Volunteering Abroad Shouldn't Cost the Earth

Volunteer Latin America Guide

Browse F.A.Q. Topics

General Questions

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 as a volunteer but the number of projects available to you is limited. If you under the age of eighteen or are seeking opportunities for your family select Projects for Children and Families from the drop down menu of the Volunteer Abroad web page.

We don't recommend volunteers under the age of eighteen apply unless they have experience of working and travelling overseas (especially in third world countries) or will be accompanied by an adult.

Can I contact past volunteers?

You should ask the organisation you wish to work for to put you in touch with past volunteers as we do not run the projects or have access to the contact details. Conversing with an ex-volunteer can answer many of your questions and help you decide if the project is the right for you.

Can I volunteer with a friend or partner?

Most organisations can accommodate friends and couples. Organisations that offer a plethora of volunteer activities 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 one of you is interested in applying for a professional post (i.e. doctor, scientific research) your friend or partner can only participate if there are enough spaces, they have the necessary qualifications/skills/experience, or there are other volunteer opportunities available. Sometimes it is possible to stay on-site or nearby while the recruited volunteer carries out their duties.

Do I need travel insurance?

This is an important issue that some people choose to ignore. Please don't. Volunteer Latin America highly recommends that you take out a travel insurance policy to cover possible theft, loss, accidents or illness. Do not leave home without it (as the saying goes).

What are the benefits of independent volunteering?

Independently organised (do-it-yourself) volunteer travel is growing at a faster rate than any other arm of the voluntary work sector. The main reasons for this relate to cost and flexibility, coupled with a greater amount of information available on the internet.

The benefits of independent volunteering are numerous but what usually brings most pleasure is the cost. Independent volunteers pay significantly less to volunteer abroad in comparison to those who book through large gap year or volunteer placement companies. You also have the assurance that any money paid goes directly to the cause rather than a proportion of your fee being syphoned off to pay for the administration and marketing expenses of the sending organisation or more often than not, simply to generate profit. The money you save by organising your own volunteer experience could be used to volunteer abroad for a much longer period of time, cover your airfare, or extend your stay in the country you are visiting.

Independent volunteering gives you much more flexibility in almost all aspects of your experience. You are not confined to the time frame of an organised placement and can plan your start and end dates around important aspects of your life such as your job or important family events. You’re also free to volunteer in whatever capacity you like and can even split time between multiple organisations and/or travel plans.

Independent volunteering offers many other benefits to anyone willing to forego an organised placement and although the task of arranging an independent volunteer experience can be daunting for first timers, the process is relatively easy if you know which resources to utilise to go about finding relevant information.

Volunteer Latin America makes the hardest part of planning independent volunteer work abroad relatively simple by providing precise information on worthwhile, safe, fun and legitimate volunteering opportunities in the environmental and humanitarian sectors.

What do I need to take?

The number-one rule in packing for a trip, unless you have hired several porters to carry your gear for you, is to pack lightly. Overweight baggage soon becomes annoying, especially in hot weather or on public transport. The main factors affecting how little you can get away with will depend upon where you intend to volunteer and the country or countries you intend to visit before or after the project. The items you will require for a project in a cloud forest will obviously differ from those you will need for a project in a beach setting. You should ask the organisation you will be working with for a list of items you need to take with you. You can also find numerous suggested packing lists in travel guidebooks and on the internet. Even if you forget something you can buy any additional items you may need cheaply and easily in Latin America.

Where can I volunteer?

We offer volunteer opportunities in most Latin American countries but there are far more in some than others. You can view the countries via the country drop down menu on the Volunteer Abroad web page.

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 communities, as families and as individuals. Our enthusiasm in creating and running this website is testament to this fact. We are one of the few organisations in this line of work that are genuinely interested in the well being of Latin America's people, its animals and natural environment. The content on this website and age of our organisation provides clear evidence of our passion for Latin America.

Our environmental policy is second to none in the volunteer sector, which means we are the 'greenest' volunteer work facilitator on the planet. Innovative best practices include running a solar powered office and generating funds for environmental initiatives in Latin America. By using Volunteer Latin America you will not only be endorsing 'green' business practices but reducing your ecological footprint at the same time.

Our professional background, green initiatives and knowledge of the volunteer sector enables us to offer guidance to anyone thinking of volunteering abroad who is concerned about the negative impact of air travel or whether their work will be of any real benefit to the environment or a local community. We have been monitoring the Latin American volunteer sector for over a decade and have built up a solid database of reputable organisations and projects. Likewise, we have created a database of projects that should be avoided for one reason or another.

