Why must I pay to volunteer or intern abroad?

Question: Why should I pay your organization to volunteer or intern in India?  I am devoting my time, energy, and skills to help the people of India.  I don’t feel right about paying to do this and would like housing and other expenses paid for.  

Leave UR Mark gets this question a lot regarding the ethics of having to pay in order to volunteer or intern to work for free in another country.  Many students and travelers feel that they can be paid for their work or should get housing/food in exchange for their volunteering efforts.  In an effort to help people understand why they are paying an organization like us versus doing a volunteer/internship program for free, we have come up with a few explanations and tips for everyone!  Volunteering abroad can be done in several different ways.  Here are some of the ways to do it.

1) Highly Skilled Professionals: If you have extremely tangible skills that are highly needed in developing countries (doctors, surgeons, engineers, pharmaceuticals, farming, or water management) you can go through free programs such as Doctors Without Borders, Peace Corps, or other government funded programs that take professionals. These types of programs require commitments of up to 6 months to 2 years and you have less flexibility for doing what you want to do.  You must volunteer for the cause they have chosen.  So if you want to go into microfinance but there is a dire need in waste water management, you will be placed accordingly.  If a government funded program is paying for you, they need to make sure they are recruiting volunteers who are not there for holiday.

2) Programs like us.  The reasons that Leave UR Mark and other third party organizations like ourselves charge the fees that we do is because we specialize in doing short-term volunteer or internship projects that other organizations do not do such as the ones that are free.  We also help a lot more in terms of Pre-Departure support as well as arrival support when you get to India along with housing, health and safety training, socialization, and back up emergency support in case something goes wrong.  You are essentially paying not necessarily for our organization to grow (which of course it does) but for staff that has to be available at any hour of the day for you.  You are paying for a safety net of knowledgeable locals who are going to be there for you in case you need it.  Going through a project like ours also ensures that you have a group of other international travelers that you can form friendships with, go on weekend trips together, and are going through similar cultural experiences as your own.  You are also paying for flexibility.  Want to work in film and radio? Or organic farming? Or HR and Advertising? Or with children? Or a little bit of both?  Programs such as ours are able to provide customized placements based on your passion.  This is best for people who want to do meaningful work within short periods of time (1 month to 6 months) rather than attempting to navigate the often chaotic logistics of India on their own.


3) Do the legwork yourself.  The third option is to try and find an organization on your own and see if they will take you on.  This option will also be free because maybe the organization will not charge you.  However, you will have to do all the legwork and research yourself by trying to make sure the organization actually has meaningful work for you to do (and you’re not just babysitting children all day or doing data entry).  You will also have to find safe and clean housing somewhat close to the organization by yourself.  You will have to form your own contacts and network of people in India that will try and help you in case something goes wrong.  You will have to venture out on your own to make friends (both international and local).   The staff at the NGO or organization may not necessarily have the expertise, the time or resources, to help you out in case something goes wrong as they may not have dealt with foreign volunteers or interns before.  This is recommended only for people who have either already traveled extensively in India or the country they choose to go to, are extremely well traveled in general, or are able to devote at least 6 months to a year to set this up for themselves, by themselves.  This can be a lonely and frustrating experience.


  1. Think locally.  If you were to volunteer at your local nursing home or child care center, the organization would not be paying for your housing, food, and transportation expenses.  The same goes for NGOs or Non-Profits in other countries, they cannot pay for you.  If an organization needed short term volunteers, they would hire locals who don’t need as much support, training, or have a cultural understanding gap.
  2. Be realistic about your own skills: Although you may have great skills in teaching English, psychotherapy, marketing, management, etc. you may not necessarily have skills that are highly needed in a developing country like India.  This means that if an organization chooses to let you on as a volunteer or intern, it will be more of a two way experiential education for both you and them, rather than a regular job.  Therefore, people who feel they should be paid for their skills are recommended to research what skills are really needed for the country they are going into.  If you have soft skills that you wish to perfect, volunteering and interning abroad can be a great way to develop them.
  3. Do it again and again: If you have your heart set on volunteering or interning in India for a long period of time, come through a paid program such as Leave UR Marks for the first 3-4 months.  Absorb and understand the local knowledge.  Then fly back to your own country, work and save, and come back to India on your own with the expertise you gained from the previous trip.
  4. Recruit your friends: If you ask a friend or family member to come along with you on your volunteering or interning abroad experience, then Leave UR Mark will be able to provide you with a discounted price.  This is a good way to share the expenses.
We hope this helps more people understand the differences of paying for a volunteering/interning abroad experience versus not.


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