International housesitting is a great way to see the world and planning and preparing for a trip are certainly part of the adventure. As housesitting overseas will often involve extended (greater than three months) time abroad, extra planning is needed. For those who house sit in Australia, venturing off into the world of international house sitting can be daunting. Having completed numerous international house sits, here is our guide to global house sitting from an Australian perspective.
Getting the Sits
Numerous platforms advertise house sitting opportunities with some covering the whole world while others specialise in particular countries. We have successfully secured international sits through KiwiHouseSitters
, Housesit Mexico
, House Carers
and Trusted Housesitters
, as well as several referral sits through our networks and Facebook groups. (We are happy to provide discounts to these sites – please contact us
for details.) Securing international sits can sometimes take a little bit more work with one of the key concerns from owners being around ensuring you will actually turn up. Letting them know that you have already booked flights is one way of relieving this concern. We were lucky to secure house sits for Australian expats, and this can be reassuring for both parties – the Aussie accent is quite distinguishable! The homeowner of our sit in Switzerland had previously lived around the corner from where our apartment is in Sydney – it can be a small world. The other advantage of house sitting for expats is that they are usually part of the local expat community and will recommend you to others. One of our owners in Mexico referred us to their daughter in Belgium. Another owner has moved from Mexico to Portugal where they will be looking for sitters. As with all sits, your profile is crucial and including any international travel experience can be useful in providing owners with an all-rounded picture of you as a person.
Walking Alsaka (originally from Australia) in the German forest near Basel, Switzerland
The patio of our housesit in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico which was secured through our networks.
Repeat sits are common. We have cared for Princess (dog) and Dulce (cat) in Mexico twice.
Visa Rules and Regulations
House sitters often look for longer (greater than three months) sits, particularly in idyllic locations such as Greek Islands, Tuscany or the wine regions of France. However, you need to be aware of the amount of time you can stay in a particular country and in the case of Europe, within the Schengen zone. While each person’s situation is unique, within Schengen (a subset of European countries) you can only stay 90 days out of 180 when travelling on an Australian passport. This rule , therefore, precludes you from applying for any sits greater than 90 days within the Schengen area. Using online calculators is one way of ensuring you don’t breach visa rules and avoid having trouble at passport control. Fortunately, the UK is not part of Schengen, so combining house sits in the UK with continental Europe is one way of extending your stay. Travelling to the US on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and then onto Canada and Mexico and back to the US also needs to be treated carefully as travel in these adjacent countries counts towards your original 90 day allowance. Refer to the US Embassy website
for further clarification. This quote is taken directly from the embassy website (as of July 2019).
Under the VWP, time spent in Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands counts towards the maximum of 90 days stay allowed under the program.
Getting to the Sit
Planning is everything and even more so when house sitting internationally. Avoiding costly flights by staying several months in one region rather than crisscrossing across the globe is one way to be kind to the wallet. As there will most likely be gaps between sits, be prepared to spend a few nights in a hotel or Airbnb. You may even choose this to take advantage of visiting key tourist spots when you are between sits. We did this to visit Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, USA
and ticked off a life long dream and discovery list item. Before our sit in Basel, Switzerland, we spent a few days in Paris as it allowed for good plane and train connections. Some house sitters also use re-positioning cruises to get to their sit. You can often get good deals on these cruises and arrive without the jetlag.
As we have travelled fulltime since starting our house sitting adventures in May 2016, we have crossed over many international borders. We are noticing an increasing vigilance by check-in staff to ensure we have firm plans to leave the country to which we are flying. Boarding a plane to the US and then onto Mexico, we were asked to provide details of our flights out of Mexico (some three months later). When checking in to our flight to India from the UK we were asked to provide flight details out of India and furthermore back to Australia. We have not yet had the situation where we didn’t have onward travel booked, but this is certainly a consideration for future international travel.
