Volunteering in Costa Rica

Paying to volunteer.  This subject was brought up on an old post so I thought I’d update it a bit.

People were questioning why volunteers in Costa Rica are asked to pay a “volunteer fee” to volunteer -does not sound like it makes sense.  I have now experienced both sides of this.

When we first moved to CR I wanted to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.  When I contacted them I was told that the “volunteer fee” was something like $1,500 for a two week program.  Coming from the U.S. where you don’t normally pay someone to help them I chose not to get involved.  At the time, I found it outrageous that they’d charge a fee.

The other side of the coin.  My daughter began the non-profit Parrot Rescue Center of Costa Rica (PRC) about four years ago.  There is NO financial government assistance for animal sanctuaries in CR.  Quite the opposite.  The initial fees to set up the legal paperwork was over $2,000.  To construct the first habitat was $2,500., and then there was setting up a corporation, legal fees, biologist fees, veterinarian fees, food, required separate kitchen and the list goes on and on.  I fronted all of her set up costs.  Since then we have constructed six more habitats and have outgrown this location.  We’ve reached our maximum capacity.  And the fledglings cannot be released at our current location.

In the U.S. there are many, many organizations and donors that help non-profits of all kinds, and there are many.  In Costa Rica there are very few.  For any non-profit to provide a service, they obviously have to find a way to create an income.  For the majority, those that need volunteers, have no choice but to charge them for volunteering.  There's of course a cost for the volunteers to be there and the need to create funds to support the project.

My daughter draws no salary but there are of course numerous things that need to be paid for every month.  We are also expanding to a 69 hectare property near Nicaragua.  This will help us expand our ability to help repopulate three endangered parrot species, protect as much primary forest as possible and help educate the people of that area on the importance of their environment. 

Once we have moved to the new location we will be accepting volunteers.  We will have no choice but to charge a fee.  It will be $350 per month for lodging, etc.  Without the help of others we could not physically do all the work that will be required but also could not handle it financially.  The initial set up costs for this project will be just under $300,000.00.  Yes, charging volunteers is necessary and in this case no one is profiting from it.  But, the birds will be happier!

And yes, there are many animal sanctuaries, more like zoos, here that are anything but out to help animals or the environment.  For them it is all about the money.  The government is enacting new rules to help alleviate this problem but it will take time. 

All you can do if you choose to volunteer is ask a lot of questions.  If you’re going to pay them, ask whatever questions you feel appropriate.  Where does the money go?  What percentage goes back into that project?  If they draw a salary how much is it?  If it’s an animal sanctuary, do they release the animals?  If not, why?  (And no, not all animals can be released.  We have some parrots that are here for life - up to 80 years.)  If they don’t want to answer your questions, walk away.

Hopefully this clarifies a bit.  If you want to contact me by private ex-pat message, I can suggest places to volunteer or look into others you might be interested in.

- Expat Dave

P.S.  And sorry once again, my posts seem to be turning into books lately.  🤓

Clear, well written posts that explain mysteries are very welcome.
I'd heard of this and also wondered why someone should pay to work for free, but now I know.
I suggest you bookmark this page and link when someone asks the question.

Ex Pat Dave is right Volunteering (even on my little hobby farm for help with my 6 rescued dogs and  1 cat ) As I got older had to stop adopting and taking care of strays ,,BUT "Territorio de Zafgates " as I posted their link IS NOT out for $$$ .I am now a good friend of the owner of the many acres she IVES to save dogs from being Massacred  even here like the "so Called "SHELTER" in San Rafael de Heredia (where I used ot Volunteer until I found out it is a SCAM and she murders hundreds weekly. She killed a dog and cat that I asked to have the Vet spay and give shots and the tiny white little kitty to get  rid if her  fleas "  OF COURSE I PAID her.
The Next day I found out from an employee of her's that my little stray RIP and kitty RIP had been rounded up with the other poor innocents and KILLED..SO there are MANY who use pets as a means to make MILLIONS  $$ One woman left her in a will TWO MILLION DOLLARS   and when I asked her why she still only had the very few very dirty concrete cages she said I quote "OH the lawyers took a big chunk..SURE ! ( while she continues to make many trips to Aruba where it is alleged that she deposits her  "devilishly earned"  money.. And  has built many luxury houses here with that c.ash She CHARGES to ACCEPT a STRAY or just injects an animal with and injury After charging to accept them. So there are evil people who make money by pretending to be "Rescuers but are in it for the $$$ and those like us and Dave 's daughter who genuinely ARE helping animals which DOES costs us in food , Vet bills , FREE RENT  I offer and with  Losing that rent,  and utilities it costs be about $1000 per month to house a Volunteer for VERY little help with my rescues .
So we are GENUINE and What a great way to give back while living in a piece of Paradise...

