Frequently Asked Questions
How does this website work?
Volunteer Latin America is a voluntary work information service. This means we inform prospective volunteers about volunteer programs and internships that match their preferences (i.e. preferred locations, proposed length of service, language skills, cost, etc). We send details of suitable volunteer programs and internships in the form of a Volunteer Guide. A Volunteer Guide provides one of the most ethical and cost effective ways to get involved in Latin American environmental and humanitarian efforts.
Who can use this website?
Our service and the projects we offer are aimed at people of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds. You should check the visa requirements of the country or countries you intend to visit before travelling.
How do I acquire more information about your projects?
If you want to find out more about the projects we offer you need to order a Volunteer Guide. Please use the space provided on the order form to mention any projects that specifically interest you otherwise we may not include them in your Volunteer Guide. If you don't mention any projects on the order form we will put together your Volunteer Guide in accordance with the other information submitted.
We recommend you don't submit a long list of projects as this will be detrimental to your Volunteer Guide. The reason being is that we won’t be able to include many projects from our extensive offline database. Furthermore, it is unlikely you will meet the entry requirements for every project mentioned (i.e. language requirements, minimum length of service, etc).
What happens once I have submitted the order form?
Upon receipt of your order form and payment, Volunteer Latin America will send you a confirmation email and then begin the process of matching projects to your personal requirements. We will compile and despatch your Volunteer guide (via email) within 1-5 working days.
Upon receipt of your Volunteer Guide, simply decide which projects you would like to join, and then make direct contact with the organisations that run those projects. It couldn’t be easier. The host organisation will advise you on everything you need to know such as how to get to the project and what to take with you. Some organisations may even be in the position to pick you up from the airport when you first arrive.
How do I apply for a project?
The organisations and projects we provide information on are looking for independent volunteers; therefore, we do not place you. Details on how to apply should be acquired from the organisation you wish to work for.
Some organizations will accept a short email with your proposed dates; whereas others might require you to submit a simple online application form or want to conduct a telephone interview. A small number of organizations will tell you to just turn up. Each organisation has its own way of recruiting international volunteers.
We provide tips on choosing a project and contacting organisations within our Volunteer Guides. You will also find useful information on the Volunteer Latin America blog (i.e. how to set-up your own volunteer placement, etc).
Why do I have to pay for a volunteer guide?
We fully understand why some people might be a little ‘put off’ from using our service because of our fee but without it we wouldn't exist. An incredible amount of effort goes into running this website and your contribution by purchasing a Volunteer Guide enables us to meet our overheads (administration, marketing, web hosting, etc) and is the only means to our survival. A proportion of our fee also contributes to our goal of initiating our own project and covers the cost of running several other websites. Our sister organisations’ wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the technical, financial and managerial support of Volunteer Latin America. There are many other expenses we incur such as ensuring we are the ‘greenest’ volunteer advisor on the planet (i.e. solar powered office, etc). We also make ad-hoc donations on occasions to help struggling or start-up NGOs in Central or South America. Please have a look at our ethical policy, you won’t find a better one in the voluntary work sector.
Running a website and all that entails is an expensive pastime but we work hard to ensure our overheads are as low as can be managed, thereby ensuring our service is affordable and accessible. The key point to note is look beyond the initial cost of a Volunteer Guide and the money you could save in the long run. We can get you involved at a fraction of the cost of working through a gap year or placement company. For example, a well known placement company charges £599 for one weeks volunteer work on a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica - you can find out about it from us for just £24.50! The actual cost of volunteering for one week if you apply directly is £98! Thus, you will be saving £501 for a small investment in a Volunteer Guide, perhaps enough to pay your flight. Some recent volunteer feedback on this website reiterates this point. It is worth noting that this particular placement company gives none of its profits to the host organisation and are essentially in this business to generate profits rather than ensure the long-term survival of an endangered species. There are many other examples of gap year/career break exploitation which are too numerous to list. In addition to informing you about projects offered by gap year/placement companies we can inform you about many other free and low-cost volunteer programs throughout Central and South America. Thus, you could ultimately save money if you can't find similar volunteer programs yourself or what you find is more expensive.
