Volunteering with HelpX on a Working Holiday Visa

Chapter 1: What’s HelpX?

Published: 02-10-2019

Author

Pauline


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What’s HelpX?

Much like WWOOF and Workaway, HelpX is an online platform that connects volunteers who do work for “hosts” who, in turn, provide room and board. While WWOOF focuses on facilitating homestays on organic farms, HelpX offers a broader range of volunteer opportunities with hosts in organic and non-organic farms, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, hostels, etc.
For travellers, becoming a “helper” is often a chance to participate in a cultural exchange, enjoy new professional experiences and stretch travel funds—sure, you won’t get paid but you’ll be busy working 20-30 hours per week and since room and board are provided, you won’t spend much either!
Here is a quick overview of HelpX terminology:
“HelpX” is short for “Help Exchange”

  • A “Helper” is a registered member looking for volunteer opportunities
  • A “Host” is a registered and approved member offering volunteer opportunities
  • A “free member” is a user who registered to enjoy HelpX’s basic services
  • A “Premier member” is a member who paid for an upgraded membership to gain full access (more on this below)

Note that HelpX’s website looks super old school (… maybe a graphic designer can volunteer to give it a 2.0 makeover?) but it’s very much active!
HelpX was founded in England but its network of hosts extends to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and the USA. The “International” category has an impressive list of countries with at least one host—as of 2019, Togo, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. More realistically speaking, you’ll find hundreds of hosts in countries like Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the Caribbean, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam… among other destinations.
As you probably noticed, many of the above-mentioned countries offer a Working Holiday Visa program. This is just as well, because…

Can I be a helper on a tourist visa?

“Well, I don’t get paid, so I’m not really working…” you may assume if you entered the country as a tourist. “I mean, I’m not exactly stealing job opportunities from locals!”
Sounds legit but some countries disagree with you. For instance, it’s a big no-no for the USA where unpaid work is still work and Visa Waiver Program travellers entering the United States with ESTA authorization are not allowed to work… or volunteer. Coming to Canada to volunteer when you don’t have a work permit is also tricky—if you tell CBSA agents that you’re planning to volunteer, you may be denied entry. Australia is a noteworthy exception, since anyone can “WWOOF” regardless of status.
This is what HelpX says about volunteering and work visas:

Do I need a work visa to be a helper?
Many countries require a work visa in order to be a volunteer helper abroad. Several countries, including AustraliaNew ZealandUKIreland and Canada have Working Holiday Schemes for young people from certain countries, which you may wish to investigate further.
Finally, keep in mind that HelpX doesn’t facilitate visa applications. It’s your responsibility to figure out whether you’re legally allowed to volunteer.
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