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If you are looking for the textbook definition: an au pair is a contracted, live-in childcare provider, who helps out with household responsibilities in exchange for free room and board, meals, an opportunity to learn a new language, and an amazing chance to live in another country!
An au pair will have an opportunity to live and work abroad with a host family, as if they were an extension of the family in an interesting, faraway place! This position offers a unique cultural exchange opportunity, for those who are looking to base abroad in a safe and comfortable environment, with minimal expenses.
You may be wondering: what is the difference between an “au pair” and a “nanny”?? Although both have similar job descriptions, au pair positions usually apply to young foreigners, typically between 18-26, looking for short-term work experience abroad, who are happy to receive compensation in the form of cultural exchange, free accommodation and a small wage. Nannies tend to be more career-oriented with their position. A nanny generally has more directly-related, professional childcare experience, receives a higher salary and is looking to make a long-term commitment to a family/job,
Common au pair childcare responsibilities may include, but are not limited to: driving the children to and from different activities, preparing breakfasts and lunches, entertaining the children, helping with homework and babysitting while the parents are out of the house.
In addition to helping with the kids, an au pair may also be required to help out with tidying up the house, taking care of the laundry and assisting with cooking.
Soooo…ya… maybe the responsibilities of an au pair aren’t the most glamorous or exciting, but the benefits that come along with the job can be amazing! Maybe you will have your weekends off to trek around to neighboring European countries! Maybe you’ll get to go on family vacations in the Caribbean, or to the family’s summer cottage in Tuscany! Maybe you’ll pick up a new language! Who knows! Although the actual job responsibilities might not sound so appealing to you, keep in mind that you will be living abroad in an amazing place, with no rent and hardly any expenses!
An au pair will typically work between 15-35 hours per week, depending on the family, with 1-2 days off. Work days and hours will vary for each individual position, as work schedules are directly dependent upon the schedule of the family—one au pair may be required to work during after-school hours for their family, while another might work the majority of their shifts in the daytime, for example.
Although a major benefit to the job is not having to worry about paying for rent, it’s not always ideal having to live where you work. Realize that even if you have your own room, you might feel a bit like you are on call at all times, and have limited privacy. Basically…living with a host family means that you won’t necessarily have 100% freedom while off the clock- no walking around the house naked or hosting keg parties with your other wild au pair friends.
Some host families will provide you with accommodation outside of the families home. Although you will have more privacy and your own space to escape to, this might not be an ideal living situation for someone who is looking to take full advantage of the language exchange aspect of the job.
Many au pairs will sign on for half year or full year contracts. This, as well as your schedule, pay and other details of your employment will (SHOULD) be discussed and agreed upon before your arrival!
WHERE IN THE WORLD DOES THIS JOB EXIST?
This job can exist all around the world! There are especially many listings in Australia/NZ, Europe, the US and Canada.
If you would look to work in a large city, you may be able to connect with other au pairs via Facebook- just search: “au pairs in ( city ) ( year ).
(Ex.- “Au pairs in Barcelona 2015”). You can also use www.couchsurfing.org to connect with locals or search for other resident au pairs.
How to Get the Job
If you are interested in going for this job, you should use one of the many au pair job search websites that are out there, such as (https://www.aupairworld.com/en, www.aupair.com, www.greataupair.com). In order to join the pool of perspective au pairs visible to host families on these websites, and in order to search for available jobs, you will first need to sign up with the site in order to make an au pair profile. And just a heads up: some of these sites may require a membership fee, while others do not.
Once you are signed up, like any other application or job profile, you will have to fill out both personal and employment information about yourself. Name, age, nationality, previous work experience…. all of that good stuff! You will also be asked to fill out your preferences for host family location and character. What are the minimum and maximum ages of the children you are willing to care for? Do you want to live in a city or on the countryside? Which country would you ideally want placement in?
After those parts of the profile are complete, you will be asked to fill out additional information in the “about me” and “why I want to be an au pair” short answer-style sections. This is where you need to shine! Introduce yourself as the good-natured, hard-working, fun-loving wannabe-au pair that they are looking for to join their family! Keep in mind that you are a perfect stranger to the host family, who will potentially be inviting you into their home and trusting you to take care of their children. Add photos or even a youtube intro video to support what you’ve written; write a letter to the family exclaiming why want to work with them; build references. You need to prove that you are responsible, trustworthy and mature, all while charming their pants off to show that you will be a good fit into the family.
When searching for a family, be sure to be persistent and patient. Give yourself some time to really sift through all of the job listings on multiple sites. I wouldn’t recommend settling for the first job that pops up, unless you feel that it is a perfect fit. Make sure that the family, schedule and location are all in line with what you are looking for. Chat over Skype and try to get to know the host family before you meet them in person; make sure that you are comfortable with what you will be getting yourself into! This could take weeks or even months, the time and effort will pay off! Rushing through the process of finding a perfect family might leave you in a less-than ideal situation; commit yourself to the search, and take your time!
Another piece of advice- once you find a family, THOROUGHLY go over the terms of you contract and work schedule. Make sure that the agreement is crystal clear on both sides! Discuss the specifics of your payment, expenses, hours, time off and accommodation. Communication is key- before you pack your bags to move across the globe to live and work with people who you’ve only met through skype- make sure that everyone is 100% on the same page with the terms of your agreement!
There are also au pair placement agencies, which are companies that help with the search by screening the families, and making a suitable match between the host families and the au pair. You will need to submit an online application and undergo in-person or Skype interviews, as well as pay a fee to join as a member. Although there is a fee involved (booooo) these agencies will screen the families and take the effort out of finding the perfect match for you. They will also support you with visa applications and sometimes provide training programs as well. Some of the agencies include:
Here is a list of agencies organized by country
Once you have landed the job, you will have to sort out your work visa. This can be a long and tedious process, taking up to a few months in many cases, so be prepared for that!
Other qualifications oftentimes include that you are at least 18 years of age, have a high school degree, driver’s license, clean background check and you may be required to speak at least basic English.
As far as personality goes, you need to be a type of person with a good head on your shoulders- who is able to balance their fun side with their responsible side!
Availability & Pay
Au pair jobs can be found year-round. If you are looking for short-term contracts, it is possible to find seasonal work as well.
Your wage will not be HUGE, and varies depending on your location. Your pay is considered to be more of an allowance than a salary; generally between $100-$200, depending on location. If you would like more detail on payment, here is a table of wages, organized by country:
As mentioned, although your wage might be on the low side, your major expenses such as food and rent will be covered! The family may cover things such as cell phone and transportation expenses as well, and might even provide you with a car!
Also, don’t forget that you have a golden opportunity to learn a new language, experience a new culture and live abroad comfortably!