What should I do if my payment was declined?
If your credit/debit card was declined, consider the following issues that users often encounter when making purchases online: make sure you enter the entire number without any spaces or dashes; check that you entered the correct expiration date, and that your card hasn't expired; check that you entered the correct security code (the card security code is a unique three or four-digit number printed on your credit/debit card); make sure the billing address used matches the billing address on your credit/debit card statement (your billing address must match the address held by your card issuer exactly). If your card continues to be declined you must contact the bank that issued the card to find out why. Only your bank can tell you why your card has been declined. Your bank may have blocked the payment because they considered it suspicious or unexpected activity, this is especially pertinent to overseas payments. Your bank may require your verbal authorization to proceed with the transaction.
When should I order a volunteer guide?
The question of when to order a Volunteer Guide largely depends upon the popularity and capacity of each individual project. It is advisable to apply far in advance for some projects whereas others accept volunteers even at short notice. The main advantage to planning ahead is that you will have a greater choice of projects from which to choose from (i.e. most or all of the projects included in your Volunteer Guide will still have spaces). Even if you do leave things until the last minute you are still guaranteed to secure a position, mainly because we give you plenty of projects to choose from (20-50). Moreover, some organisations are always looking for volunteers. It is difficult to give a precise time scale to ordering a Volunteer Guide because of the factors outlined above but ideally order one between 3 to 12 months in advance of your proposed participation dates. If you apply for a Volunteer Guide with less than three months to go until you travel just ensure you allow enough time to set up your placement. This varies from a few days, to several weeks, to a month or more, depending on which organisation you contact. If you order a Volunteer Guide a year or more in advance of your proposed participation dates there is the possibility that some of the project descriptions might change. In this scenario we recommend you consult the website of the organisation you wish to work for to check and get the latest project information. In addition to all of the above you should plan accordingly if a project has an application deadline.
Do you provide free updates for volunteer guides?
We are happy to provide volunteers with some additional projects but do not provide free updates to Volunteer Guides. If you would like to request further information you must contact us within three months of first purchasing your Volunteer Guide. Please be aware we will only send a maximum of five additional projects within the allocated time period.
Where can I volunteer?
We offer volunteer opportunities in all of the following countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela. It is worth noting that some of these countries have far fewer projects in operation than others. Countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru have the largest number of volunteer organisations and projects.
What can I choose to do?
The projects we offer are as varied and interesting as you might imagine, ranging from helping street children in Peru to tracking primates in the jungles of Panama. You just need to choose the type of work (domain) that most appeals to you in combination with a region of Latin America. Whether you want to teach English or work with endangered sea turtles, the choice is truly yours.
If you are looking for specific positions related to your background or profession it is advisable to select all regions of Latin America on the order form. This course of action will significantly increase your chances of finding a suitable volunteer assignment. This is particularly recommended if you are seeking long term volunteer opportunities (6 - 12 months) or projects that provide free board and lodging.
What qualifications do I need?
Generally, most projects do not require any specialist qualifications. However, some of the more challenging positions may require you to have a university degree or vocational qualification. These projects might be aimed at scientists or medical staff, etc. A scuba qualification would be necessary for any project that involves diving.
What skills do I need?
The skills required to participate as a volunteer vary from project to project. For instance, a river-dolphin project may require swimming, snorkelling or boat handling skills. Whereas, a project helping poor and disadvantaged children might only require a willing pair of hands. Generally speaking, if you have a friendly personality, enjoy helping others, and can work as part of a team, then you already posses the most useful skills needed.
What experience do I need?
Some volunteer organisations seek volunteers for specific positions and may require previous work experience (i.e. an animal shelter might be looking for a volunteer with veterinary experience). However, the majority of organisations listed on our offline database require no previous work experience. A keen interest in environmental or humanitarian issues is the main thing.
