Finding a host family: Tips for choosing

Whether it's for a student exchange, a language study trip, a study abroad program, or an au pair stay, finding a host family is often the most affordable way to stay abroad. This form of accommodation offers many advantages, but presents a challenge: You need to find a host family that suits you, because you may want to live with them for the entire next year. Although many organizations take this selection into their own hands, in the end everyone has to decide for himself or herself if he or she wants to stay with the host family. We show what you should look out for to have an unforgettable time during your stay abroad…

Finding a host family: Tips for the selection

Stays abroad are the trend

It has never been so easy to get abroad as for today's generations. This is not least due to the political map in Europe, whose governments have created various programs over the years. The European Union currently comprises 28 member states, within which freedom of travel without a visa is possible for all EU nationals.

Gone are the days of cumbersome conversions; many EU countries use the same currency, the euro. Measures such as the Erasmus program encourage stays for internships, further education or semesters abroad.

Despite various facilitations a stay abroad is still connected with many organizational and financial efforts. If you find a host family, you can at least keep the cost factor lower than for example a stay in a hotel.

But there are several other advantages that speak for a host family.

Special features of staying with a host family

Many people who have stayed with a host family live on this experience for the rest of their lives and keep in touch later: Of course, congratulations on birthdays and Christmas a card is written.

What does a stay with a host family look like?? Depending on age, budget and organization quite different. In any case, you have direct family contact, are accommodated in the same apartment.

As an adult, you will be accommodated in a single room; as a student, you may share a room with a classmate, for example, if you are attending a language course abroad.

Accommodation in host families often includes half-board or full-board; however, if you want to find a host family yourself and search via platforms, you will also come across offers that only include a small breakfast. Additional meals can then be added.

Eating in the host family, which means typical national cuisine, different eating habits and different ways of life – a certain degree of adaptability and open-mindedness towards new things is therefore required from you.

The advantages of staying with a host family

Living under one roof with previously unknown people, integrating yourself as a new part of an existing family and being involved in the daily routines of the host family? The idea is unfamiliar to many at first, especially if you actually wanted to live independently and self-determined during your stay abroad.

However, staying with a host family does not stand in the way of these plans. No one spends the entire duration of the stay only with the family, but especially in the beginning most appreciate very much to be taken in a host family. Not yet convinced? We present you with good reasons that speak in favor of a host family:

You have direct connection.

Not everyone finds it easy to immediately make new friends and contacts abroad. Difficulties with the local language can be added, which is not always mastered flawlessly, especially in the beginning. Staying with a host family helps, especially in the initial phase, to make direct connections and to get in touch with new people. If you go to school with your host siblings, you can get to know their circle of friends right away and be integrated from the beginning without feeling lonely and excluded.

You practice the language.

Of course you can also use your language skills in a language course. However, if you are staying in a hotel or dormitory, you will not have as much direct contact with the locals as someone in a host family. On the contrary, there are other non-native speakers in the language course, some of whom struggle with the same problems as you; even in the residence, contact is not always guaranteed. Your host family allows you to "learn by doing" by discussing everyday matters with you.

You get to know the culture first hand.

If you are staying in another country for a longer period of time, you naturally want to learn more about the culture and experience how people live there. A host family is the best chance to do just that. You will be in the thick of things, experiencing first-hand how life works in your host country, how people live, work and spend their free time.

You know who you can always turn to.

During a longer stay abroad, there can always be difficulties or problems that you need help with, for example, if you need assistance with a government agency. Through your host family, there is always someone on site to whom you can turn in such a situation to get information or who can explain important peculiarities of the respective country to you.

Tips on how to find your host family

There are different ways to find a suitable host family, depending on your objectives. No matter what the purpose of your stay is: In any case, there are agencies and organizations that have the necessary contacts and experience to find a suitable host family.

It can be financially more favorable if you take care of the complete organization yourself – in times of the Internet this is possible in many cases, since various platforms offer their services. However, the effort should not be underestimated, especially since you may not have any guarantees when planning on your own and end up paying more money after all.

The procedure is similar with many organizations:

  • First you create a profile of yourself.
  • They can be found – you can also find a host family by browsing host profiles.
  • They make contact: Depending on the provider, the first contact is made through the site or via Skype. Special memberships may need to be purchased for more accurate contact information.
  • You come to an agreement: Either you sign a contract in which the conditions are regulated. For example, this is what Au-pair World provides. Or you can book your stay via online reservation.
  • You prepare yourself for the stay.

Below are some tips and links for your stay:


If you want to find a host family as an au-pair, for example, you are bound to certain requirements depending on the destination country. Au-pairs are usually between 18 and 30 years old, childless and unattached. If you want to go to the USA as an au-pair, you must not be older than 26 years old and you must book through an agency that is licensed in America.

You can read more about it here:

Work & Travel

You have more flexibility, but also less security, if you want to find a host family on your own, for example if you combine traveling and working. Many students and young adults are drawn to foreign countries after school, during or after their studies. Work & Travel is also aimed at young people up to a maximum of 30 years of age. Unlike au pair work, you are not tied to one location – but this also means that you may have to find several host families.

Read more here:

Study abroad

Again, things are a little different if you want to study abroad. If your study abroad is through a scholarship or exchange program like Erasmus, the most important things are already arranged through this organization. Sometimes the universities – if they have a cooperation with your university – already provide a dormitory room. If you organize on your own, you have to find your own accommodation – for example with a host family.

Read more here:

Language vacations

Language vacations and language courses are usually shorter than the above language stays. They are open to people of any age who are willing to travel and speak the language respectively: Depending on the target group, there are different organizations that specifically target students or those interested regardless of age.

You can read more about this here:

Important criteria for the host family

The important question remains: how do you recognize the right host family?? While most exchange students are assigned a host family by their organization based on pre-specified selection criteria and personality traits, the final choice is always up to each individual.

Who else should decide whether you can spend the next year together – or whether the house is already crooked after a few days and you just feel uncomfortable? To help you, we have collected four important tips for choosing your host family:

Pay attention to your gut feeling

Often the first few days are enough to find out whether you have the right chemistry with a host family. It is important that you listen to this gut feeling, especially if it is rather negative. Perhaps you have already unconsciously noticed that you do not feel comfortable in the new family, but usually you can only pretend to get along for a certain time.

Place value on the environment

You have many things to do abroad: go to school or university, possibly attend a language course, travel around to get to know the country better and try to build up a circle of friends. The last thing you need is stress in the host family. Like your home, this should be a place where you can rest and recharge your batteries.

Keep your freedom

Many host families are dedicated, want to show their guest everything and offer many activities. Of course you should take advantage of this offer, as it offers many insights and brings you closer together. However, the host family should be just as understanding if you ever want to go off on your own to experience things on your own and gain new experiences.

Look for peers

Not every host family automatically includes children or young adults your age. This doesn't automatically have to be a bad thing, but it can make it easier to connect if you live with peers. The similar interests and sometimes also the same problems ensure that you feel better understood – and not infrequently host siblings become close friends.

Give a little something as a gift

By the way, it's a good idea to bring along a gift for your guests. It's a small token of attention and appreciation; after all, it's not a hotel and the host family is making an effort. You can score points with a typical local snack or specialty from the region. This is also an excellent conversation opener and helps you settle into the new community.

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