Volunteering in Portugal is an opportunity to do it all. Visit the oldest nation in Europe, experience a multicultural civilization, and know the country’s history by just walking the streets while helping out with the bits and pieces you manage! Portugal, although small in area, has people from all over the world, a whole coast of sandy beaches which are perfect for both surfing and bathing, thousands of forests and hundreds of natural river-side beaches lost in the midst of cliffs and mountains.
Portugal has a lot of green and coast lines in need of some TLC. Unfortunately these get messy pretty fast and some issues may arise, both for humans and the fauna and flora of the country. Other than the cleaning efforts, tree planting is also big; millions of trees are planted each year, usually in areas that were burnt down due to the heat of the summer, and in some programs the tree you plant might even get your name.
A lot of NGO’s in Portugal deal directly with people in need so the best would be to contact them directly and try to get information on the issue you want to tackle, since information and conditions may vary according with the organization. Main projects involve helping young moms and their children (Ajuda de berço), orphans (these are usually closely linked with churches) or even animal shelters and the Zoo, even better if you have any veterinarian experience (Associação Zoofila Portuguesa). Working and helping AIDS patients to get back on their feet by promoting self-awareness and other campaigns is also big in the volunteering life (Abraço).
Since Portugal is an old nation some things need some renovating. This is your chance to be part of something bigger and if DIY projects and interior design are your thing or if you are a handy (wo)man, maybe you should try volunteering opportunities to help renew and rebuild houses and farms in the Alentejo region. Most programs through WWOOF have sleeping arrangements as well as meals, and you even get to play with some goats, horses and other assorted animals, while experiencing something that not every tourist has a chance to: the low-key country life.
Volunteer Support: Locate your embassy as soon as you can and check in. Let them know you are in the country. Take advantage that they have been here for longer periods of time and ask for some advice, where to go, what to do and for safety tips that they might have to offer.
Know Before You Go: American citizens can stay in Portugal with no special visa requirements for 90 Days while EU members are free to come and go as they please, providing your country is a Schengen Treaty Endorser.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: Plan your trip online and have a backup in case the subway/bus/trains don’t work. Taxis are expensive in Portugal and most taxi drivers will try their best to get a couple of more bucks from your pocket, so if possible do it the Portuguese way and, if you must, walk through the narrow and steep streets. Also stay with a family/rent a room, couchsurf or use airbnb.com for a cheaper accommodation and to make new friends while you are in town. This will significantly reduce your living costs, as well as giving you the opportunity to taste the best of Portuguese home-made food, if you are lucky enough.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Portugal
Although Portugal does have Public Health Care for foreigners who work or study here, if you are not staying long term maybe you should check if your health care insurance covers anything that might happen. Also, ask the Volunteer Organization what kind of insurance they can offer, which will probably be the basic. If you do happen to need to go to a public or private hospital present your passport and be ready to pay approximately 147 euros for the full-on emergency service appointment. No special vaccinations or previous travel cares are required for your trip to Portugal.
Contributed by Joana Melo