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How to spend a year abroad – for free

Written by 19 February 2013 24 Comments

I just turned 15 when I began to realize that staying in one place for too long was not the thing for me. All of a sudden, people around me started going abroad for a highschool year in the US and Canada or an Erasmus semester in Denmark or Spain. That was something I definitely wanted to try too. I dreamt of the whole wide world at my feet, in particular the great green landscapes of Great Britain. I did not need to go as far as the US or as foreign as Denmark – just out of the country was enough, a place where I could improve my English. I already pictured myelf in a cute Southern English school uniform, when I heard the one terrible word, a 15 year old girl never wants to hear her parents say: „NO“.

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I was devastated. But I understood, that my dream of a preppy school year in England was a bit out of our financial reach. If I remember correctly, a school year abroad weighed in at about 5.000 – 6.000€.
However, I did not want to give up and kept an eye out for other, cheaper possibilities. It took me four more years until I finally packed my things, left behind my friends and family and took off to see the world.

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So, what did I do? The option of backpacking and being on the road was not exactly what my parents had planned for my time after highschool, so I ended up with two other solutions – one was called WWOOFing, the other European Voluntary Service. And whereas most of you have probably heard about the first one (or similar networks, like WorkExchange), the second one usually still puts question marks on faces.

The European Voluntary Service (short EVS) is a programme of the European Union, aimed at young people aged 18 to 30, who are neither attending university, nor doing an apprenticeship. Whereas other EU-travel programmes like Erasmus and Leonardo are strictly connected to education or training, EVS tries to fill the gap for people who do not fit these programmes. Everybody should have the same chance to experience another culture and learn by living abroad. No matter who you are, you can apply as a volunteer for any project in any country.

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Step 1: Find your local/national agency. The EVS works with NGOs in every European country. The NGOs probably have their offices and cooperation partners all over your country, so try and find the closest one. Here‘s a list of the sending organisations offering EVS.

Step 2: Register for the programme and start browsing the database for EVS-projects. Be careful, you HAVE to be 18 when you register!

Step 3: Apply for interesting projects. Everyone will find something in the EVS database. There are social projects, where you will work with immigrants, troubled youngsters, or elderly people; cultural projects, concerning local art and cultural education; environmental projects, dealing with sustainability and nature; and the „classics“, so projects, where you will work mainly in an afternoon club for kids/youngsters and plan all kinds of activities.
Some of my favourite projects I applied for included: staff member at the Kattegat center in Grenå, Denmark; warden at a horse-patrol service in Northern Greece; girl-for-everything at a „green“ hostel in Iceland; and guide at a center for renewable energy in Wales. You see – I was rather interested in Scandinavia, and environmental projects.

All countries of the European Union are part of the programme. In addition, there are several projects being carried out, ouside of the EU, e.g. in India.

Make sure, you apply for several projects. Some will not even get back to every applicant, so don’t get pessimistic when it takes a while until you get an answer! There’s also a continueously updated list of projects actively searching for volunteers. In the end you will find a place to go!

Step 4: Prepare for your trip, learn first bits and pieces of the local language and enjoy!

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– The only requirements for EVS is that you must be between 18 and 30 years old, and that you are a European citizen. If both apply to you, feel free to join! The programme also supports applications by handicapped people.

– You do not have to speak the language of your destination country beforehand. Usually there is a possibility for you to attend language school. Even better, when you work with children they will teach you faster than any language instructor. Of course, speaking a language like English or French will be very helpful. But if you’ve been able to read this article down to here there shouldn’t be a problem with that.

– Your stay abroad is financed by the European Union. The programme covers your travel expenses, you will receive monthly pocket money (depends on your destination), and there will be supporting trainings before, during and after your stay.

– Another thing you will not have to worry about is accommodation and food. You will either stay with a host family (which does not get paid and therefore is truly interested in hosting you), or on your own (in that case you will receive extra money to buy groceries).

– The programme also pays for your transportation from your home to your work place – whether you have to take the bus or the train. Sometimes, they will also offer you a bicycle.

– The duration of your stay can be anything from 3 to 12 months.


I was part of EVS in 2007/2008 and spent 11 months in Denmark. I worked at a cultural office for children where we planned and carried out interdisciplinary art projects for kids, e.g. a super-roleplay with 300 youngsters from diffrent schools. Besides learning the language and a lot about project management, I also experienced Denmark and its people from all possible perspectives.

