Finding your own international volunteering opportunity

The ongoing pandemic is continuing to affect many international volunteering projects:

  • We advise all students to research overseas opportunities carefully and to consider the heightened risks associated with travelling abroad during the pandemic;
  • There are a number of issues to consider and we encourage you to speak to us before applying for overseas opportunities at this time;
  • Please see our Frequently asked questions;
  • As an alternative, many international organisations are running remote volunteering opprtunities where you can take part in projects around the world online.

Finding good quality volunteering opportunities overseas can be a challenging task, not least because there are thousands of organisations and companies that provide overseas opportunities! It is important to consider a number of factors in order to find one that is:

  • Ethically sound;
  • Safe;
  • Supportive; and
  • Has the interests of its beneficiaries (the community where they work) and volunteers at heart.

As we are unable to check out the majority of individual projects and roles we are unable to recommend specific opportunities other than those listed under our ‘Trusted Partners’ section. Instead, we have devised some questions to consider when thinking about volunteering overseas. These will help you to make a more informed choice.

A good organisation with strong policies will encourage you to ask questions, such as those below, and should be able to give you answers to each of them.

  • Why do you want to volunteer overseas?
  • What type of volunteering would you like to do?
  • What skills, experience, or qualifications do you have to offer?
  • Where in the world would you like to go?
  • How and why was the organisation set up and by who?
  • What sort of organisation is it (e.g. Non Governmental Organisation [NGO], charity or profit making company)?
  • What is the organisation's mission, main aims and goals?
  • How long has the organisation been running and how many people does it send overseas?
  • What is the organisation's philosophy towards development? Do they have deep-rooted, sustainable links with communities and local people, or do they operate on a more commercial basis?
  • Is the organisation a specialist in one country or does it work in lots of different places?
  • Are there costs associated with the volunteer placement and, if so, can you get a breakdown of how they are spent?
  • Does the organisation have a commitment to equal opportunities and the health and safety of volunteers?
  • How are the people the organisation works with represented? Do they use local voices in their publicity?
  • Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office approve of travel to this country?
  • Is the organisation linked to other reputable companies?
  • Does the organisation have reputable travel or government endorsements?
  • Can I speak with volunteers who have returned from the project to find out about their experiences?
  • How was the project identified? Was it from a local perspective, either through a local organisation or via consultation with the local community?
  • Is there a local partner organisation with responsibility for designing and managing the project?
  • Will the project be sustained after the volunteers leave or has it been set up as a one-off opportunity that will only have short term benefits?
  • What is the organisation's philosophy towards development? Whilst many organisations have deep-rooted, sustainable links with communities and local people, others operate on a more commercial basis.
  • What is the involvement of the host community in the project?
  • Who will benefit from the project? Will anyone be adversely affected by the project? How will the expectations of the local community be managed?
  • Is there a genuine need for volunteers or has the opportunity been created as an adventure holiday?
  • How can I be sure that the opportunity is not taking away the chance of paid employment for a local person?
  • Who is defining the success of the project? How is the project being monitored and evaluated? How do findings inform future projects?
  • Has the volunteering role been clearly defined? Is there a role description available? 
  • What selection criteria does the organisation have when choosing volunteers? What skills are required?
  • Who will I be working with? Will I be on my own, is there a group of volunteers or does the role involve working alongside local people?
  • Can the organisation give you precise contact details for your chosen programme?
  • What am I getting for my money?
  • What proportion of the cost goes towards administration and marketing and what goes to the local project that is hosting me?
  • What support and training am I provided with, both before and after? 
  • Is there in-country support for the volunteers? This includes practical arrangements such as accommodation and meals as well as support to do the job?
  • What are the conditions in which volunteers live and work?
  • What happens if something goes wrong - for example if I am very ill or have to get home unexpectedly? Is repatriation included? Does the organisation have contingency plans for a crisis? Is there an evacuation plan?
  • Will I need my own travel insurance and does the organisation's insurance cover me for the kind of work that I will be doing? (Think both about health and about belongings).

Important information

There is a national standard (also known as a kitemark) which organisations and companies can work towards for the safe management of overseas ventures. This provides a specification for organising and managing visits, including gap year trips. It is worth asking whether a company has met this standard.

It is called BS8848:2007 'Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions and adventurous activities outside the United Kingdom'.

Please note this only looks at minimising risk, not at issues of ethics or the nature of the actual role.