- What makes Oyster unique?
- How long have you been going?
- How do I know Oyster is a responsible organisation?
- Can I really make a difference as a volunteer?
- Will I learn any new skills?
- There is so much to choose from! How do I know what is right for me?
- Do I need previous experience to volunteer or work abroad on one of your programmes?
- How safe is my money?
- Where does my money go?
- I don’t live in the UK, can I still participate?
- Can I speak to a former participant?
- Is Oyster a member of the Year Out Group?
- What standard does Oyster use to benchmark its safety standards and good practice?
- Is there a minimum or maximum age for participants?
- Are there any other restrictions on joining a project?
- How independent will I be?
- When do I need to apply?
- Do I need to learn a language?
- Do I travel on my own?
- Can friends go together?
- Can I do more than one project?
- Can I put my time abroad towards achieving my Duke of Edinburgh's Award?
- What’s the deal with flights?
- How do I book?
- Why do you need to speak to me?
- Can I have a telephone interview?
- What happens at the interview?
- What is a pre-departure briefing?
- When do I pay?
- How do I raise the money?
- Can you recommend a travel insurance policy?
- What vaccinations might I need?
What makes Oyster unique?
Oyster is a family owned business that specialises in arranging voluntary work and paid work for individuals from around the world. We are committed to giving our participants passion, care and commitment, and work hard to make sure that you have an amazing time through us. One of the things that is most important to us is to offer excellent support throughout, both before, during and after the placement. We are one of the longest running organisations of our kind and, we believe, one of the most experienced. We are all passionate travellers both for our work and in our free time- and this combination of experience and passion means that we are well placed and excited to get you on an overseas adventure.
Read more about why you should choose Oyster.
How long have you been going?
We have been sending participants overseas since 1999. We changed our name to Oyster Worldwide in 2006, continuing to work with the projects that we set up originally and also reaching out to grow our projects and our reach.
How do I know Oyster is a responsible organisation?
Oyster is proud to be leading the way in responsible and safe travel. Through visiting all of our projects and establishing close relationships with them, we understand what the project needs and what you need. We check our projects thoroughly against our policies, visiting them personally before deciding whether to work with them. We also speak with each participant before signing them up on our projects, to make sure that this project is right for the individual as well as the placement.
Can I really make a difference as a volunteer?
Oyster will only send volunteers to places where you are really needed. We visit our projects before formally setting up with them, and will assess the need in that area. Whilst we don’t expect our volunteers to feel that they have changed the world overnight, we are proud that our volunteers can come back from their projects feeling that they have made a genuine contribution to a great cause.
Will I learn any new skills?
Definitely! Oyster projects are all about hands-on work, so whether you are volunteering or doing a paid job, you will be trained up in a range of activities – sometimes leading to a formal qualification. There are plenty of opportunities for ‘soft learning’ too. Your local co-workers will be delighted to share additional information about their field of work, and also to chat about the local area and culture. Some of our projects include active language-learning, but you can work at learning the local language wherever you are. Finally, the experience of travelling to a new place and fitting in with a group of strangers will definitely develop your self-reliance and confidence. If you’re a student, put it on your CV/resume to show employers that you can handle a challenge.
There is so much to choose from! How do I know what is right for me?
In part, this is where we come in. We love to speak with our participants to find out what makes them tick, and where their passions lie. It is important to think about what you enjoy, what you are passionate about and where in the world you could imagine yourself being! If there are a range of things that you are considering, do think about your budget and your time scale.
Do give us a call on 00 44(0) 1892 770 771 and we can discuss your options with you- and hopefully give you some great suggestions on where to start!
Do I need previous experience to volunteer or work abroad on one of your programmes?
This really does depend on each programme. For many of our animal welfare programmes all you need is a love for animals, a willingness to muck in and just get thoroughly immersed in the programme.
For placements with children, we do require some level of experience of having worked with children in a prior capacity before.
For paid work, work experience really does help, although do look at the individual paid work opportunities to find out what requirements there are for each.
How safe is my money?
We have been operating successfully since 1999. Being a small organisation means we keep a close eye on our costs and make sure that we are financially stable.
We have an ATOL which allows us to book flights. It also gives people financial protection should we go out of business. This scheme is backed up by the UK government and can only be used if Oyster has booked your flights.
Check out our financial policy for more.
Where does my money go?
We are a small family owned business rather than a charity and have avoided what we see as the restrictions of charitable status or claiming to be “not for profit”. We run a tight ship at our Head Office and try to make a modest profit that is reinvested into developing new projects and is used to make donations to our projects that have a specific need.
Each project that we run is very different, however here is a general break down of where your money will go:
- Funds the cost to the project of accommodating you, training and supporting you while you are there.
- Meet other expenses for your trip, such as your airport meet-up, transfer, orientation and any standard excursions.
- Providing you with our experienced team, who have all done Oyster’s projects. They will be on hand to advise you, monitor the project and respond to any issues and emergencies. We always have a member of staff available 24/7 in case of emergencies.
- Maintaining a close relationship with the project through liaising with the local representative, monitoring feedback, and occasional visits by Oyster’s Destination Managers.
