Passports, visas & travel insurance


Identity theft is one of the world’s fastest-growing crimes. To help combat it, many countries around the world have started issuing biometric passports containing embedded microchips (also known as electronic passports or e-passports). If you applied for a new passport or renewed an old one in the last few years in the UK, us, Australia, or New Zealand, you will have received a new biometric passport. Canada plans to roll out its e-passport program in 2011. if you have a passport in the old style, don’t worry – in most cases, your current passport will remain valid until its expiry date. For up-to-date information about the UK, passports log onto the identity and passport service (www. up .gov. the UK). Us citizens should access the department of state’s bureau of consular affairs ( For Canadian passport information, passport Canada ( is the place. The Australian equivalent is the Australian passport information service.


As you know, a visa is a stamp or document in your passport that says you may enter a country and stay there for a specific amount of time. Countries usually have five or six main categories of visas and one of them may be a volunteer visa. However, even if a volunteer visa does exist for the country you’re going to, you will rarely need to obtain one to volunteer there. You must get advice on this matter from your sending agency or local grassroots NGO but, nine times out of ten, you will be asked to obtain a standard tourist visa. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with doing some volunteering on a tourist visa. Secondly, you’re not officially working: you’ve not got a contract of employment and you’re not earning a salary. Thirdly, volunteer visas are sometimes more difficult to obtain because they can raise suspicion and lead to all sorts of petty officialdom. As a result, volunteers tend to travel on tourist visas and can be found at the weekends popping over to their nearest border post to renew them. Having said that, some organizations prefer you to volunteer on a volunteer visa. They will either arrange one for you or ask that you obtain one. In addition, many of the charities or sending agencies that dispatch skilled volunteers overseas for long periods will either obtain the proper volunteer visa or a working visa on your behalf.

Obtaining travel insurance for international volunteering is not the same thing as getting it for your annual vacation. For starters, you will probably buy a different insurance policy, because it must cover the specific activities and tasks that you will be performing. If you volunteer with a sending agency, they will advise which insurance companies to approach. However, it will also be made clear that your travel insurance is ultimately your responsibility. As such, you need to ask the right questions and be aware of the main issues. When discussing with an insurance company which policy you need, be upfront about what you are doing and where you are going. They need to be left with no doubt that you are volunteering and that you need to be covered for anything that happens to you while you are doing this. Also be aware that if your volunteer position is regional in scope, you may be asked to travel to other nearby countries. If you intend to volunteer in a developing country, medical cover up to £2 million/us$4 million/a$5 million should suffice but if you volunteer in Canada, the USA, or parts of Europe then it is wiser to opt for a policy with up to £5 million/us$9 million/a$12 million or more

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Last word

Explaining to your insurance company exactly what you’ll be doing when volunteering is key. It is particularly important to tell them if you expect to do manual labor because you will probably need to pay an extra premium per day for this activity. And, even then, you will probably be covered only for manual labor at ground level and for the use of hand tools only. In most cases, you will not be covered for the use of heavy machinery or for anything that requires a license to operate. If you are volunteering on a project involving animals, make sure you grill the insurance company on what you are covered for. Monitoring, surveying, and observation are usually fine but close contact with wild animals is in a class of its own. When asking your travel insurance company volunteer-specific questions, it is also wise to bear in mind some of the following more general travel insurance points.

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