A complete guide
Are you traveling through South America for a long period of time and would you like to stay for a longer while in one place? We got you covered! Right here and right now, we will give you a complete guide with everything you need to know to do volunteering work in South America.
How do I get a tourist visa for South America?
There are three possibilities to be able to stay in (most) countries in South America depending on where you live.
- Countries that do not require a Tourist visa (the most common possibility)
- Countries that require a tourist visa without consultation
- Countries that require a tourist visa with consultation
If you want to extend your stay in a country in South America, for example, because of volunteering, there are ways to do so. The first method, and my personal favorite, is to cross the border for a little while and go back. Just by re-entering the country, you will get a new stamp that allows you to stay in this country for some more time. Another way to stay longer in some countries, is to visit an immigration office in the country you would like to remain in. It is possible that you will have to pay for this visa extension.
The commonly spoken languages in South America are Spanish and Portuguese. It is very important you know at least the basics of these languages. As a volunteer, you will work with people, and therefore will need to be able to communicate with them. Some organizations will have people who speak English but it will be more interesting if you have basic knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese. Imagine you go to the market on your own, you get in touch with the local authorities for some reason…, it is likely that these people don’t know, or know very little English. Luckily, there are many different ways to learn a language. Many may already know ‘Duolingo’, a way to learn new languages online (cellphone and computer) step by step. Although this app is a great start to learn a new language, from my experience, this takes a lot of time and discipline. Classes on the other hand, show fast results, are very intensive and give you more opportunities to ask when in doubt about some of the classes. Classes can also be more helpful because you hear more of the language and get more chances to speak and practice. When volunteering, make sure to ask the organization if they have contact or provide Spanish/Portuguese classes themselves. The organization “Beyond South America” for example, is an organization that provides Spanish classes in their own Spanish school, connected to their volunteer house.
How old do I need to be to volunteer?
Legally, there aren’t really age restrictions on volunteering, although there are many organizations that don’t cover for volunteers under the age of 16 or 18. Personally I would recommend being 18 years or older, this mostly means you will be treated as an adult (legally) which can make things easier while traveling and volunteering. You can always ask organizations that work with volunteers if they have age specific programs or if the projects are fit for your age.
Where will I stay?
The possibilities for accommodations for volunteers in South America are endless. There are the usual hostels and hotels, you can rent a room/apartment, and some organizations even provide the possibility of volunteer houses or host families. As I mentioned earlier, Beyond South America is one of the organizations that I know of that provide a volunteer house (with different options for rooms) and work together with host families. If you already have an organization in mind, you might want to ask them for these possibilities. Host families can be a little scary as you will be living with a family you don’t know about beforehand. I feel that it is safer to go with host families that work together or have contacts with the organization you will be volunteering in, than to search via rather less confinable sources.
How much will volunteering cost me?
When you go volunteering, you have to keep in mind that you probably will not make any money during your volunteering work, which means that you need to be fully prepared financially. Costs that you may want to think of are rent, transport, food and meals, free time (of you parties, going to new places…) and some other costs. It is always better to think your costs will be higher than you plan them to be, so that halfway through your stay, your money doesn’t run out. Next to these costs, it is better to have an amount of money (rather big than little) for emergencies and unpredicted costs that may come your way. There are a few websites on the internet that can help give you an idea of how much money you need to travel to specific cities/countries. You can always do a fundraiser to gather money for your stay, like a cookie sale, an event… There really are endless possibilities.
Can I combine volunteering with a language school?
There shouldn’t be a problem combining volunteering and language school Juntucha where you can learn Spanish. It often is a good combination! Whilst volunteering, you can already hear sounds, words… And the knowledge you gain through language school, you can put in direct use when you’re communicating while your volunteer work. Organizations who work with volunteers often know good language schools and can help you get in contact with them. Or you can check if the organization itself has a language school, like the organization ‘Beyond South America’.
Why Beyond South America?
‘Beyond South America’ is a great example of an organization for people who are just beginning to volunteer, but also for people who already have some experience. They are located in Bolivia, but have different projects in a few countries in South America. This intermediate agency starts looking for the best possibilities the moment you decide you want to volunteer in South America. They provide video calls to get to know you and help you look for projects that match your interests and personality. They provide information related to housing as they have a volunteering house and work with host families. Apart from that, they also offer language lessons and are always there for you during your stay. Beyond South America has been doing this work for quite some years and have already helped lots of volunteers to provide them with great experiences during their stay and volunteering work.
What did we learn?
First of all, you are never too old to start volunteering in South America! Second, you need to be prepared. You need to know about what visa you need (if you need one, depending on the country), be conscious about the language of the country, look for safe and affordable housing options (most likely related to the organization) and you need to have a bit of a prepared budget. This may seem much, a difficult task and a bit scary to look it all up alone. That is why organizations like ‘Beyond South America’ can provide all this information for you and help you get on your way. The most important thing to remember from all this, is that the efforts you put in preparing your volunteering trip will definitely pay off once you’re there. You get to have all these new experiences, get to know new people and other volunteers from all over the world, and you will feel part of a community, all while giving back to people who need it.