You’ve probably rented apartments and/or houses, and possibly owned a house or condo or two as well.
If you’re like most people, you probably think your options for housing overseas will boil down to one of these two, renting or owning.
While you may end up buying something or renting a place, there are other possible options of housing arrangements available to you, particularly if you want to live overseas.
Many of these options may involve payment, but some of them may be completely free of charge. I’ll relate many things I’ve tried and others I’ve heard of, but you should also be open to any arrangements you can think of yourself.
Here are some suggestions for you to consider.
Renting Rooms From Families
One of the easiest ways to live overseas is to rent one or more rooms from a local family.
Normally you don’t have to worry about utilities, rooms are often furnished, there usually isn’t a lease, usually no deposit is required. You have the benefit of a built-in support system in the family you are staying with, and, depending on the circumstances, perhaps a built-in social life as well. If you need to improve your local language skills, it will happen a lot faster when you live with a family.
You will tend to be able to adjust to the local scene much faster when living with a family, and the local population may come to accept you more easily as well, since you will often be associated in their minds with your host family.
Some university towns and towns with a large presence of foreigners have a well-established tradition of renting rooms out. Some places in Mexico seem to have what I would call the tradition of having a “pet gringo”, foreigners who live with families on a regular basis, almost like having pets. The locals get extra income and entertainment from the strange ways of the foreigners, and the foreigners get a reasonable, low-hassle way of living.
You will need to adjust your concept of personal space in most cases, since you may be sharing the kitchen, bathrooms and living room. I have found it is usually a lot of fun to live with families, since many people who take in tenants are fairly sociable to begin with, and it’s a lot less lonely than trying to adjust to a strange city and country without the support of a family.
In some situations you will be able to also get some or all of your meals with a family, should you so choose. If you go this route, it’s almost always a lot cheaper than eating in restaurants, and often gives you a feeling of belonging to the family.
There are a number of ways of finding a family to stay with. In some areas there may be signs posted, but in most areas you will probably just ask around. Ask in small stores, if you’re staying at a hotel ask the desk clerk there, ask at any restaurants you dine in. You might post signs (in the local language) in conspicuous places locally. You might check Craigslist if it is well-used locally. Also ask around about any local classified-ad web sites, since many places around the world have local web sites with classified ads, which are unknown outside of the area. If there are other foreigners around, couldn’t hurt to ask them.
If you live a non-conservative lifestyle, renting rooms may not be a good idea. If you’re single and like to entertain members of the opposite sex at home, your family may frown on it. It can cramp your style if you went overseas for more freedom, or to look for an alternative lifestyle.
Renting rooms can be a good transition step to take before striking out on your own in the local housing market. Your family can tell you which areas are good and bad to live in, can fill you in on the local happenings, can introduce you around a little bit, can show how things work locally, can help you improve your language skills, and ideally can give you a good introduction to living in your new home. Not every family will be so accommodating, but I’ve stayed with many who were.
Cost is another advantage of renting rooms. Again, most rooms are furnished, so you are saved the hassle of finding and buying furniture. A room or two should rent for considerably less than even a cheaper apartment. A few hundred dollars a month might get you a room in a house far nicer than than you could hope to live in on a limited budget.
That’s another interesting angle on renting rooms. Sometimes you can rent a room in a beautiful home, almost a mansion, for a small sum. It’s wise to look around a bit when renting rooms, since there can be a big variation in what you can get for the same price. One family might want $250 a month for a dumpy room in a poor neighborhood, while another family might rent a room in a beautiful home in a very good part of town for the same price.
House sharing is a related but slightly different concept than renting rooms. This is more like the room-mate situation common with younger people. You get with other people and rent a house or apartment together.
Most likely these people would be other foreigners, especially people you already know. It may be difficult to find other foreigners or friends who also want to stay in a given location for the same length of time as you, but it’s something to consider.
The main advantages to this situation would be lower cost (sharing expenses), having a bit of a built-in social network, and having a support system, assuming you get on well with those you are living with.
