10 tips when volunteering overseas

When volunteering overseas, there are a few things one needs to do before you set out on your trip. Here’s some tips from the Singapore International Foundation.

If you’re thinking about volunteering overseas over a weekend or a few months, here are 10 top tips by our friends at the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) before you make that trip that could be your adventure of a lifetime:

Enhancing new-born services – SIF volunteers training medical personnel at the Intensive Care Unit for newborns at Chengalpattu Medical College and Hospital in India.

1) Passport validity ­­– Many may think this is a ‘no-brainer’, but it is often overlooked. Before you apply for any volunteer trip, do ensure that your passport is valid for at least another six months or more (depending on the length of your volunteer stint).

2) Visa requirements ­­– The organisation that you will be volunteering with should be able to advise. However, it is always a good practice to check with the destination country’s consulate or embassy for accuracy. Do give yourself ample time for visa applications.

3) Travel insurance ­­– Need we say more? Insure thyself!

4) Medication & vaccination ­­– Ask your doctor about the country you will be visiting and what vaccination you should take prior. Ensure that you bring along sufficient dosages of medication (i.e. those that you are prescribed on, as well as the generic paracetamol, anti-diarrhoea pills, mosquito spray, etc) as medical services or supplies may not be easily available in the areas you volunteer in.

5) Cultural sensitivities ­­– Equipping yourself with some basic knowledge of cultural sensitivities (i.e. the do’s and don’ts) could save you a whole lot of hassle. For example, in Laos where an encounter with a monk on the street is a regular event, it is considered inappropriate to have any form of physical contact with him. This is especially so for women.

6) Register with foreign missions ­­– In today’s unpredictable world, you never know when a natural disaster may strike, or riots may break. In the event of emergency or crisis, the foreign missions will be able to locate you and provide necessary assistance. If you’re a Singapore citizen, you can e-register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

Water for Life – SIF volunteers building water filters in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

7) Learn basic foreign language terms ­­– Don’t assume English is the primary language of communication in your volunteer destination. Learn local words like, “hello”, “toilet”, “restaurant”, “hotel”, “hospital” and “thank you”. They will come in very handy and may also score you some brownie points with the locals.

8) Business card of your hotel/lodging ­­– In line with the previous tip, always bring along a business card of your selected accommodation for directions. The locals will be less bewildered, and you may save on unnecessary taxi fare!

9) Food & water conditions­­ – Avoid tap water and uncooked foods in developing countries. Our sanitised stomachs don’t usually take very well to local water and food conditions. Go with bottled water and ensure that your food is always thoroughly cooked.

10) Local currency ­­– Some local currencies may not be available for exchange in Singapore. Always check with your host organisation on foreign currency matters.

Above all, volunteer with a trusted organisation that has a strong track record in overseas work.  Keeping an opened mind is key to a satisfying volunteering experience. Enjoy the adventure!