Budgeting Volunteering Experience: the Essentials

There isn’t a better way to travel around the world with a purpose than by volunteering! In this series on alternative tourism we are covering popular international volunteering programs for young adults to participate in. If you feel that you’re ready to share knowledge with others, learn new skills, and boost your life experience, read on! In this article we will talk about the costs associated with volunteering and steps you need to take in order to prepare for your trip.


Typical must-haves and what they cost

When budgeting for a volunteer program, you need to consider the essentials and the additional costs associated with travel and living abroad. Whether you will receive a stipend for your work or you will be remunerated by offsetting some costs, here is a list of typical expenses for international volunteering.


Travel documents

If you require a visa to enter the country where you will volunteer, you will probably also need to provide health insurance (approx. $1.50/day), proof of adequate financial wherewithal (approx. $40/day), proof of accommodation, and a return ticket. For accommodation, if you’re staying at an Airbnb/hostel/hotel, you can request an official document that will include the full address and your personal information. If you are to be hosted by someone, your host will need to provide an invitation and include a copy of their passport. If you are considered a minor, you also need to carry an officially notarized travel agreement signed by your parents. It should state that they allow you to travel to your destination without a chaperon.



There are three types of vaccination: routine, required, and recommended. You need to stay up-to-date with the vaccines required in your own country and have a recent certificate stating the dates and doses of vaccines. A common required vaccination is a yellow fever vaccine, which prevents you from getting a virus spread by mosquitos.  Required vaccination is what travelers must have in order to enter a country. Similarly, travelers are advised to get recommended vaccines to protect themselves against travel-related illnesses. One of these is typhoid, which is caused by consuming contaminated water. Requirements depend on the country, your age, and your health, and you can check specific information on the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention website.


Training and certifications

Unless provided by the organization you are working with, you may need proof of your skills in the form of certificates. These include TEFL certification, first aid certificates, and a wilderness first responder course. You need to take into consideration the time it will take to complete the courses as well as find an accredited institution.  A budget for such certifications is $50-200, which depends on the mode of the course (online/offline).

Volunteering-specific Gear

Depending on the type of project, your essential gear will differ. Construction work and environmental projects will require more additional equipment to ensure safety. These may include sturdy walking shoes, camping equipment, insect repellent, protection, gloves, etc.  Alternatively, community development projects, teaching or office-based work don’t require expensive resources and consequently may offset the cost of volunteering.

Additional Costs that Are Often Overlooked

Now that the main expenses are taken care of, here are a few points to consider when it comes to hidden expenses. Hidden expenses depend on what is covered by the organization that is sponsoring you and the location of the program.

Internet fees and phone costs. In case your accommodation or workplace doesn’t have a stable internet connection, it is important to check the procedure for signing up for internet service, including equipment costs, e.g. routers, cables, etc. and the duration of the contract.

Country-specific clothing. A good step to building rapport with coworkers is respecting local dress-codes. Make sure to set aside a portion of your budget to prepare culturally appropriate outfits for the country of your destination.

Transport costs. As you may reside far from your workplace, you need to consider the most suitable means of transport. Research the local situation respecting bike rentals, transportation cards, or carpool with your coworkers.

ATM and credit card fees. This is a sneaky cost that you won’t think about until you’re facing the fact. Double check with your bank about the fees for withdrawing money using ATM and the conversion procedure for paying in local currency.

How to Lessen Your Overall Volunteer Costs

Now you’ve done your research, made your budget and considered hidden costs. If you feel you would like to lower your costs even more, here are some tips to do just that.

Practice frugal living

Find accommodation withing walking distance of your project to save money on transportation. Bring Tupperware containers with homemade food for lunch and keep a bottle of water on you.

Cancel subscriptions

Before you depart, go over your recurring monthly subscriptions and consider cancelling them for the duration of the volunteering program.

Find your own volunteer opportunity

To offset the program fee, you may want to look into free or cheap opportunities. For example, European Solidarity Corps provides volunteers with great support and remuneration for their work. Alternatively, you may use platforms such as net to search for local volunteering opportunities. The flipside of this is that you may need to prepare all the documentation yourself and seek additional guidance on visa, accommodation, etc.

Student discounts

If you are a full-time student over the age of 12, you are eligible to get an ISIC international student ID card. It provides discounts for museums, restaurants, transportation, and insurance in 133 countries.

Buy Used Equipment

In case your volunteering program requires purchasing additional equipment, consider buying it from the volunteers who have worked there prior to you. If their shift finishes before yours starts, such deals will benefit both them and you. Volunteers won’t need to take home things that they won’t need there.


Volunteering abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. And with these steps you can evaluate areas of your budget that need improvement. Remember, start early and cover all the bases so that you can minimize unexpected costs.

Read more on Alternative Tourism and Volunteering.

Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney

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