Frequently Asked Questions
1, Why Pay to Volunteer Abroad?
- You may ask this question if you are inexperienced with the international volunteer industry. You usually have to pay fees to volunteer abroad unless you want to commit yourself for 2 years with an organization like Peace Corps with a start date that is chosen for you. Again, why?
- Volunteering abroad is not like volunteering locally on a Sunday afternoon. When you volunteer abroad, you need a lot more support, which includes orientation, accommodation, and local support. Someone will need to cover all the expenses, but most local organizations in developing nations are poorly-funded and do not usually have funding to support volunteers or pay for accommodation. For each program arranged, there is typically a team of people working on it. The regional managers and local coordinators are our partner team members who get paid to provide services.
2, I need assistance with airfare and program fees, what can I do?
- There are often awards and scholarships available for students at local schools. You may need a letter from us and it is possible to get an acceptance letter after you enroll.
- Also, many people successfully fund-raise for their volunteer trips. You can volunteer abroad for free if you find companies and individuals to sponsor your trip. Many companies and individuals are willing to sponsor you if they agree with your cause. If you need help with fundraising, you may contact us.
3, The price is the lowest in the industry. Why?
You may be wondering “does lower price mean lower quality?” Not with us. Our prices are much lower mainly for the following reasons:
- We were once well-traveled international volunteers ourselves and we want to help students and budget travelers to be able to see the world while making a difference. The less you pay for the program, the more money you will have for weekend trips and other personal spending abroad. To protect your interests, we aim to provide a very good value in the international volunteer industry.
- We keep unnecessary overhead costs as low as possible. In fact, we don’t have high overhead expenses such as downtown offices and company cars. Our lives may not be as easy as it could be without such facilities, but we take comfort in knowing that we are saving money for our volunteers.
- We have lived in many developing nations before, so we know that we often need to bargain to get a fair price. Foreigners are often overcharged as they are perceived as very wealthy. For this reason, we have to be very careful when we select partners. We only accept reliable partners with honest pricing. Partners with such good qualities may not be easy to find. It makes our work much harder to do, but again we take comfort in knowing that we are saving money for you.
4, Many major organizations charge way more, does it mean that I get more with them?
- The answer is yes and no. You may get more, but you end up paying a huge premium for these additional services which you may easily manage by yourself with our guidance. For example, travel medical insurance may cost as little as $50 per month and daily local transportation to work may cost as little as 20-50 cents for many locations.
- We try to keep the prices low and give you the freedom to control your own spending. Travel/Medical insurance is strong recommended and also required, but you have the freedom to choose your insurance package based on your own needs. Volunteers of certain cultural backgrounds do not like to spend much money on insurance. Some people are generally more risk-taking by choice. We try to respect our volunteers’ decisions and let you decide how you want to spend your money based on your priorities.
- If you want additional services or more luxury accommodations, you may request customization by paying extra. Many big organizations have very limited program flexibility (such as a few fixed arrival dates), which makes it less accessible to many people and harder to plan trips.
- Our programs are designed to give you a true first-hand cultural experience living and working side by side with the local people. In order to facilitate international travel and increase accessibility, they are featured with extremely affordable prices and flexible schedules. You need to be open-minded enough to immerse into the local culture. If you don’t see us as a good fit for you, please feel free to search around for a better fit.
5, When should I apply?
- We generally recommend that you apply as early as possible for 2 main reasons:
- Certain positions may fill up with time since space is limited. Thus, you’d want to apply early in order to better your chance of getting the most ideal placement.
- Applying early allows you to get the initial confirmation early, which then allows you to book flight early. Planning your trip and booking flights early can mean less stress and more cost-effective since flight prices usually go up with time.
- That being said, it is never too late to apply since we try to make our programs as flexible as possible for you. If you are running last minute, it is still possible to enroll as long as there is still a position available. We don’t have a deadline for applying as long as there is still a position available. We can’t guarantee last minute applications, but we have previously processed applications with only 2 days’ advanced notice before the arrival day. As you can see, anything is possible, but you are taking a risk to leave the application to the last minute.
