5 good reasons why you pay to volunteer overseas

You’re an intrepid explorer who wants to travel, or maybe you’ve already hit the skyways and gone on some overseas adventures. 

Maybe you now want to help out and give back to the people you meet on your travels. Congratulations, you’re a good person and you’ve made a great decision!

But if you’ve done any research on volunteer programs, you've probably seen that they have one thing in common. Most of them ask you to pay money to take part. “But why?” you ask. “I’m donating my free labour to these projects. Why must I pay, on top of that?”

So, how do volunteer fees work?

Program fees are different depending what the program offers to volunteers or interns. Of course there are your accommodation costs to consider, plus things like support by the local organizers of the projects. They are there to make sure you get the most out of your time abroad and to help if you find yourself in a tight situation.

lost in africa

So part of your fees go to your room and board, and the salaries of the people in the organization. Some of your fees might go to outings and sightseeing trips that are planned for volunteers. But what else?

If you want to volunteer overseas without paying fees, of course there are ways to do this. But you’ll have to find a program you want to work with, make contact with them, figure out what they want you to do, organize your own accommodation and transport, and find your way around a foreign country where they don’t speak your language. If you’re fine with that, you’re either a very experienced traveler, or you’re going to have to deal with a lot of tough challenges!  

So what will my volunteer service provider do for me? Below is a list of the reasons why organizers ask for a program fee when you book.

1. Airport Pickups and Transfers

Air travel can be stressful even for decades-long seasoned adventurers. It can be quite nerve-wracking if you're a new traveler. What if your bag goes missing and you can’t get anyone to understand you? What if you end up in a taxi or Uber with a guy who takes you on a long, expensive “scenic route” to your destination, that you didn’t ask for?

When you’ve sat in Economy class for 12 or more hours and landed in a country you’ve never seen, it’s awesome to be greeted by a friendly face at the airport, who will help you carry your luggage to the car and get you quickly to your volunteer house. Cars use money – so that’s the first part of your fee, right there!

2. Volunteer Accommodation and Meals

As a volunteer or intern overseas, you’ll want to make sure you have a comfortable place to live. Most volunteer organizations don’t offer luxury accommodation and Michelin-star chefs, but you need a clean bed, a shower and a hot meal! If you’re lucky, you can find a very comfortable house with a swimming pool. Houses and hostels need to pay rent, rates and maintenance; and cooks and cleaners need salaries. These factors require your fees to keep running smoothly.

khaya volunteer house

3. Visitor Support and Assistance

Perhaps the volunteer program placement isn’t quite what you expected, and you want a change. Perhaps you have some banking or visa issues. What if you run out of important medication, or you need to see a doctor? Will you be able to cope in a country where people might have limited English? And if your English is also limited, you could get really stuck!

This is why it’s very important to have someone nearby, in the country you’re visiting, to help with these issues. And those folks need salaries so they can be available to help you.

4. Volunteer Program Support

Organizations need money to help run their programs. Funding typically comes from grants, donations - and volunteer fees. Your organization may add on a fee for the direct benefit of their programs. Some programs are run by locals out of their own pockets, like Khaya’s Chideso program in Malawi – so they need all the help they can get!

While volunteers are involved in day-to-day activities, most people only volunteer for a week or two. Programs need to pay local staff members so they can keep running when volunteers have left.

5. Outings and Excursions

Many volunteer service providers set up trips for the volunteers, so you can have fun on your holiday and make friends – two very important reasons to travel overseas! This is a great way to see the country without being responsible for making bookings and getting yourself around in a place you don’t really know.

volunteer outing with staff

All in all, your fees are being put to good use – at least, if your volunteer service provider is using them well. Don’t hesitate to ask them where your money’s going. If they won’t or can’t answer in detail – cross them off your list!


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