- Ongoing work to review and improve our service and procedures to ensure your trip is well planned, safe and meets all your expectations.
- Administration, insurance and marketing costs.
- Work to research and develop future projects.
- Regular donations to chosen projects, we currently support two children in Port Elizabeth and sponsor a Bear in Romania, an Elephant in South Africa and turtles in Thailand and Costa Rica.
I don’t live in the UK, can I still participate?
YES! We take bookings from people from all around the world. In the past 12 months, we’ve sent many Australians, Americans, Canadians, Russians, Africans, Asians and Europeans on our volunteer programmes.
There are some restrictions on our paid work programmes and these are due to the Work Permits required for Canada and Australia.
For Canada, we can take bookings from most Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders (as well as Canadians themselves!).
For Australia, we can take applications from most Europeans, Americans and Canadians.
Can I speak to a former participant?
We’ll happily put you in touch with a former participant, preferably one from the project you’re interested in (but we can’t guarantee this). You can also find Oyster on Facebook, we have a really popular page that a lot of our past and present participants are members of.
Is Oyster a member of the Year Out Group?
Yes, we are full members. Roger Salwey has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Year Out Group since 2008. As members we are required to report on a number of key areas including insurance, emergency procedures. We work closely with other members to share experience of good practice and collaborate over challenging situations eg natural hazards such as Volcanic ash.
What standard does Oyster use to benchmark its safety standards and good practice?
Oyster uses British Standard BS8848. We have been actively involved as a member of the committee that drew up the 2014 version. You can see our commitment to BS8848 in our Meeting BS8848 policy.
BS 8848 is the British Standard for organising and managing visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities outside the UK.
Is there a minimum or maximum age for participants?
Almost all of our projects require participants to be aged at least 18 before departure. There are a number of exceptions where we can take 17 year olds with parental consent. If you are 17 and are keen to get involved just get in touch to find out what options we have available.
We have a medical project designed specifically for 16-18 year olds in India. This project involves a lot more support, including a full-time leader from the UK.
We also send families away on our projects which is absolutely fine – under 18’s can be accompanied by parents.
For all volunteer projects there is no upper age limit so if you are on a gap year, career break, holiday or retirement, you are most welcome!
“I met some extremely special people of all ages and enjoyed the fact it didn’t matter who we were, where we came from or how old we were, we were all there to do an important job” Sara Lee, South Africa monkey project 2014.
For our paid work programmes in Canada and Australia, you need to be aged 18-30 at the time your work permit application is received by the visa offices.
Are there any other restrictions on joining a project?
Most projects are suitable for adults of all ages and nationalities. The main requirement is that you should have a keen interest in the work of the project and be able to speak enough English to communicate with the other people there. We will check all this during your initial chat with us. Most projects involve quite a lot of physical work, so do let us know if you have any medical conditions or a disability that might need special arrangements (unfortunately we cannot accommodate participants needing active therapy). A few Oyster projects have specific requirements for working visas, relevant work experience or skills such as driving. These are made clear on the relevant webpage.
How independent will I be?
Oyster projects aim to promote your independence as much as possible, so that you can develop your skills as a worker and a traveller. Most projects don’t involve direct supervision 24/7 (although there will always be access to help in an emergency). Typically, you will be able to leave the project during your time off, allowing you to get to know the local area and discover its culture. However, with independence comes personal responsibility for making sensible decisions about your safety when a supervisor isn’t there. In particular we expect you to:
- Respect the project’s own rules about safety and conduct
- Respect Oyster’s own code of conduct
- Follow Oyster’s advice about specific risks, such unsafe activities in your free time, places to avoid, the risks of too much alcohol, drug use and unprotected sex.
When do I need to apply?
This can really depend on the project! For our Canada work placements you need to apply as soon as you know that you want to do it- places can usually fill up to 6 months before departure.
The summer periods are usually very popular and so we would recommend booking your summer placement in November – February to get your guaranteed best dates. We can take late bookings too, but you might need to be more flexible on your departure dates.
Last minute options are often available, so do ask!
Do I need to learn a language?
Any language skills you already have will be really useful, particularly Spanish for our Chile programme, Portuguese for Brazil and French for Tremblant. You don’t need to speak another language already, but we really encourage you to learn out there. Most participants find it one of the most rewarding bits of their time away. Don’t worry; there’s basic teaching on arrival.
Many volunteers in Tanzania and Romania, for example, find it useful to learn the basics before they start their trip.
Do I travel on my own?
Most of our destinations operate on a group departure system. Groups vary in size but you are certain to make friends with some or all of your group-mates; many travel together after the placement. If you’d prefer to go on your own, that’s fine, just give us a ring. We can be flexible with departure dates so let us know if our set dates do not work for you.
Lots of our short term animal welfare programmes attract people who are happy to travel to the project on their own. With these you can go at anytime of the year so we don’t group you up together. You will be sure to meet a great group of other volunteers on arrival though and make friends with people from around the world.
Can friends go together?
Yes! Whilst most of our participants do come to us as an independent traveller, we do welcome friends as well!
Can I do more than one project?
