Volunteer in India
Home > Southern Asia > India | Written by Brina Patel | Last updated on 11th Jan, 2023.
For a volunteer experience involving all of the senses, look no further than India. A land of cows, chai, and chutney, India’s vibrance will leave a lifelong imprint upon you.
With its famous festivals like Holi and Diwali, India is also rich in culture and history. It’s no wonder that many people say that it’s a place like nowhere else.
Though the subcontinent is vast, it offers something for every kind of traveler. We want you to have the best possible experience volunteering in India, so we’ve put together a guide that will help lead you through the process.
Steps to volunteering in India
Why volunteer in India?
India is known for its stunning mausoleums and culinary delights. We believe it’s a stellar country for helpers, and here’s why:
Captivating nature - Whether you want to catch a glimpse of the snow-capped Himalayas, dip your toes in the Arabian sea, or camp out with camels in the desert, India has it all.
The cost of living in India is incredibly low. It’s an ideal country to visit on a budget.
India is known for its generosity. Locals are very kind to foreigners, making it easy to feel welcome.
Diversity - With 29 states, 122 major languages, and over 1.2 billion people, India is a melting pot of its own.
Cuisine - Indian food is packed with flavor and loaded with an array of spices. Vegetarianism is practiced widely throughout the country, making it a great choice for travelers who don’t eat meat.
Types of volunteering opportunities
There is a multitude of projects from which to choose. Here are some of the main categories:
Teaching English & TEFL in India - Opportunities include assisting in schools, volunteering with children in orphanages, and teaching English to young students.
Hospitality - Opportunities involve working reception at hostels, helping to set up a backpacker hostel, assisting with marketing operations at an eco lodge, and teaching yoga at a hostel.
Social Issues and NGOs - Opportunities include working with women and children in slums, helping charities, and interning with NGOs.
Farming - Opportunities involve learning about and helping with organic farming practices, as well as partaking in permaculture projects.
Who should volunteer in India?
Anyone with a high level of motivation would make a great volunteer in India. If you’re open-minded, willing to adapt, and ready to be challenged, you’ll do just fine.
The great thing is, many of our projects allow you to utilize the skills and passions you already have. If you love children, why not opt to teach English in one of the schools? Enjoy raising awareness about important causes? Help out at one of the NGOs! Love working with your hands? Choose one of the farm projects!
The best time to visit
Between late October and March, most of India experiences cooler, drier, and sunnier weather, making it the optimal time to visit. If you’re headed to one of the northern states, it can be quite chilly during this time, so bear that in mind. The monsoon season runs from June to September.
Cultural and linguistic expectations
India is a conservative country. Women should wear modest clothing that covers their legs and shoulders. Everyone should bring lighter, breathable fabrics, such as cotton. You may also want to purchase traditional Indian clothing when you arrive, such as a salwar kameez (women) or a kurta (men).
Prior to entering someone’s home, always remove your shoes (unless instructed otherwise). Shoes should also never be worn in temples.
Many Indians eat using their hands. When touching another individual, always use your right hand, as the left hand is considered impure. Though western toilets are becoming more common, squat toilets are still the norm in most households and public places.
Hindi and English are India’s official languages. In larger cities, it’s common to come across English speakers, but in rural areas, English is more limited. While slow and simple communication usually suffices and can overcome language barriers, it can be helpful to learn some basic phrases. Do note that Hindi is spoken primarily in the northern part of the country.
Volunteer skills needed in India
There isn’t a specific skill in high demand, only a desire to put forth your best efforts.
Is it safe to Volunteer in India?
India is generally a safe country. The biggest issues are scams and pickpocketing, particularly in congested metropolitan areas and tourist hubs. Be sure to keep your valuables in a secure place. Always watch where you’re walking and look out for cars, as infrastructure in certain areas is still developing, and traffic laws are lax.
We recommend obtaining travel insurance before your trip. This will serve as a safety net and allow for peace of mind in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Our preferred insurance partner is SafetyWing.
Health and Covid-19
Covid-19 will remain an ongoing challenge for us all. It’s best to remain up-to-date on information specific to India through this link.
When to start planning
It’s best to begin planning your trip at least 3-4 months in advance. This will allow you plenty of time to find the right host, book your flight, gather your belongings, and sort out other logistics of your trip.
Do I need a visa to volunteer in India?
Yes. All foreign nationals visiting India must have a visa to enter the country. (Those from the Maldives, however, may enter visa-free for up to 90 days).
Depending on your nationality, you can apply for either a regular paper visa or an e-Visa. The exception lies for those from Japan, South Korea, or the UAE, who can obtain a visa on arrival. An e-Visa is good for up to 1 year upon arrival, and each stay must not exceed 90 days. If you are from Canada, Japan, the U.K., or the U.S., you may stay for 180 days. The Government of India’s visa website has more information regarding visa applications and specifics.
All of our volunteer opportunities at HelpStay fall under the tourist visa category.
Applying to volunteer in India
As a non-member, you can read up on various work exchange projects in India. Once you’ve read up on all of the information, you can become a member, which will allow you to begin planning your stay.
The membership fee enables you to directly message hosts, using our secure messaging system.
Building your profile
Once you’ve become a member, you can also start to complete the “About You” section of your dashboard. Be sure to include these in your profile:
As soon as all of these fields are complete, you may message hosts.
Writing your volunteer application
Your messages with potential hosts are important, and you will want to present yourself in the best light. Be respectful, as this will go a long way.
Here are some pointers on how to make your application shine:
Thoroughly read the host listing so you have a clear idea of what is expected.
Be clear about how long you hope to stay. Mention what dates you’re available, and whether or not they’re flexible.
Express why you want this particular host’s project.
Say what other kinds of activities and excursions you hope to do when you’re not helping with the project.
Lay out what special talents or skills you have that make you a great fit for this particular project. This will be very helpful for the host!
List any dietary restrictions you may have.
Getting there and backup plans
After you’ve found the right host, you can book your flight to India. India is well-connected by air travel, making it easy to fly into whichever city is nearest to your destination. There is also an extensive railway system throughout the country, allowing travelers to move within India more easily. Additionally, local buses and rickshaws can help you get from place to place locally.
As with any major thing in life, it’s always wise to have a plan B. In our volunteer abroad guide, we highlight the importance of having a backup plan.
Explore available opportunities