Travel between sits overseas can also be more budget-friendly with a bit of research. Thanks to the advice of fellow house sitters, we purchased and used the Two Together Railcard
in the UK to save at least 30% on all train (non-London tube) travel. We also took advantage of flight specials with discount airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair. Tapping into the knowledge of homeowners can also be invaluable as they will (hopefully) know of cheaper alternatives. Car relocations are another option, particularly in New Zealand and the US/Canada as well as within Australia. Bus travel is extremely economical in Mexico, and booking online can save a few pesos although at times international sites won’t accept non-national credit cards. Paypal is sometimes offered as an option of payment.
Southwest Airlines in the US were great with an extensive network, cheap fares and baggage is included.
We took the local bus rather than a tour to Niagara Falls, saving us money.
The owners left us two cars in Palm Springs, USA – a Fiat Spider and brand new Jeep Cherokee.
We have been fortunate to have cars provided for our use in Mexico, USA and New Zealand and we hired cars in the UK. Manual cars seem to be the norm in many countries so clarification as to the type of transmission can avoid “bunny hop” rides across the world. Luckily, one of us grew up on a farm and learnt to drive manual cars. Inclusion of cars is often dependent upon the insurance requirements. In the UK for example, it is the person, rather than the car that is insured. Generally, insurance companies do not allow foreign nationals to drive personally insured cars in the UK. As with most things, the detail is in the fine print so get your home owners to check their policy. Where we have had cars provided, owners have either added us as nominated drivers (if necessary) or obtained written permission to allow us to drive the car. Having an international drivers permit is useful, and some car hire companies (particularly in non-English speaking countries) stipulate it as a requirement. Other house sitters have also bought cars while overseas for extended periods as it works out cheaper than hiring. Europe has a “lease to buy” scheme which can be economical if you are going to be in one region for an extended period.
Preparing before you go
There are several things that need to be done prior to leaving Australia and some are not so obvious. Redirecting and having someone deal with your mail is a good first step. Receiving as much mail in electronic form is one way to eliminate most, if not all, paper mail. Paying bills whilst overseas is fairly straightforward via the internet however there are times when banks or service providers send a code to your mobile phone for verification. We have had our credit cards frozen due to suspected fraudulent activity and a message sent to our registered mobile phones. This is fine, except if you have changed the SIM card in your phone to a local SIM and your Aussie SIM is not able to be accessed. We therefore travel with two extra mobile phones (cheap older devices that can accept and send text messages) for such occasions. It is also useful for if/when family members need to get in touch with us urgently. Using local SIM cards in the various countries we travel to has been a great money and time saver, particularly having internet access while out and about to look up timetables, opening hours, local cafes and even post pics to social media. We even did a live video call
in Mumbai India the day we visited the meeting point of the Dabbawallahs as well as one in Bern Switzerland
when it was snowing.
Suspending your health insurance while overseas can save you money without effecting your lifetime cover loading. Once again, your policy will provide the details as the minimum and maximum times for which you can suspend cover differs between funds. However, as a general rule, you need to suspend your membership for a minimum of two months up to a maximum of two years. Without health insurance, you definitely need travel insurance to cover emergency medical expenses and other cases of misadventure. While many travellers use credit card insurance, this may not necessarily be appropriate for long term house sitters. Credit card insurance policies often only cover trips for a maximum of three months. Some also require a return trip back to Australia be booked prior to departure. Check your policy carefully and take appropriate action. We have travelled on both credit card insurance (ANZ Rewards Credit Card) and also purchased insurance outright for other trips through Easy Cover and Budget Insurance Direct.
On the subject of credit cards, having access to your money while overseas needs to be planned. It can cost you significantly to withdraw money from ATM’s or use a credit card that incurs international transaction fees. We have changed all our credit card and ATM cards to providers that mean we pay no fees while giving us easy access to our money. Using a combination of cards and having a secondary cardholder on the account can help mitigate against being stranded without funds. One of our wallets was stolen overseas, still with several months before we returned home. Our planning and use of secondary cards on our accounts meant we could continue unhindered. Our go-to cards are Coles Rewards Mastercard and Citibank Visa Debit card and we never use travel money cards. Further details on which cards we use can be found at our blog post, Travel Like a Financial Ninja.
