Photo credit: Legendary Traveling
While Dan and I have done some international travel together, we’ve never done house sitting internationally before (yet)! It’s a dream of ours to house sit in Australia.
Our only hesitations about house sitting internationally are the logistics. The cost is obviously higher since we’d have to buy plane tickets. We aren’t sure how the time difference would impact our business. What about phone plans? How does that work?
Our questions and concerns are the same as anybody else looking to do house sitting internationally. So we wanted to do an interview with an expert to help answer some of these questions!
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Here’s our interview with Amy Bonnett:
House Sitting Experience
Tell us a little bit about how you heard of house sitting, what made you decide to do it, how long you’ve been house sitting for, and where you have house sat!
I started house sitting when I was in high school, about 12 years ago. These were local sits in my hometown, that I landed through my own coworkers or my parents’ coworkers.
At the time, it was a fun way to make money while getting out of my parents’ house. What I didn’t realize was that I was also gaining responsibility, communication skills, and valuable experience for my resume and my future.
I continued house sitting locally during college and graduate school. Thanks to these years of practice, when I finally got the itch to wander the globe full-time, house sitting internationally was a no-brainer.
Since leaving the States in September 2017, my husband Jake and I have house sat throughout Scotland and England, Switzerland, and Greece, with future sits planned in Germany and Portugal. We’ve cared for historically-listed homes and modest apartments alike – in the Swiss Alps, isolated villages, islands, and the countryside.
Travel between house sits
How do you travel from house sit to house sit? How do you keep your transportation costs low?
We consider both time and cost when booking transportation. If a plane will get us there more quickly for just a bit more money, we will fly. Conversely, if a train or coach is way cheaper but takes a bit longer, we will travel by ground.
Jake is a travel agent, so it helps to have his insider deals and knowledge, but we also use resources like Google Maps and Rome2Rio.
I once attempted to save on accommodation and transportation costs at the same time by booking an overnight coach from Edinburgh to London. This form of budget travel might work for some people, but for us the lack of sleep just wasn’t worth the money we saved.
As far as local transportation, do you find the homeowners allow you to use their vehicle? Is a vehicle necessary in most cases? How does that work?
Driving overseas is way different than driving in the States, and not only because you sometimes have to drive on the other side of the road. Manual transmission cars are much more common around the world, and roads tend to be much narrower.
You also have to consider the combined stresses of being responsible for someone else’s car while driving that unfamiliar car on unknown roads with mysterious rules. It is just too much for us personally, though we both have international driving permits in case of emergency.
We are always upfront with homeowners about our preference not to drive, and have found that we are almost always able to cope with a combination of traveling by foot and public transportation.
Homeowners will typically arrange to have a neighbor help us out in case a pet needs to be taken to the vet, but we haven’t encountered any issues so far. That being said, we would never apply to a housesit that absolutely requires a car, as we simply wouldn’t be the ideal sitters for such a sit.
House Sitting Ads
What are the most important things you look for in a house sitting ad for an international house sit?
We look at location above anything else. If the house sit is in a place we want to visit, the next thing we will consider is whether we would feel comfortable caring for the animals. There are certain animals we wouldn’t be qualified to care for, such as horses. We have experience with dogs, cats, chickens, geese, ducks, fish, and goats, though, so we are almost always comfortable with the pet situation.
Then, as we prefer not to drive, we check to be sure that the house sit is reasonably close to essentials, such as a grocery store. That’s about it. We don’t mind what the house is like, and believe that learning to live like the locals do is one of the most rewarding aspects of house sitting. If they can survive there, so can we.
International Phone and Data Plans
Do you buy a new phone in the country you’re staying in or do you expand your current phone plan so you’re covered internationally?
We use T-Mobile’s One Plan, which gives us international text and data coverage on our existing phones. We can also pay per-minute for international phone calls, but haven’t found this to be necessary, thanks to Facebook Messenger and Skype.
As for work, do you adjust your work schedule so that you have some overlap with your clients’ time zone?
As a travel agency, a large amount of our workload can be done in the morning while our clients are sleeping, and in the evening (morning in the States) we can talk to clients. In the afternoon we try to take a break to walk the dogs, go sightseeing, cook, exercise, or just relax and enjoy wherever we are in the world.
House Sitting Cancelations
Have you ever been in a situation where you had to leave the house sit early, or somebody canceled on you and you had to find last minute housing in another country? What did you do?
This thankfully has never happened to us.
I know virtually nothing about visas. What’s the typical length of time you can do house sitting for before you have to start worrying about visas in Europe? What’s the most important thing someone needs to know in regard to visas? What is a good resource for people who are new to this?
While in Europe, many of the countries are part of something called the Schengen Agreement. When U.S. Citizens visit Schengen countries, a 180-day timer starts the minute they pass through border control.
During these 180 days, travelers can spend no more than 90 days in the Schengen zone. Once their 90 days have been used, travelers must stay out of the Schengen zone for 90 days. After this, the timer restarts.
For example, Jake and I entered Iceland (a Schengen country) on the 11th of September last year, starting our 180-day timer. Since then, we have traveled throughout the United Kingdom (which is not part of the Schengen Agreement), and to Switzerland, Italy, and Greece (all three of which are Schengen countries).
We spent more than 90 days in the United Kingdom (where U.S. Citizens can stay for up to 180 days without applying for a visa), but still need to leave the Schengen zone for 90 days once our 180-day timer is up, on the 10th of March (which is thankfully the last day of our house sit in Greece)!
We are going to spend those 90 days in Eastern Europe, where many of the non-Schengen-zone countries are, before reentering Western Europe in June or July.
U.S. Citizens have it pretty easy and can travel without applying for a visa throughout most of Europe, as long as you don’t overstay and as long as you follow the Schengen zone requirements.
You can find out which countries are participating in the Schengen Agreement by doing a Google search.
For U.S. Citizens I recommend visiting the government website for specific visa and travel information for each country: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html
What’s your advice to doing a house sit in a country that doesn’t speak your language?
Learn the basics before you arrive: hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. Otherwise, you can get by with the Google Translate app (be sure to download the language so you can use it offline), gestures, patience, and humility.
You will be embarrassed and make a fool of yourself, but it will be worth it. Always be kind and appreciative, and remember that people are going out of their way to help you when they don’t have to. You are a vistor to their country, so be respectful!
Difficulties about International House Sitting
What has been the most difficult thing about international house sitting for you?
Constantly being out of my comfort zone is both exciting and exhausting. Just like at home, I have good days and bad days. I surprisingly struggled with homesickness while in the United Kingdom, which is more similar to the States than anywhere else we have been.
It was similar enough that I was constantly comparing it to all of the things I loved about home. Now that we are visiting countries that are completely different I don’t miss home nearly as much and I am embracing the endless learning experiences.
What’s next for you in your house sitting journey?
Once we have been in Europe for a year, we hope to return to the States, buy a car, and start house sitting in North America!
If people are interested in following your journey, where can they find you?
Thanks so much to Amy for answering all of our burning questions about international house sitting!! I know we’ve learned a lot from this. It gives us confidence knowing that other people are able to make international house sitting work. We can too!
More resources on house sitting:
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