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
Guide Author
Jessie Beck
Go Overseas Writer

Popular Gap Year Volunteer Abroad Programs

Want to volunteer during your gap year? Check out these programs!
  • Thinking Beyond Borders
    Gap Year Semester in Latin America with Thinking Beyond Borders
    Multiple Countries
    22 reviews4 interviews

    Explore solutions to critical global issues in communities throughout...

  • Pacific Discovery
    Pacific Discovery | Thailand Summer Program
    Thailand
    15 reviews5 interviews

    Experience the exotic and varied landscapes, tastes, wildlife and...

  • Up with People
    Up with People On Tour Gap Year Experience
    Multiple Countries
    75 reviews10 interviews

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

  • Seamester
    Seamester: Antigua to Grenada - 80 Days
    Multiple Countries
    14 reviews2 interviews

    Discover the Caribbean as most never will. Dive among her celebrated...

  • Global Works
    Costa Rica Summer Service Adventures
    Costa Rica
    26 reviews5 interviews

    Are you a high school student looking for volunteer opportunities in...

  • Carpe Diem Education
    Carpe Diem Education | East Africa Semester: Community Development and Education
    Multiple Countries
    13 reviews2 interviews

    Practice community service and international development in the...

  • The High Desert Center
    The High Desert Center Gap Year
    Multiple Countries
    7 reviews

    Our Gap Year Programs are designed for people who want to have fun in...

  • GapForce
    Ghana Volunteering & Internships with Gapforce
    Ghana
    2 reviews2 interviews

    Join our community volunteering placement in the friendliest nation in...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: Asia - Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand
    Multiple Countries
    24 reviews6 interviews

    Leave the traditional classroom far behind, as we journey to the heart...

Gap Year Volunteering in Africa

Find the best gap year volunteer programs in Africa
  • Thinking Beyond Borders
    Gap Year Opportunities Around the Globe with Thinking Beyond Borders
    Multiple Countries
    44 reviews9 interviews

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

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: East Africa - Uganda, Kenya & Tanzania
    Multiple Countries
    25 reviews4 interviews

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

  • Carpe Diem Education
    Carpe Diem Education | East Africa Semester: Community Development and Education
    Multiple Countries
    13 reviews2 interviews

    Practice community service and international development in the...

  • Global Citizen Year
    Global Citizen Year - Gap Year Program Senegal
    Senegal
    17 reviews4 interviews

    Global Citizen Year is a non-profit social enterprise forging a new...

  • EF Gap Year
    EF Gap Year: Custom 12 and 25-week Program in Multi-Destinations
    Multiple Countries
    12 reviews

    EF Gap Year is a 12 to 25-week program that enables students to...

  • The Leap
    Climate change + cultural immersion in Tanzania
    Tanzania
    12 reviews3 interviews

    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
    6 reviews2 interviews

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

  • Where There Be Dragons
    West Africa: Rhythms of Senegal Gap Year Semester
    Senegal
    5 reviews1 interview

    From agricultural villages to mangrove islands, explore contemporary...

  • Africa & Asia Venture (AV)
    Make a Difference with Volunteering and Adventure Travel in Uganda - Gap Year
    Uganda
    18 reviews3 interviews

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

Gap Year Volunteering in Asia

Find the best gap year volunteering in Asia
  • Thinking Beyond Borders
    Gap Year Opportunities Around the Globe with Thinking Beyond Borders
    Multiple Countries
    44 reviews9 interviews

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

  • Pacific Discovery
    Pacific Discovery | Thailand Summer Program
    Thailand
    15 reviews5 interviews

    Experience the exotic and varied landscapes, tastes, wildlife and...

  • GapForce
    Southeast Asia Explorer with Gapforce
    Multiple Countries
    26 reviews1 interview

    Travel to three of Southeast Asia's most sought-after destinations...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: Asia - Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand
    Multiple Countries
    24 reviews6 interviews

    Leave the traditional classroom far behind, as we journey to the heart...

  • EF Gap Year
    EF Gap Year: Custom 12 and 25-week Program in Multi-Destinations
    Multiple Countries
    12 reviews

    EF Gap Year is a 12 to 25-week program that enables students to...