Booking our seats and pre-ordering meals on long haul flights is part of our preparation, meaning a more comfortable trip for both of us.
Packing for multiple climates can be tricky. We arrived in Palm Springs to temperatures above 40 degrees from Sydney where it was Winter.
Saving money on the road takes a bit of preparation and planning but is well worth it.
The Packing Dilemma
Travelling with only a suitcase and backpack means you are limited with what you can take and over the years we have learnt to be more economical with our packing. Housesitting can often mean you are travelling through multiple seasons on the one trip although some housesitters solve this by following the sun and only sitting in warm climates. On our last trip we were away for nearly six months and had to pack for every possible season. We use packing cells to keep our Winter clothes separate from our Summer and think layers to stay warm. Having a mix and match colour scheme also means everything goes with everything, although the photos can sometimes look as if you are always wearing the same thing. Homeowners have provided us with heavy coats if needed, and local Op-shops can cater for any emergency purchases such as a suit jacket.
Technology is probably our biggest consideration with packing as it takes up a fair amount of our luggage. We travel with a four socket Australian power cube as it only requires one local adapter. We also often buy cheap USB chargers from local supermarkets for charging phones beside our beds. Recently we purchased two universal travel adapters so we don’t have to carry region specific adapters we won’t use for a great deal of a trip.\
We store scanned copies of our passport and credit cards online, (Dropbox/Google Drive) meaning we will still have access to key documents in the case of everything going missing. We also carry a few extra passport photos as these can sometimes be required for visas or even purchasing SIM cards in some countries. We use coin bags from banks to store currency for each country, keeping us organised. It is also useful when we return as we already have some cash the moment we land.
Enjoying the Sit
Arriving a few days early for an international sit can be very beneficial as sometimes routines and ways of doing things are a little different. Learning how to use water and heating systems and pet feeding and walking routines can take some time. In Switzerland, the recycling system was quite involved and took some getting time to get our heads around. If you are in a non-English speaking country having key contacts in cases of emergency are crucial, along with details of a bilingual neighbour or friend in case something goes wrong.
We use Mapahub
to connect with other sitters while on the road and keep in contact with past homeowners and family via Facebook and other online platforms. We find WhatsApp to be extremely useful, particularly for group chat, meaning both homeowners and both sitters are kept informed. We purchase Skype credit and have a Skype number for making and receiving cheap calls. Skype has also been handy when we have needed to ring banks and businesses back in Australia.
Travelling internationally as a house sitter is a wonderful life and we now have friends all over the world. While initially it may seem daunting, with some pre-planning, the world really is your oyster. Do some planning and then go off and explore!
Experiencing local customs is a key highlight of international travel, such as the Dabbawalas (pictured) in Mumbai, India.
This may be the world record for the most house sitters in one place – Ajijic, Mexico.
House sitting in New Zealand is a great way to start with international housesitting as an Australian.
Well done ! Good advice for sitters….
Very interesting read.
Thank you for sharing.
I love travel, your lifestyle is working out well for you. When i sell my house I would like to travel Australia house sitting as a way to experience different regions.
Thanks Tracey. It truly is a wonderful lifestyle & a great way to travel, even in your home country & city. We’ve lived in places in Australia we never dreamed possible.
Hi guys, what a fabulous coverage, thank you. Having had in nomadic lifestyle for years, and house sitting over 6 but so far only Aussie and New Zealand, I really enjoyed reading about your international periods and hint with it…. Haven’t got I to a website….. Work in progress..
Thanks Rose. Can highly recommend international sitting, particularly Mexico. Let us know if you have any questions.
Wow what a great read. You have covered almost everything and explained it with enough details to easily follow. Thank you for sharing your experience
Thanks Debi – pleased you found it useful. Let us know if we have missed anything or if you have any further questions.
What an amazing experience you are both having
Hi Kim. It certainly is a great lifestyle and we are so blessed. Thanks for commenting.
Wow!!! Thanks for all the info!!!
Our pleasure Marilise – hope you find it useful.
A very thoughtful and well executed post. Lots of useful information, that would be of great help to those folk contemplating a house sitting and travelling life “on the road”.
