Reinvent Yourself: Volunteer Overseas in Retirement

Humanitarian medicine
BSIP/UIG via Getty ImagesVolunteering can help you meet new people and integrate with the local community.

By Kathleen Peddicord

One great way to begin to assimilate into your new community, when and wherever you decide to relaunch your life in retirement overseas, is to volunteer.

No matter where you land, there will be organizations, big and small, international and local, in need of a helping hand. Some programs may offer reimbursement, while others may charge a volunteer fee. But volunteering isn't about the money. This is about meeting new people in your new home, giving something back to the community that has welcomed you and creating an opportunity for you to practice the new language you may be struggling to learn.

In fact, volunteer opportunities could be a driving agenda. You could pick where you would like to reinvent your life overseas by identifying a particularly appealing volunteer opportunity somewhere and following it.

Some volunteer opportunities require little to no skill, while other groups seek professional volunteers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers positions to retirees interested in using their professional skills in a job overseas. Say you've worked at a chemical company all your life. Through the CDC, you could volunteer your skills in a country that needs assistance in that area.

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-561%Volunteering can also be a chance to develop a new skill. has positions in Costa Rica, Argentina, Peru and Nicaragua that offer a chance for volunteers to teach while they learn and study Spanish.

Most volunteer positions are offered through sponsoring companies, typically non-governmental or religious organizations. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, Helping Hands, which provides support to the Thai hill tribes, Huen Nam Jai, which assists street children, and Vieng Ping, an orphanage and nursing home, are always in the market for new volunteers, as is Granada Street Kids, with programs for street kids in this Nicaraguan colonial city.

Depending on the organization and the program, you usually must commit to anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Often the longer you sign on for, the more interesting the work you are given.

Since 2004, the Fundacion Bolivar has been helping foreigners, both resident and visiting the country, to share their time, talents and experience with people in Ecuador who can benefit. The non-profit group is active in Quito, Cuenca, the jungle, the Galapagos and on the coast. Their efforts are focused on education and environmental conservation.

The programs are highly customizable. You can volunteer on your own, with your family or with a group of friends. You could organize a two-week program to include your children or grandchildren over one of their school breaks. Some programs include home stays with indigenous families in the north of the country where you could spend a couple of weeks helping them to manage their farms or other activities related to generating a livelihood.

Or you could volunteer as a teacher's aid or even a teacher in a village school. It's not necessary that you have experience or any special qualifications. It's difficult for these remote schools to find teachers, and foreign retirees are very welcome to teach primary-age children.

The Fundacion Bolivar offers 24/7 support for its volunteers. If you're coming to Ecuador specifically to participate in a Fundacion Bolivar program, you'll be met at the airport and delivered to accommodation for your getting acquainted and language study transition period.

Here are other ideas to get your imagination working. You could:

  • Join a marine mammal monitoring program in Mexico.

  • Work on marine life conservation in the Seychelles.

  • Teach terrestrial wildlife preservation in Kenya.

  • Join a wildlife conservation effort in the Ecuadorian Amazon or Costa Rica.

  • Assist tutoring or mentoring teens in other countries.

  • Assist at daycare centers to provide academic and emotional support to children.

Or you could keep your volunteer work search low-key and very local and ask around when you arrive in your new home. In Panama City, where I've been living for the past six years, I've become involved with the Fatima Parish in a barrio known as San Felipe. This long-established Catholic parish operates an orphanage, daycare and before- and after-school programs intended to help keep the local kids off the streets. They're always looking for hands to help.

A friend, a retiree with a long career in the music industry, is volunteering in local Panama public schools, teaching the kids to play musical instruments he imported to the country with him.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.

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