Considering volunteering abroad? Here’s a guide to the visa process

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So you’ve decided to explore the world and lend a helping hand at the same time? You’ve researched the perfect location, found and contacted your ideal host, and are now ready to embark on your next adventure as a volunteer abroad. Well…almost!

So what’s the next step?

Before finalising your itinerary and booking your flight, you must take one crucial factor into account: your visa. Keep in mind that you’ll need to research the entry requirements not just for your destinations, but for any layovers along the way.

Depending on your nationality, some countries may ask you to show a transit visa just to pass through the airport. Also think about any countries you might want to visit during your trip, as planning ahead will help you avoid any glitches along the way.

5 steps to getting a Visa to Volunteer Abroad

Do I need a visa to volunteer abroad?

This depends on your nationality. Many nationalities enjoy visa-free travel to a number of countries for stays of up to 90 days. If your passport does not meet the eligibility requirements, not to worry.

Most – if not all – volunteer travel falls under the category of a tourist visa.

What kind of visa do I need?

This is dependent on the organisation you’re with and the duration of your service. Most volunteer positions run from 1-12 weeks and are unpaid, making you eligible to enter as a tourist.

If you will be working for an organisation that pays its volunteers or requires a long-term stay (such as long-term teaching programs), you may need to secure some type of work permission. Be sure to have a clear understanding of your role in order to better predict your needs.

How do I apply for a visa to volunteer abroad?

Initially, the thought of applying for a visa may seem daunting – especially if your corresponding Embassy or Consulate is hours away. Luckily, these days, many countries offer eVisas that you can apply for online and receive straight to your inbox.

Online sites like Byevisa.com can help you out with this by offering a one-stop-shop for your visa needs.

For many e-Visas, all you need is your passport information, a credit card or PayPal account for online payment, and a spare 10 minutes to fill in your travel details.

If you think you’d like to explore the region while you’re there, choose a Multiple-Entry option if available. This will allow you to re-enter the country after international travel. Be sure to consider your travel dates before purchasing, as some countries will require proof of departure in the form of a round-trip ticket.

Can I apply for a long-term visitor visa?

Keep in mind that different types are valid for different periods of time. A tourist visa, for example, is often valid for 30-90 days after arrival. If your plan is to take part in a long-term volunteer project, you may need to look into extending this window.

Certain countries, such as the United States, offer a B-1 Visitor for Business scheme. Others may allow you to extend once you’re already in the country. Sometimes it’s even possible to travel to a nearby country on holiday and re-enter with a new visitor visa.

Another popular option is the Australian Working Holiday scheme, which allows travellers from eligible countries to live and work in Australia for up to a year. While it may be on the pricier side in comparison to other tourist or visitor visas, the advantage is that it allows you to take part in paid projects, should you choose to do so.

Whatever your idea is, make sure to plan ahead. An attempt to leave the country at any time after your permission expires without a pre-approved extension could result in fines, a refused flight, or any manner of anxious moments.

What else should I consider when volunteering abroad?

Make sure your passport is up to date, as many countries require that it be valid at least six months past your travel date. Additionally, some countries require an entire page for their entry stamp – so make sure to have some free pages available.

There may be other requirements for entry, such as an insurance certificate to show that you are covered for any expenses in a medical emergency. For peace of mind, you may want to invest in travel insurance and have a copy of your summary handy when passing through customs, just in case.

As a general precaution, it’s always a good idea to review travel advisories before embarking on your big adventure. The US Government has a helpful colour-coded map that’s kept up to date with the latest travel advisories. If you have any doubts regarding travel and visa restrictions, contact the country’s corresponding Embassy or Consulate by phone or email for a final verdict.

Travelling as an international volunteer is a great experience that can provide you with new skills, new languages, and new friends. A little extra preparation is well worth the peace of mind it affords. Happy travels!