Voluntary work abroad

Ever wanted to mix travelling with making a difference? Through volunteering abroad you could do both. Wherever your skills and experience lie and whatever your interests, there is likely to be a project suited to you.

Volunteering

From animal and environmental projects to helping rebuild communities that have been destroyed by an earthquake, giving even a few weeks of your time will bring real benefits to the area and the people that live there.

Through volunteering in another country you can also broaden your horizons, learn about a different culture and make new friends.

Volunteers come from all walks of life including homeworkers, students during a gap year, teachers, engineers, health workers, scientists and government officers.

International experience, in the workplace or as a volunteer, also adds another interesting dimension to your CV and can make your job or promotion application stand out.

Volunteering opportunities on offer

Organisations like the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and charities with international units can help you make a decision about volunteering abroad and find the right project for you.

The Year Out Group also has information on a range of volunteering opportunities. Some organisations, such as Gap Activity Projects offer bursaries for applicants who would not otherwise be able to afford to take a year out.

The VSO is an international development charity, which tries to match people's skills and professional background to the need for volunteers across the world. The ages of its volunteers range from 17 to 75.

If there is a particular charity or voluntary organisation you would like to help, contact it to find out if it needs any volunteers to work overseas.

The first volunteering project you find is not necessarily going to be ideally suited to you, but it is worth looking until you discover something you would feel comfortable doing.

Talk to the organisers of the volunteer programme about any concerns and check what safety measures are in place, as well as what would happen if you had to return to the UK earlier than you had expected or you find the project is not for you.

Volunteer Now, a local organisation that promotes volunteering, has a ‘Steps Around the World’ guide that gives you tips and advice on the options available for short term volunteering outside of Northern Ireland.

Taking a career break from your job

If you are in paid employment, find out how taking a career break or secondment to volunteer abroad would affect your work contract, health cover, pension and national insurance contributions, as well as your continued service.

Some employers will have a policy to encourage their staff to take part in volunteering or see a community project they are sponsoring abroad. Others may consider counting your volunteering period as extended leave without pay or as a secondment - this could be helpful if you are considering volunteering abroad for a long period.

If you expect to return to your job at the end of your volunteering period, give your employer your contact details and the name of the organisation you are volunteering through in case they need to contact you urgently or update you about developments in the firm.

Before you go

Make sure you have the vaccinations you need for the country and check if there is any travel safety advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

You will need a valid passport to cover the entire period you will be overseas. It is also worth finding out the contact details and location of the British Consul in the country where you will be working (see the related links on this page).

The organisation you will be working through may have travel and health insurance to cover you while you are abroad. Check what you are covered for and if you need to take out any additional policies.

While you are away, try and keep regular contact with the charity or organisation you are volunteering through and make sure they know where to find you in case of an emergency. This will help you find out about any changes in the country that may affect your safety or health.

If you are concerned about the situation in a country, keep in contact with the British consul in the area. Wherever you choose to volunteer, enjoy the experience as it can be fun as well as rewarding.

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