How to become an Au Pair

aupairtravel1

Being an au pair is a fantastic opportunity to see the world whilst getting paid and having a roof over your head. It’s also great for throwing yourself into the culture of your chosen country as you will most likely live with a native family, take language classes and live in a residential area. Being an au pair is a job I have found to be very rewarding during my time traveling Europe, however, it’s also been restrictive, frustrating, emotional and hard work. I’m going to give you an honest and accurate low down on how to become an au pair and some FAQs I have received.

1. Find a job

I found one au pair job through word of mouth and one through Au Pair World. My best friend has found 4 au Pair jobs over the course of 3 years through Au Pair World and it’s the most popular website for au pairs who are looking to work in Europe and some other countries. If you are looking for a job in America, the visa procedure is tighter so it is best to go through an agency. I can’t personally recommend any but when I was looking for jobs in America, I checked out Au Pair in America.

When using Au Pair World it is vital you spend a lot of time on your profile. A family will judge you by profile length, content, grammar, etc. and you need to look as dedicated to your profile as you will be to their children. As someone who has spoken to several host families about this, trust me, it’s their biggest concern when they first stumble on your profile.

2. Skype with the family

I do not advise accepting a job with a family before you have Skyped with them. First of all, for your own safety you should make sure they are who they say they are. Second of all, you need to see if you feel comfortable talking to the parents, interacting with the kids, etc. This will be uncomfortable over Skype but you will be able to trust your gut as to whether you think you could live with them for 6-12 months.

3. Research the area

If you are excited to travel I can imagine you want to live near a big city, right? If not, that’s fine but big cities have the advantage of au pair and expat communities to socialise with as well as opportunities to experience lots of things away from your host family. You should consider this as a lot of families will value their family time (without you) if you live with them, being at home all the time isn’t really ideal for anyone.

4. Speak to previous au pairs

This is essential if you want to get an honest account of how your time will be with the family. Warning signs to look out for are if the au pair doesn’t want to Skype or if they are leaving early without a valid reason for doing so. You should ask the au pair questions such as how long did the adjustment period take, what the kids are like without their parents around, how they play together, etc. because all of these things impact your daily life with them.

5. Don’t take the first job you are offered

I did this initially when I wanted to move to Germany and then had to let a family down at last minute because I changed my mind. It’s important before you accept a job to compare it to another. You should compare how you feel about the parents, the kids, the money, the accommodation situation, the area, etc.

6. Expect perks

Perks you should expect to receive from your host family are:
A travel card paid for by them (particularly if you are on minimum wage)
Food, drinks & toiletries (if you have your own apartment)
Language classes
Phone credit
A phone or sim card with a local phone number

If you don’t receive any of these perks, you should be on higher than minimum wage (so you can afford to buy them yourself). As for minimum wage, it varies country to country and you should check out this page for more information.

7. Be prepared for awkward situations

When you have chosen a family, booked a train/flight and arrived with them, things are going to be awkward for the first couple of weeks. You are a brand new person living in their house, hanging out with their kids and being exposed to all of their private possessions at home. It’s a weird transition for you to make and for them. I know the families find it easier the more au pairs they have had but it doesn’t make it any less awkward for them. It’s definitely a time that everyone is glad to have pass. Usually a glass of wine with your host mum/dad one evening or a day trip with the family will solve it.

8. Speak up if you are unhappy

One of the most common things brought up on au pair groups on Facebook or internet forums are related to the au pair being unhappy with something to do with their family. Common issues are working more than their contracted hours (without extra pay), having to cancel plans because the family need them or having to do more household chores than should be expected. YOU NEED TO SPEAK TO YOUR HOST FAMILY ABOUT THIS! Just because you live with a family doesn’t mean this isn’t a job like any other and if you have problems, you should be addressing them with your boss.


Happy New Adventure

Au Pair FAQs

How much free time should I have?

Au pairs are expected to work 30 hours a week as a maximum. I have been fortunate with both of my host families and have worked 20-25 hours per week at the most and around 10 hours at the least. Most families want you to be flexible incase of an emergency with the kids (off sick from school, unexpected work meetings, etc.) and should reflect that by having some weeks where you work less hours to make up for it. It is a rule for you to have 1 day off per week but most families offer 2 and if they don’t you should have most mornings/evenings off to compensate.

