Documents Needed for Volunteering Abroad

There are many documents needed for volunteering abroad.

The big one of course is your passport. But there are others that are also important documents to have on your trip.

Which documents do you need?

And what should you do with them? 

Let’s first talk about the specific documents needed for volunteering abroad. The list below has just about every type of document involved with volunteering abroad.

The list is long — but don’t panic! Most volunteers take only the first 6 and are fine. And many documents will not even apply to you and your specific trip (e.g. Yellow Fever Card is only for African trips).

Documents Needed For Volunteering Abroad

  1. Passport
  2. Flight Ticket
  3. Visa
  4. Yellow Vaccination Card
  5. Credit and Debit card(s)
  6. Contact Information
  7. Prescription Medications
  8. Emergency Information Sheet
  9. Permission Letters for Minors
  10. School Forms for Academic Credit
  11. Contract with Volunteer Organization
  12. Travel Insurance Policy
  13. Trip Registration with Government
  14. Criminal background check
  15. Power of Attorney
  16. Drivers License

You will also get these two documents while traveling broad: Customs/Declarations and Immigration Entry/Exit. You will get these blank forms to fill out (by hand, so have a pen) either from an onboard flight attendant or in the arrivals area of the host country.

Copy and Scan All Documents

Now that you have all of your documents, what should you do with them?

Before leaving home for your trip, scan all documents and email them as attachments to both yourself and a family member back home. Also make one set of hard copies of all of the documents — and keep them in your carry-on bag.

Why bring hard copies with you on the trip?

Life back home is certainly becoming more digital as time goes by. But paper copies of documents needed for volunteering abroad are still valuable to have while living and volunteering in developing countries.

Lost your passport abroad and need a replacement? Your embassy in the host country will likely ask for a hard copy of your passport ID page. What if your cell phone or tablet battery goes dead and the immigration officer in India asks for a paper copy of your flight e-ticket? 

Traveling with Documents

When traveling to and from the host country, keep the original documents below with you at all times including on the airplane cabin. Do not put these documents in your checked bags.

  • Passport
  • Flight Itinerary
  • Visa
  • Yellow Vaccination Card
  • Credit and Debit card(s)
  • Contact Information
  • Prescription Medications
  • Emergency Information Sheet

The most important one is your passport. Always carry your passport on your person — not your carry-on bag

We like to use the 9 x 12 plastic wallet folders to carry documents on trips.

Never leave your passport unattended like at a restaurant table, public bathroom counter, or on top of your bags as you wait to board your flight.

Consider putting your passport in a Ziplock bag to protect it from drink spills and sweat and bottles of lotion.

Documents While Abroad

You can safely store all of your documents, including your passport, at your accommodations in the host country. Our accommodations range from host families, hotels and group volunteer houses.

Especially at hotels/hostels, it is a good idea lock your passport in your luggage (bring a small luggage lock from home). Most hotels/hostels have “safes” behind the front desk where they can store your passport.

(In some countries like Ghana, many hotels require you to handover your passport for the duration of your stay. Our staff and volunteers have never had any issues with this; but it is still a bit unnerving to think about the scamming possibilities.)

In your daily life in the host country, you do not need to carry your passport with you.

No one at your volunteer placement needs to see your passport or any other documents needed for volunteering abroad. There’s also the chance of your losing the passport or getting it pickpocketed on the street.

When DO you need to carry your passport in the host country?

  • To check into hotels on excursions
  • To show police at highway checkpoints
  • To exchange currency at a bank
  • To change your flight at an airline office

The only document you should carry daily is the Emergency Information Sheet. This is a 1-page Word document that you create and keep in your pocket. It has critical information about you in case you are incapacitated in an emergency. The document has your emergency contacts (local and back home), blood type, medical conditions, current medications etc.

On airport transfers and long-distance bus or train travel, follow the normal smart rules for your documents like keeping your passport on your person and not unattended on a bus seat or taxi seat. The bus driver or station attendant may ask you to store your carry-on in another part of the vehicle, out of sight and reach. But please keep your carry-on bag on your lap the entire time.