The 5 Worst Things That Can Happen When Your Housing Abroad is ‘Provided’

January 26, 2016
The 5 Worst Things That Can Happen When Your Housing Abroad is 'Provided'

Working abroad can have amazing benefits. In addition to travel opportunities, a livable salary, low taxes, health insurance, a free flight, and in many cases, having your housing completely covered by your job, what’s there to worry about?

Seeing ‘housing provided’ on your contract can be intriguing for many, especially those coming from cities or countries where the rent is astronomically high. But, is it worth it? In some special cases, the housing might be the best apartment you have ever lived in in your life, and it’s all free. And even if it’s not quite like your flat back at home, when you consider not having to stress about finding a place in your new country, putting down a deposit, or all the other less-than-fun things that go along with searching for a place, it seems like a good deal.

Eventually, when a cockroach with wings fell into my bowl while eating, I knew it was the last straw.

Unfortunately, that’s only one side of the story. After having my own terrible experiences with having my housing provided, I wondered if people could possibly have had it worse than me. I talked to others to hear their experiences.

This is the untold story of what happens when your school or job provides your housing, and for one reason or another, it absolutely sucks:

1. When your housing is just plain AWFUL:

My first experience with terrible housing was when my boyfriend and I went to South Korea for the first time. We were each placed in separate rooms literally the size of a walk-in closet, despite the fact that we came as a couple and told the school we’d be living together. It didn’t take us long to find out that the room was infested with cockroaches, and there was no window to vent it out. Eventually, when a cockroach with wings fell into my bowl while eating, I knew it was the last straw, and our school agreed to move us into a new place “as soon as they could.” It took two months to move.

Heather*, who had an issue with her housing whilst also in South Korea said, “In the apartment building my school provided, the mold was so out of control that the walls needed to be torn down every few years. We also didn’t have proper heating insulation, so you could pay $200 a month for electricity but still need to wear full winter gear inside.”

2. When your job turns out to be horrible:

When Ben* moved to his new teaching job to South Korea from Japan, losing his job meant losing a place to live. “When I first moved to Korea, I worked for a franchise of a very large hagwon (private academy),” he said. “One week after I was working there, they fired me on a Friday and asked me to vacate the provided apartment the next afternoon. I had nowhere to go and very little help as I didn’t know anyone yet.”

3. When your job uses your housing to earn a profit:

When Elen worked at a company called ‘Nova’ in Tokyo, Japan, she couldn’t believe what happened. “When I taught English in Japan, my company provided housing: not for free, but they pushed it as the best option,” she explained. “I was there with my partner.

After a couple of months, we discovered that they were charging double the market rent for their apartments. Normally, when living with your partner you can expect to split costs, but they didn’t see it that way and were actually making a profit from us.” She went on to say it was very exploitative, and she wasn’t the first that she heard of to be treated this way.

Amy’s* job in Japan chose to exploit her in other ways. After winning somewhat of a lottery for her house, she was happy to find out that her housing was brand new and clean when she arrived. However, since her employer paid for most of the housing, they “dropped in” whenever they wanted to since they were the “official tenants.” When they saw something they didn’t like, such as a “damage,” Amy was expected to pay up. She had to constantly pay attention to anything that might cause her to lose money over an unnecessary repair.

After a couple of months, we discovered that they were charging double the market rent for their apartments.

After moving to Italy after Japan, Amy faced a similar situation when her supervisor told her of the “inspections” that would take place every so often. If she didn’t pass, she was required to pay a very expensive monthly cleaning service. One thing out of line could mean not passing. Eventually, her supervisor even presented her with a Powerpoint of how to clean properly and what Italian cleaning products were best to use. It led to a lot of stress, as Amy had to constantly keep checking for anything that might be seen as “dirty,” and hence, lead her to pay money she didn’t plan for.

4. When roommates of any kind become an unavoidable issue:

While volunteering in Senegal, a woman talked to me about how she was placed with a very religious Muslim family. “The family didn’t want us to wear shorts in the house and often made us stay in to cook and clean and look after the children,” she said. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house when she wanted to and couldn’t go outside at all when it rained.

The family became annoyed at her for things she didn’t realize were issues and had a passive-aggressive attitude when it came to sharing their discomforts. Even worse, she had to share a room with another volunteer who wasn’t someone she got on with, making it very difficult for her to vent.

Jamie* was in shock when she took on a job at an international school in Uganda and was planning on moving there with her husband. Three weeks before their arrival, they received an inconspicuous notification in the body of a much larger e-mail, that they’d be sharing a three-bedroom accommodation-with another married couple. Although she got the situation cleared up before she arrived, she couldn’t believe the prestigious company she would be working for could ever think that that would be okay.

You may not have to pay rent if your housing is provided, but you may certainly have to pay in other ways.

Sarah* was devastated when she went to be an au pair in Spain for a summer and discovered that her host family simply did not like her over trivial things, like keeping a trash bag in her room. They made it very clear to her how they felt about her, which not surprisingly, made her “once in a lifetime experience” not very exciting.

5. When the unknown is just so scary:

Brian, who has been teaching abroad for two years said that, “the downside of having your housing provided is the unknown of everything. Not knowing who you will be living next to, or even the quality of the amenities. You don’t know the location of your house, how easy it is to access public transportation, or how close it is to your school.” All those things can be quite terrifying when moving somewhere new.

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So, what’s the deal? Why is awful housing starting to become a trend among expats? Are we supposed to bite our tongues and just appreciate the fact that it is free and is given to us? Or should we consider for a second how the person providing it to us might feel if they had to live in something like that?

You may not have to pay rent if your housing is provided, but you may certainly have to pay in other ways. The best advice is that if any of these issues have happened to you or are a concern when taking on a job or volunteer program abroad, you should first find out from other employees what they know about the housing. If it doesn’t look 100 percent promising or it looks just “okay,” it probably is, “just okay.” And that’s just from what you can see from thousands of miles away.

Having control over your living situation is one of the only things you should be able to have control over when moving to another country. If you can negotiate a housing allowance and find your own place, it might be for the best—even if you might have to pay something towards it. Having your housing provided can result in losing money, losing your job, losing your visa,losing time, losing a chance at a meaningful experience, or even just losing yourself in all the stress and anxiety.

Please, if you have had an experience with your provided housing that led to an awful situation, do your civic duty and let people know about it. However, please be aware that it isn’t uncommon for people to not want to put themselves at risk by talking about their current or past living situation, hence why I’ve changed names upon request in this article.

*Name has been changed



The 5 Worst Things That Can Happen When Your Housing Abroad is ‘Provided’ photo by Unsplash. 

About Hana LaRock

Hana LaRock’s three passions in life are traveling, writing, and food–especially pizza, which despite traveling to over 10 countries, she still believes is best in her home state, New York. She currently lives in Pachuca, Mexico teaching 6th grade with the best traveling companions she could ever ask for–her boyfriend and her puppy, Enano. Learn more about Hana on her website.

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