Preparing for your volunteer trip is easy to do. I did my volunteer trip through IVHQ so they had a list of things I needed to do and I went ahead and got them done one by one. Volunteering abroad is a great way for you to give back to those in need while also learning a new skill or honing one of your skills. When you are volunteering you are supporting a community by giving them your time, energy, and skills. One of the best things about my volunteer experience was that I was working with other volunteers who had the same goal as I did which is to help my Spanish speaking students learn English.
Once I registered for the teach English program, I booked a flight through IVHQ. I highly suggest booking your flight as soon as you have registered for your volunteer program. If you are flying to San Jose, note that there are direct flights from Los Angeles to San Jose. I did not take that flight. My flight went all over the place, but in the end I flew out of Miami to San Jose. I wish I had booked a simpler flight though. I arrived in San Jose a day before the start of my volunteer program, which was perfect.
When you are registering for the program, make sure to do your research thoroughly as to where you want to go that way you are not making changes to your program. If you do need to make changes, IVHQ lets you. When I first registered, I signed up for volunteer teaching program in Xian, China. I later learned from my volunteer program advisor that I needed to get a visa to enter China and that I had to travel to San Francisco to do that. I did not have the money in my budget nor the time so I changed my program to volunteer teach program’s destination which was Costa Rica. In the future, I would like to try a volunteer trip to Xian, China, but I will really need to plan that out more carefully.
- Passport and Visa
My volunteer trip was in San Jose, Costa Rica so it was a pretty easy preparation process. I made sure I had my passport. If you are volunteering in Costa Rica, you do not need to go to an embassy to get a visa. You can get a 90 day tourist stamp on your passport once you arrive. That stamp will allow you to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days. After 90 days, you must exit the country and re-enter to get that stamp again. Other countries may require you to obtain a visa ahead of time from their embassy so make sure to check with your volunteer organization to find out the details for your travel visa.
I extended my stay in Costa Rica past 90 so I ended up going to Rivas, Nicaragua to exit Costa Rica. I was there for one night. It did not take a long time to exit Costa Rica. I then went back to San Jose the next day. I went with my co-worker from Academia Europea. It was a lot of fun to go to Rivas.
The next thing you need to make sure of is to have proper clothes. Since I was volunteer teaching, I packed lots of shirts and pants. I wanted to look casual, but not too laid back since I was teaching after all. I also packed lots of shorts for the times I was going to be spending at my homestay and also for going out. The one thing I did not pack enough of are sweaters. It was a little cold at night and early in the morning in Costa Rica. I highly suggest packing three sweaters at least and some jogging pants.
- Pack Light
Do not pack too much when heading to your volunteer trip. Just pack enough clothes to last you during your volunteer trip. Pack formal work shoes for working. Pack sneakers for traveling. Pack sandals for lounging around. Do not pack too many shoes. Pack some makeup, but not too much makeup. You will probably not have enough time to do your makeup in the mornings and it might be too hot to wear makeup. Packing less means you will not be lugging around a huge luggage all over the airport. This will help you relax during your travel and have lots of fun.
- Bring a Gift
If you are staying with a host family, make sure to bring a gift from your home country. You can also bring markers or art supplies to donate to your volunteer location. Gifts always help so make sure to bring something special.
Make sure to bring enough money to your volunteer trip. You should bring enough dollars to then exchange into the local currency once you arrive so you can pay taxi drivers if needed. Luckily for me, Maximo Nivel has an airport pick up service and I was picked up by a van and then taken to Maximo Nivel’s office and then afterward to my homestay. You can possibly live off of $150 a week in San Jose, Costa Rica, but you need to make sure you have enough for buses, Ubers, taxis, and food.
If you are planning to do tours during your weekends make sure to budget for those. I decided to do a Combo Tour which was about $90. It did include a tour to the Doka Coffee Plantation, Poas Volcano, and La Paz Waterfall. In San Jose, you can book your tours at MJ Travel Service, which is located right next to Maximo Nivel.
- Background Check
Make sure to get your background check before you go. Most volunteer organizations will require you to obtain your background check and then send them a copy. A background check should be one of your requirements. Make sure to get it done as soon as possible. I got my background check done online.
- Travel Insurance
You need to have travel insurance during your time traveling. Travel insurance will allow you to get medical help if you need it. It will ensure that you are safe during your travel. Most volunteer organizations will talk about this and may require that you send them paperwork showing proof that you do have travel insurance.
- Make Copies of Your Documents
When you are traveling make sure to copy your important documents just in case they get lost. You need to make a copy of your passport, visa, and travel insurance so you always have those on hand. When I was in Costa Rica, I often had to use my passport copy. I usually had my passport copy on hand. It was not required that I carry around my passport as long as I had my passport copy. I was then able to store my passport in the safe in my hotel room in San Jose.
Some countries require you to get vaccines. Costa Rica does not require you to get vaccines so I did not have to, but for other countries you might have to. Check with your volunteer organization to find out more about the vaccine requirements for your destination.
- Book Your Accommodation
You can stay in a homestay during your volunteer trip. I stayed in a homestay and I absolutely loved it. After a week and a half I decided to stay closer to Maximo Nivel so I got a hotel for about a week and a half. It was worth it for me because I spent most of my time in the San Pedro area.
My host mom was amazing. She prepared my breakfast and dinner. I also got help learning about San Jose. I was also able to get my laundry done with the help of my host mom. She charged only a little bit and it was worth it.
These are some of my advice for preparing for you volunteer trip. I hope this was helpful. I will be making a movie about this blog post to talk about my volunteer preparation process a little bit more.
Pack a Medical Kit to Your Volunteer Trip Video
Document with Your Information
It is important to fill out a document with your information so if there are any issues someone can find out more about you. Write down your medical information and emergency contact information. I have created a PDF below that you can download. You can also add information about your homestay and your host family’s information on the sheet so you have it handy and ready for reference.
Contact Information Sheet
Click on the link to download the file you can print out and fill out.
Important Costa Rica Phone Numbers
Identify Your Destination Country’s Risks
You must do your research about your destination country’s current political situation and if it is currently safe to travel to the country. Costa Rica is a safe country to go to, but it is still important to research what is going on in the country. Currently, Costa Rica is closed to travelers due to the Covid 19 pandemic. I checked this site for information: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/costa-rica-travel-advisory.html
Usually it is safe to travel to Costa Rica, but still before you go to Costa Rica research your country’s advisory site on travel. You can just look it up on Google. It is important to research the tourismand cultural dos and don’ts. Make sure to also take note of the weather and the political situation. Some countries may have terrorism warnings. Please take those types of news seriously and make sure to think about that type of a warning when making your decision as to what country to go to because that may affect your safety greatly.
Some countries may have medical type issues going on and you will be able to find the warning online. Head those precautions and take them into account when deciding your volunteer program. Costa Rica’s government website and their tourism sites were very helpful in learning all of these information. Guide books were also helpful for me. The two guide books I had contained lots of information about Costa Rica and how stable of a country Costa Rica was. There were some warnings, but nothing too major during August of 2019.
Here is the latest Covid 19 Information regarding Costa Rica below.
Here is the Covid 19 Information News link below. Click on it to download the information.