Do I get paid extra for babysitting?

Some families will put in your contract that they require you for babysitting whether it’s once a week, twice a month or whatever their requirements are. If they don’t, they should subtract the babysitting hours from your working hours that week or pay you extra. They should also have a babysitter to hand for times you aren’t available. Do not cancel your plans if they ask you last minute for your help unless you are happy to do so, it is not required for you to do this.

What household chores will I have to do?

Au pairs are expected to do what are considered “light” household chores. Some families wont expect you to do any whereas others will want you to do specific things each week. This usually includes things such as keeping the kid’s bedrooms tidy (personally, I advise you supervise/help the kids do it themselves!), vacuuming on the odd occasion, loading/unloading the dishwasher, cleaning up the kitchen, etc. This should not include anything related to the parents like washing their clothes or cleaning their room and also you should NOT be cleaning toilets (unless it’s your own). You are there to help with their kids, not to take the place of a maid.

What age group should I pick?

I don’t advise anybody new to being an au pair to take on babies. If you are truly experienced with babies then you will know they require a lot more attention and care than older children, the same applies with toddlers. You are expected to work more hours with smaller children and therefore should be earning more money. Personally, I feel that families with very young children should be looking to hire a nanny or paying a nanny wage (at least triple what an au pair earns).

I prefer older children as they can do more for themselves and you can teach them to do things around the house with you. For example, sometimes I ask the kids to help me unload the dishwasher, clean their plates from the table and they always tidy their room themselves. The younger the children, the more demanding your job will be.

What will my relationship be like with the parents?

Your relationship should be comfortable but you can’t expect this to happen over night. In France, I was comfortable with the parents after 2-3 months but the Dad didn’t speak a lot of English (and my French was terrible) so that made the process take longer. In Germany, I clicked with the parents pretty quickly and now see them as friends instead of my employers. Some au pairs have expressed envy over the relationship I have with my host family but I think anyone can achieve this if they put the effort in. You can’t expect to connect with the parents if you disappear as soon as you are finished with the kids.

How do I make friends?

If you arrive in September or January in your new country then you should hit the friend jackpot. Most au pairs arrive in these months and are in the same boat as you. A great resource for finding friends is to search for a Facebook group in your area for au pairs to chat. Normally, other au pairs will be on there introducing themselves, arranging meet ups and sharing trip ideas to take.

Another option is to check out the Expat Blog forums which is a great place to meet expats who may not be au pairs because (and I know I can’t be the only au pair to think this) sometimes you do not want to discuss au pair related crap when it’s all you’ve done all day.

For more information on how to become an Au Pair, please check out: How to become an Au Pair & travel part 2 and How to prepare for your Au Pair year abroad.



  • My best advice is to talk to the au pair before you honestly about his/her experience and I could not agree more about not picking the first family you talk to.

    • Kate

      Agreed! I mentioned that above too because I think it’s really beneficial to get more of an outsider’s perspective.

  • LOVED this post. I’ve always thought being Au Pair for a time would be such a learning experience, and a great way to get to see countries that I may otherwise not be able to afford. You answered so many questions that I have about being an Au Pair but I do have one question- did you feel very nervous or unsure of your decision to become an Au Pair before you left for the country, or even when you were planning to become an Au Pair?

    xx

    • Kate

      Yep, definitely! I was nervous up until I arrived and even the first couple of weeks. It eases up as you get comfortable :).

  • This is wonderful! Thank you so much! I have already created a profile on Au Pair World. 🙂

    • Kate

      Good to hear, I hope it brings you some success 🙂

  • What a great list! It’s been nearly 10 years since I was an au pair but this list nails it from what I can remember!

    • Kate

      Thanks Chantel, pleased to have a few people experienced in au pairing weighing in on this!

  • I’m just curious if you know folks or have heard of many who have worked as an Au Pair while married? It seems much more often to be more the profession of the unattached or more flexible, also because I know many Au Pairs do live with the family, though not all. I’m intrigued by the idea and I’m experienced at childcare but I do have this husband who I prefer to stick with. 🙂

    • Kate

      We are currently engaged and both au pairing for separate families, it hasn’t been an issue for us. We’ve been together the whole time. You can also be a live out au pair and families may pay you more on the basis they don’t supply accommodation, food, drink, etc. 🙂

  • Great info and tips! It’s interesting to hear more of the ins and outs of working abroad and what being an au pair involves 🙂

    • Kate

      Thanks Louise!

