The Best Ethical Volunteer Programs Abroad


Here’s what you’ve been waiting for! The fun stuff: selecting your adventure.

Below are the most reputable or popular ways to volunteer and travel. These include:

- Picking the Best Volunteer Program for You -

How long? Where? Doing what? You’ve got endless endless options!

…but as your big sister, I don’t want you to get scammed. And I definitely don’t want you ending up in a position where you’re unappreciated, not looked after and/or unintentionally contributing to the detriment or exploitation of the people or places that you intended to help. You need to know the red flags to look out for before you go adventure pickin’.

Keep in mind what you’ve learned about ethical vs. unethical volunteer opportunities. If you haven’t already, make sure to read How to Spot a Volunteer Scam. When searching for volunteer programs abroad, remember to look for….

Green Flags of Volunteering:

    • They do a criminal background check
    • You are qualified to be doing what you’re doing.
    • You’re staying for at the very least a two weeks to a month, if not more.

Every volunteer adventure is different, so while you are combing through your options, remember to feed your why. 

The Peace Corps

Volunteer program abroad as a teacher

Summary: The Peace Corps is an international volunteer program for Americans. Started by JFK in 1961, the Peace Corps is the most prestigious volunteer program out there; one with tons of perks, long-term benefits, support, and opportunity to sincerely impact communities in need. If you’re wanting to make a true difference, this is it.

Time Frame: 24 Months
Prerequisites: American passport, Bachelor’s Degree, Volunteer experience

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Peace Corps programs are specialized: English teaching in Eastern Europe, Community Development in the Philippines, Medical Care in Africa, so when you apply – have an idea of what you bring to the table. 
  • The Peace Corps is so competitive that candidates start building their volunteer resume years before they apply.

How To Apply:

Fill out an application and land an interview:


  • Round-trip flights are paid
  • In-country living expenses like rent and transportation are covered
  • You get a monthly stipend equivalent to the local living wage
  • 3-month training period to integrate into the culture and participate in one of the best language programs on earth. 
  • The Peace Corps also offers comprehensive health insurance while you’re serving. From mental health to reproductive health to accidents to dental, the Peace Corps offers full coverage and care. 
  • After the Peace Corps, there are many career benefits to help you get into specifica Masters or PHD programs, as well as, noncompetitive eligibility with government-level jobs. 

Conservation Work

conservation as volunteer programs abroad

Volunteering in environmental conservation allows you to make a meaningful impact while immersing yourself in diverse ecosystems, cultures, and communities worldwide…and avoiding the whole “exploiting children” thing.

Environmental conservation volunteering encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at protecting and restoring natural environments. Whether you’re interested in wildlife conservation, reforestation, marine biology, or sustainable farming, there are opportunities to match your interests and skills. These projects can take you to remote rainforests, coastal sanctuaries, wildlife reserves, or local communities striving to live harmoniously with nature.

Time Frame:
The duration of environmental conservation volunteering varies widely depending on the specific project and organization. Opportunities can range from short-term commitments of a few weeks to long-term engagements spanning several months or even years. Some projects may be structured seasonally, aligning with critical environmental events such as nesting seasons or planting cycles.

To participate in environmental conservation volunteering, certain prerequisites may apply:

  • Physical fitness and an ability to work in outdoor and sometimes challenging conditions.
  • A strong work ethic and a willingness to learn, adapt, and collaborate with diverse teams.
  • Depending on the project, specific skills or qualifications may be required, such as knowledge of biology, ecology, or environmental sciences.
  • Volunteers are typically responsible for their own transportation to and from the project location.

How to Apply:

  • Look for reputable conservation organizations, both local and international.
  • Visit their websites or contact them directly to inquire about volunteer opportunities.
  • Prepare a well-structured application, showcasing your skills, passion, and dedication to conservation.
  • Once accepted, coordinate your travel plans and embark on a rewarding journey to protect and preserve the natural world.


Engaging in environmental conservation volunteering offers a multitude of benefits:

  • Personal Growth: It provides a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of environmental issues and develop practical conservation skills.
  • Resume Enhancement: Volunteering experience in conservation can strengthen your resume and open doors to future career opportunities in the environmental sector.
  • Global Perspective: By working in different regions, you gain a global perspective on conservation challenges and solutions.
  • Contributing to a Cause: Most importantly, you’ll actively contribute to safeguarding our planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Research Host Organizations: Just as in the case of Workaway, it’s crucial to research the host organization’s reputation and read reviews or seek references from past volunteers to ensure a positive and ethical experience.
  • Balancing Work: Conservation work can be physically demanding. Ensure you strike a balance between your commitment and personal well-being. Take necessary breaks to prevent burnout.

