Volunteering abroad can be one of the most rewarding ways to create lasting change. Especially if you’re able to offer a unique set of skills that are vitally needed.
What is skill-based volunteering?
Skill-based volunteering is people using their education, unique knowledge and professional experience to support charity projects create lasting change.
By exchanging skills and giving practical support to local professionals, you’ll see the world through their eyes. You’ll learn invaluable lessons and get personal growth that can’t be gained remotely.
This kind of international volunteering gives you a chance to develop your passion whilst helping critical charity projects sustainably grow in an uncertain time.
This is much more than a holiday, but there’s plenty of adventure to be had. During your volunteer placement, you’ll have downtime to explore, immerse yourself in new cultures and make friendships that will last a lifetime.
This guide aims to help you understand if volunteering abroad is right for you and how you can prepare for the experience of a lifetime. Get in touch here if you want details on how to apply for a volunteer programme.
What’s Volunteering Abroad Really Like?
Which Organisations Can You Volunteer Abroad With?
With so many different organisations to choose from, it’s hard to know which to choose. Especially when you’re gaining experience for your career while supporting people in need.
At Vocational Impact, we’re a not-for-profit charity organisation. We believe in the positive impact of volunteering and want to create a sustainable system for connecting skilled volunteers with key projects in Ghana, South Africa and India.
We’ve seen the difference that long-term partnerships bring. By exclusively working with locally run projects we can best support them with funding and practical help.
These long-term partnerships mean you won’t be ‘parachuted’ into situations with no structure or goals. You’ll join a network of volunteers who have been working towards common goals. Our relationship with the projects also allows us to ‘tailor’ the projects to fit you. We’ve had volunteers who want to focus on child development, women’s empowerment or art-based therapy.
Crucially, it’s not just your time and skills that benefit these projects but also your volunteering fees. Volunteers often fundraise with activities in their own local communities. These vital funds are used to support the work that these projects do.
Your funds directly help the clinics, orphanages and community outreach projects continue to serve through uncertainty and grow delivering lasting change.
Now, let’s explore the different types of projects available.
Types of Volunteer Programmes
There are many different ways to get involved. We’re entirely focused on skill-based volunteering as we believe it’s the best way to create lasting change for both the project and the volunteer.
Look through the different programme categories we offer to see if there’s something for you.
This is one of our most popular programmes. There is a real stigma surrounding mental health support in the world. These projects are working to fight that. You could be working alongside clinical psychologists in a hospital setting or supporting children and women’s groups through community outreach.
Advocate for change with programmes that fight for justice around the world. Perfect if you’re interested in supporting leading human rights NGOs or shadowing lawyers working to reform the judicial system.
International development starts locally. That’s why this group of programmes focuses on key areas of community development that can create lasting changes for the people who live there. This could be anything from business and NGO management to supporting foundations that provide holistic care for mothers and children.
Join our medical electives and support hospital departments in need around the world. This group of programmes give you a chance to shadow and support healthcare professionals in local clinics and hospitals. Giving you the chance to gain practical skills and the knowledge of how to work in a diverse and sometimes low-resource environment.
Creativity and Sport are universal languages. These programmes allow you to support communities through activities that empower people. We’ve had volunteers create photography projects to help people deal with trauma or sports groups to support women’s empowerment.
How do you want to help? We’re a small charity organisation with long-standing partner projects across the world. If you have an idea (or a million different ideas) of how your volunteering programme should look we want to work with you to make it a reality. It could be a unique combination of our existing programmes or an entirely new way of using your skills and knowledge to create lasting change. The best way to get started is to get in touch.
How to Choose the Right Volunteer Programme For You?
It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed looking at all the different volunteer opportunities open to you. Especially if you’re a student or recent graduate who is trying to find a direction for your career (or life in general!). Here are some simple questions that might help you find clarity.
What excites you?
Let’s be honest, volunteering isn’t always easy. It’s a commitment of time and money as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s important to find a programme and project that excites you as this will help keep you focussed on your goals and work through those butterflies to have an amazing experience that will change you as well as the people you support.
What skills do you already have?
Although they’re designed for students and graduates, these projects require a certain level of knowledge to be able to be effective. We want you to get the most out of the programme and to give the best support to the projects so we can create lasting change. We’ll work with you every step of the way to make sure you’re not out of your depth but consider what knowledge and skills you have that are relevant to the projects on offer.
What are your goals?
This can be a hard one for lots of people but it’s worth thinking about what you want to get out of the volunteer experience. You’ll have the chance to gain direct experience by shadowing and supporting professionals in your field. This could lead you to clinical experience in a psychiatric hospital or working with leading NGO human rights organisations. Find out what experience you need to kickstart your career.
How can you help?