Sure, there are many similar websites that don't charge a membership fee and provide free information. However, any website that allows an organisation to post volunteer opportunities or charges them a small fee for a listing doesn't have full control over content. Thus, it is very difficult for prospective volunteers to differentiate between the good and the bad. This increases the risk of signing up for something you wish you hadn't and this usually doesn't become apparent until you arrive on-site. Beware of scams such as bogus animal sanctuaries (e.g. Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary) and fake orphanages. Also, watch out for unreliable volunteer placement organisations (e.g. Ecuador Eco Volunteer).

It is fully understandable why volunteers want some reasonable assurance that both their time and money are going toward a genuine cause. It is for this reason that we simplify the daunting task of planning volunteer work abroad by providing precise information on some of the best volunteer opportunities in Central and South America, thus saving you endless hours of frustrating research. We aim to provide worthwhile ways to help the economically, socially and politically disadvantaged people of the region. Likewise, meaningful opportunities to help protect a diverse range of species and habitats via a wide range of conservation and wildlife projects.

This includes publicising the work of various grassroots voluntary organisations and projects that rarely receive international attention. Our support for these organisations helps them tap into an international pool of potential volunteers and interns. These organisations are often much harder to find on popular search engines because they rarely have the resources to promote their websites effectively. They are often drowned out by the larger, higher-priced gap year and volunteer placement companies because the latter have much more money to spend on marketing and technical expertise. (This cost is usually passed on to volunteers via extortionate placement fees!)

If our passion, environmental policy, list of legitimate projects and support of grassroots organisations isn't enough to convince you to sign-up there is one factor that will surely tip the balance - cost. This is what ultimately makes Volunteer Latin America popular in the international volunteer community. It is our strong belief that people should be able to volunteer abroad without paying large participation or placement fees. We find it quite puzzling why anyone would work through an expensive gap year or volunteer placement company when there are numerous opportunities to volunteer for free or at reasonable cost in Central and South America.

Will I need a visa?

You should check the visa requirements of the country or countries you intend to visit before travelling. It is the sole responsibility of the participant (volunteer or student) to ensure that he/she has a valid passport and appropriate visa for travel. Volunteer Latin America can provide guidance on visa requirements but do not provide any actual assistance in obtaining visas or write letters in support of visa applications.

Will I need vaccinations?

This depends on where you will be travelling and your medical history. We recommend you consult your doctor or attend a travel clinic to ascertain what vaccinations you will require for your trip.

 

Languages

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 their volunteer program. This is especially pertinent to the humanitarian sector. There are far fewer combination programs in the environmental sector. If you are interested in combination programs you should select 'Voluntary Work and Spanish Classes' from the category drop down menu on the Volunteer Abroad web page.

Can you help me choose a study abroad program?

We can help premium members choose a language school based on their personal study requirements. We offer no assistance to basic members.

 

Do I need to speak Spanish or Portuguese to volunteer?

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 (or Portuguese) 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, sign-up for an online course, 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. The Study Abroad section of this website provides a selection of Spanish or Portuguese language schools in Central and South America. Most of the schools listed 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 list on our website can set you up with volunteer work or an internship.

How do I sign up for a study abroad program?

You should contact the language school that interests you to discuss their Spanish or Portuguese courses. Click on the contact button to start the conversation.

I thought you were affiliated with more language schools?

We have many more language schools to add to the Study Abroad section of this website and this will be done on an ongoing basis.

 

Membership

Can I change my membership level?

If you are a basic member you can upgrade to premium membership. The additional fee applicable to your upgrade in membership will be payable via PayPal. We do not downgrade premium membership to basic membership.

Do you provide membership refunds?

Both the basic membership fee and the premium membership fee are non-refundable unless you submit volunteer feedback. In that case, we will issue a full refund (100%) for basic membership and a partial refund (50%) for premium membership. In reality, you can use this site for free if you submit feedback at the end of your project.

How do I register with Volunteer Latin America?

You simply need to complete the registration form and then click the submit button. You will then need to pay the membership fee via your PayPal account or with a credit/debit card.

How long does my membership last?

Your membership runs for a period of 24 months, and will expire on the last day of the 730 day period. For example, if you became a member on 21st March your membership will expire on the same date two years later.

I can't login to the site, what's wrong?

If you are experiencing difficulties accessing the site please check you entered your username and password correctly. If you are sure you typed both your username and password exactly as they were supplied to you and still have difficulty logging on please contact us via email.

I've lost or forgotten my password

If you have lost or forgotten your password please click on the lost your password link at the bottom of the login page. Enter your username or email address on the following page. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.

I've lost or forgotten my username

If you have lost or forgotten your username please contact Volunteer Latin America via email.

What are the advantages of premium membership?

Premium members receive personal guidance and support from Volunteer Latin America. For example, you could use our expertise to help choose a project based on your personal requirements, or even organise your placement (e.g. book a space on a project on your behalf). We will be on-hand throughout the membership period should you have any questions or require help.

