Voluntourism – is it covered by travel insurance?

Volunteering overseas is an admirable thing to do.

Whether teaching English, building infrastructure or helping animals, there is a real sense of achievement in making a difference to someone’s life.

When deciding on volunteering overseas, there is a lot to consider, such as where to go, what to do, how long to go for, do they speak much English and so on.

But, do you know if your travel insurance covers your planned activities? 

Some insurers might not, so you should always check with them before purchasing a policy.  Insurers take many things into account when establishing your level of risk, such as the destination/s you are going to, your age, how long you are going for, your experience and the level of risk associated with what you are doing etc.  So, never presume you are covered for a holiday where you might be doing something out of the ordinary.

Let’s look at some examples:

1.Working with orphaned lion cubs

Lions and tigers are beautiful creatures who deserve to be protected from harm.  Making sure you are safe is equally as important.  Wild animals are unpredictable and so due care needs to be taken when handling them.

Things to consider prior to deciding which organisation to choose include:

  • Will they provide training for you?
  • Are they an established company with a lot of experience in this field?
  • What sort of activities will you be asked to do? Eg will you be cleaning out enclosures; will you be involved in feeding activities?
  • Do they have safety protocols in place?
  • What is included in the costs?
  • Are all the animals vaccinated against contagious diseases?
  • Do you need any particular (or extra) vaccinations?
  • Is there a local doctor / clinic / hospital in the event of an accident or animal attack?
  • Are the animals hand reared from birth or have they been brought into the orphanage from the wild?
  • What is your insurer’s attitude towards the activities you will be doing? Do they consider these safe or might they think you could be exposing yourself to needless danger?
  • Would you be covered under any form of liability insurance if your activities (or the actions of the animals under your care) lead to someone else being hurt?
  • Do you have to sign a waiver or disclaimer releasing the company from liability if you suffer any form of injury?

2. Helping children learn English

This is an incredibly powerful gift to give a young child and will change their life but what sort of thing should you look out for. Let’s see:

  • Will they provide learning tools or do you provide your own? Will these be covered under the property section of your travel insurance policy?
  • Will you be expected to serve food or administer any basic medicines to the children if they are sick? If so, what training is provided?
  • Will they offer cover for any injury or accident you suffer? Do they want you to sign a waiver of liability so that they aren’t legally responsible if you are injured in any way?
  • What happens if you injure someone? Do they have any liability insurance and if so, would it extend to cover you?
  • What activities will you be assigned i.e. classroom helper, meals server etc?
  • Do you need qualifications?
  • Will there be a manual element to any of the activities you will be doing?
  • Will you be restricted to classroom activities or will you be undertaking excursions?

These are just some things to consider when choosing which company to volunteer for but the more information you have at hand, the easier and quicker it is for your insurer to consider covering you.  Bear in mind that some leisure travel insurance policies specifically exclude work activities and others will exclude work of a hazardous nature.  What one travel insurer considers to be “hazardous labour” may not be the same for another insurer – always check to make sure your chosen provider will cover the activities you will be undertaking.

 

What happens if you don’t like it?

Some people perceive volunteering as an easy ride … well, its not!  You are paying to go and work for someone and, just like any other job, there are terms and conditions, working hours and rules.

Most insurance policies will not cover loss of enjoyment if you decide to cut the trip short and return home so, take this into consideration as well.  If you like sipping cocktails and relaxing by the pool, volunteering may not be for you.

To avoid this from happening, why not contact some of the employees beforehand and see if you get along with them or read the reviews of previous volunteers to see what they thought of the experience.  This could provide some invaluable insight into the people you will be working with and could help you decide if it’s right for you.

Be prepared for a culture shock in some circumstances.  If dealing with kids or animals, you may see or hear some truly tragic stories.  Maybe consider easing yourself into volunteering by choosing a lighter style of volunteering to start with.  You may find yourself in uncomfortable situations so, ask yourself: can I handle this?

 

On the plus side…

There are some serious pro’s to volunteering!

  • It looks great on your CV/resume.
  • It is a once in a lifetime experience (or maybe more if you become hooked!)
  • You make lifelong bonds with the people you have helped.
  • You get to immerse yourself in other cultures all around the world.
  • You get to help change someone’s world and that is no small feat.
  • You will learn a lot about yourself and personal development is always a good thing.

Volunteering overseas is not a small decision to make, so take your time and do your research.  Make sure your Insurer is aware of what you are doing and has agreed to cover you for the duration of your trip – the volunteering agency may even be able to refer you to insurance providers they know who have helped other volunteers in your situation!

All serious things aside, you are about to do something really incredible and make a real difference to those around you so, don’t forget to stop and give yourself a pat on the back – you deserve it!