Volunteering overseas is the perfect way for any international getaway to have a more positive impact. In Cape Town, volunteer programs will have you on your feet and contributing to exciting fields, like tracking endangered African penguins or coaching a youth rugby team.
As a destination, this South African city provides the perfect backdrop for a global volunteer experience. On days off, you’ll wander the cobblestone streets of the city’s brightly styled Bo-Kaap neighborhood or hike rewarding trails in Table Mountain National Park. Nearby, the coastal landscape of Cape Peninsula offers the perfect day trip.
Though these are all highlights of any Cape Town adventure, it’s the experiences you’ll have as a volunteer that are bound to be the most impactful. By traveling with purpose, you’ll return with a fresh perspective on the world.
Cape Town’s usual volunteer programs have some pretty unusual assignments. Explore unique projects for conservation, education, and more fields in this top South African city.
Cape Town may be an urban area, but it’s a popular base for volunteering with animals. Popular placements have volunteers working in sanctuaries for all types of rescued critters, like leopards, elephants, and dogs.
If you don’t have much experience working with animals, your tasks will likely entail basic upkeep and maintenance, like tidying up enclosures when the residents go out to play. Alternatively, volunteers with a background in veterinary science may get the chance to provide care to injured animals.
If you have a keen interest in the marine area of conservation, then Cape Town is a wonderful gateway to a variety of oceanic volunteer projects. Help preserve natural habitats by cleaning up beaches or delve into hands-on research assignments.
Volunteers can take part in more adventurous projects like tracking great white sharks and observing their behavior from a secure underwater cage. If cage diving wasn’t on your bucket list, then you’ll be relieved to hear you can also volunteer onshore with endangered sea turtles.
For aspiring teachers and experienced educators alike, an abundance of volunteer opportunities exist in Cape Town. From assisting in a classroom to running after-school programs, there’s a variety of ways that overseas volunteers can connect with Cape Town’s youth.
Popular programs include teaching English, tutoring in a specific subject area, working with preschoolers, or coaching a sports team. Placements aren’t only in local schools -- volunteers may also play supporting roles in community organizations.
Planning Your Trip
You probably have a few questions about the logistics of volunteering overseas in Cape Town. From where you’ll stay to what’s in your suitcase, this section will cover the bulk of your concerns.
Housing & Accommodation
Volunteer housing options in Cape Town ensure that you get the chance to connect with your fellow participants and experience South African culture. Living in dorm-style accommodations, you’ll bunk with other volunteers, preparing meals and cleaning shared spaces as a team. Staying with a host family is another option, allowing you to have an inside look at local Cape Town life.
Language Requirements & Tips
In Cape Town, English and Afrikaans are the two predominant languages. As a volunteer, you’ll be able to get by speaking English, but some knowledge of Afrikaans will help you communicate with locals and enjoy a more immersive cultural experience. As such, it may be helpful to bring along a phrase book or participate in some language courses before you leave, especially if you’ll be staying with a host family,
Residing in the southern hemisphere, Cape Town’s summers take place from December through February, with winter weather moving in from June through August. As such, what you pack will depend largely on when you’re volunteering and what kinds of tasks you’ll be performing.
Volunteer duties that take you outside, like conservation work, will require gear like sunscreen, a small first aid kit, and seasonal outdoor attire. If you’ll be volunteering in a formal setting, like a classroom, pack a few professional clothing items. Everyone will benefit from a raincoat and practical footwear to make the most of their days off.
Most travelers don’t need a visa to volunteer in South Africa. If you’re a U.S. citizen staying less than 90 days, a tourist visa will suffice.
Once you’ve settled in Cape Town, you’ll probably want some mobile data to connect with folks back home. Vodacom SIM cards, a popular choice for visitors, are available at the airport and Cape Town shops.
Overall, the cost of living in South Africa is lower than in the U.S. Even in metropolitan areas like Cape Town, groceries and other essentials won’t drain your wallet. South African Rand, or ZAR, is the local currency, and it will be helpful to have some cash converted before you arrive to help you get started.
Health & Safety
To complete a successful global volunteer experience, you need to be aware of its corresponding health and safety risks. Here are some that volunteers may face while traveling in Cape Town.
As a volunteer, you should be provided with basic health care coverage through your organization. If not, you can always purchase a plan separately through companies like World Nomads. Having some type of coverage is crucial -- you never know what can happen on the road, and some volunteer projects might pose more risks to your well-being than others.
Malaria medication and hepatitis B immunizations are sometimes advised for trips to South Africa. If you’ll be helping out with wildlife, a rabies shot comes highly recommended by the CDC. Additionally, bring a record of yellow fever vaccination if you’ll be arriving from a country carrying the disease.
In any city, theft and violent crime rates tend to run higher than in suburban or rural areas, and Cape Town is no different. The Department of State cautions that mugging and armed robbery are a few risks that travelers will need to look out for in Cape Town. Taking care to walk in groups should dissuade any would-be thieves.
As a volunteer, your project may have unique safety concerns to keep in mind. By relying on the direction of your supervisor, you’ll avoid any injury or illness. In other words, when the marine biologist tells you not to stick your arm out of the shark cage, you should probably listen.