We can suggest the best possible project for you based on your skills and goals, and the work and needs of our partner organisations in Latin America. We are well connected to a network of voluntary organisations and charities, most of which are not listed on the Volunteer Abroad section of this website (500+ projects). Even if you don’t see a project that matches your needs or personal interests on our website there is a good chance we can find your dream volunteer assignment.

What happens after I register with Volunteer Latin America?

Shortly after submitting the registration form and completing checkout you will receive a confirmation message via email with your membership details, including login instructions. Please keep this information safe as it contains your unique username and password. We will contact you personally if you opted for premium membership.

What happens if I don't get a response from a project or language school?

If you have contacted a project or language school through our messaging system but have failed to receive a response, we will follow up your enquiry on your behalf. Before contacting us with details we recommend you check your spam folder just in case the response was mistakenly tagged as spam by your mail server. This is a distinct possibility if your email security settings are too high (e.g. email messages from projects or language schools may go straight into your spam folder). It is advisable to check your spam folder regularly, particularly if you have contacted many projects or language schools.

What is the difference between basic and premium membership?

All members can browse our listings of voluntary organisations and language schools and contact them through our messaging system. Basic membership is all you need if you want to set up your own volunteer placement or study abroad program. Premium membership has the added benefit of personal guidance and support from our staff. This is aimed at prospective volunteers who would like a little help choosing a project and organising their volunteer trip.

 

Partners

How do I become a partner?

If your voluntary organisation or language school would like to be listed on our website please contact us via email for a registration form. If your volunteer project or language school meets our selection criteria we will offer you a free listing on the Volunteer Latin America website. All our partners must undergo our vetting process.

How do partners qualify for a donation?

If your organisation is committed to taking proactive steps to reduce the environmental impact of your activities or improving your local environment, you are welcome to send us a funding proposal. We are prepared to support a wide variety of environmental initiatives and nothing would please us more than turning a good idea into concrete action. Funding requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

How do you choose your partners?

All our partners are carefully screened and their projects must adhere to strict selection criteria. This is to ensure we connect volunteers to safe and rewarding volunteer opportunities without excessive fees. The Volunteer Latin America team have extensive knowledge of the volunteer sector, which is reflected in our choice of partners and projects. We look for quality volunteer opportunities and internships in the environmental and humanitarian sectors.

 

Payments

Are there any other payments required?

There are no hidden extras or other costs associated with Volunteer Latin America.

Do I need a PayPal account to become a member?

You do not need a PayPal account to sign-up as a member of Volunteer Latin America. Simply click on the 'pay with a debit or credit card' link under 'choose a way to pay' on the order summary page. Enter your billing information and PayPal will process your debit or credit card payment. You will be given the option to return to this website after completing checkout.

How much does membership cost?

To become a member of Volunteer Latin America costs £14.95 (basic) or £34.95 (premium) for two years. The payment can be made via a PayPal account or with a credit/debit card.

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 card number without any spaces or dashes; check that you entered the correct expiry 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 authorisation to proceed with the transaction.

Why do I have to pay to become a member?

We fully understand why some people might be a little ‘put off’ from signing-up because of the membership fee but this is our only source of income. We receive no outside funding and the membership fee enables us to cover our administration expenses. We do our utmost to ensure our overheads are as low as can be managed, thereby ensuring both levels of membership are affordable.

For a small initial outlay you could save money in the long run. We can get you involved at a fraction of the cost of working through a typical gap year or volunteer placement company. For example, a well known UK-based volunteer placement company charges £596 for one weeks volunteer work on a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica - you can find out about it via us for just £15. The actual cost of volunteering for one week if you apply directly is £82. Thus, you will be saving £514 for a small investment of £15, perhaps enough to pay your flight. It is worth noting that this particular placement company gives none of its profits to the host organisation and is essentially in this business to generate profits rather than ensure the long-term survival of an endangered species.

The same point applies to some of the study abroad programs listed on this website. You will notice that some language schools offer Volunteer Latin America members a generous discount on classes. This means you could make a considerable saving by applying through our messaging system on the Study Abroad web pages. It might be worth registering with us just to be eligible for these discounts if you are planning on taking Spanish or Portuguese classes while in Latin America.

We do not charge our partner organisations anything to be listed on our website or receive volunteers. We prefer to pass our operational costs onto prospective volunteers and interns rather than drain the finances of our partner organisations in Latin America, some of which have very limited resources. Because we offer free listings to voluntary organisations and charities, we support and advance environmental conservation and local community development in the region.

Some of you might be wondering why we don’t offer advertising space to cover our administrative expenses. This is essentially an ethical issue so we don't end up promoting organisations and businesses that will devalue our website. As the ethics of volunteering abroad is at the core of Volunteer Latin America it would be inappropriate of us to offer advertising or banner space to some of our competitors or other businesses in the volunteer travel sector. Advertising options (e.g. Google ad sense, banner ads, etc) can also make a website look messy and cluttered.

