reviews
    Aardvark Israel
    Aardvark: Gap Year Program in Israel
    Israel
    8.74 •38 reviews

    Aardvark Israel is a program which combines volunteering/interning and...

  • Kol Ami
    Kol Ami Mechina Leadership Gap Year in Israel
    Israel
    9.2 •35 reviews

    Kol Ami is a life changing leadership program operated by the Jewish...

  • iSPiiCE
    Volunteer & Teach Gap Year in India | Summer Program
    India
    9.36 •14 reviews

    Gap Year in India at iSpiice, offers plenty of Gap year volunteer work...

  • GapGuru
    Volunteer in Thailand with GapGuru
    Thailand
    9.46 •13 reviews

    A gap year in Thailand with GapGuru will give you an opportunity to...

  • Naropa University|LeapYear
    LeapYear India: Naropa University's Gap Year
    Multiple Countries
    9.73 •11 reviews

    This program offers an extraordinary alternative year of college...

  • Young Judaea Year Course
    Year Course - Gap Year Program in Israel
    Israel
    8.73 •15 reviews

    Why Choose Year Course in Israel for your gap year? After more than 60...

  • 6 new reviews
    LEX Language Project
    Incredible Gap Year Program for All in Tokyo
    Japan
    9.67 •6 reviews

    Part international work experience, part cultural ambassadorship, part...

Gap Year Volunteering in Latin America

Find the best gap year volunteering in Latin America
  • Rustic Pathways
    Mulit-Country Rustic Pathways Gap Year
    Multiple Countries
    9.45 •20 reviews

    A gap year is not a one-kind-fits-all experience. That's why Rustic...

  • Quest Overseas
    Quest Overseas - Villa Maria Gap Year Program in Peru
    Peru
    10 •13 reviews

    Quest Overseas is devoted to giving their participants amazing Gap...

  • Quest Overseas
    Quest Overseas - Gap Year in Bolivia
    Bolivia
    10 •7 reviews

    Have a passion for animals, environmental conservation projects, or...

  • Year On
    Year On | The Year Experience | Gap Year Program
    Multiple Countries
    9.4 •5 reviews

    Year On is a multi-phase experiential learning program that combines...

  • GapForce
    South America Explorer with Gapforce
    Multiple Countries
    9.06 •33 reviews

    Discover the lost lands of the Incas! Whether the awe-inspiring...

  • Monterrico Adventure
    Learn Spanish & Adventure in Guatemala & El Salvador
    Multiple Countries
    9.67 •3 reviews

    Guatemala’s ‘must visit’ destination Antigua is a place of rare beauty...

  • High Mountain Institute
    High Mountain Institute Gap (HMI Gap) Semesters
    Multiple Countries
    9.63 •35 reviews

    The conservation movement began with early explorers. In pursuit of...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: South America - Peru, Ecuador & Patagonia
    Multiple Countries
    9.39 •23 reviews

    Adventure and education collide during our three-month journey through...

  • Camps International
    Camp Peru - Volunteer in Peru 1-3 months
    Peru
    10 •1 review

    Latin America is one of the most incredible places on Earth and makes...

New Gap Year Volunteer Abroad Programs

The latest and greatest gap year volunteer programs
  • EF Gap Year
    EF Gap Semester: Customizable 12-Week Program in Multiple Destinations
    Multiple Countries
    New Program

    Embark on a unique global experience in 12 weeks. EF Gap Semester is...

  • CIEE Global Navigator
    CIEE Gap Year in Yucatan – Youth Mentorship and Intro to Social Work
    Mexico
    New Program

    Learn the ropes of successful Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)...

  • CIEE Global Navigator
    CIEE Gap Year in Santiago, DR – Mentoring Youth & Raising Social Awareness
    Dominican Republic
    New Program

    nterested in playing sports, making arts and crafts, and helping kids...

  • CIEE Global Navigator
    CIEE Gap Year in Cape Town – Leadership Through Mandela's Example
    South Africa
    New Program

    Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is famous for...

  • EF Gap Year
    8-Week Costa Rica Immersion
    Costa Rica
    New Program

    Thinking about doing something different next semester? Taking time...

  • CET Academic Programs
    Gap at CET Jordan: Intensive Arabic Language
    Jordan

    Why not spend your gap year building critical language skills in the...

  • CET Academic Programs
    Gap at CET Siena: Intensive Italian Language
    Italy

    Gap at CET Siena is an Italian intensive language program for students...

  • Pure Exploration
    Adventure Guide Program - Iceland
    Iceland

    Enormous cascading waterfalls, incredible natural hot springs, moon...

  • Pure Exploration
    Adventure Guide Program - Thailand & India
    Thailand

    Thailand & India, what a combination! From world class rock climbing...

What People Are Saying

This was my first time traveling outside of the U.S. and it was life changing. This trip was a great way to make new connections because you never know who you will meet along your journey. I had met...

1 of the 7 World Wonders

I found out about Verto Education at a time in my life when I really needed to know that there was another way for me to begin life after high school. I feel so lucky to have been able to travel with...

Our last night was truly sad and sentimental. All of the excitement of going home was followed by the sadness of leaving such beautiful places and wonderful people.

As a LEX Intern, I was placed in a transnational, multilingual company that enabled me to meet and work with people from all over the world. This organization is so open to everyone; their languages...

The beginning of Snow Camp!

Related Gap Year Articles