International Volunteering – An Introduction

Retirement and volunteeringInternational volunteering has been an important and satisfying part of my life. Since my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in 1991 and 1992, I have had the privilege to serve on 21 international missions in 12 countries. All of this began after I turned 50 – it changed my life.

If you have an interest in international volunteering I encourage you to pursue it.

Where to Begin

A good place to start when thinking about international volunteering is with an examination of your skills and interests. Which of your skills most interest you? What work or hobby has fascinated you? Former volunteers say that their most successful missions have been those on which they have been able to combine their skills and passions. A good way to test your skills as a volunteer is in your local community. Try different organizations. Get a feel for the type of work in which you feel you can make the greatest contribution.

When you have an idea of what type of volunteer work you would like to do start thinking about time commitment. Volunteer assignments can run from one-week to two-years or more. If this is your first international volunteer trip a short-term program can be a good introduction. A one or two week program gives you a chance to test your mettle and see how it works for you. You get a chance to adjust to a new culture and build international relationships.

Contacting and Investigating Volunteer Placement Organizations

Once you have an idea of the type of work you would like to do –and the time commitment you are willing to make – you can start investigating volunteer placement organizations. First search the organizations that have programs that match your interests. See if their programs are in countries or areas where you would like to volunteer. When you have narrowed your organization list down it is time to start contacting them. Carefully examine the history of the organization. It is important to work with a volunteer placement agency that has a positive track record. They should be working closely with an in-country, community oriented non-governmental organization (NGO). Their programs must be providing a needed service to the communities and individuals with whom they work.

Retirement volunteeringWhen talking to the sending organizations ask the organization for the contact details of former volunteers in your age range. Contact the volunteers and ask them about their experiences. Did the program meet their expectations? Did they believe that their work made a positive and needed contribution to the community? What were the accommodations like? Did the organization provide good security? Was there access to medical care? Did the organization provide insurance? Were the staff helpful and knowledgeable? Was the food okay? Were sanitation facilities adequate? Were the physical requirements within their comfort zones? Was the age mix of fellow volunteers comfortable? Ask if they have contact information for other volunteers whom you can contact. Get it and follow-up.

Short-Term Volunteering

Most short-term volunteering organizations require that the volunteer pay for transportation and costs associated with the volunteer assignment. The exceptions are organizations that have particular professional needs.

Prospective volunteers often ask about why they have to pay to volunteer. There are many good reasons. Volunteer placement organizations do a lot of advance work to assure the volunteer has a meaningful experience. They cooperate with in-country host organizations to develop programs that fulfill the needs of the community served and contribute to their overall welfare. They travel to program sites to set-up accommodations, food, medical care, security and transportation for the volunteers. They may include insurance. Providing these services requires time and financial resources.

Long-Term Volunteering

Depending upon the organization and particular assignment, the long-term volunteer may or may not have to pay for travel and associated assignment costs. Some organizations like the U.S. Peace Corps, VSA/Cuso International and United Nations Volunteers provide travel costs and also a stipend. Ask the organization when you contact them.

Pages: 1 2


  1. Seeking recommendations for reputable volunteer placement organizations or direct connections for short term assignments for those over 50 that don’t cost and arm and a leg? Would like to find an organization that frequently works with those over 50 and offers suitable accomodations/sanitary facilities, etc. that also might have other volunteers or hosts that aren’t all young. Don’t need anything fussy or fancy but probably don’t want to go on assignment and share housing with only much younger folks and just me. Would appreciate any suggestions.

  2. Hi. This post has come to me just in time. I’m just out of the Peace Corps (Dominican Republic) and “settling back in” (something I don’t really intend to do) to life in my home and community. After work on the house is done (3 years of maintenance and improvements set aside) I’ll be looking for “work”. I am in a situation where I can volunteer but must have costs paid.
    I want to keep learning Spanish and have joined conversation groups but this is not really enough so am putting together the habits I need to keep my Spanish improving. My PC experience gave me an adequate start on becoming fluidly and adequately capable with Spanish but I have a long way to go to fluency (whatever that means.) I’m a mechanical engineer and enjoy designing as well as teaching science subjects and math as per my first assignment in the DR.
    My impression is that my needs to have costs covered as with Peace Corps might be hard to find. But I do have an increasingly a valuable professional knowledge base and hands-on (I”m a welder and fine wood worker) experience. I love teaching what I know and do…and I also like doing those things, something I was not able to do in my PC assignment…and I missed working with tools with my own hands terribly.
    I’m looking for a new assignment (either a short or long term opportunity). I’ve a lot to share with those interested to listen regarding what I did in PC and what opportunities actually exist out there for someone like me. Vamos a ver…con ancia. Note: I’m in great health. And I’m 65 if that matters. I went into the Peace Corps at 62 and extended to continue my projects, self growth and language proficiency. I designed my own project in the end and Peace Corps embraced that project.
    I’m beginning to gather a little hope that I might have a future working abroad with my skills and interests. Thanks for the post. Please let me know how I can find new opportunities.

  3. Try the Fr. Ray Foundation (vocational school for people with disabilities). We work a little over 5 months a year in Nong Khai, Thailand, teaching these young adults English–mostly conversation. Room and board are provided. FRF also has a more extensive volunteer program in Pattaya with additional duties. Most volunteers must commit to the end of October through March or the end of April through the end of September.
    See for more information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


About  · Blog  · Contact Us  · Terms of Service

copyright © 2024 by MSI - powered by WordPress - Up ↑