  • Carpe Diem Education
    Carpe Diem Education | Southeast Asia Semester: Human Rights & Cultural Exchange
    Multiple Countries
    8 reviews1 interview

    Study Human Rights and Cultural Exchange with a community of students...

  • Where There Be Dragons
    Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester
    Nepal
    11 reviews1 interview

    The Himalayas. Since time immemorial, these colossal peaks with their...

  • Rustic Pathways
    Summer High School Programs in Mongolia with Rustic Pathways
    Mongolia
    7 reviews1 interview

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

  • China Internship Placements
    Custom Gap Year Programs Throughout China
    China
    3 reviews2 interviews

    Get groomed and mentored to discover the world, reflect on your...

Gap Year Volunteering in Latin America

Find the best gap year volunteering in Latin America
  • GapForce
    South America Explorer with Gapforce
    Multiple Countries
    33 reviews2 interviews

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

  • Global Citizen Year
    Global Citizen Year - Gap Year Program Ecuador
    Ecuador
    21 reviews3 interviews

    Global Citizen Year is a non-profit social enterprise forging a new...

  • EF Gap Year
    EF Gap Year: Custom 12 and 25-week Program in Multi-Destinations
    Multiple Countries
    12 reviews

    EF Gap Year is a 12 to 25-week program that enables students to...

  • Carpe Diem Education
    Carpe Diem Education | South America Semester: Spanish Immersion & Conservation
    Multiple Countries
    9 reviews2 interviews

    Trek to the sprawling Incan ruins at Machu Picchu and try your hand at...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Gap: South America - Peru, Ecuador & Patagonia
    Multiple Countries
    23 reviews7 interviews

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

  • Pacific Discovery
    Pacific Discovery | Peru Summer Program
    Peru
    7 reviews2 interviews

    Follow in the footprints of great explorers on this incredible 4-week...

  • Pacific Discovery
    South America Semester – Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure
    Multiple Countries
    7 reviews2 interviews

    Who do you want to be in the world? Join us for an insightful...

  • High Mountain Institute
    High Mountain Institute Gap (HMI Gap) Semesters
    Multiple Countries
    35 reviews2 interviews

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

  • Rustic Pathways
    Mulit-Country Rustic Pathways Gap Year
    Multiple Countries
    20 reviews7 interviews

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

New Gap Year Volunteer Abroad Programs

The latest and greatest gap year volunteer programs
  • RISH Chinese Learning Center
    Au Pair with RISH: Live-in Tutoring and Cultural Exchange Program in China
    China
    New Program

    If you are looking for a unique experience abroad, RISH Au Pair...

  • ARCC Programs
    ARCC Programs: Spain/Morocco Spice of Life
    Multiple Countries
    New Program

    Go back in time to discover how worlds collided in these faraway...

  • Experience Mission
    Christian Gap Year (IMMERSION Missions Experience)
    Africa
    New Program

    The Gap Year IMMERSION Program is a chance to invest in who you want...

  • Frontier
    Gap Year Volunteering - Madagascar Healthcare
    Madagascar

    Madagascar's dramatic forest landscape is home to a fascinating...

  • Frontier
    Belize Manatee Conservation Project
    Belize

    Your primary focus on this project will be surveying the population...

  • TCM
    All inclusive 10 Weeks GAP Experience - South Africa
    South Africa

    You will be part of a group of young individuals who get the...

  • Denver Gap Year
    Denver Gap Year
    United States of America
    1 review

    Denver Gap Year offers a unique combination of urban living, outdoor...

  • The High Desert Center
    The High Desert Center Gap Year
    Multiple Countries
    7 reviews

    Our Gap Year Programs are designed for people who want to have fun in...

What People Are Saying

Turtle week

So much fun, everyone extremely friendly, staff very friendly and welcoming, helps you grow as a character and you do really feel you are making a difference to the local community. Such an amzimg...

We traveled to the West Bank for the day to learn about the history there

I was on the program for 2 semesters and I had a great time. I cannot imagine doing anything else but this program for my gap year. The program really allowed me to grow as an individual and have a...

Jerusalem semester at the Kotel before shabbat.

Aardvark was the best 7 months of my entire life! I spent a semester in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem which allowed me to experience the vastly different aspects of Israeli society. In both places I got to...

Related Gap Year Articles