- 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 book?
- 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 visit your office?
- What happens at the initial briefing?
- 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 programme. 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?
Oyster Worldwide was born in 2006. Our director and owner, Roger, has been organising gap year programmes since 1999.
How do I know Oyster is a responsible organisation?
Oyster is proud to be leading the way in responsible and safe travel. Through visiting 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 or the management staff 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 programme.
Can I really make a difference as a volunteer?
Oyster will only send volunteers to places where you are really needed. We aim to 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?
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 +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 programmes 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 2006. 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 Licence 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.
Where we do not book flights, the money paid is protected through our bond with International Passenger Protection.
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?
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, Australia and New Zealand.
For Canada, we can take bookings from most Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders (as well as Canadians themselves!).
For Australia and New Zealand, 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.
Jon Arnold has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Year Out Group since 2017, taking over from Roger Salwey who was on the Committee between 2008 and 2017.
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. These are listed on our Under 18s project page.
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 becoming increasingly popular – 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 volunteer.
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 contact 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 web page.
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 book?
This can really depend on the project! For our Canada work programmes you need to apply as soon as you know that you want to do it- getting a work permit is not easy and you stand the best chance of success the earlier you apply.
The summer periods are usually very popular and so we would recommend booking your summer holiday between November – February to get your guaranteed best dates. We can usually take late bookings too, but you might need to be more flexible on your departure dates.
Last minute options are often available, check out our late availability page for details.
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 Nepal 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 projects accept participants all year round so it is possible that you will travel to the project on your own, or in a small group, and then be working with other volunteers already at the project. You will be sure to meet a great group of other volunteers on arrival though and make friends with people from around the world.
Our paid work programmes in Canada operate on set dates for the summer and winter season. With set dates means we can group people together so that it is likely you will travel out to the destination together.
Can friends go together?
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 programme with Oyster.
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?
You are able to put the time that you spend abroad on some of our projects towards achieving your Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. We are an Approved Activity Provider for the DofE Award Residential section. 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, for example:
- 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 Licence (number 9598). This allows us to book flights on your behalf and gives you financial protection. Some of our projects will show a price with flights and price without. We give you the choice to decide.
Where a flight inclusive option is not available we can still book your flights and cover your time with Oyster under our ATOL Licence. We would charge you whatever the cost of the flight is on the day, plus a £30 admin fee.
If you want to organise your own flights, we recommend that you contact Jenny at Flight Centre by email – [email protected] or call +44 1892 530030
Just let Jenny know the Oyster project you are going on and the date you need to arrive and she will do the rest.
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).
As part of your booking, we request the first payment of £180 towards your programme fee. Once we have received this, one of our project experts will be in touch to go through the programme, find out a bit more about you and answer any further questions that you might have.
After the one-to-one telephone briefing, in the unlikely event that we are unable to offer you a place on an Oyster programme, we would return this £180 to you.
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 longer term projects and paid work opportunities, this will take the form of an interview.
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. If you are not able to speak to us, we do give you the choice between a call or receiving a short list of questions to answer by email.
Can I visit your office?
We are based in East Sussex, south of London in the UK. If you happen to be in the area, give us a call (ideally with some notice) and it would be great to meet you and show you some pictures from your project of interest.
What happens at the initial briefing?
For most projects, the initial briefing takes about 10 minutes and is an opportunity for us to confirm your details, ensure you have realistic expectations of the project and answer any questions you have.
For our longer projects, and paid work programmes, this takes the form of an informal interview with the Destination Manager that lasts for approximately 15 minutes. We want to know about your life experience, motivation and expectations and will answer any questions you have about the project.
What is a pre-departure briefing?
Some of our longer term projects include a pre-departure briefing. This takes place a month or so before departure and is an opportunity for you to meet the group that you will be travelling with and find out the latest information. This would normally take place at or near our office in East Sussex.
For most projects, you will not have a physical pre-departure briefing. From the moment you sign up to Oyster, you will have access to your own dedicated destination manager who will be happy to answer your questions. You will also have access to our excellent members area called My Oyster where all of the details relating to your project will be stored.
When do I pay?
We ask for your first payment of £180 to be made at the point of completing your booking form. This payment is deducted from the total amount due to us for your programme. This is refundable in the unlikely event that we are unable to offer you a place on one of our programmes.
A second payment of £450 is requested 6 months before arrival. If you are booking within 6 months of your arrival, your second payment will be due at the point of confirming your booking.
The remaining balance is due 90 days before arrival. There are occasions where the final payment date may be set closer to arrival. This will be made clear on your payment schedule.
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).
For people outside the UK, we can introduce you to a policy with World Nomads.
What vaccinations might I need?
This really does depend on where you are going in the world and how long for. When you confirm your booking and get access to your My Oyster account, we will provide you with a list of suggested vaccinations for your destination. This information is provided by Fit For Travel, an NHS website in the UK. We would always recommend speaking with your doctor or travel nurse about this.
The friendship I've made with other volunteers are far stronger than I imagined
Amy Russell, 2005.