Most of these situations involve renting a house or apartment, so you would still have the details of leasing–lease, deposits, utilities, etc. Choose your house-mates wisely and it can be a good move under the right circumstances.
House Sitting/ Property Caretaking
House sitting is an interesting concept worth exploring, for those who are mature and don’t mind some household chores.
The web site, http://www.housecarers.com/ is a good place to start for those who haven’t done this before, or who would like contacts. When I checked, they charged $39 per year for membership, which is required to advertise and to apply for house-sitting gigs on the site.
The web site http://www.caretaker.org/ has information on all sorts of property caretaking opportunities in many countries. Their rates begin at $29 per year to subscribe to the on-line version. This publication has been around since 1983, and has a great variety of opportunities, some of which are paid.
House sitting and caretaking are generally similar concepts, although caretaking may involve more work, in some cases. Caretaking a farm or ranch or estate property might involve fence-mending, dealing with animals, mowing, a lot of cleaning, some heavy labor. The more demanding jobs should offer some sort of pay – free rent is all well and good, but don’t be a slave to get it.
I would really do my homework on these kinds of situations, since it’s easy for someone to make a lot of glowing promises over the phone or internet, to lead you to believe that things are one way, and when you get there after rearranging your life, find out that things are not as they were represented. If you have dropped everything back home, it might be difficult to back out of an undesirable situation, and you could be stuck there for a while.
A good bet would be to look for a house sitting or caretaking situation in a place where you would want to live anyway. If the gig doesn’t work out, at least you want to be there, and you can probably figure something else out. In many cases a caretaking or house sitting situation is not subject to any kind of labor laws, or to landlord-tenancy laws (depending on the local laws, which vary from one state to another and one country to another) so you have to look out for yourself. The homeowner or ranch owner may be able to kick you out with little or no notice, based on something very minor.
Another place to look for house-sitting gigs is in a community of fellow foreigners in an overseas community. Many people own houses overseas and only visit them once in a while, and they need someone dependable to stay in them and do minor maintenance, and keep things from deteriorating. Put up notes, ask around, etc. If you’re serious about this sort of work, you might consider doing some sort of “house-sitting/caretaking” resume. Just a sort of resume where you indicate how reliable and trustworthy you are, and that you can handle any sort of maintenance and minor repairs that come up, as well as keeping the owner’s property just as they would have kept it.
House-sitting is also fairly common in places where there are a lot of vacation and retirement homes.
If you can, try to get some sort of contractual agreement or at any rate something in writing that gives you some rights. At a minimum, you should be given thirty days notice before being required to vacate the premises. Most agreements that aren’t in writing aren’t enforceable, so if you want any rights, try to get them in writing. It may seem unnecessary, but it could save you from being kicked out in the middle of the night. I’ve known house-sitters who have had all of their possessions thrown out on the lawn with no notice from the homeowners.
Living in Hotel Apartments and Hotel Rooms
Lots of hotels in many parts of the world have “apartments” which are more suitable for long-term living than their regular rooms. Some of these apartments have kitchens (either in the room or a shared kitchen), sometimes a living or sitting room, etc.
Normally you can arrange a lower price if you pay weekly or monthly. You might be staying in a hotel and not even be aware that they have these sorts of rooms available, sometimes at lower rates than what you are paying for a smaller room. If you plan to hang around town for a while, ask your hotel if they or any other hotels nearby have larger rooms which they rent by the week or month.
There are a number of advantages to this arrangement. First, you normally have no lease or deposit or utilities, and the room is already furnished. Second, you’ll have a bit of a social network among the other guests of the hotel. Most will probably come and go, but you will be likely to meet any number of people. Third, if the hotel staff are friendly, they can act as a bit of a support system until you get your feet on the ground. Living in a new country can be challenging, and the staff can fill you in on any number of details.
