How to Live Abroad for Free

Live abroad for free in Lisbon, Portugal.

Like many twenty-somethings of my generation, I fantasized about traveling the world, living abroad in exotic locations – fearing the concept of feeling tied down. Freedom is the ultimate commodity, more than any piece of tech or monetary sum. Entrepreneurial-minded adventurers are increasingly trading in traditional office jobs for something more adaptable to this on-the-go mentality, “alternative lifestyles,” as our parents might say.

In the age of social media and super-connectivity across the globe, young adults are putting more value on life experience than material possessions – often because we don’t have enough money to buy many possessions. So how can we satisfy our adventurous desire to live abroad and experience the world, while also being able to afford it? It turns out, there is a way.

Work in a Hostel

Perhaps the easiest and most convenient way to live abroad for free is to work in a hostel. As a hostel employee, you will be tasked with working the front desk (checking in guests, answering phones, etc.), daily maintenance and upkeep (cleaning the shared spaces, changing sheets, fixing minor damages), managing the books and promotions, or even leading group activities.

Regardless of your specific task, the most important thing about working in a hostel is the free housing – and the joy of sharing a bathroom with 20 strangers! In almost all cases, hostel employees are housed on the premises – some are paid in addition to this, others are viewed as “volunteers,” while others still are given free meals as a payment. In any case, working in a hostel grants you the personal freedom to live anywhere in the world, rent-free. The atmosphere is also perfect for making friends, learning about different cultures, and finding out about local events and activities.

Since hostels are geared towards tourists and backpackers on a budget, they are usually located in city centers or around other main points of interest. This means you can live abroad, for free, in some of the most prized neighborhoods on earth.  Most hostels offer working stints in chunks of a few months at a time, allowing you to live for free in a country without any long-term contracts. This makes it easy to pop over to a different country and do the same thing when you feel the urge to see somewhere new.

Some hostels offer tabs on their webpage to apply for housed positions, while others may provide a general inquiries number through which you can offer your services.

Tight on spending money? There are numerous ways to supplement your free lodging with full or part-time online work, as your hostel schedule sees fit. With a little research and persistence, working in a hostel can be your gateway to near-free international living. 

Teach English Overseas

One of the most popular trends in recent years for people to inexpensively live abroad is to teach English in a foreign country. The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) concept is a win/win for the modern nomad, granting the freedom to live abroad anywhere in the world for free (or very inexpensively) while providing a public service in return.

Many of these programs offer training periods, during which you can get TEFL certified, opening up doors all over the planet for teaching opportunities. They often provide free housing for new teachers in addition to a modest salary.

What’s great about these opportunities is that they are often in exotic or off-the-beaten-path locations (remote villages in Mexico, small towns in Thailand or Japan away from tourist areas), allowing for you to experience, with full immersion, parts of the world that you never had access to before. The bond formed with your students, and the smiles on their faces, will be proof enough that you made the right choice.

Trade Labor for Lodging

Riding the coat tails of the boom in popularity of house-sharing companies like Airbnb, similar websites now offer the ability to trade accommodations for labor, instead of money. One of the more popular websites for this service is Workaway, a global cultural exchange company in which volunteers offer a few hours of their day towards helping the local communities in exchange for food and accommodations. “Travel cheaply and stay for free, whilst making a difference to the communities you visit. Put your existing skills to good use, or try something new you‘d never normally get to do and pick up new skills along the way.”

The great thing about trading labor for lodging is the incredible freedom and adaptability that comes with it. Projects can last anywhere from a few days to months at a time, ranging in scale from building schools and cleaning parks to painting a garage or working the front desk at a bed-and-breakfast. There is a project and duration to match anyone’s skillset and commitment levels.

Volunteer at a Global Organization

Want to work abroad on an organic farm in Bulgaria? Of course you do! With organizations such as WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) you can live out every little kid’s dream of watering plum trees in Zlataritsa. WWOOF connects ambitious travelers and aspiring green-thumbs with a network of agricultural opportunities across the world, exchanging the manpower for free housing and free meals. If you volunteer in Ireland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, or Canada, personal accident/liability is covered with your WWOOF membership fee (ranging anywhere from $0-$72, depending on the country).

Getting ThereConsumer resource guide

While the above options provide some simple ways to live abroad for free (or nearly free), it doesn’t, however, address the issue of getting to these locations. While I’m yet to find a farm-to-airport website, directly trading labor for plane tickets, there are many cost-effective ways to get to your destinations abroad.

Some of the methods above can also be negotiated to cover travel expenses, but other great options include budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, both of which offer incredibly cheap intercontinental flights within Europe, as well as some limited flights to-and-from North America.

Make it Happen

In the end, it’s all about desire. If you want to take that leap and live abroad, there are plenty of avenues to get you there. Don’t let the fear of the unknown handicap your dreams. Get out there, see the world up close – you’ll be glad you did. 

Author Bio:

Tyler Sorce is an American writer living in Lisbon, Portugal. Follow him on Instagram to see where he’s traveling to next!