“How did you become an au pair?” has been my most frequently asked question this year and since I had an amazing time doing it, I welcome any opportunity to talk about it.
An au pair is someone that moves to another country to help take care of children in exchange for room and board. This includes a small stipend so that you will not have to spend your own money. Being an au pair is a free way to travel and I highly recommend it. Here is exactly what you have to do to become an au pair.
1. Sign Up On A Website
I used aupairworld.com to find my family but there are others that come highly recommended. A quick Google search will bring up a few and with a little research, you can find out whether the website is legitimate. I swear by AuPairWorld because it worked really well for me and has features that can help someone find their perfect family.
There are many agencies that will do all of the work to find your host family but these services can cost hundreds of dollars. Using an agency has its pros since they will make sure that your host family pays you, follows a contract, and will relocate you to a different country/family if necessary. However, all of this can be done on your own and I have seen au pairs orchestrate all of this without a company and for free.
2. Set Up a Thorough Profile
*and be honest
This is not only for the family but for yourself. Use current pictures of yourself and be honest about your skills. My favorite thing about AupairWorld is that they take the time to ask you things on your profile that you may not have thought of previously.
If you hate the smell of cigarette smoke, don’t leave this box unchecked in hopes of getting more profile views and interested families. You will be living with these people! Think about all of the things that you really can’t handle and be explicit about it in your profile. Filling out your profile completely and being honest on it can help decrease your chances of getting an incompatible family.
For example, I checked the box that says that I have a valid drivers license. I put in my profile that I can drive in the host country if necessary but I would prefer not to drive with the children in the car. In the end, I did not have to drive anywhere but I wanted to let the family know what my parameters were so that we were all clear on what my duties may be.
3. Research Your Potential New Home
This is doubly important if you are a person of color. I have seen Black-American host families say that they had issues finding an au pair because of their race. I personally did not experience significant race issues but knowing what race relations are like in the country where you want to au pair could spare you some heartache.
Also, knowing simple things like greetings, diet, and cultural norms can help ease your transition and lessen your culture shock. It would have taken one google search for me to learn that the Spanish kiss on both cheeks and eat dinner late. Instead of doing my research, I experienced serious culture shock so I hesitated greeting people and was constantly hungry.
4. Be Realistic
Being an au pair is about a culture exchange. Many host parents are interested in learning about your culture but they really want you to teach your culture to their child(ren). More specifically, your language. If you are from an English speaking country, chances are that your host family will want you to speak in English to the children 100% of the time. If your primary reason for choosing Italy is to learn Italian, think again. It’s not impossible for au pairs to pick up the language of their host country but it’s easier if you are in a small town and your children speak very little English.
My kids spoke great English and I lived in Madrid. While many people in our city, Alcalá de Henares, did not speak English, the city housed a huge university and the center of Madrid is a major tourist destination. I was able to significantly sharpen my Spanish speaking skills but I had come with prior knowledge of the language. I doubt that I would have learned more than vale and no pasa nada if I did not.
If you are really interested in learning the language, au pair for kids that know very little of your native language. You should also look for small towns where the likelihood of the locals speaking your native language is slim. You can also ask your host parents to practice with you. My host mom practically begged me to practice Spanish with her but I was so embarrassed by my language skills that I wouldn’t. Instead, I spoke Spanish continuously outside of the house and that helped my speaking skills.
5. Don’t Au Pair for the Money
This should really be in all caps. If you au pair for the money, you will be very disappointed. I met an au pair while vacationing in Scotland that made 200£ a week but she was definitely the exception to the rule. The average pay for au pairs in Europe is from 260€ to 280€ a month. Au pairs don’t make a lot of money simply because all of their expenses are taken care of by the host family. Most au pairs make between 60€ to 80€ a week which most often becomes weekend travel money.
I was able to put away 20€ every time that I was paid to go towards a few weeks of travel at the end of my stay but I came home having spent way more of my savings than I wanted.
6. Ask Questions
These are the people that you will be living with for a significant amount of time. There is no such thing as too many questions. A good host family will have an answer to most of your questions and have some of their own. A good location and an interested family sound great but make sure both check out. Don’t accept an invitation to be a family’s au pair without 1. asking questions and 2. initiating skype session with the parents and children.
This is a generic list of questions that I asked every family so that I would know what to expect.
I also had Skype sessions with the families once all of my questions were answered. Video interviews were only done twice but I found my perfect match and that gave me an opportunity to see the children’s personalities and what the family dynamic would be.
6. Fill Out a Contract
It may seem awkward to negotiate terms if you are non-confrontational but a contract protects you and the host family. My host family and I sent a contract back and forth three or four times before we were both satisfied. A contract is not necessary per se but it adds a business element to your job and can help you if your family were to fall short on something you agreed upon. Contracts should specify days off, pay, and any extra terms and conditions that each party needs to feel comfortable. AuPairWorld has a comprehensive list of generic contracts for each country that they support.
7. Check Visa Requirements
I cannot stress this enough. Nothing can ruin a trip quite like getting to the airport and being turned around. You can also find loop holes with visas as well. I did not get a visa for my au pair stay because my family set my contract termination right at 90 days which is how long Americans can stay in the Schengen Area on a tourist visa. They wanted to make sure that neither of us had to deal with the paperwork.
8. Understand that Children are the Best and Worst Part of Your Job
Last but not least, be an au pair for the travel experience but don’t au pair just for the travel experience. Being an au pair is the most unique adventure that I have ever had simply because the nature of the job. You get to see your new home through the eyes of a child but because your work hours are usually during the day, you also get to experience nightlife like a local.
Au pairing is great but the biggest part of it deals with children. When you get back home, most of your stories won’t be about partying or the late nights roaming around ancient sites. The kids will be your source of entertainment and they’ll become the only thing that you talk about for awhile. Your conversations will be a constant loop of
“Let me tell you what _________ did today.”
“So, when I took the kids to the park earlier….”
You become an instant stay-at-home mom/dad, except you get a break when their parents get home. If you don’t like children or you simply tolerate children, find a different avenue for long term, cheap travel.
Some of your best days abroad will be because the kids were in a great mood. Some of your worst will be because someone is feeling cranky or just simply wants nothing to do with you. That’s the job. Being an au pair revolves around someone that still can’t be left in the bathtub alone and it’s honestly amazing. It just may be the best decision that you’ll ever make.
If you have any specific questions about my time as an au pair or my family finding process, feel free to contact me here or leave a comment below the post.