  • Fascinating!! This was so wonderfully written and the details were awesome! I have never met or known anyone to be an Au Pair but this post has definitely made me curious! Do you plan on being an au pair for a while? I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Kate

      Not after Germany, I will definitely need to end my “au pairing career”, haha. To be honest it’s fantastic for traveling but I need something that will help me work towards a more solid career path as traveling is a lifestyle we have chosen to take on full time. I think it’s great to get your foot in the door or to take a year out though!

  • Z

    This is such a neat FAQ – it sounds like such an interesting lifestyle and one I would definitely choose if I ever wanted to travel. Mostly it’s just a matter of if I could keep up with the kids :]

    • Kate

      Haha, I used to think that but you get used to it plus if you are lucky you’ll get cool kids. 😉

  • Very interesting! I never really knew the difference between an au pair and a live-in nanny – au pairs sound a lot more flexible!

    • Kate

      Yeah, au pairs are more flexible the only unfortunate thing is when families have an au pair to be cheap but treat them like a nanny. It happens more often than you’d think!

  • This is such a good FAQ! I’ve been wondering these exact things about being an au pair in Europe! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Kate

      Thanks Kendel, you should definitely look into it!

  • Great advice, Kate! I’ve thought about au pairing before as I’m sure it’s an excellent way to travel. But then I remember I can’t really tolerate children for very long, which doesn’t make for the best au pair :/ lol. This is just the sort of stuff I’d want to know though, and I don’t think it’s that easy to find online, so I’m sure people will find it useful.

    • Kate

      Thanks Robert! Haha, a lot of people say that although I know au pairs who hate children but don’t mind the ones they look after. It’s a strange job!

  • I do have one question for you! I’m looking for an au pair job in Paris and I’ve found a nice sounding family at the moment, but they are offering to pay me below the average wage for an au pair in Paris. How much did your au pair family pay you in Paris, and did you negotiate on pay? I’m kind of unsure as to how to do it. People say you must negotiate, but I’m kinda thinking it’s a bit rude to email “thanks for the pay offer, but would you mind increasing it by x amount?” Any advice would be most welcome 🙂 (gosh, that sentence sounded very English!)

    • Kate

      I was paid 400 euro per month in Paris and on top of that I had language classes and travel paid for by the family. I didn’t have to negotiate this and most au pairs I know haven’t had to negotiate their salary. It is illegal for the family to pay you under minimum wage, so I would mention to them that after some research you have discovered it is below minimum wage.

      Another option is to mention that you’ve been looking around and what they are offering is below what you have been advised to accept.

      If they say no, don’t take the job. Also, don’t feel awkward about asking, you should ask!

      I hope this helps and remember that there is a lot of families in Paris! 🙂

  • It’s pretty amazing how many countries you have lived in while being an au pair. It doesn’t sound like the job for me but I truly enjoy reading all about your experience as one. 🙂

    • Kate

      It’s been pretty cool so far, it will be sad to leave the job behind in some respects.

  • Jen

    I work as a teacher in Hungary, but I am definitely sending this post to one of my best friends (I am trying to get her to au pair in Portugal). I found it to be a very good read. Looking forward to checking out more of your work!

    • Kate

      Thanks for sharing Jen! I bet being an au pair in Portugal would be amazing.

  • Thank you for this post. I’ll share this info with my friends who also want to travel abroad. I think being an au pair is cool.

    • Kate

      Thanks Jim! I hope some of your friends find it useful.

  • I would love to go do Au Pair work!

    • Kate

      You should go for it! 🙂

  • Kristen Henderson

    Hi, im a year 11 student doing a research project focused on becoming an au pair! I was wondering if you have to take any courses or training before you eligible for au pair work? I also wanted to know what you think is the best way to become an au pair? Is there any preparation required? Would really appreciate any extra information of advice you could give me 🙂

    • Kate

      Hi Kristen,

      Not at all. Most families will take you if they feel a good bond with you and providing you have the right attitude. However, a first aid certificate or something similar can help.
      As for the rest, it’s all been shared in the above post.

      Good luck 🙂

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