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 Under 18's' 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. 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 an eco-friendly office. 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 18 years and have built up a solid database of reputable organisations and projects. Likewise, we are aware of projects that should be avoided for one reason or another (e.g. bogus animal sanctuaries, projects where staff have been accused of serious crimes, including sexual harassment). This eliminates the risk of signing-up for something you wish you hadn't and this usually doesn't become apparent until you arrive on-site.

Sure, there are more 'flashy' and larger websites out there but how many of them offer free volunteer membership and don't charge organisations a commission or listing fee? Commission income is the primary revenue for some well-known brands in the volunteer sector and this is how they offer free sign-ups for volunteers. Other volunteering and work exchange platforms charge volunteers a substantial membership fee. We offer free listings to organisations and the option of no-cost volunteer membership. Paid membership provides access to unique customer services and support from our team throughout the membership period. Services include identifying potential projects to help you make the right choice and running a flight search.

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) 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 Spanish language school?

We offer a free 'matching' service for Premium members of our website. We can recommend some Spanish language schools based on your personal study requirements.

 

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 some 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 page of this website provides a selection of Spanish 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 schools listed on our website can set you up with volunteer work or an internship.

 

Membership

Can I change my membership level?

You can upgrade your membership at any time from Basic to Premium. The additional fee applicable to your upgrade in membership will be payable via your PayPal account or debit/credit card. We do not downgrade membership.

Can you explain the difference between the membership options?

Volunteer Latin America offer two levels of membership - Basic and Premium. Basic membership is valid for one full year; whereas, premium membership is valid for two full years. Both levels of membership enable you to fully view all projects, apply for any project, and post a review for any project. Premium membership entitles you to a range of benefits: instant and extended membership; expert advice and guidance whenever required; and access to the exclusive services listed below (Leads, Buzz or Fly).

Leads - We will recommend some volunteer projects based on your personal interests and requirements. We will search for suitable projects and send some 'leads' directly to your inbox (up to 15 clickable URLs). We have an extensive offline database of projects and may conduct additional research. This service saves you considerable time and effort.

Buzz - We will determine your ideal volunteer experience and send your information and any supporting documents to suitable organisations to find potential matches. Partner organisations in Central and South America will contact you directly via email if they can offer you a suitable position. This service will get your CV/Resume noticed.

Fly - We are happy to help premium members with other aspects of their volunteer trip such as running a flight search or suggesting somewhere to stay on arrival according to their budget. We use the best tools to find the cheapest budget and long-haul flights. This service could save you £££s on your first or next trip to Central or South America.

Do you offer free membership?

Yes, choose Basic membership on the registration page. Go the registration page for volunteers and follow the instructions.

How do I register with Volunteer Latin America?

You simply need to choose the level of membership required and then complete the registration form. You will need to pay the membership fee via your PayPal account or with a credit/debit card if you opt for Premium membership.

How long does my membership last?

Your membership runs for a period of 1 or 2 years, depending on the level of membership. Basic membership is valid for one full year. Premium membership is valid for two full years. For example, if you became a Premium 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 the Volunteer Latin America team. For example, you could use our expertise to help choose a project or even suggest a place to stay on arrival in the host country. We will be on-hand throughout the membership period should you have any questions or require help. You can pick our brains about any aspect of a volunteer trip.

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 non profits, many of which are not listed on the Volunteer Abroad section of this website (1000+ 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 your details you will receive a membership confirmation message from Volunteer Latin America. If you registered for Basic membership the message will provide your login details but state your account is awaiting review and activation. If you registered for Premium membership the message will provide membership details and login instructions. We will contact you personally via email if you opted for Premium membership.

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

If you have contacted a project through our online messaging system but have failed to receive a response, we will happily follow-up your enquiry. 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 may go straight into your spam folder). It is advisable to check your spam folder regularly, particularly if you have contacted many projects. 

You can also contact and apply for projects via your own email account. This is why we give the option to apply on website for most projects, so members can visit any website to acquire contact details and application instructions. Use other methods of communication if you still don’t get a response such as contacting an organisation via social media.

When will my basic membership be activated?

Basic membership accounts are manually activated and this could take anywhere from several hours to several weeks to process. This is largely dependent on how many people have signed up. If you want instant access please consider Premium membership. We activate basic membership accounts on a daily basis, from Monday to Friday. We exercise discretion in creating accounts to prevent any potential abuse of our website. People who 'add a review' for an organisation (genuine volunteer review) will have their account activated immediately. Priority is also given to people who help us prosper and grow (e.g. by sharing our content on social media or giving us a mention on a website or blog). If you fall into this category please let us know so we can fast-track your membership. Feel free to contact us via email if you want to discuss other possibilities.

