House Swapping: FAQs

I know I promised the next post would be about the best websites for swapping, but before we get into the nitty gritty of logistics, I realized there are still a lot of questions about swapping itself I haven’t answered. While I’ve listed the pros and cons of home exchange, there’s more to consider before you start planning a swap.

Does a Home Exchange cost anything? In my previous post I talked about the cost savings of doing a swap instead of a normal vacation. The exchange process itself can be free, or it can cost up to a few hundred dollars. It depends on whether you use a free website or one that charges a fee to belong to it. Some of the websites that charge offer some services for the fee, but most don’t really offer anything above and beyond the free websites. So why do they do it? It ensures that the people listed on the site have some skin in the game and are serious about swapping. Sometimes these sites will also do background checks on its members. This gives some swappers piece of mind.

Being cheap, I have only used the free sites. I haven’t worried about someone trying to pull a long con, because it’s a lot of work for no monetary gain. Money doesn’t exchange hands, you’re exchanging houses. Plus, your exchange partner has to buy an expensive plane ticket to get to your house.   The biggest risk is that your partner will cancel after you’ve already bought a ticket. This does happen, but as you are arranging details in the months before you leave, you can tell if someone is flaky or not pretty quickly. Don’t do a last minute swap or buy a ticket before all the details are worked out, and you should be fine. Do buy travel insurance, though. Our New Zealand swap fell through because our partner contracted terminal cancer. He was very apologetic and even tried to figure out if maybe we could stay with some friends. We were still several months out so were able to make other arrangements. Sometimes something beyond your control will happen, but paying $200 to a website wouldn’t have helped in that case.

Do you have to have a house, or can you live in an apartment? What if you are renting? You certainly do not have to have a house. You also don’t have to exchange house for house or apartment for apartment. We have a four bedroom house and have happily exchanged it for one bedroom apartments more than once. You just have to have a partner who is willing to exchange what they live in for what you live in. Mostly it’s about getting to the location you want.

If you rent your home, that doesn’t mean you can’t swap it, either. It is best to check with your landlord to make sure it is okay, but we have swapped with more than one person who did not own their apartment.

Can you swap if you have a roommate or pets? This is another situation that you can work out with your swapping partners. We have had both roommates and cats. Sometimes having a roommate still in the house, especially a hospitable one, can be wonderful. They can be extremely helpful to your swapping partner as they navigate both your house and a new country. However, some people want the house to themselves, and our roommates have had flexible enough schedules that they either went traveling with us or went traveling elsewhere while our swapping partners were in the house. Other times we’ve seen a break between roommates as a great time to go swapping.

As for our cats, sometimes your partner wants or needs to do a pet exchange as well. We came close with our Aussies partners. They had a dog, and for awhile we had decided to just watch each other’s pets. Then they got rid of their dog, so we decided to have our parents watch the cat, but it can go either way. It’s just another logistic to work out.

What if I live in the middle of nowhere? Is anyone really going to want to swap with me? You’d be surprised. We live in Durham, NC. While I love the city, and it’s a great city to live in, it’s not exactly a tourist destination. It is becoming something of a foodie destination, but still, it’s more of a weekend trip, not someplace you’d like to spend a month or more. I regularly turn down requests to swap from the UK, Australia, Argentina, Spain, you name it. Why? Most people just want to get to the United States, and we offer a car, and they know they can explore from Durham. Our house is actually a pretty good swap because we are centrally located on the East Coast. In one hard day of driving they could be in New York City or Disney World. We’re just four hours from Washington, D.C., two hours from the Atlantic Ocean beaches, four hours from the Blue Ridge mountains—you get the idea.

Plus, you never know what motivates people. One of our swaps happened because they wanted to go somewhere in the US, and the teenage son really wanted it to be North Carolina because his favorite professional wrestler was from North Carolina. Likewise, we have taken swaps in Nuevo Portil, Spain, Vetheuil, France, and Hervey Bay, Australia. What, you’ve never heard of these places? Yeah, people who live in those countries haven’t heard of those places. They are all very small cities or maybe not even a hamlet, but they got us in the vicinity of where we wanted to go, and the car we swapped got us the rest of the way. What’s even more surprising is we adored our little no name towns. We wouldn’t ever have picked them on purpose. We didn’t know they existed! Vetheuil was so charming it made your teeth hurt, and we get honest to goodness homesick for Nuevo Portil.

What kinds of exchanges are there? The most common kind is a simultaneous exchange. That means that you are in their house at the same time they are in yours. There are also non-simultaneous exchanges, though. This can occur if one or both of you have more than one house. Our, it has happened a couple of times where the person we were swapping with went and stayed with a partner at their place of residence. It can also happen if you are taking a multi-stop trip where part of the time you are staying in hotels and part of it you are swapping. So our Aussies wanted to stay longer in the US than we wanted to stay in Australia. Plus, our NZ swap had fallen through. So, while the Aussies were still in our house, we left their house earlier and spent a month touring NZ and staying at hostels. You can also do an exchange of hospitality. In this instance, you agree to host your swapping partner as a guest and then they host you as a guest. Obviously, it has it’s pros and cons, but sometimes this arrangement can work well.  You can also arrange your exchanges so they are back to back.  This can be a little tricky, but this means you can visit more than one place in the same trip.  For example, when we went to Europe, we had back to back swaps in Italy, Spain, and France allowing us to visit not only those three countries, but a couple quick trips into Portugal and one day trip to Morocco.

What about insurance, and who pays for what? There are several kinds to think about here, so I’ll try to address each one.

Home: You keep paying your home owners insurance and they pay theirs. If anything happens to your stuff while you are gone, it should be covered just fine. However, most home owner’s insurance policies will not cover any property of your swapping partner’s that might get damaged or stolen while they are staying in your home. Because of this, your partner should look into travel insurance or even renter’s insurance while they are here (depends on how long and what the travel insurance covers) if they want to make sure their stuff is covered in your house. You should do likewise to insure your belongings in their house.

Health: Again, everybody keeps paying their own policies, but it’s worth it to look into travel health policies. Not only is it highly likely that your insurance won’t cover anything out of country, but most other countries have socialized medicine. That means it’s free or very cheap to the countries’ residents but you’ll have to pay full price. Travel health policies are separate from travel insurance. There are some very affordable ones and very worth it. We’ve had to use it before, and it saved us thousands of dollars.

Car: If you are swapping cars, this will come into play. Again, both parties should just keep paying for their respective policies. However, you do need to inform your insurance carrier that other people will be driving your car. Usually the insurance companies need a bit more information and maybe a copy of a driver’s license. You’ll likely be asked for the same thing, and it varies by country what you have to provide. Rarely do you have to pay extra, but sometimes there is a fee to add drivers to your policy. You will also have to get an international drivers license. This is basically just a document that translates your current driver’s license into multiple languages. I’ll explain more details on that in an upcoming post.

Travel: You’ll be offered it when you buy your plane tickets, and you can buy more robust policies as well. At least get it on your tickets. Some credit cards automatically give you some travel insurance when you book cars, hotel rooms, etc. Either way, look into policies and get at least some basic coverage for your large purchases. I’m not the kind of person who believes in extended warranties and other various things that just gobble up your money. As stated many times, I’m cheap. However, I’ve traveled enough to know things just go wrong . One thing I’m a big believer in is insurance. You don’t necessarily have to get the gold-plated version, but get something.

Those are the questions I get most often, but if you have others, add them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them. In the next few posts, I’ll try to address the steps in planning a swap.

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