If you’re single and penniless, working as an au pair may just be the best way for you to travel the world. Even though you’ll be thousands of miles away from home, you’ll ideally have a new home and a new “family” abroad.
What’s an au pair?
An au pair looks after the kids — it’s sort of like babysitting, except you’ll do it abroad and you’ll most likely live with the family.
Pros of working as an au pair
- You’ll have secured a job before you leave home.
- You won’t have to worry about housing and food.
- You may get other non-monetary perks like transport, phone, etc.
- You’ll also earn some “pocket money”.
- If you’re not used to paying all expenses yourself, this experience will serve as some sort of training wheels for budgeting. You won’t have to worry about running out of rent money no matter how much you spend going out.
- If you get along with the family, you’ll have a built-in support system.
- You’ll be working with kids.
Cons of working as an au pair
- The process of finding the right family and getting the right visa can be quite complex.
- There are age restrictions in some countries. (Check out this handy table guide.)
- If you don’t get along with the family, it can be awkward and uncomfortable.
- Work-life balance can get tricky when you work where you live.
- You’ll have limited time to travel and explore.
- The actual pay is low, even though you’ll likely get lots of job perks.
- You’ll be working with kids. ;)
What is it like to work as an au pair?
Obviously, this is one of those things where your mileage may vary depending on many factors, like the family, the country, the pay, etc. So a good way to get an overview is to listen to what a few au pairs have to say about the experience.
Without further ado, here we go…
Where and how long did you work? How many kids did you look after?
Ashley: I looked after three girls in a town outside of Paris for nine months.
Alex: Karlsruhe, Germany for one year; four kids (2, 8, 11, 15).
Danielle: I worked in Paris, France for 10 months, looking after one five-year-old boy.
Hanley: Dorfen, Germany (just outside of Munich) with three little girls. I had a contract for a year but had to leave early due to an injury.
Ellora: 6 ½ months in Granada, Spain, looking after a 1-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. (Currently still here.)
Most au pair opportunities are in Europe, although you can also find jobs in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada.
How many hours did you work in a day and how many days off per week did you get?
Ashley: On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays I worked around five hours a day, and on Wednesdays and Sundays I worked about nine hours. I usually had Saturdays off.
Alex: Five to eight hours per day, Sundays off (+ 30 paid holidays throughout the year).
Danielle: I worked four hours a day Monday-Friday (sometimes more or less) and I had weekends off.
Hanley: We stuck to my contract after a discussion about a month in — six hours a day, 30 hours a week. I was always off weekends.
Ellora: I work five to six hours on an average day and have one full day off per week.
The number of hours you work mostly depends on your negotiations with the host family. Here are some country-specific guidelines.
Any duties on top of taking care of the kids?
Ashley: I tutored the girls in English and Spanish, cleaned the kitchen and cooked dinner almost every night. I also took the youngest girl to all of her appointments and sport practices.
Alex: Some chores, mostly vacuuming and folding laundry.
Hanley: Light shopping. They had a cleaning lady so I didn’t have to do housework. They had me prepare fruit salad at night for daily breakfast and sometimes put the washing away, but that was really it.
Ellora: Teaching English was the main reason my host family wanted an au pair. I only ever speak to the children in English (despite them not knowing English in the beginning) to try and immerse them in the language as much as possible and take advantage of their brains being at that “sponge” stage where they pick up anything and everything.
Au pairs often help with some housework. But again, this depends on your negotiations with the host family.
Besides lodging and food, what other job perks did you get?
Ashley: My host family was very generous: they paid for my flight from the U.S., my cell phone bill and my French classes.
Alex: Half of my round-trip flight paid, a BahnCard50 (providing 50% off all German trains), monthly local transport ticket, health insurance, bicycle.
Danielle: My own apartment, travel with family, paid vacation, health insurance, covered public transportation, my plane ticket to Paris, French classes, and just having the coolest family in Paris.
Hanley: Health insurance and a cell phone.They also paid for half of my flight and for my German language course. (However all of this is negotiable.)
