It’s not unusual for our program enrollment advisors to hear questions like this: “I really want to volunteer abroad, but I’m looking for an organization that will pay for my airfare and provide food and board… Can you help?”

Although we’d never say this, our gut response is “Really? What world do you live in?”

Why would anyone pay for your flight, pick you up from the airport, teach you how to get around a foreign country, and give you free housing and food?

You would never find a deal like that in your own community, so it makes even less sense that you would get it from a local organization with a small budget in a developing country.

As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Most people who are thinking about volunteering abroad for the first time are shocked when they realize they have to pay. They see volunteering as a favor that organizations should be glad to receive.

Here’s the simple truth: international volunteering is not the same as volunteering at home.

Below we are going to break down all the costs that go into a trip abroad. (We used cost of living estimates, so feel free to check our numbers or use this as a resource to research another destination.)

A typical budget for a 4-week trip to Costa Rica

Let’s imagine you want to plan your own trip to volunteer in Costa Rica. What would it cost?  Here’s a bit of volunteer math:


First off, your flight will cost somewhere between $450-850, depending on where you live.

[caption id="attachment_54172" align="alignnone" width="800"] Image: regan76 via Flickr[/caption]

Accommodation and Food

Then, once you arrive, you’ll need to shell out about $15 night for a bed in a hostel or dorm room.

Of course, you also need to eat. At about $6 for each meal, you’ll spend $18 a day on food.

Your total for 4 weeks? That would be 15x28 +18x28 = $924 for accommodation and food.

[caption id="attachment_54174" align="alignnone" width="800"] Image: Arnold Reinhold[/caption]

Local Transportation

Ok, that takes care of your basic living expenses, but you also wanted to volunteer… so you need a way to get to work (and travel around town).

The local bus is your cheapest option for getting around. Budget $2 x 28 days = $56 for transportation.

So far, your budget would be $924+56 = $980 for one month.

That doesn’t seem so expensive…. so why are international volunteer agencies asking for more?

Well, here are some costs we haven’t added yet:

Airport pick-up service: $75

Arranging Your Placement: $150 (Cost of arranging the work placement for you. It takes time and effort, transportation and administrative costs to set-up a volunteer placement.)

Supervision: $150 (Someone to make sure all is well, to give you an orientation and show you around, to introduce you to the local organization, to act as a supervisor for the work placement and to be available at all times of the day to you should you need assistance or support.)

Ok, so that’s another $375. Add this to basic accommodation, food, and transportation, and that’s what it would cost at the very least to live and work in Costa Rica for 4 weeks: $980+375 = $1355.

uVolunteer 4-week’s placement costs around the same price, maybe even less!

But wait, that’s not all...

There are still additional costs we haven’t considered:

[caption id="attachment_54178" align="alignnone" width="800"] Image: Laura Kimmick[/caption]

Social Life

Now that you’re  settled and happily volunteering in a meaningful grassroots project, you’ll want to start socializing. Eventually, you meet some local friends and they invite you to hang out in the central park. (That’s what Costa Ricans do when they have no money, by the way!)

While at the park, you meet someone you like. You have a great conversation and before you know it, he or she asks you out on a date.  

You go to a restaurant for some ceviche and maybe an Imperial beer, as most Costa Ricans do, or a glass of wine. Then you finish your evening with some ice cream in the park. (Costa Rica has great ice cream!)

The night out cost you about $15, assuming you both split the bill. Let’s say you meet more people and end up socializing at least twice a week. $15 x 2 days x 4 weeks = $120 for the month.

Weekend Trips 

And don’t forget exploring! What’s the point of traveling all that distance to not spend time getting to know the country? Volunteering abroad is also about cultural exploration and discovery.

We would suggest budgeting about $250 for each weekend trip.

Travel Insurance 

This is a must when traveling abroad for an extended period of time, and most volunteer agencies require it. Having insurance ensures you're covered in case of medical emergencies, theft, lost property or almost anything else that could go wrong. Good travel insurance coverage will cost you $75-$95.

Traveling abroad can add up.. and volunteering abroad is the same.

When you include the cost of your flight, socializing, weekend trips, insurance and other personal expenses, like buying souvenirs, T-shirts, etc, you can easily spend more than $3000  for a 4-week working vacation in Costa Rica.

You can find out much it costs to volunteer in Costa Rica on our program fees page, which outlines exactly what’s covered so there are no surprises.

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