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The Differences Between a Host Family and a Foster Carer

If you have some extra room in your home and want to make a difference to the local community, you may have considered a range of options. Rather than renting your spare bedroom to a lodger, you could become a host family for international students or even a foster carer and work for the social services in your local authority.

If you are ready to welcome people into your home and help them start a new life, that’s great – you’re halfway there. But there are crucial differences between becoming a full time foster carer and inviting overseas students and young people to stay with you for a limited time. Here are some things to consider.

Type of guest

Inviting an outsider into your family home as a guest can be challenging, but with the right attributes it can also be extremely rewarding. As a host family for HFS London, your guests will mainly be international students from all over the world who are moving to London to study English or other courses. They will always be over 10 years of age, and they may need help finding their feet in such a big city. There could be a language barrier or cultural differences which can make communication difficult.

As a foster carer, you will be looking after children on a short term basis who have often had a difficult start in life. Many agencies deal with children of all ages, from toddlers to teens, but you can often indicate a preference. Foster children become a part of your family and need full time supervision – carers often give up their full time job to be able to foster.

Criteria and selection process

The application and selection process to become a foster carer is extensive. The agency or local authority involved need to make sure that you are a suitable guardian for children and young people and can provide a safe home for them to live in. You need to give a lot of information as the selection panel need to consider your health, financial security, your past and your experience working with young people.

When applying to become a host family, there are less boxes to tick. Of course homestay agencies need to make sure you are DBS checked if you wish to host overseas students aged under 18 but most students are aged 18 and over. They will also inspect your home to make sure it meets the standards expected by international students. However becoming a host is a much faster process than becoming a foster carer, and you could be welcoming guests in as little as a few weeks after applying.


In both instances, the agencies will want to know what your motivations are for deciding to go down this path. If they are mainly financial – for example if you need help paying the mortgage or would like to earn some extra cash, then this is not a suitable reason to consider fostering. However if you are a family orientated person with spare time and a spare room, and you are ready for a challenge, then you could be just the type of candidate foster agencies are looking for. If you don’t want to give up your career or would like to meet people from different backgrounds, then becoming a host is the best way forward.

If you want to find out more about what makes a good host, read about some of our current homestay hosts here.

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