A parents guide to volunteering for under 18s

Volunteering for under 18s is becoming increasingly popular. Many students are keen to make the most of their summer and volunteering abroad is a perfect introduction to independent travel. It involves being part of group, having a supportive safety net and doing something outside of the comfort zone.

Understandably, parents often have lots of questions, and so we have put together this parents guide to volunteering abroad under 18 to hopefully address these.

Volunteers in Costa Rica help with releasing baby turtlesHow are under 18 volunteer programs chosen?

Oyster Worldwide runs a wide variety of projects for people aged 18 and over. We have intimate knowledge of all of our projects, having personally visited and volunteered on each one ourselves. Working closely with our overseas partners, we have been able to identify the best projects that can be enjoyed by 17 year olds. These have been chosen by:

  • excellent support on the ground in the host country
  • transfers that are uncomplicated and / or accompanied
  • well-structured projects that enable participants to get fully involved
  • project staff who are experienced to give extra support to 17 year olds where needed

You can see a list of our volunteering for under 18s programs on our volunteering page.

Is volunteering under 18 a good thing?

In addition to making sure that we are offering the best volunteering for under 18s projects, we also make sure that our participants are a good fit for the project themselves. We speak personally with all of our participants, and provide extra support and guidance to those who are under 18. We stress the importance of maturity and the ability to make sensible decisions, follow advice and avoid risk at all times.

We have many years of experience of matching the right people with the right project. This experience enables us to help your child, and you, to make the right decision. We are firm believers that if someone receives the correct amount of support, expertise and care then volunteering under 18 can be a fantastic option.

Volunteers help to care for baby primates in South AfricaIs my child allowed to do charity work abroad under 18?

All of the under 18 programmes listed on our volunteer projects page are available to people aged 17. You can work as an animal shelter volunteer under 18 as well as on a few medical and childcare projects. We require full parental consent for someone who is not yet 18 to join our projects.

How do I know that my child will be safe?

Safety is of paramount importance to us, especially on volunteering for under 18s programmes. Before departure we give a full written safety briefing, including information on how to stay safe. We have chosen programmes in areas which do not have safety concerns, but we do monitor the situation and follow the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) here in the UK.

We have excellent staff on the ground who ensure that our volunteers stay safe. Volunteers receive a further health and safety briefing on arrival at the chosen project, covering project details, the local area, support structures and what to do in certain situations, such as illness or homesickness.

Having said all this, it is of course the responsibility of the individual to make sure that he or she is careful and follows guidance.

You are very welcome to call us about safety on any particular projects on +44 (0) 1892 770 771.

A volunteer feeds a rescued elephant in ThailandCan my child do volunteering abroad for their Gold DofE residential placement?

Many of our under 18 volunteering programmes are also accredited for the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Residential Award. Accredited projects can be seen on our Duke of Edinburgh Award page.

What options are there for summer volunteering abroad under 18?

Some of our most popular summer volunteer projects, suitable for 17 year olds, are:

Volunteers get under the sea to help with marine conservation in ThailandAre there volunteering for teens programmes outside of the summer period?

Absolutely. The majority of our volunteering for under 18s projects are available throughout the year.

Are any of the under 18 projects accompanied?

The majority of our projects which are suitable for under 18s are on the basis of travelling solo. We do however have a medical internship programme in India which is group-led by experienced guides.

This is ideal for people aged 16 – 18 who are interested in a career in medicine. The group leader will fly out to India from London with participants and be with them for the duration of their trip, flying back to the UK with them at the end. Not only do these projects involve shadowing doctors and gaining amazing work experience, there are fantastic travel opportunities too to explore Indian culture and history. There are annual departures in July / August. To find out more about these opportunities, follow the links below:

Big 5 conservation volunteers out on the Big 5 game reserveCan you arrange for my son or daughter to fly with another participant?

During the months of July and August, we have volunteers arriving at projects almost on a weekly basis. Whilst participants are coming from all over the world and from a huge variety of airports, there may well be the opportunity to buddy people up on flights. Just let us know if this is something that you would be interested in, and we will do our best to accommodate.

Do parents have to do anything extra to allow their under 18s to travel?

Each parent is asked to complete a parental consent form, which is provided at the point of booking.

There are some extra requirements for participants under the age of 18 who are travelling to South Africa. South African immigration requests paperwork to prove that both parents are happy for their child to travel alone to South Africa. This would be in the form of:

  • a parental consent affidavit, which would have to be signed in the presence of a notary
  • notarised copies of your child’s birth certificate
  • a letter from the project in South Africa (we will provide this)
  • a copy of the passport of the person who is responsible for your child whilst they are away (we will provide this)

A volunteer poses with a bear at the bear sanctuary in RomaniaWhat have other parents said?

Patrick, father of Steven who went to Costa Rica in 2017:

“Steven found everyone, locals and volunteers really friendly, He found some things “hard” – a long, bumpy bus ride, lukewarm showers, patchy internet that wasn’t 24/7, getting up in the night to do his volunteering – but these were vastly outweighed by the number of things he thoroughly enjoyed. Meeting the locals (eating at their house – he loved the food!), visiting the small villages / schools, the location and wildlife – a dream come true! His friends were all terribly envious when he sent stunning shots of the baby turtles. We were anxious, but having been through this process, our anxiety was groundless. Steven wants to go back.”

Mary, mother of Pippa who went to South Africa in 2017:

“Pippa is having a wonderful time. I am sure this experience will stay with her for her lifetime.”

Michael, father of Dario who went to South Africa in 2017 and Ghana in 2018:

“I really felt that their team took a great deal of time to find the right programme for both of my sons. I also liked the support they provided both before and during the two placements – really good piece of mind. Both my sons gained hugely from their programs. One son on the sports coaching scheme in South Africa and my second sonwho did a short 2 week trip as a game reserve volunteer. Both boys came home 6 inches taller with extra confidence and maturity. Thanks to Oyster for finding and supporting such great programs.”

Teenagers help with painting an enclosure in Thailand on a volunteering for under 18s project

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