Volunteer Programs in Canada
Canada, USA’s friendly neighbor to the North is known for many things: maple syrup, hockey, mounties, fries smothered in gravy. The stereotypes, while based on reality, do not do justice to how wonderfully vibrant, beautiful, and diverse the country really is. Volunteering in Canada will provide you the opportunity to do good and experience the country first-hand.
Near the border, cities like Toronto and Vancouver are cultural powerhouses with some of the best living standards in the world. As the country stretches immensely northwards, vast expanses of untouched nature contain some of the continent's most gorgeous landscapes and incredible wildlife.
Canada is, of course, also a developed nation, which means it is not the obvious choice for volunteering. However, there are plenty of excellent opportunities, from helping polar bears to helping the homeless. Add to that the famously nice people and the comfort of an English-speaking country, and you’ve got a perfect overseas volunteering destination.
Though Canada is not the first country that springs to mind when people think of volunteering abroad, there is no shortage of opportunities. With some of North America’s most stunning nature and wildlife as well as some of its most exciting cities, you can choose from a wide range of options. Wildlife conservation, community development, and farm work are some of the most popular volunteering programs available in Canada.
Nature & wildlife conservation
Canada is internationally famed for its wildlife, from the beloved national animal (the beaver) to moose, bison, polar bears, and more. As a conservation volunteer, you can protect the mountains, forests, and rivers that are home to such creatures, and which make up the exceptional natural heritage of Canada. If you're passionate about climate change, head to the Arctic to volunteer with Earthwatch Institute.
Cities like Toronto and Montreal are fairly wealthy and highly developed, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own areas of deprivation. Work with children, adults, or the elderly with a variety of volunteer programs. Community volunteers help with everything from after-school clubs to women’s programs, cultural events, and working at homelessness shelters.
Like many countries around the world, Canada has plenty of farms that welcome seasonal volunteer work. This usually takes place in the spring or summer in rural areas of the country and involves any manual labor needed by your host. Basic room and board is usually provided, and you do not need a permit for stays under four weeks.
Planning your trip
Most people volunteering overseas in Canada arrange their experience through a volunteering organization. They will oversee all the logistical aspects, leaving little for you to do except show up. If you prefer to directly arrange a volunteering opportunity with a charity, you may have to do more work in terms of arranging housing and permits.
Where to volunteer in Canada
Canada is a huge country with a handful of densely populated metropolitan areas. Most volunteering opportunities in the country will be in these major cities. Cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver all offer exceptionally high standards of living and a cool and diverse city life, with plenty of things to do in your downtime.
If you want to live in one of these cities, there are plenty of opportunities for urban volunteering work in areas like community development, youth outreach, and homelessness. Many of these cities are also near beautiful outdoor spaces, so you can stay in the city but still volunteer with wildlife. The best of both worlds!
Smaller cities like Calgary, Ottowa, and Winnipeg may also have volunteering opportunities, as will some remote towns. Nature conservation and animal volunteering are more likely to be based in one of these areas.
Housing & accommodation
If you are volunteering through a volunteer organization in Canada, you will usually be given room and board for the duration of your project. In cities, this is likely to be a comfortable and modern flat shared with other volunteers. In more remote areas, you may have to live with more basic accommodation.
Volunteering directly with a charity tends to be different. While in-built housing arrangements are relatively easily found with nature and conservation charities, they are unusual for city work. You would probably have to find somewhere to stay independently. Luckily, this is relatively straightforward in the big cities.
Costs of volunteering in Canada
Although many people think that volunteering is free (and it can be in your local community), most programs overseas have fees for volunteers. Usually, it covers housing, transportation, meals, pre-departure, and program support. Since Canada is not a cheap country, the costs of these items may start to add up and a week or two can cost a few thousand dollars. However, don't let it stop you. Not only do some programs have financial aid, but there are also loads of volunteer grants and scholarships you can apply to in order to get some of your program subsidized.
Language requirements & tips
As you may have guessed, Canadians mainly speak English. That said, French can be useful if you’re heading to Quebec, especially if you’re going to be based outside of Montreal.
While you may imagine that your suitcase for Canada will be filled with wooly scarves and big coats, remember that most of Canada’s big cities sit in the south, near the U.S. border. They tend to have four distinct seasons so, yes, pack warm for the winter, but summers can be hot and humid.
If you’re only heading for a few months, you can easily pack for one season, but if you’re going to be there for a full year you may want to consider getting someone back home to mail you your seasonal clothes.
It goes without saying that the further up North you go, the colder it will get. Do pack for extreme cold weather if you are headed to, say, Winnipeg, which sees winter temperatures of -22 ℉.
Some volunteering jobs, like short-term (under four weeks) placements at farms, do not require a work permit. You may require a permit for other jobs, a process which is usually managed by your volunteering organization. In doubt, always always check with your local embassy before you make concrete plans.
Health & safety
You have very little to worry about in terms of health and safety in Canada as a volunteer. Additionally, make sure you have adequate health and/or travel insurance, especially if you are going to be undertaking any work that is potentially dangerous (like construction).
Canada has excellent health facilities, although you may have limited access to these if you are going somewhere very remote. If this is the case, make sure you know what is meant to happen in case of an emergency and if your current insurance covers it. If not, you may need to buy supplemental health insurance.
Driving can be unsafe during winter due to extreme weather, so avoid it unless necessary.
Otherwise, Canada is an overwhelmingly safe country with a very low crime rate, but make sure to keep your street smarts about you. Avoid dark alleyways, don't walk alone at night, and keep your belongings within eyesight just as in any other travel situation. Take the usual precautions for peace of mind and remember to have fun!
Can tourists volunteer in Canada?
Tourists to Canada are allowed to volunteer, as long as their work does not fill a position that is intended to be a part of a student's course of study. Otherwise, there are no limitations imposed by the government.
Can international students volunteer in Canada?
International students in Canada can volunteer at any number of organizations. Volunteering can be a great way to start to build a community in a new place.