We can tailor our programmes to fit anyone who wants to use their skills to help people. There are projects around the world that need support from your fundraising and time to be able to survive and continue to support the people they serve. With all the uncertainty in the world at the moment it’s even more important than ever that we focus on creating lasting change and creating a sustainable impact with volunteering. We want to work with you to find out how you can help. Let’s work together to find the best programme for you. Get in touch to get started.
Where can I volunteer?
We operate in only a few countries and it helps us deliver the best service through developing lasting relationships with a few key projects. Find out more about the volunteer destinations below.
You’re sure to get a warm welcome in Ghana. It’s a fast-developing and stable country that’s considered one of the safest African nations. However, this development has been uneven in the rural areas where volunteers are needed most. There people still face challenges with poverty, education, health, stigma and access to services.
Our programmes are based in the rural coastal town of Senya Beraku, a 2-hour drive West of the capital Accra. Volunteers in Senya can take advantage of the stunning coastline, tropical beaches, lush jungles, historic forts and the vibrant Ghanaian culture.
All our projects are founded, managed and developed by locals. We provide essential funding to support community programmes, development projects, running costs, local salaries and sustainability. We work with partner organisations that are specialists in the areas they operate. Our partner organisations are selected because of the important work they are doing and they are run by impressive humanitarians and professionals in their fields.
By helping local initiatives and organizations you can make a big difference in the community. During your placement, you will stay at a specifically designed volunteer house located in the local village of Senya-Beraku. Village life gives you the chance to learn and immerse yourself in the culture of Ghana. You can live like a local whilst having a life-changing experience volunteering here.
Once home to Nelson Mandela, surrounded by rich culture and world-famous safari parks, Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city.
This is where most of our South African programmes are based. For a first-time journey to South Africa, Johannesburg offers visitors a great insight into the country’s complex history, cultural landscape and fast-paced modern development.
You’ll be staying in our project ‘village’ attached to our foundation that provides holistic care for mothers and children living with HIV/AIDs. The foundation’s goal is to give these mothers and children the best opportunities for the future by providing an integrated programme of housing, education, healthcare, nutrition, sports and arts, as well as a focus on counselling, mentoring and well-being.
Like all of our projects, this foundation is run, managed and was founded by local people. This is essential to meeting our goal of sustainable development. We’ve also partnered with other local groups that make up the diverse list of available programmes in South Africa. Such as a crime prevention group that works with the police on reform and community outreach.
You can fit right into Joburg whilst having easy access to the rich experiences South Africa has to offer. Visit historic Soweto, and learn about the complex history of the country at the local museums. Take weekend and day trips to safari parks, and see the big five (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalos) for yourself. Go on a trip to Cape Town and climb Table Mountain or hang out at the beaches. Adventure awaits in this diverse, beautiful and incredible country.
India has a special place in our hearts as our charity has had meaningful partner projects here for over 20 years. You’ll learn so much about this magical country by immersing yourself in its culture by living with a local host family.
Most of our projects are in the pink city of Jaipur. A vibrant urban city steeped in history and traditional Indian culture. In recent years India has benefited from fast-paced development but there is still extreme inequality. Major problems include inadequate nutrition, poor health and lack of access to services and care.
In Jaipur, you’ll quickly fit in and get the chance to explore the area. Jaipur is part of India’s Golden Triangle, one of the most popular travel routes in the subcontinent. Covering the cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur and hitting major world-famous landmarks, including the Taj Mahal, this golden triangle shows the beauty, diversity, and culture of India.
What To Expect When Volunteering Abroad
As we’ve mentioned, one of the biggest challenges facing these rapidly developing countries is the uneven distribution of knowledge and resources. This means that although the cities and villages are rapidly gaining technological advances with things like internet access, they still lack equal access to education and healthcare which is so important to sustainable development.
Attitudes to things like mental health support, women’s empowerment or criminal justice reform still need time and work before they will change. This is why skilled volunteering is so crucial. By supporting local professionals, we aim to create long-term growth. Not by simply dropping our Western ideas into place but by learning and adapting to local situations.
This approach to volunteering recognises that both sides have a lot to learn from each other. That exchange of skills, knowledge and culture is valuable to both sides. However, we have to recognise our privilege and understand what we can do to help.
This is why we charge volunteer fees. These fees go towards your accommodation, food and internal transport and allow us to hire local in-country volunteer coordinators to support you as you volunteer.
Also, many of our projects are low-resource environments. This means that schools, hospitals and communities sometimes lack the basic essentials that we take for granted. As a volunteer, you’ll quickly learn how to overcome these problems and gain the skills to be adaptable to new situations.