A lot of people think that living in hotel rooms or hotel apartments would be expensive, since they’ve only stayed in more expensive hotels when traveling overseas. Many people don’t know that you can get a decent room for $15 or $20 in lots of places in the world, some with kitchens. This sort of room won’t be as nice as one costing $50 or $60, but it will be a lot more affordable on a long-term basis. I’ve met any number of people who lived in hotel rooms overseas long-term–retired US citizens in Panama, middle-aged UK couples in Malaysia who traded maid duties for free rooms, retired US citizens in Costa Rica, etc. It’s really worth considering if you want a low-hassle lifestyle with convenience and a constant stream of interesting travelers passing through.
Live-In Caregiver or Nanny
Live-in caregiver might sound dull or a lot of work, but what if you were able to live in a beautiful house in a lovely climate, as a paid companion to somebody very pleasant? It all depends on what you can arrange.
A nanny doesn’t have be in their 20s or 30s – if you like children and don’t mind taking care of them every day. There can be quite a few fringe benefits to this sort of thing. I once met a nanny who had the run of a large apartment in Mexico City as well as use of the family car while her family was on vacation. So she spent her spare time chasing me around Mexico (or at any rate around the hotel where I was staying).
If you still have a house somewhere, you might be interested in home swapping.
There are a number of web sites where you can explore homes available for swapping – http://www.homeexchange.com is one of the most widely used. It costs from $9.95 per month for membership.
I haven’t used this method personally, but I’ve known people who have and who were very satisfied. Home swapping would be a great way to spend time in a place you are considering moving to, without spending a lot of money or having to deal with a lease.
Living in Convents or Monasteries
A listing of worldwide monasteries can be found at: http://www.deoestgloria.com. Most of these monasteries aren’t set up for housing the general public, but if you have an interest in offering your volunteer services it could be a good place to start. Who knows, maybe you will find some place to volunteer and they might agree to put you up, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I once lived in a convent in Mexico for a while. I was in town and ended up volunteering there, and after a few weeks of that I asked if I could move into a spare room. Like many convents they had any number of enormous old buildings in need of repair, so there was plenty of work to do and plenty of free rooms. The work was a little hard on my body, and some of the food was odd (I never had spine soup before) but it was one of the most peaceful and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. My room was basic, but it was like a mansion compared to the rooms of the sisters, many of whom were very advanced in age.
If you happen to be in Asia and are either a Buddhist or receptive to Buddhist teachings, you might be able to arrange lodging at a Buddhist monastery. Many of these monasteries have information on classes they offer, whether any monks speak English, etc.
Some years ago I stayed at a Buddhist monastery in India, although I wasn’t taking any classes. It was the least expensive and most austere place I’ve ever stayed–hot water was available, if you paid a little extra to the staff. They would build a fire under the water pipe which rose out of the ground a few feet before it entered the shower area. Real luxury!
Staying With Friends
If you have friends with a house overseas, you’re in luck.
If not, there are other ways. For one, you might make friends via the internet or snail mail pen pals. In the pre-internet days I made many pen pals in a number of countries, and went to stay with quite a few of them.
I found snail mail pen pals to be more faithful and consistent than e-mail pals (I think e-mail is too easy) but you might have a different experience. If you are looking for snail mail pen pals, you might try International Pen Friends at: http://www.ipfeurope.com/ipfenglish.htm. I used their service a number of years ago and had quite good luck.
If you are invited to stay with friends overseas, you might consider bringing a gift of some sort as a way of thanking them.
You may also be fortunate enough to be invited to stay with a family that you meet on the road or in a town. I’ve known several people who met families in Mexico, and who were invited home to stay with them. Imagine meeting someone on the street in the US and them inviting you home to stay with them.
If someone you meet does invite you to stay with them, don’t feel obligated to stay at their place, but you should feel honored. The hardest part will probably be leaving.
The Bottom Line
Housing will probably be your biggest single expense when living overseas, and a little creative thinking might lead to a much more satisfying way of living than you’ve had up to this point in life.
You may very well end up buying a house if that is what suits your needs best in the long run. However, keep in mind that there are many different ways of fulfilling your needs, and if you stay open to different ways of living you’ll be more likely to find what suits you best.