It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were complete newbies to this house sitting lifestyle – let alone the idea of taking it overseas. But, after more than a year of full-time sitting (including five months of international house sitting in Europe), we have learned a thing or two. And we’re excited to share all of our tips. Because it really isn’t something you need to wait on if you are interested in traveling abroad – whether full or part-time.
Initially, we planned to spend an entire year full-time house sitting in places we were familiar with to get comfortable with it. But, the opportunities for international house sitting were just too tempting. And we are so glad we didn’t wait!
However, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind when pet sitting abroad. Before our first international house sitting gig, we scrambled to do a ton of research and preparation (since we only had a month to get ready). Lucky for you, all you’ll need is this article!
What to Know Before Taking an International House Sitting Gig
If you are using a site like Trusted Housesitters – where your house sitting services will be given as a trade for free lodging – it is important to make sure the international house sitting gig you are taking will actually be a good fit for you and your travel style. While some questions will be for the homeowner, it is also key to do some research on your own regarding Visa requirements, costs, and other logistics.
Be sure to find out the answers to these questions before locking in your sit:
1. How long are you legally allowed to stay in the country you plan to be pet sitting abroad in?
If you are an American going to Europe, you are currently (as of July 2019) allowed to stay in Schengen-area countries for 90 days without needing anything but a valid Passport. (Here’s a list of which countries are included in that agreement, but it is most of mainland Europe). In the UK, you can stay for 180 days.
There are many other countries where you are allowed to stay between 90 to 180 days without needing a Visa – including Canada, Mexico, Fiji, New Zealand, and Peru. Just do your research and check the U.S. Department of State travel page and that country’s tourism site to be sure.
But, no need to worry if a Visa is needed, just look into the rules carefully and plan accordingly. The last thing you want is to get turned around when you get there after paying for flights. Speaking of getting turned around, it is recommended to just not mention the whole international house sitting thing when crossing into a country. Some immigration officers will see it as ‘work’ or ‘volunteering’ which can cause a whole mess of issues. We are always just ‘traveling’ when asked, which is 100% the truth!
2. Will a vehicle be provided or is public transportation available?
When discussing your trip with the owner, be sure to ask about where the home is located and what transportation is available. In many places, public transportation is all you really need and a vehicle would cause more issues than it is worth. For example, our house sits in Munich and outside of London were perfectly enjoyable without a vehicle. Just be sure to get an estimate of how far you’ll need to walk to catch the bus, go grocery shopping, etc. if that is a concern of yours.
However, some rural places will usually require a way to get around. A bicycle may even be suitable, but just be sure to check. If using Trusted Housesitters, you can actually search for listings with a vehicle included and the owner should make it clear in the posting. This is much easier, since it takes away any discomfort about asking if it is an option to use their car.
Keep in mind, if they are adding you to their insurance, you may need to send over a copy of your driver’s license. And some countries require an International Driving Permit which is easy and cheap to get at AAA.
3. Is WiFi provided and will you need a new data plan to use your phone?
Most homeowners will share whether they have high-speed internet or not. Some rural areas will be hit or miss. Usually, there is at least a cafe nearby you can go to for checking email. But, if you rely on the internet to work or are a Netflix junkie, you’ll want to make sure you discuss how well the WiFi works and if it is unlimited or capped.
Another thing to look into is using your phone. Having data coverage while traveling is a wonderful resource that makes life so much easier. There were countless times where a quick Google search saved us from being lost for hours or never finding a place to eat. You can manage by just using free WiFi, but there are tons of cheap plans – especially if you have an unlocked phone and can just switch out the SIM card. You could use it as a hotspot also!
We used a Vodafone plan that allowed for free roaming across Europe and it was wonderful! However, not many plans included calling or texting for communicating back to the U.S., so we’d highly recommend downloading What’s App for this. Everyone seems to use it abroad, since it uses wifi or data instead.
4. Do you need any vaccinations or other special considerations?
In some places, you are required to have proof of certain vaccines. Others, you won’t be able to enter if you have committed certain crimes. For example, you won’t be allowed into Canada with a DUI unless you get some kind of special permission. Simply Google ‘requirements for entry to [country]’ and you should find all the info you need. When in doubt, contact their border crossing agency to check first.
If you are on any medications or need regular checkups, you’ll also want to check if there will be any issues receiving that in the country you are visiting.
Trip Insurance & Emergency Alerts
Trip Insurance is another helpful thing to look into, in case you need medical attention unexpectedly. We’re going with World Nomads going forward since they are the only one we can find with adventure coverage.
We also recommend signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so you get alerts when anything questionable is going on in any countries near you. Doing a quick Google search for places you are headed is always a good idea as well – to avoid any hassles with protests, strikes, etc.
5. Is it necessary to know the local language?
Before our trip to Europe, everyone told us that we could get by with English. While true, if you are staying somewhere long-term, ‘getting by’ feels like a hassle after a few weeks. And you kind of feel like a jerk. Knowing enough to at least try to communicate in the local language makes for a much better experience. The Duolingo language learning app is a great way to pick up some words and phrases quickly. At least look up how to say, hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I’m sorry, and excuse me. And if you are a picky eater, figure out what some of your go-to foods are, so you can navigate a menu.
For some locations, being at least conversational in the local language may be key. They’ll usually include this in the house sitting listing, but I’d always ask. We’ve had to pass on some amazing places because we both skipped the option to learn Spanish as kids (ugh!!! why were we so stubborn?!?!). However, if you are learning a language, visiting is supposed to be the best way to really get fluent.
