Work Exchange Programs 2022

Work exchange experiences are one of the best ways to travel while saving money and meeting amazing people. Keep reading to find out what types of work exchanges are available, where to apply, and my favorite volunteer opportunities!

What is a work exchange program?

A work exchange is when you offer your time and skills in exchange for accommodation and other benefits. The most common work exchanges are with hostels, ecovillages, farms, schools, and homestays. The amount of hours you work depends on the host, but it is usually between 15-30 hours a week. The work you do also varies, for example, if you work at a hostel you will likely be cleaning, working reception, and making/serving breakfast. However, working at a farm or ecovillage will likely involve gardening, construction projects, and taking care of animals. When working at schools they are mostly looking for people to teach languages or sports. Homestays are also usually looking for people to teach languages, but some also want help with house renovations or DIY projects.

Working at a hostel:

1802 hostel san juan puerto rico
1802 Hostel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Pros: Hostels are my personal favorite work exchange (besides holistic centers and retreats, but these are rarer). There are usually several other volunteers also working at the hostel, normally between 20-30 years old and you become close friends fast. You also meet a lot of cool backpackers and have the opportunity to practice a new language (it is especially good for practicing English). The tasks are usually very easy when working at a hostel.

Cons: Living in a dorm for a long time can get a bit uncomfortable. If you need lots of space then a hostel work exchange might not be for you. Hostels also tend to be messy, especially the bedrooms, which can be hard if you like a clean living space.

Working at a farm or ecovillage:

costa rica palm trees

Pros: This is a great way to connect with nature and learn a lot about sustainable living practices. If you don’t know much about farm work, this will be an easy way to learn new skills. Organic farms and ecovillages also tend to attract a cool, hippie crowd, so you’ll be surrounded by fun people. These exchanges also tend to be more relaxed (in comparison to working at a party hostel) and a good way for you to reset.

Cons: If you like meeting lots of new people and enjoy a fast-paced city lifestyle, this is probably not your best bet. These exchanges tend to be in the middle of nowhere, without much transportation, so you won’t be moving around much. Another thing to consider is that the work tasks will be more physically demanding than other work exchanges.

Working at a school:

nicaragua seeds of learning
In Nicaragua (years ago), couldn’t help but use this great photo

Pros: Working at a school is a great way to integrate into the culture, practice their language, and improve your teaching skills. If you are teaching English and aren’t certified, it can be a good way to practice for your TEFL. Another pro is that you usually get your own room!

Cons: The hours of work tend to be longer with schools. It can be draining working with kids all day.

Working at a homestay:

pesaro, italy home
My beautiful homestay in Pesaro, Italy

Pros: This is by far the best way to have a cultural exchange; living with a host family will really help you integrate into the culture and learn the local language. Also, you get your own room!

Cons: You have less freedom when living with a foreign family, you typically can’t invite friends over, and using common spaces can feel uncomfortable. Of course, most families will make you feel at home but there is always something weird about living in someone else’s home. There is also more potential for drama or interpersonal problems.

How do you find work exchanges?

worldpackers logo

The most popular work exchange platforms are Workaway, WWOOF, and Worldpackers. All are great, legitimate websites that help connect you with a work exchange program. However, my personal favorite is Worldpackers because the website is very user-friendly and the work exchanges are nicely filtered. That being said, Workaway has many more options. I recommend looking at both websites, you can check-out all the work exchange programs before signing up, and then choose from there. WWOOF is solely focused on homestay experiences on farms.

Prices:

Workaway: $49 a year

WWOOF: $40 a year

Worldpackers: $49 a year

Do you need a visa for a work exchange?

There are no visas for work exchanges, you just need a holiday visa (if this applies for the country you visit). You can’t apply for a work visa, however. Work exchanges are technically illegal since you are working for ‘free’. It will depend on which country you come from and where you are going, but I haven’t had to apply for a visa yet.

And now for a cautionary tale, when I was working at a hostel in Puerto Rico, there was supposed to be a new volunteer coming but she never arrived. She was apparently detained by border control because she told the immigration officers that she was doing a work exchange at a hostel. They called the hostel and talked to our boss, then held her overnight and deported her the next day. Obviously, every country isn’t as strict as the United States when it comes to border control, but the moral of the story is that you should never say that you are ‘working’. When they ask why you are visiting, tell them you are on vacation and staying at a hostel.

What about becoming an AuPair?

pesaro, italy, aupair
Where I lived, working as an AuPair in Italy

If none of the work & travel options interest you, then maybe you should look into being an AuPair. An AuPair is someone who helps a family with childcare and housework in exchange for room and board (and sometimes a little cash). You are the ideal fit for this job if you are a young woman who knows more than one language or are fluent in English. Lots of families are searching for English AuPairs for their kids. To find an AuPair job you can search for AuPair groups on Facebook or try AuPair.com, AuPairworld.com, or AuPaired (although there are many other AuPair websites). Similar to homestays, you won’t have as much freedom since you are living with a family but it is a great way to integrate into another culture and maybe not feel as homesick, since you will be with another family.

I have only been an AuPair once and it was a really interesting experience. I worked for a family in Pesaro, Italy and helped take care of their youngest daughter as well as teach the older children English and help with housework. I didn’t love never leaving the ‘workplace’, not being able to cook my own meals, and not being able to bring friends back to my place. However, I did love playing with the kids, learning about Italian culture, and getting some fun benefits (like using their home tennis court, staying at their beach house, and meeting other AuPairs). Overall, it was a great experience and I loved the family I worked for, but I’m not sure I would do it again. It definitely takes a certain kind of person to be an AuPair. If you are a very independent person, I wouldn’t recommend it.

My favorite work exchanges:

honey_gouda mural in 1802 hostel san juan
Part of my mural at the 1802 Hostel

These are two work exchanges I found through Worldpackers, I stayed at 1802 Hostel for a month and Moinhos Velhos for a month and a half. I absolutely loved both and would definitely return!

Other Highly Rated Volunteer Opportunities:

Hope this was helpful! Follow me on Instagram @honey_gouda for more travel tips & more.

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