If you want to live abroad, immerse yourself with the locals (you can’t be much more immersed than by living with a host family and caring for their kiddos), and learn everything there is to know about a new culture while making some money, working as an au pair is a great and easy option. So, if you are a trustworthy and responsible individual who is okay with wiping a lot of runny noses, changing quite a few diapers, and reading many bedtime stories, this may be a gig for you.
How to become an au pair and live abroad:
1. Is working as an au pair for you?
2. The low-down
3. Where do you want to live?
4. Find a family
5. Make arrangements
6. Money talk
7. You’re nearly done!
8. Get social
9. Dealing with dramas
10. My experience
1. Decide if working as an au pair is for you.
Au-pairing might seem like the easiest way to live abroad but there are a few things you should consider before taking the leap.
- Do you like children?
- Are you ready to dive into a new country and culture for a long period of time?
- Do you adapt well to change?
While this might seem like an obvious question, it’s surprising how many people become an au pair for the benefits and not for the kids. As the au pair, you’re the children’s go-to while their parents aren’t around. This involves a lot of responsibilities and behavior to match, so you’d better be patient, enthusiastic, and kind or this gig isn’t for you.
A lot of au pair contracts are for 12 months, so you need to be sure you’re ready to make the big move abroad.
Working as an au pair seems like a dream job, but in reality, it can mean hectic schedules, last minute changes, and dealing with the pressures of family life.
Take this short “Should you au pair” quiz to help you clarify if working as an au pairing is right for you.
2. The low-down
There are no real rules to become an au pair. Aside from the obvious love of children, if you’re a responsible, adaptable, and friendly then you fit the main criteria of being an au pair. Previous babysitting experience is a plus and each host family will have different requirements but, generally speaking, if you’re enthusiastic and motivated, you won’t have any issues. Most au pairs are between 18 and 25 years of age and have either finished their studies or are taking a break. In saying this, if you’re older and just looking for a sabbatical, working as an au pair is still a great option.
3. Work out where you want to live.
Do you want to base yourself in an English-speaking country or try to master a new language? The UK, Australia, and the US are very popular places to find au pair jobs and the culture shock is usually minimal. If you’re looking to go to a non-English-speaking country, there are plenty of opportunities throughout Europe.
Every country has different visa regulations so be sure to check them out before you jet off. Au Pair World has a lot of information about visas, so check them out. Your potential host family should also be able to help you out during the immigration process.
4. Find a family.
This is the fun part! Once you’ve decided where you want to go, start searching for your new host family. Websites such as Au Pair World, AuPair Finder, and Easy Au Pair simplify searching through families, sending messages, and they have a lot of helpful info about working as an au pair that you’ll need.
If you’re feeling uncertain about moving to a foreign country into a strangers’ home that you arranged over the internet, there are other options. Some companies will arrange everything for a fee. Global Work and Travel Co., Cultural Care, and Geovisions will take you through each step from choosing a destination to applying for visas. Each of these companies have an approval process for families, giving you extra peace of mind for your big adventure!
5. Talk with families and make arrangements.
Once you’ve narrowed down your families choices, make sure you ask ALL the questions! Some things to consider are duties, living arrangements, pay, holidays, and expectations. Treat these conversations like job interviews and make sure you feel completely comfortable with the position before accepting it. Video chat is the best way to get to know the family and even see the house you’ll be living in.
Some questions to consider are:
- Will I be required to work weekends/school holidays?
- Will I have my own room/bathroom?
- Will I be paid overtime for extra hours? (If I work more than the agreed daily/weekly amount)
- How will I pay for things such as groceries/child expenses when I’m working? With my own cash or with a family card?
- Are there any allergies or dietary requirements in this family?
- How do you deal with conflicts/tantrums in your family?
- Are there any rules concerning my personal life? For example, going out on weekends, having friends over, dating.
6. Money talk
Be sure to clarify the money situation right off the bat as each family will be different. Working as an au pair is seen as more of a cultural exchange than serious employment, so if you’re looking to make the big bucks then this probably isn’t for you. Most au pairs are usually provided with accommodation, food, and pocket money. While the pay isn’t great, the perks are usually plentiful. Lots of au pairs are taken on exotic family holidays, given use of cars, and treated like family members.
The biggest drawcard to becoming an au pair is being given the chance to travel a lot. During my time as an au pair in The Netherlands, I spent weekends and school holidays seeing as much of Europe as I could. However, I recommend having your own savings to use for personal travel as the pocket money you get won’t be enough to cover these trips. Every person’s spending habits are different but the more you have, the more you can travel.
7. Book tickets, buy insurance, and go!
You’ve picked your new host family and signed the contract so now it’s time to tick off those last few boxes. Book your flights, buy your travel insurance (don’t skimp!), and start packing.
8. Get social!
Moving to a new country can be a daunting process. Luckily, you certainly won’t be alone. The au pair community is big, friendly, and there is always someone new to meet! Join Facebook groups, sports teams, or language schools to meet new people and make friends.
Some great Facebook groups are:
- Worldwide – Au Pair World
- Australia & NZ – Au Pair Australia and New Zealand
- USA – Au Pairs in the US
- France – Au Pair Paris/France
9. Dealing with dramas
Sometimes things just don’t work out and, when you’re alone in a foreign country, things can turn into a nightmare.
If you don’t mesh with your host family, it can be tough to deal with, that’s why it’s very important to voice your concerns before and during the gig — you need to know exactly what is expected of you.
If you’re facing problems and you have arranged your job through an agency, contact them straight away and explain the situation. It’s their duty to ensure your safety.
If you’ve arranged your own job, make sure you’re well aware of your rights as an au pair and keep your friends and family updated with your life. Keep your belongings and personal information safe and never give anybody your passport or access to bank accounts.
To know more about your rights as an au pair, check out this great article.
10. My experience
Once I finished studying, all I wanted to do was live abroad and travel as much as possible (I’m from Australia). I wasn’t interested in working in hospitality or sitting in an office all day, so the idea of working as an au pair sounded great. I didn’t have a huge amount of experience working with kids but was keen to give it a shot. After finding a host family on Au Pair World, I packed my bags and headed to the Netherlands. My host family was warm and welcoming and it didn’t take long before I felt part of the family. Instead of the structured job that I was expecting, I became more of a big sister to the two girls I looked after. I spent a year with them and traveled as much as I could. There was a big au pair community in the city I lived in, so, within days of arriving, I had already made friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and would recommend it to anyone wanting to live abroad.