Are there any age limits?
Most organisations seek volunteers who are aged eighteen or over. If you are under the age of eighteen you still have the chance to get involved but the number of projects available to you is limited. We can compile a Volunteer Guide that contains solely organisations that accept volunteers under the age of eighteen, including children and families. The main point to note is you can't stipulate any preferences (preferred countries, type of work, cost, etc) on the order form. Our offline database contains a limited number of organisations that accept volunteers under the age of eighteen so you must be prepared to consider a wide range of projects. The key word here is flexibility. We don't recommend volunteers under the age of eighteen apply directly unless they have experience of working and travelling overseas (especially in third world countries) or will be accompanied by an adult. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities for seniors (65+).
Can I volunteer with a friend or partner?
There are many organisations that can accommodate friends, couples and small groups. Organisations that offer a plethora of volunteer tasks at the same location are a good option for friends and couples as each person can get involved in the type of work that interests them most. If you are interested in applying for a professional post (i.e. doctor, scientific research) your friend/partner can only participate if there are enough spaces, they have the necessary qualifications/skills/experience, or there are other suitable projects available.
What about languages?
It is always useful to have some knowledge of Spanish (or Portuguese for Brazil) if you are planning to volunteer in Latin America. Do not despair if you can't speak Spanish as there are many projects with no language requirements. Remember though, the more you have to offer, the better the choice of work.
If you are worried about your language skills, try to attend an evening class where you live, borrow a language course from your local library, or find a private teacher. Failing that, why not consider taking some Spanish or Portuguese lessons at the beginning of your trip? Blessed with rainforests, world famous rivers and mountains, spectacular ancient heritage, exciting and diverse people and cultures, Latin American countries promise students an adventurous and exhilarating learning experience they will never forget. Studying a language in Latin America is affordable, fun and a means to meeting lots of other backpackers and travellers.
Our Volunteer Guides list over one hundred recommended Spanish and Portuguese language schools in Central and South America. Most of the schools featured are in countries most commonly visited by international students (i.e. Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru). As a bonus, all of the language schools we chose to include in our Volunteer Guides can set you up with volunteer work. This provides you with hundreds of additional volunteering opportunities.
Can I learn a language whilst volunteering?
A number of organisations in Central and South America offer volunteers the option to learn Spanish or Portuguese as part of the volunteer program. This is especially pertinent to the humanitarian sector. There are far fewer opportunities of this nature in the environmental sector. If you are interested in a combination programme you should select 'voluntary work and Spanish classes' on the online order form.
How long can I volunteer for?
Each project will stipulate a fixed term contract or require a minimum commitment. This might be a number of weeks or months. Most of the projects we offer are from one month to three months; however, there are opportunities to volunteer for shorter (1 - 3 weeks) or longer periods of time (6 - 12 months). As there are a limited number of long term projects you might need to volunteer on more than one project if you want to stay away for a considerable period of time.
Can I volunteer on more than one project?
The sky really is the limit with regards to volunteering in Latin America and if you have the finances you can work on as many projects you wish. The record currently stands at nine consecutive projects, held by a friend of ours from Madrid in Spain.
Will I have to contribute anything to a project?
Generally, there are three distinct possibilities; projects that require the volunteer to make a small financial contribution (this is often the main funding for the project and the fee will typically cover board and lodging); projects that are free but require the volunteer to cover his/her own living expenses (accommodation and food); and projects that provide free board and lodging. A small number of projects pay a weekly or monthly living allowance (stipend). Each project is different and may offer a range of services and incentives.
Please refer to the projects page for more information about the costs you might incur when volunteering in Latin America. The prices shown are the actual costs of the projects.
Are there any other costs?
Whichever project you decide to join you will need to cover your flight, insurance, vaccinations and other travel expenses. Very rarely will an organisation pay the international airfare to a site.
Can I contact past volunteers?