Lastly, it’s important to say that a vast majority of our volunteers apply alone. Another important part of self-growth and development is stepping outside of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there as an individual. You’ll likely be staying with other volunteers in the accommodation but by engaging, asking questions and getting to know the people you work with you’ll realise quickly how easy it is to feel at home in new situations. A valuable skill that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Preparing for Your International Volunteer Adventure
Ensuring that you’re safe and secure when you’re volunteering abroad is of vital importance. We’ve sent hundreds of volunteers abroad and we’re here to help support you with the planning, applications and details of your trip.
Do You Need a Visa to Volunteer?
As a UK citizen, you’ll need a visa for trips to Ghana and India. If you’re travelling to South Africa for longer than 90 days you’ll need a visa too.
If you’re not from the UK then there may be other visa requirements but we’ve had volunteers from all over the world successfully take part in our programmes.
As a working professional, you may have extra visa considerations. Our partner projects may be able to supply you with the necessary letters of recommendation to make your application go smoothly but this can be done on a case-by-case basis.
We have tons of experience and many useful resources to support your visa application. Get in touch we’ll guide you through each step.
What Health & Travel Insurance Do You Need?
Everyone who takes part in one of our placements will need to ensure they have a travel insurance policy in place to cover them for the duration of their trip and any additional activities they participate in.
We have several non-affiliated recommendations for you but this is something that everyone should research to make sure they’re covered in case something should happen.
We also recommend people contact their GP or local travel clinic to make sure they have the correct vaccines and review their medical history to make sure your fit and healthy to take the trip.
We’ve got checklists that we send each applicant to make sure nothing is missed out.
Do You Have to Pay For Flights and Travel?
Your volunteer fees cover your accommodation, food and in-country transport but you will have to buy your flights.
During your interviews and once your placement is confirmed we’ll work with you to make sure you book the best dates and airports that fit with your project.
What About Volunteer Accommodation and Safety
We have selected our destinations primarily because they are considered safe to travel to and from. We pay close attention to the advice of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office regarding not only the destinations we work in but neighbouring countries too.
We send volunteers to each of our locations all year round and have never had any incidents. The premises where you stay and work will be secure, and you’ll be supervised by a team member at all times.
However, there is always a risk involved when travelling, and we have conducted risk assessments at each of our project partners. Volunteers are required to sign risk assessments and health and safety documentation before they depart to any Vocational Impact placement.
We work hard on compliance and each volunteer is required to take this seriously too.
Of course, it’s important to be careful, as you would going anywhere – eg. look after your belongings (especially phones/laptops), don’t go out in the dark on your own, tell someone where you are going.
We require ALL student volunteers to have full travel volunteer insurance to cover their trip. You cannot participate in one of our placements without this.
We have a dedicated page on all health and safety tips here.
What to Pack for an International Volunteer Placement?
This is one of our most common questions from new volunteers and it’s easy in the excitement of the project to forget something. So we’ve created a whole blog post that covers the essentials (and some non-essentials) that’ll make sure you’ve got everything you need for a comfortable and rewarding trip abroad.
Overcoming Obstacles to Volunteering Abroad
So you’re feeling inspired to get started and apply but you still have a few small doubts. That’s totally normal. Before jumping in the deep end it’s good to make sure you’ve thought through all the pros and cons. In this section, we’ll address some of the common obstacles to volunteering that people have.
We’ll give our perspective on how you can get past them but ultimately, this is your adventure. There will always be some challenges to overcome when deciding to volunteer abroad.
Volunteer Fees & Fundraising
Firstly, it’s important to recognise this isn’t a holiday. You’re embarking on a journey that will profoundly change your perspective and have a huge impact on the lives of the individuals and communities you work with.
The difference you’ll make won’t be fully apparent immediately but the testimonials of past volunteers all speak of the power of their experience and the impact they felt whilst helping people.
It’s not only the impact of your work but also the impact that your fees have on providing long-term, sustainable growth for the projects you’ll be working on. As the pandemic and other world events have shown us projects need to be able to continue to serve people and weather the storms.
We are first and foremost a fundraising organisation. We support our partner NGOs through carefully managed international development and unrestricted funding. We believe that by working with local people and empowering them to manage projects we can have the best impact as an organisation.
This means we require fees for volunteers. Part of this goes to the upkeep of dedicated staff in each country, accommodation, food and other essential infrastructure that keeps everything safe and secure. And the rest goes to supporting the work of our partner projects.
We want our volunteering opportunities to be open to all, regardless of background or income, but it’s also important to know that most of our volunteers do fundraising in their own communities to support the fees.
We have a dedicated Fundraising Hub that outlines our framework for an effective fundraising campaign. But understanding that this experience isn’t just a getaway but an investment in both you and the communities you serve will help you approach fundraising with pride.
Self-Confidence and Anxiety
If you’re someone who loves the idea of volunteering abroad but feels intimidated by stepping so far out of your comfort zone then you’re not alone. As a student or recent graduate, it can feel intimidating to leave what you know and travel across the world.
