Your curiosity’s piqued, and you’re considering homestay hosting as a house hack/side hustle. But what you really want to know is: How much will I make, and is it worth doing?
After all, what’s the point of taking on a side hustle if it doesn’t earn decent income? As a side hustle, hosting students does in fact earn a decent amount of income (and brings a host of other amazing benefits).
But before I get into the numbers, there’s one super-important thing I want you to know:
The number one rule of homestay hosting
I can’t discuss students and money without also bringing up my number one rule: DO NOT host students just for the money.
Yes, hosting students is a ‘job’ that earns you income. But if you choose to only see it that way, I guarantee that you and your students will be absolutely miserable.
Students are people—not income
We’ve seen it so many times—when hosts are only in it for the money, and they run their homestays like a business, their students know it. No one wants to feel like someone else’s meal ticket, so don’t ever treat your students as such.
Seek the non-monetary rewards
We’ve been able to host for as long as we have because we truly care about our students and want to give each of them an amazing experience. Hosting is deeply rewarding for us because we choose to seek out and be grateful for the non-monetary rewards.
You’ll be the best, happiest host when money is not the only reason you want to host students. Think deeply about your real motivations for hosting—it’s not right for everyone, and it’s totally okay if you decide that it isn’t for you.
Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now! If you still think homestay hosting is the right fit for you and your family, read on. Let’s dig into the numbers so you can make an informed decision.
1. How much can I earn?
Over all our years of hosting, we earned on average $1,000/month. You can earn more or less depending on a few factors (click on the drop-downs for details):
There are typically two meal plans for homestays—full board (three meals a day) or half board (breakfast and dinner only). We’re paid around $1,000 for a full-board student, and $900 for a half-board student. This rate is for 28 days or four weeks (not per month).
When we started hosting, most students chose the half-board option, but in the last few years, almost all our students pick the full-board option. (Perhaps the world is getting more frugal? One can hope!)
We have no real preference for either meal plan (it’s not in our control anyway), but if I had to choose one that’s ‘better’, I’d pick full-board. This is simply due to economies of scale—it doesn’t take a lot more money or time to cook extra food because you can buy and cook in bulk. That would bring down the per-serving cost of all your meals.
This depends on how many bedrooms you have available (it’s usually one student per bedroom). Some schools do allow for double occupancy in one room, so you may have more capacity than you think!
It wasn’t often that we were able to book a double occupancy stay, but it was great when we could! You’re paid a little less per student, but you’re earning a lot more from one bedroom, so it was worth it.
Obviously, the more months you’re available to host, the higher your occupancy. But which months you host also matters.
It may be different in other cities, but in Vancouver, the busiest time for homestays is summertime. Vancouver becomes Raincouver from October to April, so I can see why this is the case!
It’s especially important when you’re new to hosting that your availability is wide open from May to September. Schools and agencies are more likely to favour you in the quieter months if you help them by accepting students in the summer.
However, if you prefer not to host in the summer, all hope is not lost! International students who attend your local elementary or high school typically only stay in your home during the school year—which would leave your summers free.
Note: Some schools handle their own homestay placements, while others use agencies. As a host, there’s no difference between them, so there’s no need to worry about working with one versus the other.
The more schools and agencies you’re on the roster for, the higher your chances for full occupancy throughout the year.
You do have to maintain a balance though—the more organizations you work with, the more often you’ll have to turn down placements due to overlapping dates. And the more often you turn down placements, the less favorable you’ll be to that school or agency.
That said, all the schools and agencies we worked with never took issue with us working with their competitors. They understand that your priority is to have the occupancy level you need. Just try to be fair and flexible, and you’ll be fine.
The more flexible you are with the types of students you host, the more that’ll be offered to you. What do I mean by ‘types’ of students? Here are some common preferences that schools and agencies allow you to select from:
- Female or male
- Minors or adults
- Students with allergies and/or food restrictions
Let’s break down each preference:
Female or male
Most hosts prefer female students—so if you’re open to hosting either gender, you’ll have higher occupancy. We ended up with mostly female students, but hosting male students was just as enjoyable for us. (Also important to note: most schools only allow you to host one gender at a time.)
Minors or adults
If you decide to host elementary or high school students, all of them will (of course) be minors. Many families prefer to host younger students because they’re closer in age to their own kids. This makes things more fun since it’s easier for the kids and students to bond over common interests.
However, minor students will be more dependent on you and you’ll tend to worry more about them than if they were adults. You definitely need to be more hands-on with younger students. The upside is you’re paid more when hosting minors—typically around $1,200/month (versus $1,000/month for an adult student).
