The rent really is too damn high. Or rather, U.S. home prices have skyrocketed so much faster than median incomes that most Americans can’t afford new housing.
That’s no exaggeration. Literally 7 in 10 Americans can’t afford the median cost of a new home.
So what’s a median American to do?
Get creative, that’s what. Find someone else to pay your housing bill for you. You can do that by house hacking — or you can take a job that provides housing for you.
Jobs That Provide Free Housing
By the first quarter of 2023, the median U.S. home price reached a staggering $436,800. It’s enough to make you join the circus or move to a research station in Antarctica.
I would follow that up with a “jk,” except I’m not kidding. I’ve considered most of the jobs below at some point in my life. I’ve also utilized several of them myself, at least indirectly through a wife or girlfriend.
If you’re open to a career change, here are almost two dozen jobs that provide free or subsidized housing.
1. Park Ranger
Average Salary: $34,112 (source: PayScale)
A friend of mine summed up his sister’s life as a park ranger this way: “She gets to hike for a living, but she also gets paid about $4 an hour.”
Both are exaggerations, of course, but they’re not far off the mark. Park rangers patrol their parks; offer guided tours; coordinate aid to damaged trees, animals, or ecosystems; and prevent wildfires. Because their full-time job is to protect national or state parks, they’re often provided housing within those parks.
Just don’t expect luxury accommodations with jacuzzi tubs and home theater systems. The provided housing is typically rustic and relatively remote — you’re living in a park, after all. But that’s all part of the fun and adventure.
Don’t tell my wife, but I always wanted to be a park ranger. If you’re interested and not subject to spousal restrictions, you can view job postings with the National Park Service, and a quick Google search will reveal where to apply for individual states’ park services.
2. After-Hours Security Guard
Average Salary: $42,612 (source: ZipRecruiter)
Like park rangers, after-hours security guards are paid to protect everything within their perimeter and are most effective when they live on-site.
But unlike park rangers, after-hours security guards often have few active duties. In many cases, their job is simply to be physically present on the property for a certain number of hours, keeping an eye and ear out for alarms or intruders.
That makes it a perfect job for students, writers, freelancers, or even full-time employees with a separate day job. It’s also a flexible gig for anyone who works remotely, allowing them to (ethically) earn income from two sources during the same working hours.
One example of facilities that often provide free housing for after-hours security guards is storage rental facilities. If you don’t mind spending most nights at home-sweet-storage-facility, start keeping a pulse on local job openings.
3. Building Manager/Superintendent
Average Salary: $49,482 (source: PayScale)
Building managers or superintendents serve as on-site property managers. They collect rent, coordinate repairs, show vacant units, sign leases, and generally make sure an apartment building or community continues running smoothly.
In exchange for the headaches of 2am phone calls, they often get free rent. Depending on the size of the building, they may only get reduced rent, but in larger buildings or communities, they sometimes receive pay in addition to free housing. You could get anything from a small side gig income to cut the rent bill to a full-time job, depending on the demands of the role. It’s also one of the only potentially part-time job opportunities with free housing.
If you’re interested, it helps if you have property management experience. But like everything else in life, terms are negotiable, so make a compelling case to the property owner for why you’re the perfect fit, and you may just find yourself with free rent.
4. International Educator
Average Salary: $49,911 (source: PayScale)
My wife Katie is a school counselor at an American school in Brazil, and I can tell you firsthand that the life of an international educator is pretty awesome. Her school provides us with a free furnished apartment, complete with a dedicated parking space. Oh, and that jacuzzi tub that park rangers don’t get? We had one of those at our last apartment.
Being an international educator is one of the best ways to travel the world for free. Beyond free housing, other perks from Katie’s job include full comprehensive health coverage and roundtrip flights home every year for all family members. She also enjoys generous school breaks, including a two-month summer break, month-long winter break, week-long breaks every spring and fall, and many three-day weekends sprinkled throughout the school year.
And these perks aren’t unique to her specific school. Plenty of international schools are looking for Western educators, including schools in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and even Europe. We lived in Abu Dhabi before Brazil, and loved every minute of it.
Still, not all international schools provide these same perks. In Europe especially, many schools don’t offer free housing or free flights home every year. They don’t offer these perks because they don’t have to; international educators are willing to accept less to live there.