 

Partners

Can we list more than one project?

We offer organisations the option of listing two projects on our website. They only proviso is that the project listings must be different.

How do our ex-volunteers post a review?

Your ex-volunteers simply need register for Free Membership and then go to your project listing (your dedicated web page) and click on the orange 'Add a Review' tab. Once someone has posted a review we will activate their account so they can enjoy one years free membership to this website.

How do we become a partner?

If your voluntary organisation or non-profit would like to be listed on our website please register as an organisation and submit details online. If your volunteer project 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 we update our information?

If you are registered with us, please login to our website and submit a project update. If you are not registered with us, consider registering with us and submit your project information, or request a copy of your project lisitng via email. Make any updates you deem necessary and then return the information to us via email.

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.

What are the benefits of being a partner?

We create a multitude of benefits for your organisation, including:

Free link to your website (high quality SEO link)
Free links to your wish list, donation page or shop (optional)
Free membership for international volunteers
Free formatting, including spell check and insertion of Google map and icons
No commission or listing fees - 100% free advertising
Freedom to login and modify your project listing(s) at any time (registered users)
Increase your online reach and fundraising capacity
Option to post 2 project listings with web links
Option to share project information (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
Option to 'unlock' project information
Long-standing and reputable volunteering platform
Environmentally-friendly volunteering platform
Volunteering platform dedicated to Central and South America
Reach a global audience of talented volunteers and interns
Volunteer inquires go straight to your inbox (no need to login to our website to check/respond to messages)
Easy-to-use volunteering platform

What do the icons on the projects page mean?

Here's a guide to the icons that display as services/benefits on the projects page:

Academic Credit - you can help a volunteer gain academic credit for their work
Airport Pickup - you can pick-up a volunteer from international or local airport
Bus Station Pickup - you can pick-up a volunteer from the local bus station
Discounted Rate - you offer users of this website a reduced program fee (special price)
Family Volunteering - you can accommodate a family
Free of Charge - you do not charge participation or other fees
Free Accommodation - you offer free accommodation
Free Flights - you cover the cost of a volunteers airfare
Free Food - you provide free meals
In-country Transport - you provide or cover the cost of in-country transportation
Internet Access - you provide access to Wi-Fi
Nature / Wildlife - you are located in natural surroundings (e.g. jungle, mountains, tropical beach, etc) or a wildlife-rich environment
Free-time Activities - there are local activities for volunteers in their free-time (e.g. horseback riding, hiking, snorkelling, yoga lessons, etc)
Spanish Classes - volunteers can take Spanish classes, either on-site or at a nearby Spanish language school
Stipend / Small Salary - you provide a volunteer with a stipend or small salary
Training Provided - you provide training for a volunteer
Volunteer Certificate - you provide volunteers with a certificate of achievement / recognition at the end of their stay.

 

What is the difference between a locked and unlocked project listing?

A 'locked' project listing is exclusive to members of our website; whereas an 'unlocked' project listing is accessible to all users (e.g. those not logged-in to our website). An 'unlocked' project listing provides maximum exposure and enables non-members to apply on your website.

 

Payments

Are there any other payments required?

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

Can I pay the membership fee via cryptocurrency?

Yes, we can accept various cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Basic Attention Token, as payment for premium membership. If you wish to pay your membership fee with crypto, please email us for further information.

Do I need a PayPal account to become a premium member?

You do not need a PayPal account to sign-up as a premium member. 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?

There is no cost for Basic membership. Premium membership costs £9.95. 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 premium member?

We fully understand why some people might be a little ‘put off’ from signing-up for premium membership but this is our only source of income. We receive no outside funding and the premium membership fee enables us to cover our administration expenses and subsidize free membership. We do our utmost to ensure our overheads are as low as can be managed, thereby ensuring premium membership is affordable. We offer some fabulous services for this fee and are on-hand throughout the membership period should members have any questions or need guidance.

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 project 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?

Follow the instructions in our project listings or go to the website of a project for further information.

Some organisations will accept a short message 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 all the information you need to get involved is provided on our website.

 

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 can 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.

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, food and other benefits.

A small number of projects pay a weekly or monthly living allowance (stipend) and on occasions some projects even cover the cost of flights. 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.

Last but not least are the thoughts of returning volunteers and interns. If you've taken part in a project that is featured on this website, please take the time to leave a review. 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 will give you free membership to this website. We also welcome general feedback.

How does this website work?

Volunteer Latin America is an easy-to-use platform for anyone wanting to volunteer in Central or South America. We list pre-screened volunteer projects that can be contacted directly if you have any questions or want to apply. We offer two levels of membership, depending on the type of service and assistance you require.

Who can use this website?

The Volunteer Latin America website is aimed at people of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds.