Volunteering with WWOOF, HelpX and Workaway
WWOOF, HelpX and Workaway are the three most famous international volunteer programs. Through their online platform, they connect volunteer members who are looking for room and board with hosts seeking help. You must pay a membership fee to join and access host listings.
These volunteer experiences are a great way to develop a new skill, test a different way of life, travel across the country and discover off-the-beaten-track Canadian towns and cities.
Wanna learn how to make cheese? Interested in taking care of animals? How about making breakfast in a youth hostel or teaching in a yoga studio? Read on to discover how to volunteer in Canada!
Volunteering with a work permit
As a WHP holder, you’re allowed to volunteer in Canada.
Laetitia Larmarcq explained what volunteering means to her:
“I don’t just see volunteer work as a cost-effective way to travel (even though, admittedly, I take this aspect into account). Honestly, I don’t want to be a Couchsurfer who pretends to volunteer or someone into a lil’ bit of country experience. I don’t want to be hosted for two weeks and then leave without giving back or learning something. No, to me, this way of travelling is an educational break during a long trip. It’s the chance to stay with locals and share their life, their customs, their workload. As you step back from the usual work or study environment, you’re finally able to reset and build a new mindset leveraging new standards and experiences.
Travelling taught me about life. It was like a second school. Volunteering offers so many experiences. I learned about organic farming, growing fruits and vegetables, animal care, life with sled dogs, running a vacation rental and the operating an institute in the Arctic. The possibilities seem endless.”
Volunteering without a work permit
Coming to Canada to volunteer when you don’t have a work permit is tricky.
For the Government of Canada, “work” is “an activity for which wages are paid or commission is earned, or that competes directly with activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market.” In this case, unpaid volunteer experiences are not “work.”
If “the work is really incidental to the main reason that a person is visiting Canada and is not a competitive activity” and as long as the person volunteers for “a short period (i.e., one to four weeks)” this person would not be considered a worker.
However, if you tell CBSA agents that you’re coming to Canada to volunteer, you may be denied entry to Canada. They may consider that you need a work permit. Therefore, if you’re coming to Canada as a visitor, it’s best to keep quiet about your plans to volunteer for a few weeks.
Remember that CBSA agents may ask you to prove that you can cover your living expenses in Canada. Even if you’re planning to be hosted as a volunteer, make sure to bring a bank statement showing you have enough savings for your trip. A return plane ticket also helps your case.
Note that in the USA, you cannot volunteer without a work permit—no exceptions!
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)
WWOOF is an international network that facilitates homestays on organic farms and contributions to eco-construction projects—you have to be ready to embrace the organic lifestyle!
To join the program, you have to buy a two-year membership. It costs $50 (single) or $75 (joint, i.e. couple, two friends or a parent with kid).
To sign up as a WWOOFer and contact WWOOF hosts, check out WWOOF Canada.
Help Exchange (HelpX)
HelpX is an online platform that connects “Helpers” seeking accommodations with hosts seeking help. The program offers a wider range of experiences than WWOOF—you can work in farms (organic or not), ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpacker’s hostels, etc.
Registering is free and Premier hosts will be able to contact you. However, to connect with hosts, you have to upgrade to a Premier membership for €20 in order to gain access to all host details and see Helpers’ reviews.
For more information on opportunities in all provinces and territories, check out HelpX Canada.
Workaway is an international hospitality service that allows members to connect and organize homestays and cultural exchange.
A single one-year membership is USD$38. A two-person membership is available for USD$48 for a year. For more information, check out Workaway.
Volunteering is an amazing experience but remember that you are responsible for your own health insurance. Accidents do happen, so leave home with the right coverage!
Communicate with potential hosts to learn more about what they offer and what they expect from you. You shouldn’t have to pay for room and board and you shouldn’t be working full time either. The experience is supposed to be mutually beneficial—you’re not just free labour.