South America isn't the best destination if you're looking to work on your gap year, but there are opportunities to earn some money if you know where to look. You're less likely to pick up work on the fly, and it's often the case that a little planning ahead is required.
If you're looking to volunteer on your gap year South America is an ideal destination, the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean coastline playing host to some of the world's leading conservation programs.
A common source of paid work in South America is teaching English. This is a great way to bolster your budget and add some fantastic experience to your CV. For most teaching jobs you'll need a TEFL qualification, which is usually gained before you jet out. You're also generally expected to hold a degree.
There are some schools that will waive these requirements, but these are often low-paying, disorganised, or dishonest, and you risk not having a good experience.
There are other working options such as farming or sports coaching, but these will be harder to come across as there isn't a shortage of workers in South America.
A great deal of volunteer work in South America involves wildlife and conservation, and there's a huge variety on offer. You can protect habitats in the Amazon, help baby turtles find their way to the ocean in Guyana, work with endangered species in wildlife reserves, and a whole lot more. There are few better places on the planet to visit if you want to volunteer with animals.
There are other options too, often involving teaching and working with children or the disabled.
As with any volunteering project anywhere in the world you should think carefully about your natural interests, strengths, and weaknesses before committing to anything. These placements are usually a lot of hard work - part of what can make them such a great experience.