Ellora: My host family eat out a fair bit, at least more than I was used to before, so I would definitely consider that a perk. Also, my “host parents” are more like friends to me, so occasionally the kids stay with grandparents while my host parents and I go out at night.
Au pairs usually live with the host family and eat the family’s food. Some au pairs (like Danielle) get their own living spaces.
How much “pocket money” did you get?
Ashley: I earned €125 a week.
Alex: €260 /month.
Danielle: €750 every four weeks.
Hanley: Germany’s standard is €260 per month.
Ellora: I am paid €60 per week, fortnightly.
The money that actually changes hands is often called “pocket money”, even though it’s earned through actual work. Here’s a table to help you estimate how much you’ll earn as an au pair.
What website / agency did you use to find your host family?
Ashley: I actually found my host family through a French family I used to work for when I was in high school and college, though most of my friends who found their au pair jobs used aupair-world.net.
Hanley: Aupair-world.net both times. (I’m in the process of returning to teach English privately in Switzerland, which not only pays a LOT more but was found on the same site and has a lot more perks.)
Ellora: I used aupair-world.net and would highly recommend it — it’s easy to use and very effective!
In most countries, you can choose to find au pair jobs either through an au pair website or through an agency. Alternatively, you can also find work (and friends) through au pair groups on Facebook. If you want to work in the U.S., Switzerland or the Netherlands, you’ll have to apply through an agency.
What experience did you have in child care before your au pair gig?
Ashley: I babysat as my main income in high school and also worked as an au pair every summer in college.
Alex: Some babysittting gigs
Danielle: I volunteered at a children’s home in Peru, I worked at a summer camp in Russia, and I worked at a children’s center, throwing birthday parties and running classes for children 1-5 years old. I also used to babysit my youngest sister all the time.
Hanley: I am licensed in my state, I have CPR and babysitting certs and have been around children my entire life. I have worked a few nannying jobs in my area before leaving.
Ellora: Babysitting from the age of 13 and (not childcare experience but…) having an interest in children for as long as I can remember.
There is no universal requirement for au pairs to have experience in childcare. However, having some experience should help you find work.
What’s your top tip for choosing the right host family?
Ashley: Make sure you talk with the family on Skype before signing a contract. And don’t forget to negotiate for what’s important to you, whether that be paid-for French classes or your own apartment. You won’t get everything you want, but it’s always a good idea to negotiate.
Alex: Go with your gut; if something seems off when you are only in the interviewing process, it’s not going to be a good fit.
Danielle: Follow your gut when choosing a family; if it doesn’t feel right then don’t do it. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a family you don’t like. It can really turn an awesome opportunity into a miserable experience. Also, make sure you are getting paid enough for wherever you are living.
Hanley: Go with your gut. That is the biggest advice I can really give anyone. Don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not. You’ve got to live with these people and you don’t want to have to be pretend.
PS: DO RESEARCH! There are still risks associated with moving abroad, do your research and know who you are going to and the area in case of any emergencies. 911 in Germany is 112.
Ellora: Take your time! Be organised in starting the search for a host family early, so you can take time to talk to many different families and really decide which is right for you, rather than rushing into something. Definitely Skype them at least once before making a final decision and clarify all details (pay, hours, dates, etc.) before you agree so there is no confusion.
Want to learn more about working as an au pair?
Check out these blog posts written by my lovely interviewees on the subject:
- Ashley: Ashley Abroad — How to Become an Au Pair
- Alex: Speaking Denglish — FAQs About Being an Au Pair and Au Pair Questions to Ask Your Future Host Family
- Danielle: Travels of a Broke Girl — One Awesome Perk of Being an Au Pair
- Hanley: Pink Parliament — Au Pair FAQ
- Ellora: Diary of an Au Pair — So…What Does an Au Pair Do Exactly? and The T&Cs of Being an Au Pair (aka Hours and Pay)
Images: 1. Modified image from Flicker user Barry Keleher (CC BY 2.0 License); 2. Ashley of Ashley Abroad; 3. Ellora of Diary of an Au Pair.