Thanks Sue. It’s been such a pleasure to have you along on our house sitting adventures.
What a wonderful resource. Just jam packed full of great tips. I have saved this post to Pinterest for future reference. I’m certain I will be referring repeatedly to this post as we plan international HS in 2020. Thanks so much.
Thanks Estelle and pleased you found it useful. Look forward to following your international adventures in 2020.
A really good read and a great resource for future trips. A couple of points that leapt into my mind as I was reading:
Baggage allowances can be tight on the budget airlines.
Cheap car hire in Spain can be fraught with problems due to unscrupulous companies. Extra hidden charges, getting you to pay for damage you didn’t cause, not being available to report damage seen in daylight when the car was picked up at night etc
Getting all your bills sent electronically is fine until you try to use an American owned car hire company who insist you present a utility bill not more than 3 months old as part of the rental verification process.
Hope these points are useful,
Pinar de Campoverde, Spain
Thanks Hilary and baggage limits are always a consideration. Also, good to know about the car hire in Spain. Interesting that a car hire company wants a utility bill in the US too – all part of the adventure!
Great informative post. Something we hope to do in a few years time.
Thanks Wendy. It is a terrific lifestyle. Ask any questions you have – happy to help.
I enjoyed your tips and read with interest about credit card travel insurance. One thing we have done is to get 12 months worth of travel insurance and at the end of the month we will go on our fourth trip within that time.
Another thing we found out about was Australia has a reciprocal agreement with UK and other countries to cover health cost. While we were in Scotland I needed a doctor and two scripts which was all covered for free. All I had to do was show my drivers licence and medicare card. Not all doctors surgeries know about this and we were charged for a script the year before for a vitamin supplement that is available over the counter here.
So Australians in UK are covered for medical
Thanks for reading Del and the info for the UK. New Zealand has a similar program where you are covered for emergencies. We too have used multi-trip policies although find we visit so many different parts of the world that sometimes it is cheaper to buy separate policies. Happy travelling!
Thank you so much for this post. We are in the process of selling out house so we can travel the world indefinitely. Unfortunately, we are having trouble getting enough info about visas. We are thinking of getting a 6 month visa to Canada and possibly doing a few trips into the US from there. Do you know it we can then look at getting visas for our follow on travel (e.g. UK for 6 months) without having to come back to Australia? Having you come across any specialists who help with this kind of thing?
Hi Karenlee – sounds like a great trip. The best people to advise on visas are the consulates and embassies. You will read a lot of information online but this is sometimes not the full story. Be careful about constantly hopping across borders between Canada and the US as the US can count time spent in Canada as part of your original 90 day tourist visa. We have found that having onward travel booked, confirmed with documented evidence is best practice when crossing borders as it shows your intention that you won’t be overstaying any visa etc. Good luck with your trip.
Thanks heaps for the advice.
Our pleasure! Happy travels and house sitting.
We , too are having great fun full time house sitting ! My wife and I sold up our house in the UK after 37 years of marriage and 3 grown up kids had flown the nest and set up homes of their own. We started through Trusted Housesitters in 2013 and never looked back , the first year was many UK short term sits ( week or two ) plus some in France, Italy and Ireland – one of which lead to very long term arrangement looking after a house and a couple of gites in France for six months spring and summer. The owners have moved to Asia , they organise the bookings and deal with the money and we do the changeovers and look after the property , grounds and pool etc .
We spend the Autumn and Winter at regular house sits in Brittany and the UK plus a few new ones each year – sometimes even squeeze in a holiday to visit one of our sons , who now lives in Dubai.
It has proved to us , you just need to trust your instincts and get on with life – most of our friends thought we were mad at first but now they all appear jealous of our lifestyle!!
Have fun out there , life is too short not to …………
Thanks for your comment Steve. It’s amazing how our friends and family thought we were crazy (some still do) but we love our house sitting lifestyle. We are hopefully headed back to Europe/UK late 2020 so would be great to catch up, or even in Dubai as we want to go to the World Expo. Keep living the dream and exploring this great world.