If you choose to host adult students, you won’t have to set curfews or worry quite as much about them. They’re independent and can get themselves around the city, tidy up, do their own laundry, and make their own breakfast. You can also have more serious and in-depth conversations with them about their country, world events, etc. Adult students are definitely more hands-off! However, the pay is lower due to the lower demands.
We’ve happily hosted students of all ages (as young as 14, all the way up to 86 years old)! When our kids were little, we preferred (and needed) the lower demands of adult students. But now that our boys are a tween and teen, hosting teenaged students has been a lot of fun for all of us.
Neither age group is better or easier—they’re just different. The best way to figure out your preference is to give each age group a try.
Students with allergies and/or food restrictions
This was one preference that we were strict about—we never hosted students with major allergies or food restrictions.
Since no one in our family has allergies, we’re not very allergy-aware. We didn’t want to put an allergic student’s well-being in jeopardy by hosting them, so we said no to any students with serious allergies.
We also said no to students with major food restrictions/preferences because we’re foodies and love eating all types of food. To have to restrict our diet for several months would be the ultimate in deprivation for us!
However, we were happy to be flexible with minor accommodations. One student had a seafood allergy, but seafood is pretty easy for us to avoid for a few months, so that was no big deal.
We’ve also hosted students with an ‘aversion’ to veggies (surprisingly, there are quite a few of those!) or spicy food. Those were really easy preferences to manage, so we never minded dealing with them.
2. How do I get paid?
Typically, schools and agencies will take payments from the students, deduct their monthly homestay placement fee, then pay you every two to four weeks via cheque or direct deposit. Some agencies work differently and take an initial cut, then leave you to take payments from your students yourself.
Personally, I preferred when the schools and agencies dealt with the student’s payments. This helped prevent all the awkwardness that comes with money—late payments, incorrect payments, or negotiations about the amount. When the school/agency deals with the student, you have none of those hassles, and receive consistent payments.
There’s one more reason why I didn’t like accepting payment from our students directly—I never wanted them to feel like I was simply providing a service for them, and that they were a ‘client’. Something about them paying me directly made our relationship feel less genuine. Maybe it’s just me, but that made me feel really awkward!
What if my student pays me directly?
While you may have personal preferences about accepting payments, some agencies simply don’t deal with this, and you’ll have no choice but to take payments from your students yourself.
Here’s how I minimized the awkwardness and issues with that:
Be a little flexible with payment dates
Don’t pounce on your student if they’re a few days late! We’ve never been stiffed by a student, but sometimes it would take them a week or more to get the cash to pay us. Just keep the lines of communication friendly and open, and you’ll be fine.
Count out the money together
When your student pays you, insist on counting out the cash together, on the spot. This ensures both of you witness the cash being counted, and acknowledge together that it’s the right amount.
Keep a record of their payments
I’d use a Google Sheet that was shared with our student to track their payments to me. We rarely needed to refer to it, but some students were forgetful (as was I), so it was helpful to have a record to check if they were behind on payments.
Be open to some negotiation
This is an area of personal preference, but I tried to be open to negotiating payments for things such as: removing a meal, one-week or longer absences from our home (the student or us), or unexpectedly cutting a stay short.
Typically, schools and agencies will not allow students to negotiate such things, but if you’re okay with it, can afford it, and are fair to yourself and the student, it certainly earns you a lot of goodwill!
3. How much does it cost to host?
There aren’t too many expenses that homestay hosts need to incur, so it’s a very affordable side hustle to get into. Here are the different expenses you’ll encounter:
One of the benefits of hosting students as a side hustle is that the start-up costs are very low. If you have an extra bedroom, you’re already paying for it anyway—so there’s no extra cost there.
As for furniture (bed, dresser, desk, chair, lamp), most of us have extras of those already, or can easily source them for free or cheap from family or Craigslist. (But don’t go too cheap—the room has to be comfy and appealing for schools to favor you, and for your students to be happy!)
You’ll notice slight increases in your utilities usage, but in our experience, it won’t be a huge difference. We were also clear with our students that we strived to save energy whenever possible. They understood, and were always mindful about their electricity and hot water usage. It was never an issue.
This will be the largest expense you’ll incur when hosting students. Your food cost will vary depending on several factors:
- How often you cook vs. getting takeout or prepared foods.
- How skilled you are at shopping in bulk.
- Which stores you shop at.
- What types of food you cook (e.g. meals heavy in meat will be much costlier).
- How many meals you’re providing.
Needless to say, getting takeout will very quickly wipe out the income you earn from hosting! But shopping smart and cooking at home will net you the greatest returns.
