Homestay – What is a “Home from Home”?
Are you thinking about renting out a spare room in your own home to international students? Hosting students is not for everyone. If you are thinking about renting out a spare room, below are some points to help you understand what exactly Homestay is, and what is involved in hosting. We hope this will help you decide whether taking in overseas guests is the right option for you and your home.
Length of Stays
Homestay, by its nature, tends to be short term accommodation for international students, interns, or young international professionals. The average stay is in the region of 5-6 weeks and depending on where you live it can be intermittent. If you are relying on the income you receive as a means to pay the mortgage every month then it is possibly not the best option for you.
Many of our best host families understand this and are actually in a position where they do not rely on homestay, rather they see it as a handy second income that will help contribute to bills or maybe holidays.
The reason that it tends to be short term is that many students see homestay as a great way to find their feet in a welcoming and supportive environment before looking for more independent accommodation if they are staying for a longer period in London.
The vast majority of guests do tend to be students who want to be integrated into a home. In some respects the term host family is misleading as some of our best hosts are not necessarily families (i.e. mum, dad and children). The most important criteria is that the host is open to providing a home away from home environment to their guest.
What is a “Home from Home”?
It is important to stress that hosting students should not take over your life. Providing a home from home involves being there to support the student settle into London life. It does not mean you are in loco parentis – the students are adults (usually 16 to 25 years old) and generally from good backgrounds.
The student should be integrated into the normal routine of your family home and you should be there to help with things like explaining how to get to school on the first week, maybe helping them overcome feelings of homesickness and just being there to take an interest in what they are doing and how they are getting on. Remember that if there is anything more challenging that comes up and you are worried then HFS London is there to support you as the host family.
What makes a good Host Family?
Often the students will make decisions about their accommodation with their parents. We often ask new hosts who have children to try and put themselves in the position of the parents of any student and imagine that they were sending their own son or daughter abroad for the first time. Would you prefer your 19 year old son or daughter to be with a host family or in a self-catered accommodation such as a hotel or hostel? If you would choose the homestay option, then what type of people would you want to be hosting your son or daughter and what type of home environment would you want them to be in?
Our best host families are motivated by more than just income. They want to support a young person and help them establish themselves for a period of time in London and this really shows in the feedback that we receive from their students. We often find that hosts who are in a position to put a lot into homestay are the ones that get the most back. Where a student has a positive experience in London it can stay with them for the rest of their lives. They will return to their home country, tell their friends and family and have memories of their time in London that will never leave them. Unfortunately where a student has a bad experience it is also true that this will stay with them.
Recently we were speaking to one of our best hosts. Although she is now British, she moved to London over 25 years ago as a student. Her first experience was with a host family that was organised for her before she arrived and although the accommodation was very nice, (without going into detail) the host was the opposite. Twenty five years later and now a host herself, she still vividly recalls her negative experiences and says that this actually now motivates her to go over and above for the students she hosts. Her ability to empathise with someone coming to a city like London for the first time makes all the difference and the feedback we always receive is that her students love their London mother (as they call her!).
If you are thinking about hosting then please consider all of the above before you decide to apply. Remember that there are other ways to generate an income from your spare room, the obvious one being to get a lodger. If you do not feel that you are in a position to provide a home from home and a regular and substantial second income is top of your priorities then this option may be more suitable for you.
If you like the idea of opening up your home to the world and are in a position to provide a supportive environment for a student then homestay is great option for you. If you have children then it is also a great way for them to make friends from across the world and widen their horizons from a young age.
Please note that the Rent a Room Scheme, which applies equally to Host Families taking in overseas students or live-in landlords taking in lodgers, lets you earn up to a threshold of £7,500 per year tax–free from letting out furnished accommodation in your home. This was recently increased from £4,250 as the government has tried to encourage more people to open up their homes. The tax exemption is automatic if you earn less than the £7,500 threshold.
For more information about becoming a Host Family in London see the links below:
At HFS London we specialise in host family accommodation for international students in London, UK. We have a Help Centre for new host families and video interviews with two HFS London host families (Rachelle and Beverley).
If you are happy to start the application process then get started by completing our online application form and one of the HFS London team will be in contact with you thereafter to progress your application and answer any initial questions you might have.
If you are not sure whether becoming a host family is the right option for you and you have any questions then please call our team on 020 7510 9920 (local BT call rates) on Monday to Friday (9.30am to 5.30pm) or email on [email protected].