A Projects Abroad volunteer with her host family during her Nomad Project in Mongolia.

Living with a host family abroad? This is what you need to know!

By Jen Southern | 04th July, 2019
Updated on 24th July, 2023

As a volunteer or intern abroad, you want to make an impact. However, we also want you to experience the full extent of living and working in another country. To make this a reality, most of our volunteers and interns stay with locals while traveling. 

By living with a host family, you get to experience more than the typical tourist. Your host family will teach you more about their country and culture. You’ll get traditional home cooked meals and you’ll get to build a bond which will be cherished for many years to come. Many of our volunteers still keep in contact with their host families and often return to visit!

We understand that you might still have some reservations or you just want to know what you can expect from your host family. This is why we’ve answered a few of our most frequently asked questions about host families. Let’s take you through them:

Projects Abroad volunteer gets welcomed by her host family in Nepal.

What is host family accommodation?

Projects Abroad host family accommodation is a local family that opens their home to volunteers and interns from around the world. You can stay for short or long periods of time and it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Host families come in all shapes and sizes including families with children, single parents, grandparents or empty nesters. They provide a bed, food and care during your travels.

How to find a host family abroad?

You don’t have to worry about this because we’ll organize everything for you! Once you’ve applied for your project, our Volunteer Advisors will be in touch and connect you to your home away from home.

We share our life stories, cultures and talk about our lives. These are the best moments. The topics, conversations, sitting together as a great big family over mealtimes. (...) It’s as if we belong to each other.
-  Faye A, host mother in South Africa for over 10 years

Are host families safe?

We take your safety seriously, which is why we have strict host family requirements in place. We carefully vet our host families, their homes and neighborhoods before and during your visit. They are chosen for security, comfort and friendliness to ensure you have the best stay possible. 

Many of our hosts are also associated with our projects - for example, a teacher or headmistress at one of our partner schools or a doctor at one of our medical placements might also offer host family accommodation.

High School Special volunteers sitting in the living room with their host family’s children in Kenya

Will I be living alone with my host family?

The number of volunteers living with you and your host family will depend on a few factors. These include how many volunteers are in the country at the same time as you, as well as how many volunteers our host families can accommodate at a time. However, all of our host families are warm and welcoming. They’ll treat you as part of their family during your time abroad.

I had the best host family. They made me feel at home and did everything they could to be as accommodating as possible. I was also living with one other volunteer for most of the time. We quickly became friends and explored much of Jamaica together, usually with a group of around six to twelve people.
- Alexi C, Medicine volunteer in Jamaica

If you feel more comfortable staying with another volunteer during your time abroad, speak to your Volunteer Advisor after you sign up. They’ll be able to make a plan for you.

Do I need to speak the local language to communicate with my host family?

English is widely spoken in most of the countries we work in so our host families usually speak English. We do, however, have language requirements for some of our French and Spanish speaking countries. Although host families in these countries can speak English, it’s often only at a basic level.

To make your transition into a new country easier, our staff will teach you a few basic phrases in the local language during your induction. Our staff also speak English and the local language so they’ll be able to assist if you ever encounter a language barrier.

 Volunteers receive home cooked meals during their time with their host families abroad.

Will my host family be able to accommodate my dietary requirements?

One of the best parts about traveling abroad is getting to taste the local food and popular dishes. However, we are aware that many people may have dietary requirements. Don’t let this scare you off from experiencing life with a host family. Although you’ll generally eat what your host family eats, they’re happy to accommodate you, whether you are vegetarian, lactose intolerant or have other requirements. 

If you have any concerns, you can contact our Project Experts before applying. They’ll be able to advise you on the countries that’ll suit your needs the best.

Do I have to do everything with my host family?

On our Flexi-trip Projects, you don’t have to do everything with your local host family while traveling. You’ll be given the freedom to explore and socialise on your own or with other volunteers. However, you should always be respectful of mealtimes and curfews.

On the other hand, our host families know that part of the experience is about getting to know the locals and getting involved in daily activities. They’ll encourage you to make friends with the locals while travelling and this often starts with them. They take great pride in showing you around and sharing their culture. You may be invited to their local church service, a birthday party, wedding or dinner with friends.

I was lucky enough to go on fantastic days out with my host family and the other volunteers, to all the local tourist spots like the beautiful Tiger Cave Temple and the natural hot springs and emerald pool.
- Ethan B, Childcare volunteer in Thailand

Will there be internet or WiFi at my host family's house?

As with any home, it’s up to the family to decide if they have the internet in their home. Many families do, but this cannot be guaranteed. But don’t worry about not being able to access the web. Many countries have great cell service and data packages. The internet is also available for use at the local Projects Abroad office.

Projects Abroad volunteers take a group photo with their host mother in Romania.

Can I speak to someone who's stayed with my assigned host family before?

Once accepted, you’ll be added to our destination Facebook groups. You’ll find a community of volunteers and alumni on these groups who are happy to answer your questions and share their experiences. You might even find your host mother or sister reassuring you there too.

If you’d rather contact someone privately, your Volunteer Advisor might be able to put you in contact with one of our alumni who can help.

Do I need to bring my own bedding when staying at my host family?

We want your host family’s house to become your home away from home. This means all the necessities will be provided for you, including your bedding. Don’t be shy to ask for an extra blanket if it gets cold either.

What should I get my host family as a thank you gift?

A thank you gift is never expected by your host family, but it’s always appreciated. This can be anything from a board game to popular spices from home. We always suggest you bring something from your home country as a personal thank you. The easiest to pack in your suitcase would be pictures of home, popular candies, snacks, or small handicrafts.

Find your home away from home while living with one of our host families during your volunteer project or internship abroad. You’ll get to experience firsthand what living with a local host family while travelling is all about and the culture and traditions that come with it.

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