How to become a house sitter and see the world in retirement

VIew from house sitting time in the Australian Alps

Is house sitting part of your retirement plan? It’s a great way to see the world and experienced international house sitter Vanessa Anderson shares her tips for getting started. Read more about Vanessa at the end of this post.

Why consider house sitting

Is it your dream to retire early? Do you mull over ways to make this happen, only to slip back into your humdrum life – working to pay off the mortgage and get the kids through college? All the while enjoying those occasional holidays, but essentially stuck in the trap of materialism, with no easy way out anytime soon?

My hand is up in the air – that was me too a while back!

Why I chose to retire earlier by house sitting

Tied to an energy sapping business in the UK, I worked long days and weekends, and the idea of any kind of retirement seemed a far distant pipe dream. Rather ironically, my small giftware distribution company was termed “a lifestyle business”.

On reflection I’m not sure the “lifestyle” ever materialized!

Although not how I saw it at the time, what happened next was a blessing in disguise. Divorce and the subsequent closure of the business dictated that at the age of 50, I would have to pick myself up and start again. Happy to find my skills were still in demand, I was soon heading to a new job in London. Not easy after 20 years of self-employment, but my confidence was hugely boosted by at least securing full-time employment.

However, my dreams of early retirement were diminishing more. I had a little equity from the house sale, a small private pension not yet accessible, and the government had raised the statutory retirement age yet again. But in my new adaptable life, things were about to change… again.

Within a year I had met my new partner who had found an expat retirement community in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  Ian was attracted to the area by the expat living expenses in Bocas, which were among the lowest in the world at that time.

My steps to becoming a house sitter

Step 1 – Becoming an expat in Panama

While living in Panama with Ian, I first heard about house sitting. In a region where you can’t leave property safely unattended, it’s common practice to use local sitters.  They look after the property and take care of the expat, jungle and rescue dogs living at these island homes.

This is the perfect solution for travelling expats and retirees. We could now leave home for three months at a time to visit family and friends, travel, and renew our visas, all the while knowing that our island home and jungle pup were being cared for by other pet lovers. It didn’t cost anything either – we provided a home and paid the utilities (often for sailors moored up for the hurricane season), and they took care of everything, happy to be on land for a while.

Step 2 – Becoming a house sitter

More and more of us have an urge to travel these days, and have an insatiable hunger for experience, culture, meaningful connections and global encounters. This is especially so in retirement, but it is then that there’s often less money available to experience all these things you have worked your life to finally enjoy.

Neither of us had huge savings, but with my property equity we had enough to get by, and it wasn’t long before Ian put his property up for sale too. Then we had one of those “light bulb” moments when we suddenly realized how we could also benefit from the house sitting lifestyle.

Ian and pup in Mexico
Ian and pup in Mexico

With both properties sold and no accommodation costs our money would go much, much further! There would be enough to buy flights, pay for living expenses, etc., with some careful budgeting.

We set about researching online and quickly learned that we would need some genuine references from completed house sits. We offered our services locally among our expat community in Bocas. Was anyone going on a visa run? Would a short break be welcome if someone could look after the home and pets?

It wasn’t long before our first sits were booked and we had some all important reviews to give us credibility while looking after off-grid properties in a challenging environment! Taking these local sits also gave us a reality check – it made sure that house sitting worked for us. Not everyone finds it easy to live in someone else’s home, following somebody else’s routines and instructions.

The view from our first house sitting experience in Panama
The view from our first house sitting experience in Panama

But we loved it and could see how this trust-based exchange would help us transition into semi-retirement by substantially reducing our monthly outgoings . Not only that, we would still be living in comfortable houses with the company of pets – home-from-home without all the expenses! It’s amazing how little you need to live on when you don’t have the cost of a mortgage, rent, utilities, property tax, etc.

Step 3 – Funding our travel expenses

Our hope was that by 55 we would have enough savings and a residual income from various projects to sustain our semi-retirement lifestyle.

To supplement our travel funds we decided to spend a year teaching in China, where we earned a high income coupled with more low cost living. We continued teaching online after leaving China. Just 30 hours a month each was enough to pay our travel and living expenses while we began our house sitting adventures around the world.

