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)
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.
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.