In conclusion, environmental conservation volunteering offers a fulfilling and impactful way to contribute to the planet’s well-being while embarking on a journey of personal growth and discovery. By considering the factors mentioned in this guide, you can ensure a meaningful and ethical experience in the world of environmental conservation volunteering.

Here are two environmental conservation volunteer programs I suggest you explore:


cultural or work exchange as a volunteer program abroad

Workaway promotes cultural or work exchange between small organizations or families and volunteers. You can take any skill – be it photography, gardening, guitar, farm work – and trade it for room (and sometimes board) in every corner of the world. You could be living on a horse farm in Ireland for a month, picking pineapples in Australia, or joining me on vacation as my photographer. The possibilities are endless. 

Time Frame: This all depends on the host. Most hosts want a minimum of 2 weeks. 


  • Be able-bodied with a good work ethic and eagerness to learn and/or teach. 
  • Pay your own transportation


  • In theory, you could hop around the world indefinitely, never paying for rent, while dipping your toes into a kaleidoscope of realities.  
  • The opportunity to learn unique skills, grow your resume, and expand your portfolio.

How to Apply:

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Some hosts suck. There are hosts that take advantage of free labor and don’t care about what YOU get out of the experience. This is why it’s important to check your host’s reviews. Also ask if you can speak to one of their past volunteers for a reference. 
  • At 5 days per week, 5 hours per day – this life can get tiring. Don’t burn yourself out. Give yourself mini breaks between workaway contracts. 

Volunteer Placement Programs

…are evil. Well, many of them. But there are some great ones!

volunteer programs abroad

Summary: is an example of a volunteer placement program who is operating ethically and with extreme transparency. They offer programs all around the world with opportunities in different humanitarian sectors. 

Time Frame: Depends on the project.


  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Applicable Skills
  • $299 Registration Fee for placement

Note: This is how you know this company is operating honorably. The registration fee is the revenue which keeps LoveVolunteer running. Whereas your program fees go directly towards the organization or community where you’re volunteering.


  • Airport pick-up and orientation
  • Volunteer housing and meals
  • Volunteer support before and during service
  • Lifetime membership to LoveVolunteer

Things to Keep in Mind:

You’re responsible for your flights, travel insurance, spending money, etc

How to Find These Jobs:

Independent Small Organizations

volunteer for an animal shelter is one of the programs you can take to go abroad

Summary: These are organizations that are run locally and usually only have the capacity for 1-5 volunteers at a time. This could be an animal shelter in Thailand, a math program in Myanmar or a marketing opportunity in Cambodia. These are organizations that don’t advertise opportunities, but bite when volunteers come knocking – depending on their availability to host and need of help.

Time Frame: Usually starting at 3 weeks.


  • Applicable skills.
  • A self-motivated drive
  • The ability to self-manage


  • Grassroots opportunity to implement systems and inspire change – as these smaller organizations usually don’t have the capacity to expand their operation on their own…that’s where you come in.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • These opportunities may not provide as much structure; and so, you’ve got to decide why and how you’re here to help.
  • These opportunities might provide less in terms of room and board; but more in terms of capacity for learning, growth, and resume building.

How to Find These Jobs:

  • Don’t do a google search for “volunteer opportunities” – this is how you find the scams.  Instead, you want to niche down. Think of exactly what you want to do and where. Want to help with marine life? Look for small conservation NGOs in Thailand and message them directly.
  • Ask other women! Ask the girls in the SoFe group on Facebook if they have any suggestions. 
  • Ask around while you travel. The western hostel owners often have the inside scoop on where the community needs help
  • Again, if Cambodia is on your radar, my travel guide book for Cambodia lists small organizations where volunteer opportunities are possible. 

Short-Term Volunteering Exception

Small Organization Recommendation:

If you want to make a positive impact during your next visit to Cambodia, volunteer with trusted and transparent organizations like CHOICE who aim to provide resources to Cambodia’s poorest communities. Right now, CHOICE is looking for staff at their school including teachers and admin. Just visiting? You can join CHOICE on village trips where they collect water and food and then deliver them to villages in need. No photos and no “playing with the kids” are offered on these trips. Instead, you’ll donate $15 to the organization to keep the resources coming and leave with an insight into how invisible populations struggle to survive in South East Asia.