Yes. Many participants like to combine a bit of hedonism with feeling good about themselves, so do a voluntary and a paid placement.
On our South Africa projects, if you combine more than one on the same trip, we’ll give you a £50 discount.
Can I put my time abroad towards achieving my Duke of Edinburgh's Award?
Yes, you are able to put the time that you spend volunteering abroad on some of our projects towards achieving your Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. We are happy to sign off your completion of any of our following programmes to show that you have achieved the Residential section of the Gold Award:
- Volunteer with turtles in Costa Rica.
- Volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand.
- Wildlife conservation experience with the Big 5 in South Africa.
- Volunteer with elephants in South Africa.
- Volunteer with monkeys and baboons in South Africa.
- Elephant conservation volunteering in Namibia.
We do encourage that you write a blog for us about your time away so that we can know precisely what you were doing as part of the greater project too.
What’s the deal with flights?
We have an ATOL (number 9598). This allows us to book flights on your behalf and gives you financial protection. Many of our programmes include flights in the price (see our Pricelist for details).
If you want to arrange your own flights for any of our projects, that’s fine, just let us know and we’ll reduce your project price accordingly.
Remember that you may miss out on travelling with your group and, more importantly, you will not be protected by our ATOL.
On our short term animal welfare programmes we do not automatically include flights. Instead we recommend that you contact one of our flights partners:
- STA Travel – Contact Alison Nicholls by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call her on 0871 468 0668 and quote “Oyster”.
- GYT (part of Flight Centre) – You can contact the team by email (email@example.com) or by phone (0844 5609863).
Just let either partner know the Oyster project you are going on and the date you need to arrive and they will do the rest. They are open Mon-Fri 9am-7pm so feel free to ask them any flight related questions you might have.
If you would rather not organise flights yourself, we can organise them for you. We would charge you exactly what we get charged, plus £30 for our time and cover through our ATOL.
How do I book?
Just click on the ‘Book’ button at the top of every page. From there you can see our price list and read ‘Our Booking Process Explained’ page before completing one of our Booking Forms (there’s a separate one for each project).
Why do you need to speak to me?
By far the best way of getting the right project for the right person is to speak with you either over the phone or face to face. That way you make the most of your time abroad and our projects get the right participants. It also lets you check us out!
For our short term animal welfare projects, this takes the form of an informal chat just to find out more about you, tell you about the project and answer any questions you might have.
For our longer term placements and paid work opportunities, this will take the form of an interview.
Can I have a telephone interview?
Yes. In fact, with the power of technology, we are now able to interview and brief people over the phone or Skype and show you photos of your project as if you were in the office with us. This has really helped us to attract lots of volunteers and participants to our programmes from around the world.
Of course if you are in the UK, we do always prefer to meet you in person if at all possible at our office in Sussex. We can send you directions coming by car and public transport.
What happens at the interview?
The interview itself lasts for approximately 20 minutes and takes the form of an informal chat with the Destination Manager – the person who will be planning your trip for you. We want to know about your life experience, motivation and expectations and will brief you on your potential placement.
For our short term animal welfare projects, this takes the form of an informal chat just to find out more about you, tell you about the project and answer any questions you might have.
What is a pre-departure briefing?
Once you accept you will receive plenty of advice to help you plan your trip (eg: getting a visa, insurance, vaccinations & flights). You can contact us at any time if you have queries or concerns. Then, a month or so before departure we will provide pre-departure briefing including an information pack and extended telephone conversation. For our longer group placements, we run a special one or two day course at or near to our office in East Sussex. For people from outside of the UK, we can run these briefings over Skype.
When do I pay?
With the exception of our programmes in the Australian Outback, you do not need to pay anything to apply for one of our programmes (the Outback programme requires a £50 deposit at time of application).
For all other programmes, we will ask you to make your first payment of £180 one week after we offer you a place (after the initial interview). This payment is followed by a payment of £450 six months before departure and the balance 90 days before departure.
How do I raise the money?
Most people work, but we can give you plenty of fund-raising ideas. Just contact us for inspiration!
Can you recommend a travel insurance policy?
Oyster Worldwide is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as an Introducer Appointed Representative of Global Travel Insurance. Our status means that we cannot advise you on insurance. This needs to be your decision. This policy is only available to UK residents.
For many years we have acted as an ‘introducer’ to the policy that has been tailored to meet the needs of Oyster Worldwide participants.
Some key elements of the policy:
● Cancellation cover for the FULL AMOUNT of your placement (up to £5000).
● Travel disruption cover, should your journey be disrupted due to Foreign Office travel restrictions following riots, war etc.
● Unrestricted winter sports cover for Canadian programmes (other policies have time restrictions).
● No excess on medical or hospital claims.
● Cover is provided for all work to be undertaken as part of the programme (other policies will not cover work of any kind).
What vaccinations might I need?
This really does depend on where you are going in the world and how long for. We would always recommend speaking with your doctor or travel nurse about this. We also suggest looking at our travel health partner, Interhealth, for more information on vaccines and health considerations in the countries that you might be considering.
The friendship I've made with other volunteers are far stronger than I imagined
Amy Russell, 2005.