I initially approached Yara to ask her to take part in my group interview on au pairs. But she has such an extensive experience as an au pair that I decided to feature her in a separate interview instead. This way, we can get into the nitty-gritty.
Yara has had seven au pair gigs over the years. While she encourages other travelers to try it, she personally will never work as an au pair ever again. Why? Let’s find out in the interview. :D
How much experience have you had as an au pair?
I’ve been an au pair in London twice, in Switzerland once and in the USA four times.
London was always a very conflictive experience, not only for me but for my au pair friends as well, so the maximum length I’ve stayed was three months. In both gigs I had to care for two girls.
In Switzerland, I had a wonderful two-month experience caring for two cute boys.
In the USA, I was an au pair officially for 13 months, caring for a little girl. Later on, I returned to be a very short-term three-month au pair in an informal arrangement.
What was it about London particularly that made it a bad place for the au pairs you know?
I don’t know what’s wrong with London, but I know most stories coming from there are negative. Hosts who exploit and disrespect the au pairs, spoiled rude kids…
Au pairs can find a host family either through au pair agencies or through au pair websites. Which one have you used?
I’ve used both services.
The good thing about an au pair agency is the possibility to change families if something goes wrong and have your rights respected. The bad thing is how much it can cost.
Free online ads can save a lot of money, but you have to be very aware of what you are willing to do and what you’re not willing to do, because no one will be there to make sure the host family won’t take advantage of you.
In my personal experience, I’ve had abusive families with agencies, so it doesn’t really matter that much. If you’re a first-timer or you have a hard time saying “no”, then go with an agency. If you’re quite independent or more experienced, then an agency might not be that important.
How far ahead should someone start looking for a host family?
The better you get to know your future host family the better, so a couple of months might be an ideal time to stay in touch with them, to Skype and exchange emails, both with the families and the children.
How important is it to have some experience in child care before taking on an au pair gig?
A previous childcare or au pair experience will be beneficial when competing with dozens of other girls, but personality is a plus too. Write a very complete and personal profile, with lots of photos and great references. In the USA, they really value a good driver’s license record and you won’t find a placement if you can’t drive.
Hmm…”girls”, hey? Are there any male au pairs?
I haven’t met any in person but I have a good online buddy who I’ve been in touch with for more than a year now, who worked as a male au pair a few times. If more guys apply, it might become more popular. Guys, don’t be shy and apply!
What are some of the common duties of an au pair, on top of looking after the kids?
My experience throughout the years is that most families try to take advantage of au pairs! Au pairs are supposed to offer child care duties and that’s it! She is obviously expected to help with light housework just like any member of the family, but NOT AS A CLEANING LADY! This help can come in the form of loading/unloading the dish washer, clean after the kids, etc.
Au pairs should NEVER do any work for the host parents, although most of them will try to push you to.
How much free time does an au pair usually have?
The amount of free time will depend on the country.
Within Europe, an au pair is expected to work between 25 to 30 hours a week, so there’s plenty of free time every day.
In the USA, au pairs are expected to work between 40 to 45 hours a week. And most families live in the suburbs where there’s nothing to do and sometimes no other au pair around. There’s really not that much free time left and this can be extremely frustrating for au pair in the USA.
Are lodging and food always provided? What other freebies do au pairs usually get?
Food and accommodation are ALWAYS provided! That’s part of the deal, together with the pocket money.
Other perks can include the flights to and from the host families country, bus/train/underground pass, extra money, holidays, etc.
Families who use au pairs are usually cheap, so go with the ones you connect the most and offer the best perks.
Most au pairs live with their host families, but some live in separate apartments and have their rents paid by the families. How common is this?
I’ve never met any au pair who lived at a separate apartment, but I’ve heard that happens sometimes. I think that is an ideal living arrangement for an older, more mature and independent au pair.
For me personally, living at the same place I work is not always positive. You feel like you never stop working. It’s easier to experience conflicts with the host family as well. I would have loved to be a live-out au pair!
What is your worst au pair story?
I’ve had a few ugly au pair stories, usually the source of conflicts are the parents’ intolerance or the kids bad behavior. All my experiences in London ended up bad. In one of the cases, the child was extremely rude to me with the mother’s support. And in the other case, the mother was jealous of the fact that I made friends very easily and had a social life outside my au pair experience.
I just came back from the USA where I had a really draining experience, mostly because of how verbally and physically aggressive the child was and the fact that being a live-in au pair means living in that environment for 24 hours.
Is that why you’re quitting for good?
Living with a family, in a family setting, specially living where you work is not easy if you’ve been independent for more than 16 years. I can’t seem to adapt and adjust to that anymore. I need my space and privacy. Living with a family makes me feel like a teenager again. That’s why there’s usually an official age limit to become an au pair.
Do you still think working as an au pair is a good option for travelers?
Working as an au pair is an excellent decision. It’s the best way to travel the world in a financially sustainable way, meet local people and learn the culture or language. I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to travel solo for the first time, for example.
Yara Coelho is the author of the Heart of a Vagabond travel blog; a solo female traveler in constant search for financially sustainable travels and unique cultural experiences across the world. She is interested in Eco-traveling, alternative projects, vegetarian foods and Natural medicines. Join her on Facebook.