There’s a reason why the Netherlands is one of the most popular places for wannabe au pairs. With its fair working conditions, charming culture and proximity to many other European countries, it’s a great place to spend a year, especially for native English speakers. Since au pairs are fairly common there, the country already has a very well-organized structure in place to help make the process as easy as possible for au pairs and their host families.
Still, this doesn’t mean you can just hop off the plane and expect a family to take you in with open arms. Like any other job, there’s a process that requires doing research, interviews and quite a bit of paperwork, but most au pairs that have worked in the Netherlands would undoubtedly tell you it’s worth it in the end.
If you’re itching to spend a year frolicking through tulip fields and biking through Amsterdam’s picturesque streets, here’s what you need to know to make it happen.
Like most international au pair programs, Dutch organizations seek young adults to work as au pairs, but the age restrictions here are narrower than in some other countries. To apply to be an au pair in the Netherlands, you must be between the ages of 18-25, unless you are on a Working Holiday visa (applicable to Canada, Australia and New Zealand), which allows applicants up to age 29.
You also must be single with no children – since most of your job will entail hanging out with other folks’ kids, you’ll have more than enough on your hands already. The Netherlands accepts au pair candidates from countries across the world, but the visa and registration process is somewhat easier for citizens of certain countries, especially those in the EU.
Most Dutch au pair programs last for a full year (12 months). There are some that allow for shorter time commitments, but the maximum amount of time you can work on an au pair visa is one year, and most families and organizations prefer it.
In addition to the basic rules, you also have to clear all Dutch immigration requirements, which mostly means proving that you’ve never stayed in the Netherlands illegally and that you’ve never worked there previously as an au pair or through another exchange program. You are also not allowed to be an au pair for a family if you’ve previously worked for them in some capacity, so get ready to make new friends. And one more thing: if you are not a citizen of an EU/EFTA country or Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Surinam, Vatican City or the USA, you will have to undergo a tuberculosis examination at some point after arriving in the Netherlands. Get excited!
Fun fact: While language classes are not mandatory, as many people in the Netherlands speak excellent English (and your family will almost certainly want you to speak English with the children), there are opportunities to include language study in your au pair year, if you want. As an au pair, you are considered a participant in a cultural exchange, rather than a traditional worker, so you are encouraged to take advantage of the cultural and language opportunities that come with being there. If you do choose to take a language course, your host family is expected to contribute up to about €250 toward the cost of the class.
Choosing a Host Family
Under Dutch laws, any family (one or two parents) with at least one child under the age of 18 can apply to host an au pair. Since hosting an au pair is a fairly significant financial commitment, most families that do host are upper-middle class. There is still wide variety among host families, though, which is why speaking with them as much as possible before signing up is so important.
You’re going to be living with these people for a full year, so just like any roommate search process, you want to make sure nobody is going to go crazy. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to speak with them during the application process, but if not, make sure to set up a time to Skype-meet everyone before committing to anything.
Before you move forward or buy your flights, you should also confirm that your host family is registered with an au pair agency that is officially recognized by the Dutch Immigration Office (see the list here). All legal requirements only apply to au pairs and families registered with official agencies, so it’s crucial for your own protection to make sure you’re part of that process.
The agency is responsible for ensuring that the family complies with all the laws (checking to make sure you have your own furnished room, for example) so it’s helpful to have them around, just in case anything does go wrong.
Length of Program
The length of programs for au pairs in the Netherlands varies, from three-month summer terms to a full year, but 12 months is the most common amount of time. Families generally prefer this, too, because it gives them and the children greater consistency.
By law, your working hours can’t be more than 8 hours a day, with a maximum weekly limit of 30 hours and guaranteed two full days off each week as well as one full weekend per month. If you stay for a full year, you also get two weeks of paid vacation. Of course, since you’re living in the house, chances are you’ll end up spending a lot more time with the family, and you may occasionally be asked to babysit during the evenings, but that time counts toward your total hours.
Your main responsibility will be childcare, but the job description also includes “light housework,” which could involve cooking, shopping and basic cleaning. Depending on your family, you may also be asked to help with transportation for the children, so be sure to find out if that is part of their expectations and if so, confirm that your driver’s license will be valid for the time you’ll be there.
Your visa does not allow you to work other jobs, so extra babysitting for your host family or other families, as well as other side jobs like language classes, are not permitted under the terms of your contract and can be grounds for you losing your visa.
When choosing your family, it’s important to think about the potential location and if it’s where you’d like to be. The Netherlands is a small country, so no matter what, you won’t be far from anything, but there’s a big difference between the quiet rural countryside and the bigger cities like Rotterdam, The Hague and the cosmopolitan capital of Amsterdam.
The cities have good public transportation (and lots of bike lanes!), while you’re likely to be driving more if you live out in the country, so having a driver’s license will be crucial if that’s where you end up. Like in most other countries, larger houses are often located outside the cities, while the urban population lives in smaller houses and apartments, so if you’ve got your heart set on a giant backyard, Amsterdam may not be your best bet.
Remember, though – no matter where you’re living, you’re only a few hours from the country’s best attractions.