6, When will I know if my application is accepted or rejected?
- It usually takes less than 2 business days to get the initial confirmation.
- If you are requesting a very specific and hard-to-arrange project, then it may take longer. Regardless, we will always keep you updated about the process, so you won’t have to wait long for a response. If your email goes unanswered, it may have gone to the junk folder and you should email us again to make sure that we get your email.
7, How does the application process work?
Step 1: To start the process, it only takes a few minutes to complete the Online Application Form.
- At this stage, we recommend that you pay at least a small deposit of the enrollment fee (USD$290) because it will allow us to start arranging things for you right away. Paying a deposit shows that you are committed and serious about going. The deposit will be converted into sale and thus become non-refundable once we get the initial confirmation for your program. If we somehow can’t get the initial confirmation for your requested project, the deposit (less any transaction charges) can be returned to you.
- We ask for a deposit with the application in order to be fair to the local parties. All applications should be submitted in good faith. Many projects abroad are very poorly funded and the project managers do not have time to waste. If you are applying for a project abroad, we want to make sure that you are committed before we ask the local project managers to confirm for you. Paying the deposit shows your commitment to the program.
- When you apply with deposit, you should clearly indicate any program requirements (which are things that you must have) in the comment section at the very bottom of the form. Please note the difference in between must-have items and preferences. The deposit is at least USD$290 (the enrollment fee) or sometimes the full amount may be required.
- If what you asked for on the application form is not available, then we will ask you for advice and we can also return you the deposit (less transaction charges). The transaction charges are usually 5% if you paid the deposit by credit card through PayPal. If we get positive response from the local parties, then we will send you an initial program confirmation and convert the deposit into sale.
- Once you get the initial confirmation, we will ask you for required documents, including resume in word, clear passport scan in color, a recent picture, a waiver form signed by legal guardian (if you are from 15 to 17 years old), and any remaining payments. Once you get initial confirmation, then you can book flight and send us flight information.
- Some projects may take longer to get initial confirmation if they are hard to arrange.
- The program detail document will contain some useful information and local support number. Read the document well in order to prepare for your program and make sure that there is no mistake or problem.
Step 2: After we get your application, it usually takes less than 2 business days for us to send an initial confirmation.
Step 3: Before your program start date, we will send a program detail document as long as we have all required items in place.
8, How much will my weekly personal expense be?
- Since accommodation and meals are included, you can expect very little personal expense.
- Many volunteers find $30/week more than enough, but this figure can vary largely depending on your personal spending habit. For example, if you join a wildlife safari day tour, it can cost you over $100 for a day.
9, What are the accommodations like?
- We provide host family or guest house accommodations. Many volunteers have a private bed-room, but some may need to share with another international volunteer of the same gender.
- It is exciting to stay with a local family. We strongly encourage you to try local flavors, experience the local culture as much as possible.
- In some countries, you can stay in the monastery or stay at the orphanage. The orphanage is also like a big family since the manager and the orphans usually live there.
10, Should I be concerned about language barriers?
- Countries where language barriers are very minimal include Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- In China, Mexico, and Ecuador, there are certainly language barriers.
- For Latin America, we have hosted volunteers without Spanish, but it is generally not recommended. However, if you have an outgoing personality, shows lots of interest to help, and willing to open up, you can still have a good time in Latin America without Spanish. For China, teaching English does not require you to know the local language, but certain works such as healthcare can be hard with language barrier.
11, Do I need visa to enter the host country?
- We provide free visa advice to help, but entry visa is not our responsibility. We try our best to provide accurate information regarding entry visa, but please double check with your local embassy if you want to be sure.
- Countries where many volunteers may enter without a pre-arrival visa include Nepal, Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- Countries that require a pre-arrival visa include China and Ghana.
12, Can you help me with medical insurance, flight booking, and tour booking?
