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Article: Voluntary Work Overseas


This article looks at things you might want to consider if you're thinking of doing voluntary work in another country.

Video: - Various: Voluntary Work

Understanding why you are volunteering

Volunteering is about working for a reason other than money. Most voluntary work overseas involves sharing skills or knowledge to help other people help themselves.

Many volunteers returning from overseas say that it's important to be clear about your goals - what you hope to get out of the experience and what you can contribute.

Some common reasons for overseas volunteering include:

  • Helping a cause that you strongly believe in.
  • Gaining work experience or other skills that might be useful in your career, such as fluency in a language.
  • Experiencing another culture, and developing understanding through contact with people who live different lives from your own.

Long-term or short-term?

Overseas placements with voluntary organisations can be:

  • short-term: a few weeks to a few months
  • medium-term: six to twelve months
  • long-term: one to two years, or more.

The length of time you'll spend overseas can depend on:

  • the requirements of the organisation you apply to
  • the time you have available
  • the type of skills and experience you have to offer.

Which skills?

In general, the people most likely to be accepted for medium- and long-term periods abroad have qualifications and skills appropriate to the organisation they are joining.

Some organisations need highly qualified and experienced people (especially for medium- and long-term jobs), including:

  • nurses
  • doctors
  • teachers
  • engineers
  • agricultural specialists.

Others have placements for unskilled workers (usually for short-term periods) who have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and the right personal qualities.

Which organisation?

Many organisations send volunteers overseas. Your decision to apply to a particular organisation may depend on the role that organisation has, and how you think you can make a valuable contribution to its work.

The application process varies with the organisation. Some have quite detailed selection procedures, including assessment days and interviews.

Costs of volunteering

Organisations recruiting for medium- and long-term projects normally pay most costs: flights, accommodation, and often a small regular income. On the other hand, if you are going on a short-term project, you might have to pay your own way.

Paid employment with a voluntary organisation

Some voluntary organisations recruit paid workers for contracts overseas, usually lasting two to three years. These jobs are usually for people with qualifications and relevant experience.

Preparation and training

Preparation and training varies according to the work you'll do and the organisation you join. Some organisations run programmes to prepare you for the work and for the conditions you'll encounter.

As a minimum, most organisations give information and advice on the type of work you'll do, the aims of the organisation, and some idea of what to expect when you arrive.

Whether you are joining an organisation or travelling independently, it's a good idea to do some research on the country you are going to. You'll need to know about things like money, health issues, work permits, food, transport and social customs.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website has lots of useful general advice, plus information on specific countries.

Making adjustments

Moving to a new country can be exciting, but your new lifestyle could take some getting used to. For example:

  • You might not understand the language.
  • You may not understand local procedures, for example, when dealing with the local authorities.
  • Accommodation could be basic.
  • The food will be different from what you're used to.
  • Things like books, music and clothes may be difficult to get hold of.
  • You may be expected to conform to religious or cultural forms of behaviour that you are not used to.
  • When you return home, you may find it hard to adjust to the things you now take for granted.

Personal qualities

It will help if you are:

  • independent and able to act on your own initiative
  • able to get on with others and work in a team
  • prepared to learn the language
  • adaptable and flexible in your outlook
  • tolerant, and aware of the need for patience and tact
  • self-disciplined and well organised
  • keen to seek new challenges.

Travel arrangements

You will often need to make your own travel arrangements. You will of course need a passport, but you might also need:

  • a visa
  • a work permit
  • a residence permit
  • vaccinations against disease
  • local currency
  • health and travel insurance.

Some organisations will deal with all of these issues for you, while others may help you with advice and information.

Further Information

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Address: King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH

Tel: 020 7008 1500



British Council

Address: Bridgewater House, 58 Whitworth Street, Manchester M1 6BB

Tel: 0161 9577755



Working Abroad

Address: The Coombe, Spring Barn Farm, Kingston Road, Lewes BN7 3ND

Tel: 01273 479047



Volunteer Work Abroad (VSO UK)

Address: 27a Carlton Drive, Putney, London SW15 2BS

Tel: 020 8780 7500



Skillshare International

Address: Imperial House, St Nicholas Circle, Leicester LE1 4LF

Tel: 0116 2541862



Step Together Volunteering

Tel: 0117 955 9042



Volunteering - Guide

UK government services and information


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