 

Qualifications & Experience

Do I need any qualifications, skills or experience to volunteer?

The project listings on the Volunteer Abroad web page provide details of any specific entry requirements. This enables you to determine whether you are eligible to apply for a position without having to contact the host. We recommend you pay particular attention to this section of the project listings so you don't waste your time applying for something you are not suitably qualified, skilled or experienced to join. If you are borderline with regards to the entry requirements then it's worth contacting the host for further guidance.

 

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 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 and the time 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.

How do I apply for a project?

You should contact the project you wish to join to register your interest and to request the application instructions.

Some organisations 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 organisations will tell you to just turn up.

Each organisation has its own way of recruiting international volunteers and you will receive all the information you need once you have made initial contact.

 

How do I get to a project?

You are responsible for international and in-country travel to your project. If the organisation you will be working for doesn't provide precise instructions on how to get to the project site on their website, you should request this information via email. Some hosts may be able to arrange pick-ups from airports, bus or train stations. Volunteer Latin America can provide guidance on getting to a project to premium members. We will propose an (in-country) arrival strategy based on your choice of project and travel plans if required.

How long can I stay on a project?

Each project will stipulate a fixed term contract or require a minimum length of service. This might be a number of weeks or months. This website lists opportunities for volunteers or interns seeking short or long term assignments. 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.

I thought you had more projects?

There are hundreds of projects not currently listed on the Volunteer Abroad section of this website (500+). This is because this is a new website and it takes time to create and upload new project listings. The number of project listings on this site will increase over time as we work our way through our extensive offline database. We will suggest a project from our offline database if it meets the placement criteria of a premium member.

What projects 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 Costa Rica. Whether you want to teach English or work with endangered sea turtles, you should be able to find a suitable project via this website.

When should I apply for a project?

The question of when to apply for a project largely depends on the capacity and popularity of the project that interests you. As a general rule, you should apply for a project as far in advance as possible. This will increase your chances of getting a place on your preferred project. Moreover, the further you plan in advance, the more time you have to organise your trip (e.g. book flights, arrange vaccinations, etc). It is still possible to set up a placement at short notice but you will have fewer projects to choose from (e.g. some will already be full) and less time to organise your trip. It can take anywhere from a few days, to several weeks, to a month or more to set up a placement, depending on which project you are dealing with.

The only exception from the advanced application and planning rule is projects with closing dates. You simply need to apply before the application deadline stated in the project listing.

Will I have to contribute anything to a project?

Generally, there are three distinct possibilities; projects that require the volunteer to pay a small participation fee (this is often the main funding for the project and the fee will typically cover accommodation and food); projects that are free but require the volunteer to cover his/her own living expenses (accommodation and food); and projects that provide free accommodation and food.

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 Volunteer Abroad section of this website to view the costs you might incur when volunteering in Latin America. The prices shown are the actual costs of the projects.

 

The Website

How can I help this website?

We occasionally need help with a variety of tasks and always like to hear about innovative ideas. You are welcome to contact us about your ideas on how you think you could help Volunteer Latin America to grow or to offer your specialised skills.

We always need help with marketing Volunteer Latin America. You could help spread the word by sharing this website on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn or by email. Perhaps you have your own website where you could provide a link to Volunteer Latin America. Please contact us via email if you need a copy of our logo or a title and description for the link.

We are constantly striving to improve the information provided on this website. If you know of a voluntary organisation or language school that would make a great addition to this website please send details via email. We particularly like to hear about small, grassroots organisations in desperate need of volunteer assistance.

We welcome nominations for our funding scheme. If you know of an organisation doing work that meets our funding criteria (e.g. organisations striving to make their project or local community/environment a greener place), please forward details. We donate a proportion of our proceeds to environmental initiatives in Central or South America.

Last but probably most important are the thoughts of returning volunteers and interns. If you've taken part in a project you found on this website, please take the time to send us your volunteer feedback with an accompanying photograph (preferably of you while volunteering). Your evaluation of the organisation you worked with and volunteer experience will help us and other volunteers enormously. As a sign of our gratitude, we issue a full or partial refund, depending on the level of membership, and give you or anyone you nominate two year’s free membership to this website.

How does this website work?

Volunteer Latin America is an online platform that connects voluntary organisations and language schools with a global audience of prospective volunteers and students. You can search our listings of projects and language schools and then contact them directly through our messaging system. We offer premium membership for people who need some help setting up their volunteer or study abroad program. Please refer to the 'How it Works' section of this website for further guidance.

Who can use this website?

The Volunteer Latin America website is aimed at people of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds. You need to speak a reasonable level of English if you wish to register as a premium member.

Why don't you give full details of projects or language schools?

We do, but this information is only visible to members of the Volunteer Latin America website. All content is displayed in the listings when you are logged in to the site. This includes a full description and the precise location of a project or language school.