This is an article from our friend Yara over at A Heart Of A Vagabond. She has been travelling the world for 16 years now and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to making money abroad.
Becoming an au pair was my gateway to the world back in 1998. I had no money, 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.
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 of a few hours of childcare and light household duties.
What An Au Pair Is Not
When searching for a host family, make sure you thoroughly discuss what your duties and responsibilities will be. Many host families exploit their girls, pushing them into doing long hours of work, especially cleaning work around the house. You are not supposed to care for the parents, clean for 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 my job. 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
- A slave
- Cheap labor
- A maid
Benefits Of Being An Au Pair
No one becomes rich by working as an au pair. 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 family will cover the minimum legal requirements, but always seek a family who is wiling 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 cheap. 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 possibilities. I was also interested in improving my English skills and conquering some personal independence. 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 prior to with your host family.
Salaries vary a lot depending on which country you choose to work in. Some offer ridiculously 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. Check this website for more info on wages.
How To Find An Au Pair Position
There are many ways to find an au pair position.
You can go through an agency, which will charge you a fee to match you with a potential family. The down side of this is the fee. The up side is that if things go wrong, you can change host families. Have a look at sites like Au Pair World or Au Pair.com. However, I’ve used agencies in the past and I don’t recommend this option. Just because you paid a fee to the agency, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a good family. All bad experiences I have had came from families I found through agencies. Paying for this service won’t guarantee anything. They claim you can change families at no extra cost, if things get sour, but my experience is that most hosts don’t want an au pair who had problems with a previous family, as they tend to believe the au pair might be problematic. So, I don’t think there’s any point in using an agency, especially if you’re short on money.
You can search 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. 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 have tried to use their au pairs as cheap labor and ended up treating them like 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. I’m tempted to say avoid London! The money is terrible and I’ve never heard of a happy story out there!
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. Make sure to exchange a lot of emails before venturing out. But once you do, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!
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 this as a great money-making method!
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. Join her daily updates and news on Facebook.