Retirement doesn't need to keep you at home. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of international volunteers.
Remember when you were young and idealistic, and wanted to make a difference in the world?
Now that you’re retired, you have your chance.
Baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation are flocking overseas to take part in volunteer vacations.
You’ll be in good company if you head abroad to volunteer. Those age 65 and older are the fastest-growing group of international volunteers, soaring nearly 75 percent, from about 73,000 in 2008 to 127,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. For those between the ages of 55 and 64, the number of people volunteering internationally jumped from about 102,000 in 2004 to 161,000 in 2012.
Where to look
So how do you find opportunities to volunteer abroad?
There are two good places to start – the Internet and a religious organization. In fact, of all those who volunteered abroad, regardless of age, nearly half were connected to a religious organization, the Census Bureau found.
You’ll find opportunities detailed online with organizations connected to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic faiths, or perhaps with your own church, synagogue or mosque.
Your other option is to plop yourself in front of your computer to search out organizations, and you’ll come up with a wealth of opportunities. These were recommended by SavvySenior.org founder Jim T. Miller on The Huffington Post:
- Earthwatch Institute. “Expeditions” focus on environmental research and conservation.
- Globe Aware. This group offers volunteer vacations of a week or more.
- Global Volunteers. It offers volunteer vacations of one to three weeks.
- Road Scholar. This group used to be known as Elderhostel.
- Habitat for Humanity. You can volunteer with this well-known charity overseas.
- Another site we recommend is Projects Abroad.
What to expect
Where you go and what you’ll be doing on your volunteer vacation depends on your own interests and skills. You can find opportunities in dozens of countries, from Poland to Peru.
You might be able to tap into the skills you’ve honed in your professional life, or choose something that simply appeals to you. Tutoring, general labor, mentoring youth and providing medical care are some of the most common ways that volunteers spend their time abroad, the Census Bureau survey found.
Once you’ve found something that piques your interest, you’ll need to fill out an application for that position.
In many cases you’ll work alongside locals as you do your tasks, so not only will you be able to share your skills with others, you’ll likely be developing new skills, while having the chance to immerse yourself in the local culture. Many programs also set aside time so you can take part in cultural activities.
What are the costs
It often will cost you a couple of thousand dollars to volunteer for a week or two abroad. Typically that will cover your accommodations, food and local transportation, and you’ll usually need to pay your airfare separately.
If it’s not included in the fee you pay to the organization, make sure to purchase travel insurance in case your travel plans go awry, and health insurance if your coverage doesn’t apply overseas.
While the costs of an international volunteer vacation may seem steep, because you’re volunteering with a nonprofit you’ll be able to deduct your expenses from your taxes.
Retirees, does the idea of volunteering in a foreign country appeal to you? Have you done it? Share your experience on our Facebook page.