Being an au pair

Au pair

You would love to spend time in Spain but accommodation seems so expensive and your Spanish is so poor… Being an au pair is a perfect way to travel, learn a language and gain valuable work experience without breaking the bank. Does dealing with children not sound like a nightmare to you? Pick a country and become part of a host family for up to a year. You will be heading for a busy stay abroad, babysitting, going over vocabulary worksheets and making the most of your time off. If you are between 18 and 30 years old, take a big step towards becoming independent by securing a worthwhile student job abroad: go au pair!

Being an au pair: what benefits?

Travelling abroad as an au pair is an efficient way to fill a gap year or get the most out of a short break.

Language & cultural immersion

Learning to speak a foreign language almost like a native isn’t the only benefit of the au pair adventure. By getting acquainted with a new country and its culture, you will also be developing your adaptability skills: adjusting to cultural differences is a mind-opening experience. Being an au pair is also about fitting into a host family and putting effort into speaking with everyone, even if you happen to stumble on words or be unable to finish some of your sentences. Au pairs often take weekly language courses (sometimes compulsory, depending on the country) to supplement their daily language immersion. Though at first you may even need to use sign language, by the time you leave the country you should be close to fluent in its language.

An inexpensive international experience

By taking care of one or several children on a daily basis, you will be gaining rewarding work experience. If you choose to go au pair, you won’t be setting off on some long holiday: you will be following a daily schedule and handling various responsibilities. The many obligations involved make this student job abroad a real resume builder: your au pair experience won’t go unnoticed by an employer. Moreover, no need to worry about paying for meals and accommodation; you will live with the host family almost as if you were part of it. Going au pair will allow you to travel without having to set aside much money.

Spotlight on au pair placement

Au pair eligibility criteria as well as working conditions vary depending on whether you are headed to a European or a non-European country.

Au pair? Yes, but where?

The USA is a very sought-after destination but there is a quite precise list of requirements to meet as well as specific steps to follow. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply! To qualify for a twelve month au pair stay in the United States, you must:

  • be a girl between 18 and 26 years old;
  • be a non-smoker;
  • have a driver’s license;
  • have childcare experience and be able to supply references;
  • hold a secondary school degree or equivalent;
  • have a clean police record;
  • have good English skills ;
  • take classes during the stay.

Don’t expect to secure an au pair position in the USA without applying through an au pair agency: this is the only way to get a J-1 visa (which is renewable for 12 months). If you go through the entire process, a costless adventure awaits you: your round trip will be paid for and you will receive a USD500 study allowance to help pay for classes.

Tempted by other non-European destinations?

Australia and New-Zealand attract many young people seeking a student job abroad. You will need to get a student visa or a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) and be able to finance your au pair stay abroad. Not only will you have to purchase your plane ticket, you will also have to show you have some relevant savings. If you were thinking of going to Canada, bear in mind that no au pair programme exists there: you may get an au pair-like job through the Live-in Caregiver Programme but a minimum of six months work experience or training is required.

In Europe

The United Kingdom is the most popular destination. Do you wish to travel to a non-English speaking country? You may learn various languages since other countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands frequently welcome young au pairs. Requirements may vary according to the country you’re heading to but, to become an au pair, you generally need to:

  • be between 18 and 30 years old (though 26 or 27 is frequently the age limit),
  • speak enough of the language to be able to get around,
  • have a clean police record.

The length of the stay varies between two and twelve months, depending on whether you are leaving for the summer or for a long-term placement. The au pair deal might seem quite flexible but in practice, for host families, the ideal au pair is a girl in her early twenties, available for about ten months.

Life as an au pair: get the basics right

Working conditions, au pair duties: what should you expect?

  • Your schedule: an au pair works an average of thirty hours per week (usually more in the US). If you are taking classes during your stay, your schedule might be adjusted accordingly.
  • Time off: being an au pair is a real job! Generally, you get one or two days off every week and two weeks of paid vacation per year.
  • Your duties: an au pairs main responsibility is to take care of the children (dropping them off and picking them up from school, dealing with meals, helping with homework…). You certainly aren’t supposed to be a cleaning lady but you will be doing some everyday domestic tasks (washing dishes, vacuuming, picking up…).
  • Au pair stipend: as an au pair doesn’t sign a work contract, there is no monthly salary. You will receive a weekly stipend: its amount depends on the country but €80 is the average.

Landing the job

Getting in touch with a host family and building a relationship is the central to securing an au pair position.

Placement agency or self-placement?

To go safe, seeking placement through an au pair agency member of IAPA (International Au Pair Association) is highly recommended. The agency selects applicants and matches au pairs to host families. You may expect an agency to gather applications, search for an adequate family and deal with some of the paperwork. Au pair agency fees sometimes include the cost of the compulsory insurance for international students (which must include personal liability cover). Also, if you use an agency to land your student job abroad, you may request support if something goes wrong during your stay.

Would you rather search for a host family on your own? Online au pair matching is available on many websites. But keep your eyes open though, as there are some bogus ads. Make things clear as soon as you can: how much cooking and cleaning will you be doing? How about your free time? How much will you be paid? You don’t want to begin wondering about all this while you’re in the plane.

Go smart

  • Trust and reliability are what you and the host family are looking for. Get acquainted before you pack your suitcase. An au pair agency might have found the perfect family or you may have found it yourself but now it’s time to forget about all the paperwork for a while and start a conversation: e-mail back and forth, make a few phone calls, wave through Skype…
  • No matter how busy you are, don’t wait until the last minute to think about insurance requirements. Whether the application is handled by yourself, the host family or the agency, you’ll need it.

To find out more about being an au pair:

Find an au pair agency member of the International Au Pair Association.

Browse ads and register as an au pair on AuPairWorld.

Date of publication Dec 24 2012

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