Despite setting out with the intention of moving home after two or three years, most international educators that I know have no plans to ever move back to the U.S., U.K., or Canada. The benefits and lifestyle of international education are just too good compared to educators’ salaries “back home.”
5. International Civil Engineer
Average Salary: $83,401 (source: PayScale)
As a writer and entrepreneur, I worked out of a coworking space in Abu Dhabi. I shared office space with a surprising number of civil engineers recruited from home countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Like international educators, they often receive free housing and even free roundtrip flights home every year.
Places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Singapore have more demand — and money — than they have skilled employees like civil engineers. If you’re interested in seeing the world for free while getting paid handsomely, and you have a background in civil engineering, try an international job matching service like GoAbroad.
6. Seasonal Hotel or Resort Host Worker
Average Salary: $46,827 (source: ZipRecruiter)
Yes, hospitality workers tend not to earn as much as civil engineers. But they also don’t need the same degree of schooling.
If you’re looking to change careers this very minute while you figure out what you want to do with your life, one option is working as a seasonal hospitality worker. Ski bums know the drill: You go and work for four to six months at a ski resort and don’t get paid much, but you get a laid-back lifestyle along with perks like free lift tickets.
Because the work is relatively undemanding, you can soul-search or attend school while you’re doing it. A friend of mine worked at a hotel for a few years while she finished her degree, then started an unrelated career elsewhere.
Your job could be domestic or international, somewhere warm or somewhere cold. You could work at the front desk, in the kitchen, behind the bar, as a concierge, or offering skiing or scuba diving lessons. The hospitality world is wide, varied, and always looking for young people open to low paychecks and job responsibilities.
Go ahead, tell off your boss, storm out of the office in a blaze of glory, and then check out websites like CoolWorks for resort jobs. Better yet, find a job first and then tell off your boss.
7. Cruise Ship Casino Dealer
Average Salary: $2,700 to $3,600 per month (source: CruiseShipJob.com)
Cruise ships are notoriously difficult places to live and work for the average kitchen, wait staff, or janitorial worker. I know a woman who worked on a cruise, and she said she averaged four to six hours’ sleep per night because that’s all the time she got off work.
Casino dealing jobs are among the most coveted on cruise liners. That’s because dealers can only work while the ship is in international waters — typically three miles from shore at least. That means that when the ship is in port, casino dealers generally have free time to leave the ship and enjoy the cruise lifestyle.
Although dealers can expect to earn significantly less than they would in Vegas, they also get a free shared cabin on board, meals, medical insurance, and often transportation to and from the ship. And, of course, they get to travel the world.
For more details about cruise casino dealing jobs, check out CruiseShipJob.com.
8. Butler or Groundskeeper
Average Butler Salary: $74,416 (source: PayScale)
Average Groundskeeper Salary: $39,534 (source: PayScale)
Want to live in a mansion — or at least on the grounds of an estate — without the requisite $30 million net worth? Working as a butler or groundskeeper often provides free accommodations in the most luxurious real estate on the planet. On-site housing could be a room, apartment, or detached building, depending on the gig.
In addition to free housing, butlers often receive meals, access to a car, and paid vacations. Duties include serving guests and the employer, overseeing property maintenance and repairs, organizing events, and light housekeeping work. The hours are often irregular, though: you may be expected to work until 3am one day and not at all the next.
Groundskeepers tend to have more regular work and less interaction with their employer or guests, but they may not receive the same meal and car benefits.
If becoming a butler sounds like your bag, check out The International Butler Academy for more information.
9. Personal Chef
Average Salary: $51,625 (source: PayScale)
The culinary equivalent of a butler, personal chefs often receive free room and board as part of the job.
Responsibilities include planning, preparing, and serving meals, some of which will inevitably be gourmet meals with high expectations. Personal chefs must be flexible and resourceful as well to accommodate special dietary restrictions upon request. Personal chefs are also typically responsible for buying all groceries and ingredients (with their employers’ money, of course).
It may not be as glamorous as being the head chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but it also comes with considerably lower stress, plus the benefit of free housing.
10. Live-In Caregiver
Average Salary: $29,099 (source: PayScale)
By 2030, one in five Americans will be at retirement age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2035, there will be more Americans over age 65 than under 18. With more than 10,000 baby boomers reaching 65 every day, and more retirees opting to age in place, the graying of America is already well underway.
