How To Become an Au Pair and Travel The World

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.

Becoming an Au Pair is just one of the many travel jobs we’ve written about on this blog. We’ve also tried, tested and earned money from dozens of online jobs (the best of which was starting this travel blog which now completely pays for our travels). Don’t miss the in-depth guides below to help you earn money online, on the road or on the side so that you can travel longer!

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. 

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.

Being an Au-pair in Thailand

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 should 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 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.

My bedroom in Switzerland with private trampoline!

Payment & Hours Of Work

Every country has its 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, 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.

The Pay

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.

Have a look at recommended, reputable sites like Au Pair World or Au Pair.com.

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 video calls, is highly recommended.

If you’re an active Couchsurfer, place an ad in one of the au pair groups. That’s how I 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!

Back in 1999 with my American family

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 for my flights and drove me around, showing me incredible parts of Switzerland that 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.

Tourist train with Matterhorn mountain in the background.

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.

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.

Many of my London-based au pair friends were also having problems with their families. 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.

Exploring Zurich – Switzerland in 2014

In another not-so-great situation, I was about to pack my bags and fly to San Francisco, California for the 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 phone calls and get to know one another before agreeing to an au pair job.

In Conclusion

Becoming an au pair can be one of the most rewarding and safest ways to travel the world while having 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 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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Goats On The Road

The team at Goats On The Road have a combined 100+ years of travel experience between them and have been to nearly country in the world. This site is 100% human written. We write useful articles for travelers, by travelers, WHO HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN THERE.

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17 thoughts on “How To Become an Au Pair and Travel The World”

  1. I thought I’d been an au pair for a long time! I’ve been an au pair for almost two years now, for a year in France and now in Spain and definitely recommend it as a way to travel! Definitely agree with looking for families that offer perks. Most families can afford them and since au pairs don’t necessarily make a lot of money, anything extra is so beneficial to you!
    It is remember that every family is so different and it can sometimes be stressful, if you’re someone who’s been living on their own for any amount of time, to go back to living with a family, especially one that’s not yours. I know that, at times, for both myself and several of my au pair friends, that can be a tricky place to navigate.

    This was a great post and it’s interesting to see how you’ve been to several different countries doing this! 🙂

  2. Hi Amielle,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. That is definitely something to think of – going from living/travelling alone to living with a family, something most people haven’t done since they were 18 years old!

    All the best 🙂

  3. Amielle, you are very, very right when mention how tricky it can be, to live with a strange family after being independent for many years. Honestly, for me this is the low side of being an Au-pair and after being independent for 16 years, 2 months is the maximum I can manage. Nowadays I’m seriously picky with host families and I need a lot of space and privacy.

    I’ve had disastrous experiences when the hosts tried to invade my privacy, stick their noses in my life during my time off, etc… I was very lucky in the US and Switzerland, but the other 3 attempts were horrible. Older folks should stick with 2 or 3 months only.

  4. Amielle, you are very, very right when mention how tricky it can be, to live with a strange family after being independent for many years. Honestly, for me this is the low side of being an Au-pair and after being independent for 16 years, 2 months is the maximum I can manage. Nowadays I’m seriously picky with host families and I need a lot of space and privacy.

    I’ve had disastrous experiences when the hosts tried to invade my privacy, stick their noses in my life during my time off, etc… I was very lucky in the US and Switzerland, but the other 3 attempts were horrible. Older folks should stick with 2 or 3 months only.

  5. Hello Yara,
    Nice words and they are all facts. I am a Ghanaian male who will turn 20 on 30th may 2014.I completed High School last year and there was no fund to continue my education.However,my qualifications in Arts made organizations and Arts centers invite me to voluntary teach Kids In Arts.I love kids.Once on an even day,i met an American and shared my life experience with her and she introduced me to the Au pair system.I was very excited when i read about it and what interest me most was “taking care of kids” which i cherish so much.I though of this being a great opportunity to learn different cultures,teach mine and improve on my arts(written),also to be able to cater and continue my education.
    Since i started my search,i came into contact with Families from London and they all requested i pay an amount of money which i cannot afford.This occurred several time and has made me not to include UK in my search filters.I now look forward to find a family that will Help me out whiles i give them my best of services.
    Please help me out and give me advices.Hope to hear from you soon.

  6. Hi! I need an advice about an excellent au pair agency in Australia. Because I want to work as an au pair, but I don’t trust in website, I prefer have a support of an agency if I’ll have a problem there. Someone could please help me? thank you very much

  7. I was an au pair in Paris and never even realised that au pair means “equal to”! You’re definitely right, au pairing is a nice way to travel without losing money 🙂

  8. Hi Yara

    I am currently a student looking to Au pair in Switzerland next year. However, I am having a difficult time using agencies, plus I am a non-European citizen, all the way from South Africa. This may be a bit too much to ask, but are there any groups or families you can recommend me checking out?

    Kind regards

  9. Looking at being an au pair in Spain starting mid this year and just started contacting families on aupairworld.com. It’s both nerve wracking and exciting, but thanks for your tips!!

    If we’re not satisfied with the proposed salary, how do you suggest we negotiate it with the family? I feel bad asking for more so don’t know where to start..

  10. This is a good heads up experience. I’m new at this and i just made plans with a family in Spain. And i asked for the traveling costs and can someone tell me, one option to pay that is if your host family does it, another is if you do it yourself & and the host family mom told me that the site pays for it. Is that true, if so how? And also how much is wage for a week in Spain?

  11. Good morning I’m so sorry for giving the wrong email yesterday but I’m so interested in traveling with a wonderful family whom enjoy someone who wants and cater to all of their desires. Please take a consideration to my search for a family once again I’m a 46 YEAR OLD BLACK WOMAN who enjoys family but doesn’t have one of my own the gentleman I cared for has passed and gone leaving me for love to another family that i so long for now i live in South Carolina with a small toy poodle and heart broken because i am a care giver with no one to care for. Its hard at times but I know soon I will be blessed with a loving family to care for thank you and looking forward to a response soon. Happy New Year and thank you so much.

  12. Good morning I’m so sorry for giving the wrong email yesterday but I’m so interested in traveling with a wonderful family whom enjoy someone who wants and cater to all of their desires. Please take a consideration to my search for a family once again I’m a 46 YEAR OLD BLACK WOMAN who enjoys family but doesn’t have one of my own the gentleman I cared for has passed and gone leaving me for love to another family that i so long for now i live in South Carolina with a small toy poodle and heart broken because i am a care giver with no one to care for. Its hard at times but I know soon I will be blessed with a loving family to care for thank you and looking forward to a response soon. Happy New Year and thank you so much.

  13. Hi Amielle.
    I seriously want to do au pairing when i am of legal age. It is my dream to travel the world and learn new languages and cultures plus I love kids. The thing is my country is currently in a very bad situation and having a degree or diploma would help me in the future. My family thinks i should get a degree at least before I go au pairing. I agree with them if i look logically at it but it makes me sad to think of getting a degree in something i don’t really want to do. I am also scared that if I put my dream on hold, i will eventually not do it. I am torn between what I probably should do and what I want to do.

    The reason I found this blog is because I have question that I couldn’t find a clear answer for on the internet. Can you au pair in a country and then go au pair in another country without returning to your home country?

Comments are closed.