Before you travel internationally to volunteer your skills, there are a few things you need to know and it’s why we wrote this #TravelSmartGiveResponsibly series.
Traveling abroad is a dream come true for most people, and extended travel is the chance of a lifetime to call a new place home while stepping outside your comfort zone. When you’re part of an extended trip, especially if you put your roots down for a little while and volunteer your skills in a single location, your housing can make or break your experience. With the right place you can create a mini sanctuary where you can reflect and unwind is vital. Volunteering abroad often involves longer stints that make it expensive or inconvenient for a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Finding housing can be difficult to navigate, especially when you can’t see the location in person and you’re faced with language and cultural barriers. Below are, a few simple steps to help find the best housing option for you when you volunteer abroad.
1. Ask your host for advice
If you are volunteering your skills in a community, you’ll be working with a local organization and its people. One of the many benefits of skills-based Experteering (as opposed to voluntourism) is that local hosts are eager to have you join them for your skills and know-how, not your money. This means they’ll also help you think through your planning – which includes where to live.
Staying with your host or locals is also a great way to get to know your team and develop a personal relationship with the community you’re working in.
In advance of your travel, here is how we recommend you start a conversation with your host for good tips on where to live:
- Confirm whether the host provides housing (at MovingWorlds, the vast majority of projects provide a free place to live).
- Share your budget, and ask for suggestions on where to stay.
- Be mindful of different expectations in cultural and economic differences, and ask tangible questions related to noise, safety, wifi connectivity. If you work through the full Experteering process, you’ll be guided through all the ins-and-outs.
2. Consider a local apartment
If staying with your host or a local isn’t an option, finding a fully furnished apartment you can rent for a few months is a good second choice. These can offer independence and a sense of home-away-from-home, allowing you to unwind and get some me-time at the end of a long day of volunteering.
There are many options to find housing online. Sites like HousingAnywhere are a good option to find apartments internationally, and you can search by location, date, price, and apartment style. The site is similar to Airbnb’s platform, but allows you to search for longer stays and is more affordable if you’re looking for month-long commitments. HomeStay is a great option to stay with a host family and immerse yourself in the culture. WomenWelcomeWomen is also a great option for women travelling alone seeking a community of international women and a safe option for shared housing. Finding Facebook groups in your area is also a good way to find cheap, local establishments. If you don’t feel comfortable buying sight-unseen, consider getting a cheap hostel, Booking.com apartment, or Airbnb for a week before you sign any leases, and do some house-hunting in the area. And a random tip: Cafes and pubs can be a great place to get advice about local landlords and availability, as is your host.
While finding an apartment for a short stay might be difficult as most landlords seek out tenants that can stay for longer periods of time, vacation rentals are specifically geared for short-term residents. They are also often conveniently located in city centers, and can offer amenities like laundry and kitchens that smaller apartments might not offer. HomeAway is a great option for finding a vacation rental, and offers over 2 million options in over 190 countries, so there’s sure to be something within your price range and location. As Jordan Hoefar, the corporate communications manager at HomeAway explains,
“Vacation rentals are actually perfect for volunteers being that they’re well suited for longer stays, a home can accommodate more people at a cheaper cost per person, you can cook and do laundry to save costs, and you can often find rentals in destinations where there aren’t many hotels.”
3. Read the rules, lease, and country-specific requirements carefully
Make sure you know what you’re signing up for. If need be, consider getting a lawyer or a translator in order to ensure you’re on the same page. Ask about what could be included in your rent, including utilities, internet, and TV. Double check with your landlord about what an unfurnished or furnished apartment means for them. A furnished apartment might include a couch and bed, but might mean no AC, which could be a significant issue in many countries during the summertime. An unfurnished apartment might mean no stove or refrigerator, so make sure your essentials are covered. Also, make sure that you know how and to whom to pay your bills every month so there’s no confusion and no possibility of a late payment.
We recommend you confirm understanding of the following:
- Pictures and/or video tour of the property
- Confirm address, and find it on Google Maps
- Ensure you have walking, taxi, and car-rental directions on how to find it
- Conduct a Google search for property address, business / person name, and other relevant information to confirm not a scam and see if there are reviews
- Double check city and country requirements for foreign travelers for the type of stay you have
- Payment amounts, process, and timing – make sure to have this documented
- Clarity on utilities: Water, electricity, heat, disposal, wifi, phone, etc. – what is available, and what are costs
- Furniture – what is there, and what is not
- Proximity of groceries and food
- Proximity of healthcare / hospital in case of emergency
- Proximity to transportation
- Paperwork and documentation needed
Before you leave, make sure you’re bringing any essential documentation. You may need to include recent bank statements, reference letters, pay stubs, and several forms of identification. Making sure you are clear on local customs as well as the requirements of your specific landlord is essential. Being over-prepared is better than finding out you won’t be able to rent a home because you forgot paperwork at home.
And one more suggestion: Remember that you’re probably not the first person from your home country trying to root down in your new country. So look online for tips, post questions on an Expat forum, and turn to your social network for other tips, suggestions, and guidance on what to be on the lookout for.
4. Be wary of miscommunications and scam
Dealing with finding housing accommodations when you’re not in the country can add its own layers of complications, and can be a breeding ground for scams and shady operations. There are a few red flags that you should be aware of before you sign a lease or send money abroad. If a landlord is unwilling to provide contact information or is evasive about any of your questions, there are hidden fees or ask for more money after the initial payment, if they only accept cash and are unwilling to sign an official lease, or if the deal simply seems too good to be true, you should definitely think twice about agreeing to this location.
Some countries have different policies with signatures and contracts, so you might not be used to this, but whatever you do, make sure to at least get some documentation of all the critical details.
When searching for accommodations abroad, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Staying with your host or locals is a great way to become integrated with the community, and is the method that most of our Experteers choose. Finding a local apartment can also offer some independence. Vacation rentals are geared towards short-term stints, so booking a location for just a few months can be cheaper and more hassle-free than trying to rent a traditional apartment for your trip. Finally, be aware of any scams or hustlers, and back out of a deal if you sense something isn’t right.
If you’re preparing to travel abroad, check out the other articles in this #TravelSmartGiveResponsibly series to learn about how to secure funding for your trip, find affordable health care, learn the language, and more! Sign up for the email campaign to get informed first about our new articles, and ask your burning travel questions to be prepared for your journey. To learn more about signing up for a membership with MovingWorlds and finding an incredible international organization to volunteer your skills with, click here.