Live-in caregivers do everything from preparing food to bathing to physically helping their employer get out of bed and into a wheelchair. The pay and prestige are lower than being a butler or personal chef, but the required training is also far less.
In exchange for physically and often emotionally demanding work, live-in caregivers often receive free room and board.
11. Nanny/Au Pair
Average Salary: $34,944; often lower for live-in nannies (source: PayScale)
On the other end of the age spectrum are young children who need much the same care: feeding, bathing, help getting dressed, and so on.
Becoming a nanny or au pair is another way to travel the world on a budget. You can work anywhere in the world; close friends of mine in the United States hired a nanny from Poland through an international service. They provided her with room and board plus a small salary. The three of them became quite close, and when her one-year contract was due to expire, they all agreed to renew for a second year.
12. Travel Nurse
Average Salary: $106,241 (source: Glassdoor)
Years before I met my wife, I dated a travel nurse. We spent several years roaming about the country, spending three months here and four months there. The whole time, her employer provided us with free upscale housing.
Although moving that often can get tedious after a year or two, many hospitals offer to renew nurses’ contracts repeatedly as they struggle to fill positions with full-time regular staff. My ex, for example, renewed her contract in Baltimore for 15 months.
It was a fun adventure and exposed me to parts of the country I would never have visited otherwise. By driving across the country several times and living in cities and towns in many regions, I got to know the U.S. in a way that I never had in my previous 10 years of adulthood.
Beyond being a great way to travel and live for free, it can also help you find a permanent job in a place you love after trial runs in multiple cities.
Nurses make a nice salary, but they need significant training and an RN degree. Most travel nursing agencies also require several years’ experience. To learn more about becoming a travel nurse, check out TravelNursing.org.
13. Oil Rig Engineer/Mechanic/Diver/Roustabout
Average Salary: Varies by position; drilling engineer: $129,508 (source: PayScale)
Oil rigs do provide housing, but only while you’re on-rig in many cases.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the typical schedule for an oil rig is two weeks on, two weeks off, or 14 work days out of 28 instead of 20 for a traditional employee. Still, the two-week rotating schedule can be tricky for maintaining a family or dating life.
But anyone who doesn’t mind the schedule can enjoy free room and board while on the rig, along with high pay. Rigs need a wide range of skill sets, from advanced scuba divers to engineers, skilled mechanics to management, and less-skilled general roustabouts. There are plenty of positions available in the UAE in particular.
14. Military Service Member
Active-duty military service members get free room and board, with a side helping of structure and discipline. They also get full health coverage, paid leave, and excellent military retirement benefits, but even more importantly, they receive valuable training.
Upon completing their contract, military personnel can take their training and go into the private sector to earn several times their military salaries. Even personnel who continue working for military-related branches of government often earn enviable pay. A friend of mine who serves as a sergeant in the Maryland National Guard earns a six-figure salary and will retire at age 44 with 80% of his current salary.
Just be sure to consider the risks and benefits of joining the military to decide if it’s a good fit for you.
15. Diplomat/Foreign Service Worker
Average Salary: Varies by position; diplomat: $94,229 (source: PayScale)
One alternative to military service is the foreign service. State Department employees who work in the foreign service typically receive free housing and get to travel all over the world to exciting and exotic locales. Or unstable and poor locales — not everyone can be stationed in Paris or on the Cayman Islands.
You have some input on where you’re sent, and positions generally rotate every few years. If you have a passion for languages and foreign cultures, it can be an excellent way to travel the world, live for free, and serve your country all at the same time.
16. Peace Corps Volunteer
Average Stipend: Varies by local cost of living, but it’s intended to cover food, clothing, and other necessities only. Volunteers also earn a Readjustment Allowance of around $10,000 upon completion.
Another way to see the world, make a difference, and receive free housing is volunteering for the Peace Corps.
Although you do get pay and free housing, don’t expect a luxury villa. Housing is usually a bedroom in a host family’s home, and although volunteers earn more than the average salary in the impoverished local communities where they serve, that isn’t saying much.
It’s a 27-month commitment: three months of training, followed by two years of service in the field. That’s a long time if your only goal is living for free while you figure out what you want to do with your life.
Volunteering for the Peace Corps is a deeply rewarding experience, but only do it if you feel a true calling to help people. If you’re only in it for the free housing, there are other options on this list that are a better fit. Do your homework — and some soul-searching — before you decide whether to join the Peace Corps. If you decide to join, you can register and apply with the Peace Corps online.
