The United States is a vast and diverse country full of opportunities for exploration and adventure. Each region has its own unique personality, meaning that visitors will never be short of new experiences, and almost certainly will find a place that best suits their lifestyle.
It’s also a notoriously difficult country to gain entry to for work and study, but by participating in the United States' Au Pair program, non-Americans have the chance to live, work, and immerse themselves fully in American culture while developing new skills in childcare. So, if you have a passion for childcare and a desire to get to know the “real” America, then read on.
Choosing a Host Family
Length of Program
Programs typically last 1 - 2 years with the possibility of extending for a few months, unless you are participating in a summer program.
Au Pairs will not work more than 45 hours a week (less if they are participating in the EduCare program), are required 1½ days off per week, and one full weekend off per month. Keep in mind that this probably won’t allow you too much time to travel far from your host city, so consider adding on a trip at the end of your stay. Under the J-1 Visa, visitors are allowed to stay for up to 30 days after their Au Pair job ends.
There are opportunities to au pair throughout the U.S., though dominantly in major cities. Consider the kind of lifestyle, climate, and cost of living you want before choosing your location, and research well! The U.S. is huge and diverse and keep in mind that if visiting a national park in California is on the top of your bucket list, it’s going to be pretty hard to achieve as an Au Pair in New York. Also, even if you love one area of the U.S., you may hate others.
Au Pairs will be given a private bedroom, meals, and a weekly stipend equal to minimum wage (~$200). Participants in the EduCare Au Pair Program are also given $1000 in educational expenses by the host family.
Planning Your Trip
When and Where to Start Looking
Where you want to Au Pair depends on the type of lifestyle you want, personal interests, and budget. For example, is it easy to live as a vegetarian? What is the cost of living like? What is the city best known for? How easy is it to take weekend trips to/from your host city? Remember, America is BIG, has variable costs of living, and some areas have downright terrible or non-existent public transportation. Take this into account before committing to particular location. Basically, Do your research, and don’t limit your research just to iconic places like New York, L.A. or Washington D.C. -- the perfect place for you may be more off the beaten path.
If you plan on pairing your Au Pairing with education, apply well in advance of the beginning of the academic year (August/September in most schools), since you may also have to complete school applications. For summer programs, apply in the late winter / early spring. Otherwise, applications are taken on a rolling basis, although it will likely take a several weeks to a couple months between submitting your application and actually receiving a match with a host family.
In general, the application process includes an online application, visa application, an in-person interview, and a background check. The documents required to apply for an au pair job vary depending on your country of origin, so pay close attention to the requirements specific to your country of origin.
- Be aged 18–26
- Have professional or practical childcare experience for at least 200 hours if looking after a child under 2 agree to commit to a full year’s stay in the USA and be prepared to provide up to 45 hours of childcare a week
- Have completed their secondary school education.
- Be proficient in spoken English
- Have no criminal record
- Experience driving is a plus (though not a requirement)
All Au Pairs must apply for and receive an au pair J-1 Visa, which is open to non-U.S. nationals who want to work temporarily in the United States (not immigrate). Applicants must have at least a working level of English. Depending on the provider you apply with, they may provide assistance with your visa.
During your interviews, both with agencies and potential host families, expect to ask and answer a ton of questions. You’ll want to know not just what they expect from you work-wise, but also what their lifestyle is like. After all, you’ll be living with this family for a good long while, so you’ll want to make sure you are compatible on more levels than for your typical job. Also consider that in most American communities, driving is essential and your host family will be looking for an Au Pair who is a safe and experienced driver.
- Americans are generally gregarious and friendly, and for some, surprisingly blunt. If you’re having a problem with your host family, don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re having a problem. They’ll likely appreciate the fact that you want to work through it rather than letting the problem grow.
- Get used to driving everywhere if you’re not already!
- In most American families, both of the parents work, and children often (though not always) start daycare as early as two years old
- Culture and lifestyle can vary greatly between different regions of the U.S.
Written by Jessie Beck
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