6 Steps To Find Ethical Volunteering Opportunities Abroad

Is volunteering abroad bad? Learn steps to take to find ethical volunteering opportunities abroad, including volunteer program research and self-reflection.


October 22, 2022

volunteers planting mangroves ethical volunteering

You’ve started saving money, got the vision in your head, and excitedly discussed the best volunteering abroad programs with friends and family. But, if you haven’t already, you will stumble across the roadblock of how to volunteer abroad ethically. The topic of ethical volunteering is enormous, and so many ‘ethical volunteer programs’ are actually the opposite. The sad reality is that some programs simply extort both volunteers and the local initiatives they claim to be helping. It can be disheartening. In fact, after reading a few horror stories, you might even be asking, is volunteering abroad bad?

ethics word cloud

1. Research Common Ethical Issues In Volunteering

  • Unqualified volunteers taking job opportunities from more qualified local people.
  • Exploiting local people – even to the extent of creating orphanages to function as businesses.
  • Exploiting volunteers by charging high fees and not providing a genuine, ethical experience.
  • Ineffective programs due to a lack of communication with the local community and their most immediate needs and requirements.
  • Lack of respect towards local people.
  • Programs tailored to the ‘volunteer experience’ rather than the community’s needs.

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ethical volunteer programs

2. Evaluate How Recognized The Company Is

Ethical volunteering abroad is heavily reliant on volunteer companies. These companies act as a middleman – connecting volunteers to charities running placements abroad. Pay close attention when choosing your ‘middleman’, as the company you pick can impact how ethical your experience is as a whole. A great way to do this is to evaluate how recognized they are as an ethical volunteering company.

These are two major green flags:

The company has lots of positive reviews from past volunteers

If a company has pages and pages of glowing reviews from past volunteers, it is a strong sign that you are onto a good thing. Of course, ensure that you aren’t just looking at reviews quoted on the company website. Watch out for any suspicious reviews that appear fake, too (they tend to be very generic and robotic sounding). But if you check reviews on all different platforms and the general consensus is a ‘brilliant, ethical program,’ then you can take that as your first green flag.

The company has won awards and/or been recognized by a major press

If the same company has won awards and been recognized by the press, it’s another positive sign that it could be your match. The company will have already been researched by journalists for major publications, so others have already done digging for you.

These more professional ‘reviews’ are also usually conducted by people older than the volunteers that most companies tend to attract. This is more helpful than just relying on reviews from past volunteers since some companies can extort and manipulate young people, especially in teen volunteering abroad programs. Press reviews should be more objective.

Choosing a well-recognized company is one of the easiest ways to find ethical volunteering opportunities abroad. You’ll feel less like you are heading into the dark and have more insight into how ethical its programs will be before you arrive.

volunteering abroad construction

3. Consider What Type Of Volunteering You Are Doing

It might sound like stating the obvious, but what type of volunteering abroad will you be doing? Is it something that you are skilled at? Is it something that requires high skill to perform effectively? Do you need foreign language skills to perform effectively in the role? When choosing a volunteer role, you should leave your ego at the door and evaluate your suitability for a position. The more suited to the position you are, the more ethical the experience will be.

For example, mental health volunteer opportunities abroad would be a great option if you are a qualified psychologist or occupational therapist with lots of experience. While if you are fit and healthy with an interest in gardening or farming, being an agriculture volunteer abroad would be really useful. Tailor your search to your existing skillset rather than forcing yourself into a mold you don’t fit.

Being honest with yourself about your skillset doesn’t need to be a dealbreaker, just a consideration in the early stages so that you can take action and factor in training costs if you need to.

ethical volunteering overseas community health worker

4. Consider What Time Commitment You Can Offer

school volunteer placement central america

5. Make Sure To Ask Questions During The Interview

  • Will I be working supervised or alone?
  • What will my placement fee go towards?
  • What have past volunteers achieved?
  • What are the company’s immediate goals and milestones?
  • Do you have a code of ethics for volunteers?
  • Is there any necessary training to undergo before I depart?
  • What induction will I have when I arrive?
volunteer abroad program beach cleanup

6. Evaluate Your Own Principles, Values, And Limitations


The best news of all is that your efforts will be massively rewarded. Volunteering abroad is life-changing, and when done ethically, it is a wonderful way to positively impact different communities across the globe. You are embarking on an experience of a lifetime, so buckle up and enjoy.

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