Volunteer travel insurance

Volunteer travel insurance can give you the specific protection you need when supporting great causes abroad. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right policy for you.

Volunteer travel insurance can give you the specific protection you need when supporting great causes abroad. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right policy for you.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: please check the latest government travel advice that sets out what you need to do, if anything, before you travel abroad and before you return home. You should also check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you visit or transit through. Travel rules can change at short notice, so check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for the latest information.

Josh Daniels
Travel Insurance expert
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Last Updated 24 MARCH 2022

Why do you need volunteer travel insurance?

Volunteering abroad is a great experience, but you’ll want to make sure you have travel insurance that covers all the work and volunteering activities you’re taking part in. Taking out travel insurance can also give you a safety net if you need medical treatment, your trip is cancelled or your possessions are lost or stolen.  

It’s worth taking out volunteer travel insurance well ahead of your trip. If something goes wrong and it never gets off the ground, you may be able to get compensation for any money you’ve paid out up front.

Can I get travel insurance volunteering with animals?

Yes, you can get travel insurance for volunteer work with animals, but you’ll need to let your provider know this is what you’ll be doing before taking out a policy.  

If you’ll be working with domestic animals, ‘non-big game’ species, or larger animals in animal sanctuaries, you’ll usually be covered under a standard volunteering policy. However, if you’ll be working with more dangerous wild animals, or ‘big game’ species, such as big cats and elephants, you’ll need specialist volunteer travel insurance.

Can I get travel insurance for volunteer work that involves manual labour?

You can find working travel insurance that will cover you for manual work abroad and using tools and equipment, but make sure you’re clear about the work you’ll be doing before you take out your policy. Certain policies may cover the physical work typical of community development projects as standard but it’s essential to check the terms of any policy carefully before you commit to make sure it’s a good fit.

‘Volunteering is amazing’

“I spent five amazing months in Ethiopia volunteering with various local non-governmental organisations on education and livelihood-related work. Getting insurance felt crucial, especially as I had limited information about where I'd be living and how secure it would be. And of course you can never predict what incidents might happen or what bugs you could catch! I was fortunate to avoid the need to make a claim, but some of the other volunteers lost their belongings - so having adequate insurance would’ve been a real bonus for them.” 

Caroline Atkinson, 30.

How is travel insurance for volunteer work different from regular travel insurance?

As a volunteer, you’re likely to be travelling for far longer and going off the beaten track more than a regular holiday goer.  

You should look for specific insurance policies that cover longer trips – for example, one that offers continuous cover for a year or even 24 months – and the different activities you might be taking part in. You may also see volunteer travel insurance referred to as gap year insurance or working holiday insurance.  

Some longer policies even offer a trip back home in case you need to return for personal reasons. 

You could also look into policies that include legal expenses. 

What is not covered by volunteer travel insurance?

As with other types of travel insurance, there are some common exclusions to be aware of when you’re volunteering or working abroad. Volunteer travel insurance will typically exclude:  

Any accidents or injuries that happened when you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

Travelling to a location if a warning has been issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advising against all but essential travel. 

Any claims resulting from you breaking local laws. 

Natural disasters, civil unrest or acts of terrorism, unless you choose to add on extra cover. 

What else do I need to consider when taking out volunteer travel insurance?

If you plan to travel to more than one country, even if it’s just passing through, you should make sure they’re all covered by your policy – just in case. 

You should also think about whether you’ll be doing any sports or extreme activities while you’re travelling. Regular sports might be covered by your travel insurance, but higher risk activities such as pot-holing, bungee jumping or trekking may cost a bit more to cover. 

Speak to your GP before you travel to see if you need any vaccinations for the countries you’re visiting and make sure your immunisations are up to date. Ask if you’ll need to take other precautionary health measures, such as anti-malarial medicine, for the regions you’re travelling to.  

You’ll also need to tell your insurance provider about any pre-existing medical conditions you have. If you don’t tell them up front and you end up needing medical care while travelling, your insurance provider could decide not to pay out. 

Unfortunately, you can't compare standalone volunteer travel insurance with Compare the Market. Please check with the insurance provider to see whether your volunteer work will be covered. You may need to look for a specialist provider. 

Does the sort of volunteering I do change the travel insurance I need?

Yes, the travel insurance policy you need may vary depending on the type of volunteer work you plan to do. Backpacker insurance often covers some types of work – whether that’s paid or unpaid – but the kind of jobs your policy covers will depend on your package, so it’s best to check the details with your insurance provider. For example, you may want to check how much cover you've got if you need to be flown home in a medical emergency

You’ll need to be clear about the sort of volunteering activities you’ll be doing to ensure you end up with the most appropriate policy. Different volunteering projects have different risks, whether you’re helping to build a school, teaching children, working on an organic farm or volunteering for a wildlife conservation organisation. Not giving full details could put you at risk of invalidating your insurance. 

It’s worth checking if the organisation you’re volunteering with has any cover already in place. If so, then it’s just a question of searching for an additional policy to cover the extra things you’ll be doing.

Customers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, the price you pay for travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. However, there are still many providers out there and you should be able to find affordable cover. Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to lie to an insurance provider, because if you do and then need to make a claim, it could be rejected.

When you declare medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show quotes from insurance providers who will cover all declared medical conditions, with no exclusions. 

MoneyHelper has launched a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone if you have more serious medical conditions. Find more information at MoneyHelper or by calling them on 0800 138 7777.

Frequently asked questions

Will my volunteer travel insurance cover me for COVID-19?

Some travel insurance policies offer cover for disruption related to COVID-19. When you compare travel insurance quotes with us, select the more details option on the yellow information box on your results to see what COVID-19 cover is included in each policy. Bear in mind that many insurance providers will stipulate that you need to be fully vaccinated for cover to apply.

Is there an age limit for volunteer travel insurance?

There’s no age limit for volunteering or gap year travel insurance, but certain travel insurance policies may only cover those in the 18-35 age bracket. When you compare with us, we’ll only show you quotes for travel insurance policies that are relevant to you, your age and your chosen destination.

Will my volunteer organisation have employers’ liability cover?

Although employers’ liability cover is a legal requirement in the UK, for both paid and unpaid positions, that’s not necessarily true elsewhere in the world. Speak to the charity or organisation you’ll be volunteering with and ask what insurance they have in place to protect you while you’re working. Then fill any gaps in cover with your own travel insurance policy.

If I decide to volunteer for longer, can I extend my insurance?

If you realise you’re not ready to go home yet or another volunteering or travel opportunity presents itself, you may be able to extend your travel insurance policy but it will depend on your provider. Get in touch and explain your situation and they will be able to advise you of what to do next.

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