This is a question for the host organisation as we do not run the projects or directly recruit volunteers. Ask the organisation you wish to work for to put you in touch with past volunteers.
Why should I use Volunteer Latin America?
We understand that in order to protect our environment and to help people in need we must all do our part, as nations, as families and as individuals. Our enthusiasm in creating and running this website is testament to this fact.
We are one of few organizations in this line of work that are genuinely interested in the well being of Latin America's people, animals and environment. The political, environmental and cultural posts on our blog plus the content on this website provide clear evidence of our passion for Latin America. Other legitimate volunteer organisations are often more interested in making money than helping people, communities or the environment. No one benefits from these placements apart from the companies that organise them.
Our ethical policy enables us to be called the 'greenest' voluntary work facilitator on the planet. Innovative best practices include running a solar powered office and offsetting our own carbon emissions by living eco-conscious lifestyles. Our environmental background and knowledge of the region enables us to offer guidance to anyone thinking of volunteering abroad who is concerned about the negative impact of air travel and whether their work will be of any real benefit to the environment or the local community.
We are a comprehensive source of affordable and rewarding volunteer opportunities, some of which you are unlikely to find elsewhere. We want to give international volunteers the opportunity to help the economically, socially and politically disadvantaged people of the region without incurring excessive costs. Additionally, the opportunity to help protect a diverse range of species, habitats and locations via a wide range of low-cost environmental projects. We achieve this by providing a mutually beneficial bridge between those seeking cheap volunteer work and hundreds of Latin American organisations, non-profits and charities seeking volunteer assistance.
Because we help hundreds of grassroots organisations find international volunteers willing to help them achieve their objectives, we support and advance environmental conservation and local community development in the region. Without the support and commitment of volunteers many of these organisations would be unable to carry out their vital work.
Is Volunteer Latin America Legit?
One of the most amusing and equally disheartening (low traffic) search terms on Google is the phase ‘is Volunteer Latin America legit.’ Anyone who has run this search obviously doubts our credibility or conversely, simply can’t distinguish between what’s legit and what’s a scam when searching for legitimate volunteer abroad programs. Successful online research will reveal that we are one of few organizations in this line of work that are genuinely interested in the well being of Latin America’s people, animals and environment. The political, environmental and cultural posts on this blog plus the content on the VLA website provide clear evidence of our passion for Latin America. Other legitimate volunteer abroad organizations are often more interested in making money than helping people, communities or the environment. No one benefits from these placements apart from the companies that organise them. We recommend you take a look at our mission statement and ethical policy as this clearly distinguishes us from many other volunteer advisors and placement companies. You won’t find a better ethical policy in the whole voluntary sector. Additionally, read through over 40 pages of Volunteer Latin America Reviews accessible to everyone on the VLA website.
Anyone that enters the phrases ‘is Volunteer Latin America legit’ or ‘Volunteer Latin America scam’ into Google should consider the following points. Do you think we would have been endorsed by the Ethical Junction Network and other prestigious brands such as Lonely Planet and Goabroad.com if we were a scam? Why would we have invested considerable money and time into travelling around Latin America finding/visiting projects if our sole intention was to scam people (i.e. we could have found all the information we need on the internet)? Why would we bother becoming the ‘greenest’ volunteer advisor on the planet if our main aim was to con people out of money (i.e. run a solar powered office)? Why would we start a blog and write about all things Latin American if it serves no purpose to the scam? Why would we bother or incur the cost of setting up several sister organisations (featured on this blog) if it serves no purpose to the scam? Why would we make ad-hoc donations to volunteer organisations in Latin America if we were a scam (i.e. this course of action would drain our profits)? Why would we go to all this effort to scam people for such little money? Do you think it’s feasible to pull off the same scam for 8 years (i.e. since our inception) without any action being taken against us?
In the words of Duncan Bannatyne, the proposal that we aren’t a legitimate volunteer abroad organization or are a scam is absolutely ludicrous.