Regardless of your comfort level, I’d always download the language from the Google Translate app for offline use. And be sure to practice using the different features of the app, so you are all set when you need it. And just remember it isn’t 100% accurate. When all else fails, just smile, say I’m sorry and do your best to act out what you are trying to say.
6. Can you afford the trip for your international house sitting gig?
For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming you are using a site like Trusted Housesitters where you won’t be getting paid for the sit and will be paying for your own transportation there. So, be sure to check flight, train, bus, and any other ticket prices you will need to get to the house sit. Some places you would assume are a cheap flight may be pricey due to time of year, a holiday or other event, so check first.
It is also helpful to do some research on how much food and other activities are. For example, Switzerland is extremely expensive and islands often have increased grocery prices due to the need to transport goods there. However, if you eat locally and cook at the house, you can save a ton!
Also keep in mind that if you are going to a different climate or planning to do certain activities, you may need to purchase new clothing or gear. We ended up needing more winter clothes for our trip to Germany and ended up getting snorkeling gear when we went to Hawaii for a house sit. Obviously, some things are optional, but some will be necessities.
Of course, Visas, travel insurance, and international data plans are all expenses to keep in mind as well.
7. How close will you be to shopping and activities you’ll enjoy?
As mentioned above, make sure you can access groceries and other necessities easily (or have a plan to get them that is reasonable to you). We once applied to a house sit on a Greek island that would involve taking a boat into town once a week for groceries. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that sit, but we’re sure the added hassle would have been 100% worth it.
Also, make sure there are things nearby you are interested in doing. For us, sometimes we just want to be in a beautiful place with a nice deck or a beach nearby so we can laze about for a few weeks. Other times, we want to stay somewhere near interesting museums, historic places, or great hiking trails. Or maybe we just want to experience the culture like a local. Depending on what you are looking for, make sure the sit is actually a good fit for that.
8. How much attention will the house and/or pets need?
Some house sitting opportunities require more work than others. It is especially easy to get caught up with the excitement of applying for an international house sitting gig and forget that you are still required to work for your free stay.
Sometimes you’ll just need to water some plants or feed and love on a cat a few times a day – so you’ll have plenty of time to go out exploring. Other times, there may be a dog that needs walks or medication multiple times a day – which would limit your time away from the house.
We have friends that stayed on a farm, which was basically a full-time job (but a wonderful experience for their family). Just be sure whatever is required won’t keep you from enjoying whatever it is that interested you in that place to begin with.
And if pets are involved, ALWAYS ask how long they are okay staying at the house alone for. Remember you are committing to take care of someone’s pets and home – so that should be your first priority. This is not a vacation, but it does allow for some pretty epic experiences that you’d never get on a typical holiday.
9. What arrangements will need to be made for your belongings back home?
Now that you’ve figured out if it will be feasible for you to live somewhere else for an extended time, it’s time to figure out what is needed to leave home. If you have a place of your own, maybe you should consider finding a housesitter for your home as well – especially if you have pets. Luckily, you can sign up for both sides of the Trusted Housesitters membership – as a homeowner and a house sitter. We’ve actually met a lot of people who take advantage of this and it works great! It seems to make the most sense to lock in a sit first, then post your sitter needs – that way you know the dates.
Leaving Your Car
If you have a car, you can decide if you want to let the sitter drive it or not. Keep in mind, you’ll want to have someone at least start it for you if leaving on a long trip or you’ll have a dead battery. (Disconnecting the battery is also an option).
If you are like us and don’t have a home base, you’ll want to find a friend’s house to park your car or a storage option. We recently found a cool start-up called Drift that we recently had success in renting our car out with. They are at the airport, so we just dropped it off, they rent it out for us while we are away, and send us money. (We’ll share more on this once we have enough experience for a full review). Be sure to look into a storage unit for your things as well, if needed.
Dealing with Mail & Other Adulting
While away, you’ll also want to have someone collect your mail for you and it is probably smart to set your bills on auto pay if gone for an extended time. And while you are at it, call your credit card company to alert them of your trip. It’s also a good idea to set up a pin code for all your cards, since some countries require those.
We use a mail forwarding company called Escapees that works with mostly RVers, but it still fits our needs perfectly. They have a scanning service which is great for making sure we don’t end up with jury duty or something we need to address asap.
For the most part, life back home will go on just fine without you supervising it. But, it is key to get these basics ironed out before you leave. Since becoming house sitters, we’d definitely just let a sitter stay at our house if we had one – regardless of if we had pets. It’s just such a great peace of mind that someone is there to deal with any issues. But, of course, just do what makes sense to you.
Phew! We know that seems like a ton to figure out, but just go step by step and you will get there. We got all of this figured out in less than two weeks. So, I promise you can do it! And, when in doubt, ask the homeowner. You won’t want to bombard them with a list of questions, but some things will just be much easier to ask them – like if knowing the local language is necessary and how far the grocery store is.
Of course, some things will hit you by surprise when you get there – like everything shutting down on a Sunday or train delays due to a strike (looking at you, France). But, that’s what makes for the best stories. And if you didn’t want an adventure, you’d just stay home.
If you read this far, you clearly want to try this out. So, be smart about it by asking these questions, but then just go for it! And to learn more about part- or full-time house sitting in the U.S. and abroad, click here.