Have you noticed that most volunteer holiday opportunities ask for a financial contribution? If you’ve been feeling put off by the idea of paying to volunteer abroad or you’re unsure about where that money goes, keep reading. We’ll walk you through the details, from why you should pay for your stay, to how that money can help your chosen programme, as well as what additional costs you’ll likely incur during your trip. We’ll also offer advice for funding your volunteer experience, ideal for students and budget travellers. 

Why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad?

At first, it might seem strange to pay for a volunteer opportunity. After all, who wants to pay to work? That said, making a financial contribution to the cause you’re hoping to help actually makes good sense if you think about it. Most nonprofits are cash strapped, relying heavily on donations and fundraising to keep their programmes functional. And, in many cases, the additional expense of taking on volunteers would put a big strain on their bottom line.

Rather than redirecting funds meant to protect and research the world’s oceans toward funding volunteer projects, most programmes ask that you pay a fee to help cover basic cost-of-living expenses, like housing and food. This keeps the project’s finances focused on important conservation work and avoids turning volunteer programmes into additional expenses for the nonprofit to fund.

If you’re still not sure about paying for your stay, it’s worth remembering that you’re getting quite a bit in return for your money. Volunteer assignments include both work and leisure time, so you’ll get to enjoy a holiday in addition to gaining valuable on-site education, training, and experience. Some programmes also include perks like scuba certification, college credit, and opportunities to work with exciting wildlife like whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. 

MAR Expeditions
MAR Expeditions

What are the costs involved?

Most volunteer assignments cover your accommodation, food, and the basic supplies required for participation in their project with one base fee. While the included lodging and meals may be simple, they are more than adequate, and will either meet or surpass the local standard for living. And, there’s nothing wrong with living like a local for a little while - in fact, you’ll likely find it adds to the experience. Besides, volunteers who prefer a few extra creature comforts can always spend a bit more to upgrade their accommodations or dine out for one or two meals a week. 

If you’re wondering how to volunteer abroad for cheap, the secret may well lie in which programme you select. Finding a project that offers three meals a day and lodging in exchange for a small fee will dramatically reduce your costs, as you won’t be paying tourist prices for these necessities. And, rolling all your vacation expenses into one sum will leave you with little else to pay, besides your travel and other details like insurance.

No matter how affordable your chosen volunteer opportunity is, you’ll want to set some cash aside for fun. This money can help you pay for scuba certification, other sports and activities, and side trips while you’re overseas. You’ll probably want to take in a couple of tourist attractions like museums and national parks whilst on holiday, most of which will charge a small admission fee. It’s also essential to budget for small expenses like dining out, gratuities, drinks from the bar, souvenirs, and of course a emergency fund.

Indo Ocean Project
Indo Ocean Project

How to fund your trip

If you’re feeling inspired to join an overseas volunteering project but are struggling to find the funds, don’t give up! There are plenty of opportunities to boost your budget, especially if you’re willing to put in a bit of time and effort. 

Platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe are outstanding options if you don’t mind asking for financial assistance. These are especially good choices if you are active on social media, where you’ll have the opportunity to share your fundraising campaign with thousands of friends and followers. Your university may offer grants and scholarships to cover volunteer trips abroad, especially if the project’s focus is associated with a degree that you’re working towards. Some volunteer projects also put forth discounted rates and scholarship funds for worthy would-be participants who can’t quite afford to pay their own way. These are made especially available to volunteers from low-income backgrounds and members of minority communities. 

You can also consider treating your time volunteering abroad as a vacation, using holiday funds or money set aside for a gap year to absorb the expense. Lastly, a bit of budgeting can make it easy to save. Consider setting aside a specific amount each month or pay period until you’ve reached your goal. Some volunteer programmes will also allow you to space payments out, allowing you to divide the cost into multiple instalments rather than making one large payment.

For more expert advice on choosing the right programme, what to expect, and how to prepare for your trip, check out our guide to marine conservation volunteering abroad.

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