Being an Au Pair: A guide

Being an Au Pair is a common option for students who want to travel to a different country and learn a language without having to spend a lot of money. I have been an Au Pair in Ireland for two years now, and am here to help everyone who has questions about how to become an Au Pair, life with a strange family, and tasks that are included.

What is an Au Pair?

An Au Pair is a childminder who lives with a family abroad and gets paid for their work. Their main purpose is to look after children and do additional work in the house, depending on what you agree on. More on this later.

How can I become an Au Pair?

Becoming an Au Pair was high on my list of ways to travel to a new country. You can travel relatively cheaply to a country and get paid for looking after some children. But, there is a lot to consider to get there.

What is the criteria for becoming an Au Pair?

There is no specific criteria on who can be an Au Pair. You don’t need to have a certain certificate or qualification. However, having done some babysitting in the past or having younger siblings is handy to show your host family that you are used to younger children. But, don’t worry if you haven’t babysat before. Most families I have been talking to just want to see that you are a capable person, and know the difference between right and wrong.

There is no fixed age limit for Au Pairs in most countries either. However, families tend to look for young adults between 18 and 30.

Often, boys worry they won’t be able to become an Au Pair because it is a “girl’s job”. This is wrong. Although there are more female Au Pairs, anyone can be an Au Pair, no matter their gender.

Why you should/shouldn’t be an Au Pair

I talked to friends who are considering being an Au Pair without knowing what it is. It is important to be informed of what is included in being an Au Pair. Some of my friends don’t even like being around children, but want to be an Au Pair. Be sure you are up for some work around the house and the challenges children bring. Just like you can leave the family if you are unhappy with them, they can ask you to leave if you are not doing your job properly.

How do I organise my Au Pair year?

There are two ways of organising your Au Pair. You can either do it with an agency or organise it yourself. I organised my Au Pair position myself with a website called AuPairWorld. It is a free website and couldn’t be any simpler. You create a profile, select what country you want to go to and configure some other settings. The website will then give you matching families.

AuPairWorld has a lot of helpful articles on being an Au Pair that can help you.I decided to organise my Au Pair year myself because I stayed in Europe. I was living in Switzerland and, by staying in Europe, I knew, more or less, the common laws.

I suggest that anyone who wants to travel further away, like to America or Australia, should organise their Au Pair year with an agency. There are many agencies you can choose from. An agency will guarantee you more security and help in case you are unhappy with your family. It will also help you with the local laws and organises insurance for you if needed. This was no problem for me because I could set up my Irish health insurance without any problems. But I assume it is more difficult to know exactly how laws and guidelines are in different continents.

One Au Pair agency suggested by a friend is Multikulur. Multikultur organises many more things than just Au Pair years, and is a reliable source for planning your Au Pair year.

How do I find a good host family?

When you talk to your possible new host family, make sure to ask all the questions you have. Don’t be shy. It is important to make clear what you are expecting and to also know what the family is expecting.

I was talking to families whose children I have never spoken to or seen. These families came off my list quickly. At least by your second chat, you want to talk to the children to see them and have a chat with them. In the end, they are the reason you are doing the Au pair work and you want to know who it is you are looking after.

If possible, ask if you can talk to some of the Au Pairs they had before you. But don’t see it as a negative if you are their first Au Pair. I was the first Au Pair in the host family that I am with and it worked out fantastically.

Also, some families try to promote themselves by telling you that they speak your language. There was a German family in the UK and they said they spoke German at home. There are two reasons why this is a bad idea:

1. One of the reasons you are doing Au Pair work instead of babysitting your neighbour’s child is to explore a new country. This includes learning a new language. By speaking your first language during your Au Pairing, you will not learn as much as you could if you went to a native family.

2. They might not be fluent in the language you want to learn. This means you are learning a new language from someone who is not good at that language. This can hinder you from becoming fluent.

How long does it take to find a host family?

You will be surprised at how quickly you can start as an Au Pair. I signed in to AuPairWorld at the start of December and was expecting to start my Au Pair year in June/July. I ended up having found my host family at the start of January and started my Au Pair year in March. And the only reason I started it in March, was because I had a job that I couldn’t leave any earlier.

I got requests from families to start as soon as two weeks and got turned down by other families because I couldn’t start early enough.

Whenever you sign up to become an Au Pair, be prepared to leave earlier than you think.

Au Pair contract

It is legally not a must to have a contract. However, it isn’t a bad idea to have a written document where you establish rules and guidelines of what tasks you are going to do.

During the Au Pair year:

What are the tasks of an Au Pair?

There is always a big discussion about what are and what are not the tasks of an Au Pair. If you google this, you will probably find a long list of things that an Au Pair is not supposed to do. Anyway, what your tasks really are, and what they are not, depends on what you and your host family have agreed on in advance. This is where your contract comes in handy. If there are any problems and the family expects you to do more than agreed, you can protect yourself by going back to the contract.

But, don’t worry about this in advance. You are going to a new family and there will probably be some misunderstandings at the beginning. After all, you are living with a new family and everyone has to settle in. If, after some open conversation about your tasks, things are still not improving, you can simply stop your Au Pair year. Nobody is forcing you to stay with a family that doesn’t respect you.

How much free time does an Au Pair have?

It is important to know that being an Au Pair is not just about travel. Agencies often promote it as a travel opportunity rather than a job. A host family wants you to come and live with them because they need your help.

However, you will probably have specific working hours. Often, these are when the parents are working. The average time in Ireland is thirty hours, including some evenings. Make sure to talk about these things during your phone calls before you arrive.

How much does an Au Pair get paid?

An Au Pair gets paid weekly. The money they receive is called pocket money. AuPairWorld has put together a list of the average pocket money earned for almost every country. Make sure you are not getting paid too little.

Do you need to attend a language school?

This depends on you and your level of whatever language they are speaking. I had English classes for nine years in school and didn’t attend a language school here in Ireland. Generally, it is right to say that practicing is the best way of learning. Speaking a new language every day did the trick for me.

If you are completely new to the language and only have the most basic knowledge, you will probably profit from classes in a language school – at least at the start. Whenever you feel more confident, you can stop these.

This is a lot of information, but don’t worry. I went to start my Au Pair job without any worries. One last tip: please don’t watch any videos about someone else talking about their Au Pair experience. Some of them are really negative, while others are really positive. Everyone’s experience is different and you shouldn’t be worried by hearing horror stories.

Instead, watch videos about the daily routines of Au Pairs or future Au Pairs preparing for their Au Pair year.

There is a lot more information out there on what it is like to be an Au Pair. What else would you like to know? Let me know in the comments so I can include it in another article.

Remember, an Au Pair year is a special experience and, once you’re organised, all you should do is look forward to it.










Christine Brungard
Christine Brungard

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