How to Choose the Right International Volunteer Program – Part I

As a citizen of the world, Kristy Moore has combined her love for volunteering and travels for more than a decade. As an ‘Adventure Connector’ with Hand Up Australia, Kristy currently works towards making international volunteering fulfilling for Australian families, individuals and teams. In this 1st part of a 2-part article on choosing the right international volunteering program, Kristy shares her insights on the little things you need to ask yourself before starting to look for an international volunteering opportunity.

Kristy Moore, Handup Australia, Volunteer abroad, International volunteering, voluntourismMany people want to volunteer overseas, but aren’t sure where to start. There are an increasing number and variety of options for international volunteers, but it’s not always easy to find the right match at the right time (for you) or to compare the programs that you do find.  That’s certainly a challenge I faced before going on my first international volunteer program and I invested a lot of time to find a way to make it happen.  I’ve since volunteered on four continents and have personally experienced both independent and organised volunteer programs.  Now, almost every day I’m asked questions around how to find suitable volunteer roles/programs and I love helping to make it easier for people who want to volunteer overseas.

I was recently reminded of these challenges when speaking at an event with community and international development professionals, social entrepreneurs and people curious about volunteering abroad. The audience raised some interesting topics around international volunteering, including:

  • How do volunteers contribute in developing countries without feeling like they are expected to provide a hand out?
  • The importance of support for volunteers when they return home (reverse culture shock is a real thing)
  • Short and long-term sustainability of community development projects that include volunteers.

Inspired by these conversations, as well as questions I’m asked almost every day by interested volunteers and my own volunteer travel experiences, I’ve put together a collection of questions to consider for your (next) international volunteer experience.

These questions will be especially helpful if you’re interested in international community development projects (not emergency relief projects). Some are questions to ask yourself and others are questions to ask volunteer program organisers or organisations that accept volunteers from your home country – all are intended to help you find the right international volunteer program that is best for you.

Questions to Consider Before Volunteering Overseas


Why do I want to volunteer?

What do I hope to achieve?

Do I have any personal objectives?

Do I want to share the experience with someone else?

Who would I like to volunteer with – friends, family, a team or just me? 

Kristy Moore, Hand up Australia, voluntourism, volunter abroad, International Volunteering, International Volunteer Program
Kristy Moore and group bricklaying for school toilet block in India

When do I want to volunteer?

Is my timing flexible?

How long do I want to volunteer for?

How much time am I willing/able to commit?

Which part of the world do I want to volunteer in?


These questions will help you think about why you want to volunteer and your preferences for when, where and whether you’d like to share the experience. In the next part we will move towards further questions to ask organisers and organisations to help you select the right program for you.

Best wishes choosing the right international volunteer program for you and thanks for ‘being the change’!

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