VOLUNTEERING AND APPLYING FOR A VISA
The difficulty in definition of a 'volunteer' can arise particularly over the type of visa that a host country may be willing to offer. For a host country, decisions have to be made about the' role' of the intending 'volunteer'.
Tourist Visa? Visitor Visa? Work Visa?
The issues involved include the questions, 'Is the volunteer displacing a local person from a local paid employment opportunity?, 'Should this be a work visa or visitor visa or a 'volunteer' visas where such a category exists (rare!)','Is the volunteer a 'tourist' and therefore can come and go to the placeement as he or she feels or is there an obligation for the 'volunteer' to do a certain task regularly during their stay?'. The borderline between work, whether paid or unpaid, and 'volunteering' can be difficult terrain. Don't be suprised if visa issues are more complex than you had hoped. Just to mention, different visas cost differing amounts...the visitor visa is usually the least expensive.
Often the international placement provider knows the type of visa that is appropriate and may have negotiated permission locally and may have had many international 'volunteers' work in placements in their host country. The experience of the UK agency to date will also be a good guide. Ultimately on an application form, it is you who determines the nature of the visa that you apply for. Consular websites may be helfpul and it may sometimes be possible to access advice from consular officials in the UK. It is safer, in these circumstances, to seek general advice rather than specific advice about your case. Once the UK Consular Office for the prospective host country has made up its mind based on such evidence as is presented in your particular case, theire is little turning back so care is needed. It is important to be honest and to be clear in your own mind but to have the best advice you can access before declaring the type of visa you are applying for.
Different visas require different validation documents and these requirements are usually clear on the consular website. You may need a letter of invitation for a 'visitor' visa or a letter of employment from someone you intend to work for , voluntarily or otherwise/. You will almost always need to show evidence that you have purchased an air ticket with the dates of travel..at least with a definite date of departure. There may be other requirements; an insurance certrificate to show that you are covered for any expense in a medical emergency. Host countriies are increasingly careful about visitors and their purpose for travel.
Validity and Overstaying
Different visa types are valid for different periods of time...a visitor visa, for example, is often valid for a minimum of three months. It is important to pay particular attention to the period of the visa and ensure that you leave the host country before this period expires...check the return date on your tickets. To attempt to leave the country at any time after the visa expires without a pre-approved extension to a visa (if available) could result in you being refused your flight and all sorts of anxious moments as well as an extended stay whilst you resolve the issue, probably with the help of the British Consulate.
Sometimes it is possible to extend your stay by leaving the country to a neighbouring country for a brief holiday and then return and be granted an additional three month visitor visa on entry. This doesn't work for every country and again this is where local knowledge and previous experience count.