Are you a young person between the ages of 18-30? Are you interested in living in a far-off land? Have you always felt a strange affinity for Mary Poppins? Do you like kids but don’t want to go through the hassle of making them yourself?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, then consider becoming an au pair!
Au pairs are international nannies—besides providing top-notch childcare, au pairs provide, and benefit from, a meaningful cultural exchange. Your job is not just to wipe runny noses and tuck kids in, but to give a fascinating, cosmopolitan perspective on the world, as well as experience everything your host country has to offer! Families who choose to hire an au pair are looking to give you the unique opportunity to share their country and their lives. Your hiring family is more than your employer; it serves as your host and extended family for the duration of your stay!
As our resident au pair expert, Amanda Slavinsky, said in her article on the best places to au pair abroad, the countries with the easiest visa regulations and highest pay for au pairs are:
- The United States
- New Zealand
France is another great option to consider, and China is becoming more popular both for au pairs and au pair agencies.
Picking a country can be tricky. Maybe you’ve dreamed of la bella vita italiana for years, or maybe you’re open to going anywhere new and exciting. Because each country has different requirements for Au pairs, review the standards of pay, typical work hours and normal qualifications before making your final choice.
If you’re looking to really beef up your foreign language skills, chat with your potential families about the possibility for taking classes at a local school or university. In some countries, like France and Switzerland, you’re even required to enroll in language courses as a condition of your visa (although in this case, your host family will probably shoulder the costs).
If money is a deal breaker, Switzerland, Sweden and Iceland have the highest base pay of $160-200 USD per week, however, individual families in other countries may offer competitive salaries.
Most Western countries and the USA have specific visas for Au pairs, in order to properly regulate the profession. Usually, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders can simply apply to be Au pairs on a “working holiday.” Though Americans be warned; the visa process can be very tricky, especially for countries that are less popular with Au pairs (and that therefore have fewer systems to support them). Often EU countries that do not designate work visas for non-EU citizens will still allow you to work on a short-term visa for 1-3 months. Review the details about visas for your preferred country before making your choice.
Finding a Host Family
This is, without a doubt, the most important part of your au pair experience. Choosing a family that matches your needs and personality can truly make or break your experience. There are as many types of au pair situations as there are stars in the sky. Keep looking until you find the right fit for you!
For more information, read the Go Overseas article, How to Find Your Ideal Host Family.
Agencies or Websites?
There are two types of au pair placement programs: agencies that screen and match clients and websites that allow you to create a personal profile and search for families independently. And of course, you don’t have to choose just one or the other. If you have the time (and cash) use both strategies to cover all your bases. Here are the pros and cons of each system:
- Free, or with a small fee for “preferred membership”
- Select from large number of families
- Direct communication with families
- Increased competition
- Families and au pairs aren’t verified (watch out for scams!)
- No post-placement support for families or au pairs
- Will pre-screen families and au pairs and then plays “matchmaker”
- Provides training, visa assistance and covers many traveling and healthcare expenses
- Emergency support (re-placements, family illness, etc)
- Hefty upfront fees for au pairs and families
- At times, only offers a limited selection of families
The “Dear Family” Letter
Most agencies and websites ask prospective au pairs to write a “dear family” letter. This letter is the best way for you to attract great host families. There are tons of talented, wonderful au pair hopefuls out there, but your letter should demonstrate to your perfect family exactly how amazing YOU will be! Let your personality shine, be detailed and most of all, be honest.
Explain your family and educational background, your motivations for becoming an au pair, reasons for moving to their country and discuss the childcare experience that make you qualified. Be sure to include any of your hobbies, interesting talents or any other personal stories that will make your letter memorable.
Finally, make sure to outline your work preferences and desires, such as time to take a language class, proximity to a major city, free weekends to travel, etc. You can also review great example letters for inspiration.
The interview is essential for feeling out your potential host family. It is recommended (and totally standard practice) for you to come to the interview with a list of questions as long as Rapunzel’s hair about every aspect of their life. Try to get a sense of all their personalities and interests. Be prepared to answer the same kinds of questions about yourself! You’ll be living with these people for a WHILE after all—everybody should know what situation they are getting into. And for a little extra help on issues to discuss with your host family, review this epic list of possible questions.