- Medical/Travel insurance is strongly recommended and required to participate in our programs. To get your travel medical insurance within minutes, check it out at: http://www.worldnomads.com/ which is recommended by Lonely Planet. However, you may find better deals if you are a Canadian resident covered by MSP, talk to local banks and insurance providers. You may expect around $50/month for 1 million dollar medical coverage. Students can usually get better deals or may have travel insurance provided by local schools.
- We also provide flight booking advice and resources if you need help. We recommend that you compare prices from different sources (such as online booking and travel agency) before you confirm booking.
- You can also provide tour booking advice and resources if you need. Be aware that it is generally cheaper to book tours locally. Our local coordinators can also help with advice and resources.
13, What is the advantage of going through an organization comparing to going on my own?
- When you go through us, we will walk you through this experience of a lifetime. We will do the hard work of arranging host families and work projects, so that you don’t have to. We are here to provide support, information, and resources every step of your way. You could of course go on your own, but then you will need to arrange your own accommodation, find yourself a project abroad, and fend for yourself in a new culture. Most people don’t have this much time or energy to waste when they go abroad.
- When it comes to finding a good project abroad, it can take lots of time and energy to do on your own. Since the project managers do not know who you are, they may ask you for lots of documents and paperwork. Many local work places may not know the international volunteer situation well and don’t want to take any risks, so they may ask you to get a work permit even when it is not absolutely necessary. As a result, it may take you weeks before you can even start working. Most people don’t have that much time or energy to waste when they go abroad. Also, it takes lots of courage and may seem wired for you to just walk up to a local work place to present yourself without any connections. Also, local organizations rarely have the funding to pay for accommodations and meals, so you will still need to look for your own accommodation.
- When it comes to arranging accommodation on your own, you of course have the option of staying in a hotel/hostel or rent a room. If you stay in hostel or hotel, it is much more expensive and meals are not usually provided. When you rent a room from a random person abroad, you run the risk of getting ripped off or having an unreliable host. In developing nations, local businesses are usually transaction based instead of relationship based, so they may not care about how you feel once they get your money. Our host families usually have a long term connection with our local partner staff in one way or another. As a result, the host families have motivations to maintain the good faith with us for long term benefits.
- When you are in a new environment, you want access to trustworthy local support, orientation, and introduction to the new culture. Going on your own means that you will have to fend for yourself completely abroad. This can be very risky.
14, How are the accommodations or host families arranged?
- Our local coordinators perform background checks to make sure that the host families are welcoming, friendly and happy to be a good host. To ensure safety as much as we can, many host families are related to the local coordinator in one way or another. This long term connection gives the host families more motivations to be good hosts.
- If your host is not friendly or not reliable, you can always raise a complaint to the local coordinator. After the complaint, we will investigate the situation and talk with the host family. If the host family does not improve, then we may switch host family for the participant.
15, How and when are host families paid?
- Some participants may get curious or concerned about how the families get paid. The host families are paid by our local partner staff, so participants don’t need to worry about that. It is our policy for the local host families and local coordinators to focus their energy on providing a good experience for the participants, and not to discuss or get the participants involved in payment related issues. It is the local team’s job to worry about local payment issues, so the participants don’t have to worry about that.
- Rarely, a new host family may make a mistake and accidentally ask the participants to get involved in the payment process. In this case, we apologize for any miscommunication among the local team and please tell the host family to resolve any payment related issues with the local partner team. Any payment related issues should remain in between the host family and the local team members. We don’t want our participants to spend time or energy to worry about that.
- Regarding the exact timing and amount to be paid to the host family, it is the decision of our local partner staff since they usually know the local situations well and are in the best position to determine how and when to distribute payments. Our regional managers and local coordinators do get paid to handle situations locally. As long as the host family is a good host, then it is not our place to tell the local partner staff how much they should pay and when to pay it. Our local partner team leaders are in charge of the local payment issues.
- We have clear guidelines for our local partner staff to follow regarding the requirements for host families, but our policy does not limit the local partner staff’s freedom regarding the timing and exact amount of local payments. As long as both parties agree to the timing and the amount, then we consider it as a fair transaction.