One of the benefits of choosing to volunteer with Vocational Impact is the reassurance that we’re with you every step of the way. We’ve seen hundreds of volunteers through their experience and it’s normal to have nerves.
It’s amazing watching new volunteers go through their first few interactions with kids at the orphanage or watching them walk into a crowded courtroom to watch a trial to then see them weeks later running their work-shops surrounded by people. These are people skills and self-confidence that you’ll learn for a lifetime.
Our organisation has in-country volunteer coordinators, who’ll help you get settled in (including getting you set up with a SIM card to call home). They’ll be on hand to make introductions and answer questions. Speaking of questions – Ask, Ask, Ask! All of our volunteers tell us that asking questions and showing curiosity was the best way they found to get involved in the day-to-day running of the projects.
Check out our Volunteer Stories section if you want more examples and inspiration from our past volunteers. You might find you’re not alone in your pre-volunteer butterflies.
Finding the Right Time to Volunteer Abroad
Another challenge to overcome when trying to volunteer abroad is timing. There’s always so much to do, right?! The reality is while you are a student or just recently graduated, your head is brimming with theoretical knowledge that needs to be turned into practical experience.
Putting it all into action is the best way to build long-term retention and get something tangible on your CV that proves you can walk the walk in your chosen field.
Many degree programmes will have some sort of placement, elective or practical project to complete. This can be a great time to volunteer abroad, we’ve worked with students in the past to tailor their volunteer programme to help it fit into their course curriculum. Securing them great grades as well as an amazing volunteer experience.
But even if it doesn’t directly fit into your studies, a summer placement or gap-year experience can help you stand out in a crowded job market. It can be hard to take time away from a full-time job so the timing is crucial.
Consider how you want to spend your time and money and how volunteering abroad might help you prepare for your future.
Your Path to Volunteering Abroad
We want to make sure you have the best possible experience as a volunteer but also that our partner projects are the right fit. We have a rigorous process that helps both sides get the most out of the volunteer placement.
Now, let’s look at the steps involved in your path to volunteering abroad.
Volunteer Application Process
- The very first step in starting your volunteer journey with us is to enquire online. Here you just have to give us a few details such as your education and programme interests. This helps us send over the right information for the projects you are interested in.
- Once you’ve submitted your enquiry and we’ve sent over the relevant information, you’ll be invited to apply. This application form is a crucial step in the process and helps us match you with the right project. We want to understand your motivations and expectations for the experience so we can tailor your programme to fit your goals.
- If your application is successful, we’ll invite you to an interview. This is an informal online call between you and one of our volunteer coordinators. Here we’ll discuss your application and further discuss your placement. We want to make sure you are committed to an international volunteer placement and that you’ll fit with our programmes.
- After the interview, we’ll decide if you’re suited for one of our programmes. Regardless we’ll give you feedback on what extra experience or skills you’ll need to reapply. As we’re a charity we need to make sure we work with our NGO partners and their needs.
- Once the volunteer has passed our selection process, we send them an invitation with all the information needed to secure their spot. To confirm your place and dates we require a £265 registration fee at this point in the process.
- We’ll then work with the volunteer to help them get prepared for their placement. This includes fundraising help, cultural sensitivity training, packing lists, travel plans and insurance and everything else that goes into getting ready.
Once your registration fee is paid you’ll have access to 24/7 support to help you prepare for your trip. As a small charity organisation, we pride ourselves on getting to know each of our volunteers. We’ll introduce you directly to other volunteers you’ll be staying with. This relationship continues well after you get back with access to private FB groups with other volunteers.
Your Next Steps To A skill-based Volunteer Programme
Planning your volunteer abroad trip can be a daunting task. But you don’t have to do it alone. As you’ve just read it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. As you set out to make a real difference in people’s lives you’ll find that the most unexpected change will be in yourself.
Whether you are looking to break the stigma surrounding mental health or fight gender inequality through sport, volunteering is an incredible way to spend your time. Especially if you’re still trying to work out your path into a career and through life.
We’re here to help connect skilled volunteers like you with longstanding charity projects that are leading the fight in so many different fields. We need your support to keep this up.
If you’re serious about exploring volunteering now or in the future, we need you to get in touch. You know the process by now but it all starts with a simple enquiry.
Fill out the form below and we’ll send over all the information you need to get started.
Start Your Volunteer Abroad Adventure Today
Planning your international volunteering placement can seem daunting but we’ll be with you every step of the way.
We’re a small charity that picks its partner projects carefully. This means we can tailor our programmes to fit your skills and goals.
The best way to get started is to fill out our enquiry form. We’ll send you all the information you need to plan your very own volunteer placement.