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If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at Kathi@travelettes.net.

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  • Alexis said:

    I’m a little confused… you have to be 18 to register but can be 18-30 during your program??

  • Kathi (author) said:

    Dear Alexis,
    you have to be at least 18 to register – a friend of mine could not register because she only gut 18 two months later, and by then the deadline had passed. 30 is the maximum age ;)

  • Alex @ ifs ands & butts said:

    What about we non European citizens :) ? Au Pairing was my solution

  • Randomjenta said:

    Amazing post! This is just what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much :)

  • Jonny Blair said:

    Great post – it’s amazing what travel opportunities there are out there that people don’t consider. Oh to be 18 again and doing this! I run a travel blog too – this site is fab, heard about it from my girlfriend ;-)

  • kim - VrouwopReis said:

    this looks really interesting!!

  • » Travel Carousel (III) Travel on a Budget said:

    […] Lang leve de EU! Iedereen kent WWOOF als manier om zonder geld rond te wereld te reizen, maar voor ingezetenen van de Europese Unie is er nog een andere mogelijkheid: de European Voluntary Service. Dit programma van de EU biedt jongeren tussen de 18 en 30 jaar de mogelijkheid om geheel betaald vrijwilligerswerk te doen: reiskosten, accommodatie en maaltijden worden vergoed, er is de mogelijkheid om gratis taallessen te volgen en soms krijg je zelfs nog zakgeld. Projecten variëren van helpen in een “groen” hostel tot het geven van Engelse les op basisscholen tot het restaureren van oude Italiaanse kerkjes. Zie ook dit artikel van de Travelettes. […]

  • Nora said:

    I want to add something to this post as I also wanted to go away for a while and had the exact same options: Woofing or volunteering.

    In my opinion it was to much work for me to register with an organisation in my home country and then look for jobs over the EVS website.
    I found my organisation where I am volunteering over google and asking organisations / charities.
    Mostly the organisations cover your travel costs as well and pay u pocket money and sometimes even give u a place to live (as it is in my case).

    Also you can sometimes stay longer when you are not an EVS volunteer.
    I for example just extended for my second year with this charity.

    Just to give you another option :)


  • maria alca mendoza said:

    hola mi nombre es maria tengo un hostel en lima -peru me gustaria trabajar con voluntarias ofresco casa y 2 comidas diarias trabajar con turistas como puedo publicitar mi hostel atentamente maria alca

  • Eliane said:

    i can also recommend
    It’s a work exchange listing where you contact the places directly. I have had good experiences with it and it lists also many hostels, whereas wwoof has only farming.

  • Macy said:

    Great read! My dream is to travel on long term basis too..

  • Alexander said:

    Nice article. I can´t believe that´s so easy to travel one year without money :)

  • Meaghann said:

    do you know if there are any programs like these you can join if you live in the usa?

  • Zach said:

    I would also like to know if there is an alternative for us non-Europeans? I can’t find anything like EVS online. Really sucks because EVS sounds like a great opportunity.

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  • reizen said:

    Great info. Lucky me I recently found your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve bookmarked it for later!

  • gina said:

    this is so interesting, but I’m not the right age :((((( boo… will explore some of the other options mentioned in the comments, thanks for this! http://thewanderlusthasgotme.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/volunteering-and-working-abroad.html

  • Petra said:

    Oh, wow! Thank you for this article! I’ve been to the US as an exchange student and have been trying to do my internships or minor abroad, but no luck. When I graduate (hopefully in june) this might just be what I’ll be doing!

  • Elena said:

    One wrong thing
    You don’t have to be a European citizen. Not only. There are agreements with neighbouring countries as well. EVS exists in Russia as well, for example. I also know a Turkish girl doing evs in France.

  • Yafieda said:

    This is a good post but sadly I am already passed the age limit. I do wonder if there are other programmes that support those ages above 30.

  • eve said:

    So sad i’m 32 :(

  • Katya said:

    ohhh, what a pity I’m 31 already :(

  • riyas said:

    i am 42 is there any?

  • Wolfgang Hartmann said:

    That’s quite impressive. It’s a pitty that I am to old to participate in such an activity. One thing I know for sure is that the young generation of people have fantastic oportunities.

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