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 a solar powered and vegetarian 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 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 and fake orphanages. Also, watch out for unreliable volunteer placement organisations and projects with negative feedback. Most importantly, avoid projects where staff have been accused of serious crimes, including sexual harassment.

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 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 with the exception of 'The Leads' to 'The Buzz'. 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 offers four levels of membership. All levels of membership are valid for two full years, enable you to fully view all projects, apply for any project, leave a project review for any voluntary organisation, and access human help-desk support should you have any questions or need guidance. 'Indy' membership is all you need to set-up your own volunteer placement, but if you would like to receive personalised help from a member of our experienced team, or want us to organise your placement, choose the appropriate bolt-on service (Leads, Buzz or Placement).

The Indy - Standard membership to this website for independent volunteers. Full access to all of the volunteer projects listed on Volunteer Latin America. If you are confident about finding a suitable volunteer project and setting up your own volunteer placement, this is the membership for you.

The 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 (10-15 clickable URLs). We have an extensive offline database of projects and may conduct additional research. This membership saves you considerable time and effort.

The 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 membership gets your CV/Resume noticed.

The Placement - We provide step-by-step guidance to help individuals into volunteering placements that match their needs or personal interests. We work with you one-on-one in order to organise the best possible placement for you. This membership will provide you with a tailor made volunteer placement.

Notes:

The 'Placement' service includes identifying potential projects to help you make the right choice, checking space availability, reserving your space, and support in the lead up to your placement and throughout your stay. Aside from making the arrangements for your volunteer placement we are happy to help with other aspects of your trip such as running a flight search or suggesting somewhere to stay on arrival according to your budget.

Do you offer free membership?

If you have volunteered on one of the projects we offer and are prepared to leave a review we will offer you free membership in order to do so. Please get in touch via email if you would like to leave a review and become a (free) member of Volunteer Latin America. We also offer free membership to people who can help us prosper and grow; whether it be through marketing skills or other talents. Feel free to send us your proposal.

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 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 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 via email if you opted for any of our bolt-on services (e.g. The Leads, The Buzz or The Placement).

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.

 

Partners

How do our ex-volunteers leave a review?

If they are a member of our website they should go to your project listing, click on the 'Reviews' tab, and then click on the 'Add a Review' tab. If they are a non-member we can give them free membership in order to leave a review for your organisation. You can either send us their details or ask them to contact us.

How do we become a partner?

If your voluntary organisation or non-profit would like to be listed on our website please register and submit details online (see homepage and footer of this website for relevant links). 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?

You can either update your information online or send us your amendments via email. Please follow the links for voluntary organisations and language schools on the footer of any web page if you wish to submit information online. If you wish to update your information via email, edit or make any changes you deem necessary, and then send the information to info@volunteerlatinamerica.com. If possible, please highlight your changes to the text in a different colour. Get in touch if you would like to update your project information via email but don't have a copy of your exisitng lisitng at hand.

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 provide voluntary organisations and non-profits with an excellent way to reach a global audience of international volunteers and showcase their work. We don't charge a fee for posting a volunteer project on our website or work on a commission basis. We will help you create an attractive project listing and check for errors. We provide an outbound link pointing to your website which will increase traffic and ranking. We give organisations the option of a 'locked' or 'unlocked' project listing. We can provide ex-volunteers with free membership in order to leave reviews.

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. We will advise on whether you are eligible for an 'unlocked' listing shortly after we receive your project information. We typically seek a quality Backlink to qualify for an 'unlocked' project listing but do make exceptions to this rule. The status of a project listing will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

 

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 £10 (The Indy), £20 (The Leads), £25 (The Buzz), or £50 (The Placement). 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 all 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 £10. 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 £10, 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.

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 'Placement' 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 you found 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 or anyone you nominate two year’s 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 four 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.