International Travel

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Before You Go

Best Practices for Volunteering Abroad

Last Updated: May 2, 2018

Thinking about taking part in a international volunteer opportunity? Here are some things to consider before you go, to help ensure you have a safe and successful volunteer experience.

Before You Go

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Have you:

  • Independently verified the organization’s history and experience in leading groups to volunteer abroad? Go beyond the brochures and marketing materials offered by the organization to ensure they have a record of successful and safe trips.
  • Researched how previous volunteers rated their experience? Are there credible complaints about the organization you are considering joining?
  • Made sure the sponsoring organization thoroughly checks out the in-country organization before entering into partnership with them, and personally inspects the in-country project site, documenting each visit?
  • Read up on your intended destination?
  • Made sure all your travel documents, including your U.S. passport and visa, if necessary, are up to date?
  • Checked out health and disease conditions at your intended destination?

Does the international volunteer organization have:

Safety Plans

  • Risk assessment procedure, global risk management plan, and country-specific emergency response plans
  • Pre-departure security briefings
  • 24/7 office support in case of an emergency
  • First aid-qualified project staff
  • Emergency evacuation plan

Volunteer Preparation

  • Orientation to educate volunteers on policies, destination country, and safety concerns
  • In-country medical insurance, medical evacuation insurance, pre-trip physicals, and vaccinations
  • Handbooks or guides that include relevant historical, cultural, language, and environmental information
  • Enrollment of all volunteers in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, to help ensure the U.S. embassy in your destination country can help you in case of emergency

While You’re There

In-country Volunteer Support

Make sure the international volunteer organization:

  • Works directly with host nation project leaders who speak local languages and know the location of nearby police stations and hospitals
  • Has 24-hour local office support