17. Faculty in Residence
Average Salary: $90,044 (source: PayScale)
Colleges and universities often like to have an on-campus faculty member as an instant resource for students. In exchange for free or cheap on-campus housing, faculty-in-residence provide mentoring, counseling, and other forms of aid upon request from students. Often these faculty members are asked to periodically report to the administration with recommendations for improving on-campus services and student life.
These faculty members still teach, of course, and perform all other required duties. But on balance, it seems like a pretty good deal.
18. Wrangler/Farm or Ranch Hand
Average Salary: $27,747 (source: PayScale)
Who says you can’t grow up to be a cowboy?
Farm- and ranch-hand jobs range from picking and planting to corralling and slaughtering, depending on your skill set and interest. Some provide free housing, although not all pay well — or at all. For paid work, try Anywork Anywhere, and for international positions that exchange free housing for work, try WWOOF.
Average Salary: $56,696 (source: PayScale)
Some priests, pastors, clerics, and rabbis receive free housing as part of their calling.
Which isn’t to say you should sign up just for the free housing. A religious career is about as serious as they come, and doesn’t typically pay well. You have to do it for the right reasons.
But if you feel a calling to help and guide people through the tumultuous journey of living, a spiritual career offers plenty of opportunities for deep conversations with people from all walks of life.
20. Volunteer Doctor or Nurse
Average Salary: Entry level starts around $26,000, but most doctors and nurses earn more (source: Doctors Without Borders)
Likewise, you don’t become a volunteer doctor or nurse for the money. Stick with nose jobs and butt lifts if you’re in it for the paycheck.
But when you join an organization like Doctors Without Borders, you do get a wide range of benefits, including free housing while in the field. You also get free travel, full health coverage, student loan forgiveness eligibility, and life insurance. Although I’ll be honest, that last gives me more pause than buzz.
If you got into medicine because you want to help the least fortunate people on this planet live better lives, it’s hard to imagine any purer path than serving international nonprofits as a doctor or nurse.
21. The Circus and Other Touring Shows
Average Salary: Varies by position; circus performer: $62,400 (source: ZipRecruiter)
People have been running off to join the circus since there were circuses. Workers can expect room and board, although not of extraordinarily high quality. There are definitely no jacuzzi tubs here.
You also get to travel, work with eccentric people and animals, and best of all, you get to tell people, “I ran off and joined the circus.” Talk about a winning answer at cocktail parties.
If stopping cocktail party conversations isn’t your life ambition, there are plenty of other touring shows you can work with, such as bands and theater groups. You don’t have to be an entertainer yourself; touring shows need a wide range of support personnel, including lighting and sound technicians, caterers, managers, hair and makeup artists, and even accountants.
22. Antarctic Technician
Average Salary: There isn’t extensive data on Antarctic salaries. By my best estimate, a supply technician earns about $50,000 per year, and other job salaries vary by skill level.
For some reason, I could never quite get this story published in the Atlantic about spending a year working in Antarctica out of my head. Maybe it’s how Phil Broughton ended up there; after a particularly awful day at the office, he threw his hands up and decided he would get as far away from his miserable coworkers as he could — literally.
Or perhaps it’s the outlandish stunts like joining the 300 Club and, after 10 minutes in a 200-degree sauna, streaking outside to touch the ceremonial South Pole on a day exceeding -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever the reason, there’s something compelling — romantic, even — about the idea of living so far outside the experiences of your fellow humans.
And, of course, you get employee housing provided, along with all meals and health care. To the extent that health care exists at a research station in Antarctica, at least.
If there’s one job on this list that’s a better cocktail party answer than “I travel with the circus,” it’s “I just got back from a year in Antarctica.”
Paying rent or a mortgage is havoc on your monthly budget. So why not stop doing it?
Because I don’t have to pay for housing, I can afford to live a relatively luxurious lifestyle while working as a freelance writer and early-stage entrepreneur. I don’t have to put up with my old boss’s mood swings to afford the same lifestyle I had back when I had to pay a mortgage.
Also, imagine how young you could retire if you could suddenly put 25% to 50% of your salary toward income-producing investments.
Life is short. Go have an adventure — while dodging the misery of housing payments.