Summary: Let’s say you’re fresh out of college with no skills to spill on your resume…but you are thirsty to start building your work portfolio. And let’s say you find a marketing agency in Colombia that will let you come on as a Public Relations Intern and study under them; that’s great – but you might be paying for your room and board in exchange for the opportunity. If you’re a female hustler looking to build your resume and power through your career, there’s nothing wrong with taking an internship like this. 

Time Frame: That’s for you to discuss with the company, but for your comfort, I’d recommend capping it at 4-6 weeks…you’re going to be working hard. 


  • That go-getter spirit – you’re going to be working hard.
  • Independence – these companies are likely too busy to guide you through moving to their country; your job is to just show up.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Make sure you outline your responsibilities, initiatives and goals in an agreement before you show up to the gig, otherwise you might end up ironing someone’s clothes. 
  • The key to this agreement is background checks. Ask to speak to former interns, ask to speak to current employees – make sure you’re about to work with a legitimate business who is going to benefit you just as much as you will benefit them. Cover your “why” first.


  • Your resume is going to look awesome.
  • A foot inside a door that is closed for most other people. There are some opportunities where the only way to access them is to work for free.
  • Companies might set you up with free housing or point you in the direction of super cheap housing.

How to Apply:

  • Find a company that aligns with your goals and decide how you can benefit each other. Have a clear vision. 
  • Be persistent in your messaging. I hired an intern that I didn’t even want because she wouldn’t stop messaging me telling me all the ways that she could improve my brand. So I hired her, let her live in my house, and she worked her butt off to sincerely improve my brand. Why not?
  • Internships abroad tend to be less informal and thus, even easier to land.

Work in a Hostel

Work in a Hostel

Summary: Let’s say you’re fresh out of college with no skills to spill on your resume…but you are thirsty to start building your work portfolio. And let’s say you find a marketing agency in Colombia that will let you come on as a Public Relations Intern and study under them; that’s great – but you might be paying for your room and board in exchange for the opportunity. If you’re a female hustler looking to build your resume and power through your career, there’s nothing wrong with taking an internship like this. 

Time Frame: 3 weeks – however long your visa lasts.


  • Enjoy people, show up to work on time, and have a visa that allows you to stay in the country. 
  • No skills needed. Just be present and show up for work. 

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • This isn’t always legal…but it’s not illegal. Your tourist visa doesn’t allow you to work, but if you’re not getting paid, you’re not technically working.
  • You might be sleeping in the dorms, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a private room. 
  • There are travelers that I know who have been doing this for years! They usually supplement with some online work, but the volunteer crew becomes your family. 


  • Free place to stay
  • Daily free drinks and food (every agreement varies)
  • A built-in international social circle that grows to feel like family

How to Apply:

  • Usually, the way to apply is to show up. First – go traveling. Find a hostel you like and stay there for a few days. Get to know the staff or manager, and eventually ask for a job. It’s rare that you will just walk into a hostel and land a job; you’ve got to build a relationship first. 
  • Cambodia is the best place to volunteer in a hostel…this is where I volunteered for years. Get my travel guide book for Cambodia; many of the hostels in this guide are volunteer-approved. 

- Time to Apply -

Lesson to Learn: Start Building your Volunteer Resume Now.

No matter if you plan to pursue a volunteer gig abroad or a paid job abroad, volunteering is something you can do for free, something that will give you a competitive edge, and something that, if chosen properly, gives back to your community.

Some fantastic volunteer opportunities are in the US are:

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Your Local Animal Shelter
  • Or simply create your own volunteering opportunity: Call your local middle school or high school and ask if they can use a tutor or coach. That’s what I did during my 8-month wait during my application process. Gather a group of friends, give your squad a name, and once a month, pick a park, forest or riverbank to clean up. 

And remember to do the research before deciding to volunteer abroad – particularly with children or vulnerable communities.An easy key to decipher whether an organization is moral is this: If any organization allows you to spend a short period of time (1 day – 1 month) with their school, orphanage, or shelter for former victims of abuse or trafficking,  they are not putting these human’s wellbeing first.

Request from Alexa

Share Your Volunteer Experience

I’d like to compile a big list of approved ethical volunteer opportunities here. These are places/organizations that you have personally been involved in. Please email me your ethical volunteer programs at

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I'm a bestselling author, hotel reviewer and pickleball player. I teach women how to travel the world solo without going broke or getting kidnapped.
In 2011, I left Seattle with just $200 in my pocket to travel the world solo. Today, I'm the founder and creator of The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, the #1 travel guide book series for women - and the author of The One-Way Ticket Plan. 

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