But our number one piece of advice is Go With Your Gut. The vibe you get off your family is the prime indicator of your future happiness. So get out there find a family of your dreams!
Au Pairs work under strict conditions, most of which our set by law. Different countries have different regulations for Au pairs. Some countries, like France, require that you enroll in language classes while you work. Most countries will also require that you only work one job at a time. Your contract should clearly lay out your duties, hours, and compensation.
As an au pair, your duties will primarily focus on the kids. This includes (and is by no means limited to): waking up the children in the morning, making breakfast, taking the children to school and picking them up afterwards, helping them with their homework, cooking dinner, feeding the darling angels, as well as bathing and changing babies. You’ll also do some “light housework,” such as washing the dishes or unloading the dishwasher, dusting, vacuuming, tidying bedrooms, doing the laundry, and ironing. -- Whew!
Depending on the country, au pairs are limited as to the number of hours they can legally work each week. Most countries cap au pair hours at just 30 hours per week. Some, like Sweden (25 h/w), Austria (20 h/w) and Belgium (20 h/w) are a bit less. And some others allow for a bit more; in Ireland and New Zealand you can work as much as 35 hours/week. However, the United States tops the charts, with the highest number of expected hours at a whopping 45 hours per week.
Working overtime is permitted, but try to be clear with your host family about the number of Saturday nights you’ll give up in exchange for extra $$. Lack of communication quickly leads to hurt feelings and declarations of unfair treatment. Talking it out can nip potential problems in the bud!
Of course, on occasion, you may find yourself or your family bending the rules. If your host family offers you a trip to Morocco in exchange for extra childcare, you may be tempted tag along even though it’s not strictly kosher. And, on occasion, your family may ask you for an extra hour or errand that falls outside of your normal duties. This is to be expected, as the lines between on the clock/off the clock can get blurry for groups of people that spend so much time together. It’s moments like these that flexibility and understanding are essential skills for both families and au pairs.
However, as the au pair, always keep in mind that you are a paid employee-- meaning that if you find yourself constantly working on the weekends, cleaning up when you’re not supposed to, or in any way feel that you are working outside your contract, it’s time to have a serious and polite (and let’s be honest, probably pretty awkward) chat about your terms of employment. If that doesn’t work? You always, ALWAYS have the right to quit, change families and start again. Remember that business is business; you have the responsibility to take care of yourself as well as everyone else in the house!
Salaries for au pairs can vary greatly from country to country, and even more so by family. Depending on the expected duties, hours and location, some au pairs will receive $100 a month, while others will rake in $500. Families may also offer a set of “extras” such as a car or travel with the family to sweeten the deal. However, an average stipend (often referred to as “pocket money”) is usually about $150- $300 per week.
Expectations, Yours and Theirs
One of the biggest favors you can do for you host family and yourself is to be honest and upfront from the start. Families are looking to hire an employee (a wonderful, funny, smart and talented employee who can be part of their extended family) who is also able to accomplish certain tasks. If you can’t drive, can only manage chopstick on the piano and can’t boil a bean, don’t lie and say you can. Not even a little bit. You may really, REALLY want the job, but every lie you tell now will come back to haunt you when you’re told to drive to pick up the kids, practice piano for an hour and cook duck à l’orange.
The same goes as you select your host family. Make sure that they match YOUR requirements. If you are going to France to speak more French, don’t choose a family that hopes to communicate entirely in English. If you need serious alone time to recharge and rejuvenate, find a family that has enough space in the house for you to really be on your own. Your needs are important, so make sure you are as clear as possible with your potential family!
Being an au pair is a life changing experience. There is no better way to immerse yourself in a culture and create meaningful and lasting ties to a new community! That being said, it’s pretty scary to take the leap into an unfamiliar situation. Once you’ve done the research, written the letter and selected a family, you’re ready to get out there! Check out these tips on getting settled with your new family, and our strategies for meeting people in a new city. Go with your gut and an open mind; you’ll discover a whole world just waiting for you! Good luck out there (and don’t forget your crayons)!