As an au pair, you will receive three meals a day and housing in the family’s home, with your own room and full access to the kitchen and other parts of the house. You will also receive between €300-340 per month in personal spending money. Au pairs are required to have health insurance, which can either be done through the local agency or arranged directly with your family.
In case of sickness, the host family should consult a doctor if needed and your allowance should still be paid during this period. In case of an emergency, it is highly recommended that you have your own health and travel insurance coverage during your stay in Australia because your host family is not responsible to cover your medical or emergency costs.
Planning Your Trip
There are a number of databases and sites, like Au Pair World, that match potential au pairs with host families, so do a Google search to see what’s available for starters. Be mindful, though, that there are plenty of for-profit companies that offer to place au pairs but will give you little support, so look for reviews of programs and agencies.
Of course, personal connections are always helpful, so if you know anyone who lives in the Netherlands or has ever lived there, it’s worth getting in touch to see if they know of any families looking for an au pair (still do a background check, though!). The most popular times for au pairs to start are at the beginning and end of the school year (late August and late June/early July, respectively) or the beginning of the calendar year, so start looking a few months ahead of those dates to maximize the amount of time you have to find a good host family.
The most important step in the application process is to register with one, or several, au pair agencies (the list of official providers approved by the International Au Pair Association is a good place to start) and create your profile with them. You can specify where you’d like to work and your preferences, as well as your educational and child-care experience, and any other skills, like languages.
You will also be asked to provide several references (both character and specifically related to your child-care experience) and will likely have to write a short letter introducing yourself to potential host families. Depending on the program, you may also be asked to submit a copy of your diploma or proof of educational level, as well as provide medical information and pass a basic criminal background check.
Once you have all your information, you will be able to start the process of matching with a host family. Some sites and agencies offer to find matches for you, while others allow you to do your own searches and contact the families that seem like the best matches. Both options are viable and should give you results, so you can try both, or choose the one that is more comfortable for you.
Do you have a passport? Great, that’s the first step! Unfortunately, it’s not the last (unless you’re from the EU)! Visa requirements vary considerably depending on your home country and the visa you’re using in the Netherlands. The one common factor, however, is that you must bring a legal copy of your birth certificate (in either English, Dutch, French or German – if it is not in one of these languages already, you have to get it officially translated), in order to register with your local town’s GBA (personal records database). This is a requirement of all au pairs, regardless of country of origin, so it’s vital you have that birth certificate copy with you.
EU residents: People from other EU countries have it the easiest – you don’t need a residence or work permit, pretty much all you have to do is show up with your birth certificate and you’re good to go. Though it isn’t required, Dutch authorities do recommend getting a residence permit anyway, as government entities may sometimes request one.
Non-EU residents: If you are staying longer than three months, you will need to apply for an MVV (Temporary Residence Permit) and/or a VVR (Regular Residence Permit). If you are from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, South Korea, Vatican City or the USA, you only need a VVR; otherwise, you will have to apply for both.
MVV applications should be done prior to your departure at the Dutch embassy or consulate in your home country. Do this with plenty of advance time, as the paperwork needs to be processed through IMMIG in the Netherlands before it can be approved and you can receive your MVV. Once you have it, you can depart for the Netherlands – you will have three days to register your visa with the authorities once you arrive.
If you come from a country that doesn’t require an MVV, you can enter the country on a regular tourist visa. Once in the Netherlands, you and your host family will complete the paperwork required for your VVR residence permit at the IND (immigration office).
It’s a cliché, for sure, but interviews really are all about finding a good match. Of course, you want your potential family to like you, but you also want to be sure that you like them. Think of the interview almost like a first date – you’re trying to make a good impression, and at the same time making sure they have what you’re looking for. Often, applying for an au pair position involves two rounds of interviews, if you’re going through a placement organization: first the organization will interview you to make sure they want to accept you as an au pair affiliated with their program, and then you’ll do an interview with prospective host families.
Both interviews will likely center around your past child-care experience, why you want to go to the Netherlands, any special skills you have and why you think you’ll be good at the job, so be prepared to talk about yourself and have answers ready for those basic questions.
The family interview will probably be more specific and should include information about the exact responsibilities that will come with the job, their expectations for you and any important details you should know about the children, the location or anything else. You and your host family will be signing a contract specifying all of this once you get there, so you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before you put your signature on anything.
It’s also a good idea to sit down before you speak with your family and think of some questions to ask them. Before you do this, make sure you know what you want from the experience – if you love playing peekaboo and the family’s children are 12 and 15, or if you’re dreaming of rolling Dutch farmland and they live in the middle of Rotterdam, then maybe it’s not the best match.
Bikes are hugely popular and a primary means of transportation in the Netherlands (according to some folks, there are twice as many bikes as cars in the country), so if you’re not comfortable on two wheels, you should probably start practicing now!
English is spoken widely and well throughout the country, so you may have to go a bit out of your way if you’re committed to learning Dutch. You will likely be speaking English with your family’s children, but can ask your host family or friends to help you practice the language in your time off.
When meeting people for the first time, shaking hands is the most acceptable way to greet them. However, for close friends, it’s not uncommon to do the three-point kiss (cheek to cheek and back to the first cheek) so get ready to get up close and personal with plenty of people by the end of year.