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How to volunteer abroad

Simon Hemelryk / 21 June 2017

From aid projects in Africa to teaching English in India, there are thousands of opportunities to do great voluntary work overseas when you retire.

Volunteering abroad can take you to some far-flung places.
Volunteering abroad can take you to some far-flung places.

What you need to know

Don't be put off getting involved because you’re not the classic gap-year student volunteer. According to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), for instance, around two fifths of its volunteers are in their fifties or sixties, with 2% in their seventies. Organisations value older people for their calm, problem-solving skills, empathy and experience.

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 If you’re unsure whether you want to commit to a project, consider a short-term position or programme. These can last from one week to three months, and could include anything from helping to build a school to providing assistance after a natural disaster.

Consider choosing a project that fits your interests, but also your experience and past career. That could take in everything from nursing in a field hospital, to optometry to setting up IT systems.

Investigate the organization you are thinking of working for. Do you agree with all its principles? How is it funded? Is it linked to any governments or other bodies you might not approve of?

Find out about the conditions you’ll be living and working in. Will there be running water, easily accessible health care, food you like, etc? You need to know you can cope and won’t feel the need to come home early.

Get a health check with your GP. The work and daily routine could be pretty strenuous – in very hot temperatures! – so you need to make sure you’re in good condition. Check whether you need any vaccinations.

Be prepared to pay costs such as airfares and limited living expenses. Few projects will cover everything.

Cancel any monthly services you won’t need while you’re away, to keep your costs as low as possible. Remember to budget for other outgoings you can’t avoid, such as council tax payments and utility bills.

Useful contacts

Voluntary Service Overseas

Runs education, health, food, training and farming projects in 24 countries, from Zimbabwe to Papua New Guinea. It needs volunteers with experience in everything from teaching to business, engineering and IT. Visit or call 020 8780 7500.

Médecins Sans Frontières

Has 35,000 staff across 65 countries and requires doctors, midwives, health promoters, administrators, finance officers and many other non-medical staff to help with disaster relief and setting up clinics or mobile treatment centres. Visit or call 020 7404 6600.

Global Vision International

Offers more than 150 volunteer abroad programmes in areas ranging from marine conservation to healthcare, animal care, construction and sport. Family volunteer holidays are also available. Visit or call 01727 250250.

Projects Abroad

Opportunities aimed at anyone aged 16 to 75-plus, in 30 destinations, covering the likes of micro-finance, community work, creative arts, agriculture, childcare and much more. Visit or call 01903 708300. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.