Becoming an au pair was my gateway to the world back in 1998. I had no money and no experience traveling solo, but I was determined to find a creative way to start my adventures. I’ve been an au pair 5 times now, in 4 different countries and gathered a lot of information I will share with you.
In this article, you’ll learn how to become an au pair, what you can expect to get paid, and some pros and cons of this type of travel job.
Table of Contents
What Is An Au Pair?
The word au pair is a French term that means “equal to”.
An au pair is usually a young female (although sometimes families are open to host male au pairs) who wants to travel, learn a new language, explore a new culture and enjoy herself in a new country.
She will be hosted by a local family and will be considered and treated as part of the family, in exchange for a few hours of childcare and light household duties each day.
Becoming an au pair is a cultural exchange.
What An Au Pair Is Not
When searching for a host family, make sure you thoroughly discuss what your duties and responsibilities will be.
Some host families exploit their au pairs, pushing them into doing long hours of work, especially cleaning around the house.
You are not supposed to care for the parents, clean up after them or iron their clothes. As an au pair, you’re there to care for the children only.
I had an experience in London, where my host mother asked me to iron her husband’s shirts, as she was feeling too tired (she was pregnant). I agreed to do it once, although I mentioned that it was not in my job description.
The next day she came with a bigger pile of clothes to iron, and the day after she wanted me to do their laundry, which created a conflict and I ended up leaving soon after. An au-pair is not:
- A cleaning lady
- Cheap labor
- A maid
Benefits Of Becoming An Au Pair
You probably won’t’ become rich by working as an au pair, but there are many benefits to the job.
Therefore, it’s very important that both parties (the host family and the au pair) are satisfied with the arrangements they make.
Au pairs have all expenses covered, so all of your pocket-money will be for you to use however you want.
Your host family will provide you with 3 meals a day, a private bedroom, possibly a language course, a public transportation pass and even cover your airplane tickets.
Make sure your host family will cover the minimum legal requirements, but always seek a family who is willing to go above and beyond with the perks.
Those are usually the ones who won’t try to exploit you.
Remember that for the families, having an au pair is very, very affordable. Nannies would cost them 3 times more, so don’t be shy when searching for good perks!
I became an au pair because I wanted to travel and had no financial ability to do so. I was also interested in improving my English skills, conquering some personal independence, and meeting new people around the world.
Becoming an au pair seemed like the most logical way to start and since then, I have never stopped traveling.
Payment & Hours Of Work
Every country has its own regulations as far as working hours are concerned.
Within Europe, an au pair usually works around 25-30 hours a week with a day off, usually on Sundays.
In my experience, basically all weekends are free, meaning plenty of time to explore your new host country.
In the United States, an au pair is expected to work about 40-45 hours a week with a day off, and yes… you might only get one day off!
In both cases, you might be expected to babysit a couple of nights a week. This should be arranged beforehand with your host family.
As an au pair, you won’t have official legal status as an employee, but rather, you’re considered a temporary family member who receives pocket money.
Salaries vary a lot depending on which country you choose to work in.
Some offer little pocket-money and it almost doesn’t make any sense to work there, unless you really want to experience that country and culture or learn the language.
Others, however, can be a bit more appealing and you’ll be able to save and travel some more.
If you’re an au pair in the USA, you’ll receive $195.75 USD minimum per week, in Canada you’ll receive approximately $330 CAD per week, while in the UK, you can expect 80 – 85 GBP per week. Check this website for more information on au pair wages.
How To Find an Au Pair Position
There are many ways to find an au pair position.
The most recommended (safe) way is through an agency, which will charge you a fee to match you with a potential family.
The downside of this is the fee. The upside is that the host family is vetted by the company, and if things go wrong, you can change host families.
Sadly, the poor experiences I had came through host families I found on agency websites. And, in my experience, if you have problems with one family, the next won’t be so keen on hiring you.
Another way to find au pair positions is by searching on forums, online groups or online agencies that won’t charge a finder’s fee, or, you could put a small ad in a cafe, or local newspaper and wait to be contacted.
The downside of this, is not knowing if you’re being scammed or if you’ll be safe, so a lot of previous contact, including Skype calls, is highly recommended.
If you’re an active Couchsurfer, place an ad in one of the au pair groups. That’s how I actually ended up in Switzerland. I will be using this method from now on, as most families have a full profile, references, and people who have vouched for them, and hey… it’s free!
My Personal Au Pair Experiences
I’ve just finished my short-term au pair job in Switzerland.
I was lucky to have the best host family in the world and to be able to live in the most expensive city in the world – Zürich- with ALL expenses covered.
My host mother paid my flights and drove me around, showing me incredible parts of Switzerland which I would probably never think of visiting.
She went above and beyond to make me feel happy. I had a private master suite bedroom with a huge balcony all to myself and views over the mountains and Zurich city.
While being an au pair in the USA I had a similar experience.
My host family was wonderful and I truly felt like part of the family. During this time, I had the opportunity to explore part of the east coast with other au pairs and new friends.
In fact, my host family and I became such good friends that I even returned a few times for short-term placements. Sixteen years after this experience, we’re still in touch and care for each other deeply….but things are not always so positive.
I’ve been an au pair in London twice, and both experiences were extremely negative.
Curiously, most of my London-based au pair friends were also having problems with their families. I’ve noticed that many British families tend to use their au pairs as cheap labor and ended up treating them as maids.
Most of my au pair friends had extremely rude and disrespectful children to deal with, and the parents always stood by their children’s side, creating a lot of friction and conflict.
In another situation, I was about to pack my bags and fly to San Francisco, California for this summer as an au pair.
There was a family who had been sending me invitations and things looked pretty solid. I was extremely excited, but suddenly they declined their offer because I’m a vegetarian.
This is why it’s so important to exchange a lot of emails and really get to know one another before agreeing to an au pair job.
Becoming an au pair can be one of the most rewarding and safest ways to travel the world while having basically all of your expenses covered.
This is also a great option for beginner solo female travelers who have a wanderlust bigger than life, but still feel insecure and nervous to set off into the world on their own.
I definitely recommend becoming an au pair. It’s a great way to make money, meet new people and learn about different cultures.
Author’s Bio: Yara Coelho exchanged the comforts of home 16 years ago, for a life on the road. She has been traveling the world mixing a love for vegetarian food, alternative living, and low-impact traveling. She’s is the author of travel and inspirational blog, Heart of a Vagabond.
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