Being a Writer can be Problematic for House Sitters

Being a Writer for House Sitters

I’m used to zooming past border officials as I travel between countries. I basically get a free pass once they see my occupation is ‘engineer’ and I’m traveling for tourism. I altered this winning combination once I became a house sitter.

House sitting is a win-win agreement between a homeowner and a house sitter. Typically the homeowner wants to go on vacation but doesn’t want to abandon his pets or garden. So he looks for a stand-in.

The house sitter is that stand-in, caring for the house & pets in exchange for free accommodation. House sitting assignments vary in duration.

After quitting my job as an engineer, I wanted to travel internationally and started house sitting so I didn’t need to pay for accommodations. (Oh how I miss a steady paycheck.) My first house sitting assignment was a two-month stay at a beach house in Mexico.

After I completed the house sit and came home from Mexico, it became clear to me that the immigration officers of my home country were suspicious of long-term travelers.

“You’ve been in Mexico for how long?”

“Two months.” Geesh, stop hassling me already. I just want to get through customs and get home.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a freelance writer.” Uh oh. I’ve been freelancing to earn money and marked ‘writer’ on my immigration form. This is apparently a red-light warning for an immigration officer.

“What were you doing in Mexico?”

“House sitting.” This received a blank stare from the now stern-looking immigration officer. Blank, tinged with a little ‘I’m not amused’. I stammered that I was looking after the house of an American snowbird couple.

“How do you know them?”

Oh Jesus. “The internet. I found them on a website that’s like a dating site where homeowners look for caretakers. I applied to house sit and they liked me.” Even to me this sounded sketchy.

“Do you have any drugs?”

“No!” Do you? Because I could use something to take the edge off right now.

“Writers don’t make enough money to travel. They go to Mexico and bring back drugs.”

“Well I used to be an engineer. I’m traveling off my savings for now.”

And with that the red-light went off. Officer ‘now-friendly’ told me that he gets suspicious of people without a stable career who go on vacation for a long time. They go, run out of money, and get desperate.

After a few more relaxed questions, the officer filed my immigration form and deemed me worthy to enter his country. I didn’t tell him that I thought he was prejudiced, but I did thank him for the nice interrogation.

Since then I’ve accepted another long-term house sit, this time in Costa Rica. When I return I’ll be certain to mark down ‘engineer’ as my occupation, because it’s not worth the hassle of (truthfully) calling myself a freelancer.

And as for my hopes of being a successful writer, maybe I’ll become a drug mule instead. It sounds more profitable.


    • Good plan using your former profession at immigration Shelly! When it comes to immigration the name of the game is “get through smoothly”.

  1. Yes, yes. Once you become something less conventional, everyone gets suspicious.

    Try explaining to Canadian Customs that you don’t “teach english in Japan”, but you were the ~Official Mayor~ of a Virtual Ward in Fukuoka City for the past year and a half… In the end I realized it was easier to lie and say I still teach English. :p

    • Ha! I remember your job as mayor on Foursquare, right? Yeah, try explaining that one. English teacher is a LOT more believable (although would you really pretend to be a virtual mayor?).

  2. Haha yeah we never mention housesitting at borders – too risky! It’s hard enough to explain to our friends and family what we’re doing, let alone border officials! I am a freelance writer and editor so I usually go with editor at the border, for whatever reason, people think of you as less of a deadbeat that way 😛

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