Now we’ve been on the road for five years, travelling and house sitting full-time and are successfully semi-retired. Our savings and retirement income go so much further. We do get a small income by producing the FREE online publication House Sitting Magazine, but that arose out of our passion for this lifestyle.  Neither of us are quite ready to give up work completely, and we’ve found something we LOVE to do, when we want to do it!

It’s been a journey. We’ve had failures and successes around earning a remote income. But isn’t that part of life? Out of 60 sits we’ve had a couple that weren’t so good – but overall we think our semi-retirement lifestyle beats our previous life hands-down!

Step 4 – Bringing it all together!

Not everyone wants to fill their days with routines that tie them to the animals they are caring for. And not everyone loves pets in the way we do. House sitting comes with undeniable responsibilities and you need to consider these carefully. You really do need to enjoy taking care of, and spending time with, the pets – this is the number one reason why people use house and pet sitters.

We create balance by mixing house sitting with our “once-in-a-lifetime” travel adventures. In between house sits we’ve spent a month exploring Cuba. We experienced an awesome mobile safari in the Okavango Delta in Africa, slept under the stars in Botswana’s vast salt pans, and enjoyed a memorable trip to Victoria Falls. We learned to sail in Thailand and then chartered a yacht for a couple of weeks to sail down through the Grenadines after completing a house sit in the Caribbean. 

Sailing in the Caribbean after house sitting there
Sailing in the Caribbean after house sitting there

By house sitting the rest of the time, being careful with travel costs and budgeting well for our living expenses, we have been able to use the savings on accommodation to pay for all of these wonderful adventures. If something extra-special comes up, we’ll happily use our savings fund.

There are many ways to combine house sitting with your retirement income. Some people sell-up for complete freedom, while others rent out their property while travelling, or use sitters themselves. Your monthly retirement income may be plenty to fund your travels but with house sitting your money can take you away for longer – slow travel at its best. There really are many ways to achieve the same result.

So how do I get started as a house sitter?

There are 4 reputable international house sitting platforms:

  • TrustedHousesitters is the largest, so has the most opportunities
  • Nomador is good too, and has a lot of European sits
  • HouseCarers was the first ever house sitting platform – very professional
  • HouseSitMatch is smaller but less competitive, good for newcomers

Then you’ll find any number of smaller regional or country based sites. Take a look at this comparison article for more information.

The websites do charge a signup fee for sitters ranging from $50 to $120. But this is an annual charge, and if you weigh this up against your accommodation savings, it really is a small price to pay.

Once you find the right house sitting platform for you it’s simply a case of preparing a really compelling profile and building your references. Then start applying!

Where can I house sit; house sitting jobs for retirees

You’ll find opportunities all over the world. The UK, USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Central America are all popular house sitting destinations. But as word spreads, and more expat retirement communities grow, other areas are opening up to this wonderful trust-based exchange that benefits everyone – the homeowners, the pets and you!

I’ve made it sound easy, and in reality there’s a bit more to it if you want to be super successful and guarantee ongoing sits and even repeat sit offers. There’s so much information available online, and the platforms mentioned above all have great resources, tips and guidance on getting started. House Sitting Magazine has some great free getting started guides too.

If you don’t mind sharing your space with pets, and setting time aside for some daily tasks, then this may be the answer to making your retirement money go further. Do some research, learn the basics, and get yourself started. We hope house sitting helps you see more of the world, in the way that you want to in your retirement.  

Vanessa and Ian publishers of Housesitting Magazine
Vanessa and Ian publishers of House Sitting Magazine

Not sure about house sitting but interested in living an expat life? Where in the world might you live in retirement?

Vanessa Anderson is a full-time international house sitter, blogger and the publisher of House Sitting Magazine. She and her partner Ian have been fully nomadic and semi-retired since 2013, travelling and looking after pets all over the world. You will also find Vanessa in the “House Sitting Magazine Facebook Group” where she advises and answers questions about house sitting and nomadic living.

You can also find Vanessa at:


Have you considered house sitting? What appeals to you? What reservations do you have? If you were to house sit where in the world would you like to start?

Older and Wiser