If you implement the techniques recommended by Mr. Money Mustache, Choose FI, and Radical Personal Finance, you can get your food costs down to $1.50 to $2 per serving. Let’s tally up how much that would cost:
- At $2/serving x 3 servings/day x 28 days = $168
- At $1.50/serving x 3 servings/day x 28 days = $126
Based on the $2/serving cost, for a full-board student who pays you $1,000/28 days, you’d net $832. With a $1.50/serving cost, you’d net $874. Either way, it’s still a decent amount of income!
Additionally, student food costs are a legitimate write-off—so the impact of this expense is even lower! See section 5: How can hosting save us money? below for more info on writing off expenses.
4. How much time does hosting take?
While most hosting duties are fun and hardly considered ‘work’ (e.g. watching a movie together or going out as a family) there’s still some real work to be done when you host students.
The good news though: it’s mostly stuff you’re doing anyway! Here’s my estimate of how much extra time one student adds to my regular chores:
- Cooking (15 minutes/day)
- Washing up after meals (15 minutes/day)
- Grocery shopping (15 minutes/week)
- General cleaning (1 hour/week)
- Laundry (30 minutes/week—but could be zero if you let them do their own)
- Changing over a bedroom (1 hour per changeover)
That’s around 5 hours of extra work per week, or under 45 minutes per day (with an hour thrown in every one to three months to changeover a room). Based on the $832 net income we calculated in the previous section, that works out to about $41 per hour! ($832/20 hours per month.)
Additional students: it gets even better!
Surprisingly, adding extra students doesn’t actually multiply your workload. Rather, adding a second or third student only slightly increases the workload. Because of this, your hourly wage could end up being much higher when you host more students!
For me, another two students adds:
- Cooking (10 minutes/day)
- Washing up after meals (10 minutes/day)
- Grocery shopping (0 minutes/week)
- General cleaning (15 minutes/week)
- Laundry (30 minutes/week—but could be zero if you let them do their own)
That’s around 3 hours of extra work per week, or under 20 minutes per day. Added to the 5 hours of extra work per week to host just one student, that’s a total of 8 hours of extra work per week to host three students.
Based on $832 net income per student, hosting three students would net $2,496/month. That works out to about $78/hour! ($2,496/32 hours per month.)
There aren’t many work from home jobs with such a low time commitment that’ll earn you a rate like that! But it gets even better—hosting students actually saves you money, which means you’re earning an even higher hourly rate. Scroll down to the next section to learn more…
5. How can hosting save us money?
Did you know that hosting students can actually help you save money? Here are a few ways that hosting homestays can actually decrease your expenses:
You’ll be buying larger quantities of food in bulk, so your per-serving costs will decrease. You’ll also waste less food because more mouths to feed means your food is eaten up long before it expires!
You can also save money by writing off a percentage of expenses you’d incur anyway:
- Home phone
- Cable (if you haven’t already cut the cord)
- Property taxes
- Mortgage interest
- Some home maintenance expenses
By writing off these expenses, you’ll decrease the amount of taxable income you earn from hosting—thereby lowering your tax bill! You would’ve paid for these expenses anyway—now you can put them to use and decrease your taxes!
(Always check with a tax professional to ensure you can write these expenses off, and that you’re calculating the percentages correctly.)
Since you won’t need to go to an office to host students, you’ll save on transportation and wardrobe costs. You’ll also save on all those little extras that working outside the home entails (office lunches, gifts for coworkers, etc.)
A final, unexpected way you can save money is in travel accommodation costs. What? How? Well, when you develop a good relationship with your students, you develop a network of partners to house swap with!
We were fortunate to have been able to do this with one of our students from Tokyo. She got our entire house to herself, while we got her apartment in central Tokyo. Not only was it an amazing experience for us to live like locals, but it also saved us thousands of dollars!
Conclusion: Is it worth it?
For us, it’s a resounding YES! Hosting students allows me to earn an income from home doing stuff I’d be doing anyway… without taking time away from my kids.
Hosting has also brought a lot of joy and amazing life experiences into our lives. These priceless rewards are far more valuable than any income we’ve earned. In my opinion, hosting students is an ideal side hustle/house hack—especially for those of us in the FI community.
If you’re on the fence, why not just give it a try? Just take in one student for a short stay and see if it’s a good fit for you and your family.
Want to know more?
And as always, feel free to comment below if you have questions, feedback, or topic suggestions. I’m happy to help!
The best benefits from hosting students are non-monetary. If you’re unsure about hosting, read on. I’ll have you fully convinced by the end of this post!
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