ExPat Dave,,don't worry as we get older we seem to get more long winded ..LOL yet still out of breath :)

ExpatDave, you have written this post explaining 'why volunteers are required to pay, perfectly'.

I know I have brought up the subject before...

We have lived in various locations where our neighbors had over the years, many WWOOF volunteers, and then they would often come over, to visit us.

We still receive Christmas greeting from past volunteers, who  visited in hopes of afternoon coffee and good things to eat.

The 'hosts' would always explain how long to took to teach the the newbies, how do perform their designated tasks a certain way, just to have them leave a short time later.

Setting the minimum stay of a month, may be harder on you to keep your volunteers enthusiastic, especially if it is far away from some of the tourist facilities, as some may a change of pace or just want to visit nearby attractions.

Anyway, good luck to you both, in your future endeavors.

If "Volunteers "  refuse to stay at least a month from past experience from me and many friends is that they really have no interest in whichever cause  for which they are supposed to be helping , then they  are just "Users" trying to get a FREEBIE Vacation  which would cost mucho $$ if they had to pay for even a grungy dorm type room in most places especially Costa Rica.
I would not even give the time of day for those user types .Tell them to "GET A ROOM" in the REAL sense i.e. a HOTEL ROOM and pay for about mooches THEY are the WORST kind, who use causes and animals to get a freebie YUK on those types.You do not need them..There are genuine Volunteers  stick with them I have met Lovely good hearted ones ..So if they get restless or want to se other areas Tell them ADIOS and give them the boot!

Ps Kohl if they want to be NEAR tourist areas..tell them to GO and BE a tourists and pay the hotel and food bills ..easy eh?

Kohlerias and Pebs,

All of what you say is very true.  We do plan to have a minimum 30 day stay for the reasons you mentioned.  It takes at least a week to get a person familiar with procedures and even then constant supervision is needed for a while.  For this reason we will also encourage long term volunteers.

The new project will be quite large and help will be necessary.  Initially we will have five large habitats - 6m x 12m x 4m, plus breeding aviaries on the main grounds.  In addition to that we'll have a large flight cage located on the inner property as a release site.  Our habitats are set up to mimic their natural environment, as much as possilbe.  They are not "zoo cages" in any way - zero concrete.

Right now we are the only sanctuary attempting to breed and release the endangered Yellow Nape Amazons.  It's sad that it's even necessary to have to be trying to save these beautiful endangered parrots. 

The Great Green Macaw population is estimated to be down to 3,000-3,500 total left in the wild.  Our goal is to get these three species off the endangered list.  Won't happen in my lifetime, but hopefully in my daughter's.  Very anxious to accomplish our goals or at least get things going in the right direction.

With this said, I'm sure people can recognize why it is necessary to charge for volunteering.  And 100% of our funds go back to the birds!

- Expat Dave

Very interestiing! I always thought it was "crazy" that people would have to pay to volunteer. Now I get it. Thanks.

Volunteering at a parrot sanctuary is exactly what I want to do. Can you recommend a reputable one?

Redbird55 :

Volunteering at a parrot sanctuary is exactly what I want to do. Can you recommend a reputable one?

Hola Redbird,

Welcome to!

We're still about six months to a year away from accepting volunteers but would highly recommend the ARA Project.  We work in partnership with them and they will be assisting us with our new project as well. 

Hope it works out for you.

- Expat Dave

Before committing to volunteer at any project you will, of course, have to decide on where you are going to live...

kohlerias :

Before committing to volunteer at any project you will, of course, have to decide on where you are going to live...

Almost all places that need volunteers offer housing.  It's included in the price that you pay.  Some offer your meals as well.  Some are quite rustic and others are higher end.

Once PRC starts taking volunteers, we will offer room and board.  There's a cabina that will house volunteers right on the San Carlos river, literally 12 meters away from the front porch.  We've seen and or heard Great Green Macaws every time that we've been there.  It's amazing to see them flying free in the wild.  Hoping to close on the property in the next two months and then we'll start construction on fencing, habitats, remodeling the cabin and kitchen, planting fruit trees for feeding the birds that are not releasable, planting of Alamendro trees etc., etc, etc.  Can't wait!!   :top:

Looking forward to reading about your project as it progresses, ExpatDave

True that

I would love that!

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