If you are thinking of moving to Bulgaria as a volunteer, here is how to choose a project and manage the money you receive
Written by Marta Valverde Ríos, edited by Lindsay Martin, photos by Aleksandrs Eniņš
You have probably already heard about living abroad as a volunteer. It means working for the local community without a salary. But also there are no bills or rent to pay. And, you’ll still receive some money for food and necessities. You may think there is some trick behind it, but after 10 months living in Bulgaria as a volunteer, I can assure you, there is none. It is not only possible, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to get to know the country while learning and feeling fulfilled. During this time I have met other volunteers from all over the world, and thanks to sharing our experiences, I can tell you what life is like as a volunteer and how you can become one.
Choosing a project
The first thing you need to come to Bulgaria as a volunteer is to be selected by an organization. For this, you must first choose the program that best suits you. One of the most popular is the European Solidarity Corps, since it covers all the expenses, flight tickets, and medical insurance. The basic requirements are that you are European or from a partner country, and be between 18 and 30 years old. To search for opportunities, you must create an account on the website and then you filter the search by country and volunteering focus. Keep in mind that you must have your CV and cover letter prepared in English. If you still don’t have it, Canva and Europass can be very helpful with the design.
Other good resources are Eurodesk, Youth Opportunities, or Workaway. This last option is quite interesting because it is not a classic volunteering experience. These are private projects in which individuals offer accommodation (it can be their house, a hotel, a hostel, etc) in exchange for your work. You won’t receive a salary, but it may include food or a small stipend. And, most importantly, there are no age limitations (as long as you are of legal age).
Once you are selected for a project, it’s time to pack. Please bear in mind that you are going to a volunteer position, not to the Milan Fashion Week. In your suitcase, comfortable and basic clothes that you can use on any occasion should prevail. Good shoes, in the style of hiking boots, and a good backpack, are essential. Then, you should know that Bulgaria is a country with extreme temperatures in summer and winter, so if you don’t want to pay for excess luggage at the airport, I recommend you to choose a summer project. In any case, it is a very good option to buy clothes in second-hand stores in Bulgaria so don’t go crazy putting things in your suitcase. Also, many times the hosting organization can provide the volunteer with basic necessities.
The volunteering network
Once in Bulgaria, it is very important to network with other volunteers, especially if you want to travel around the country and have accommodation! But also because they can help you with their suggestions and with their experiences. For this, you can always join Facebook volunteering groups. There is also a big volunteer network used by locals: TimeHeroes. Another option is to participate in the meetings organized by the National Agency, which coordinates all the projects carried out in the country within the European Solidarity Corps. These meetings, prior to coronavirus, consisted of a week in a hotel in Sofia with the other volunteers and with all expenses paid. It doesn’t sound bad, does it?
Some practical tips
In general, the money you receive for food and pocket money is enough to live in Bulgaria. Especially if you come from a country where euros are used, since many things, such as restaurants, car rental, and hostels are cheaper. But like everything, it depends on you and how you manage your finances. In any case, you can save some money by following these tips:
- Go shopping, whenever possible, at second-hand stores. Your pocket, and the environment, will thank you!
- When travelling, you can try to hitchhike. It is a fairly widespread practice in Bulgaria, although you should always use common sense and the necessary precautions.
- When visiting another city, try to stay at other volunteers’ homes, or use Couchsurfing.
- Be careful with the roaming! It depends on the legislation of each country, but in general, the use of data abroad is limited. So if you are going to be here for a long time, it is better that you buy a Bulgarian sim card and recharge it. The company Vivacom offers national calls and data from 7 BGN per month.
If you have had the idea of volunteering in your head, don’t think twice. I assure you that you will not regret it. In fact, be careful. You may not want to go back to your previous life full of comforts!