Au Pair FAQ's
Find out all about working as an Au Pair abroad
Every year, thousands of young people choose to travel to another country to become an au pair (pronounced’o pair’). The phrase ’au pair’ is French, and it means ’on a par with’ or ’equal to’. This is really important to remember, because being an au pair is primarily about caring for children as part of a family on a live-in basis, rather than being a nanny, cleaner or employee. Au pairing is a great way to work and travel abroad if you are genuinely interested in childcare and your main motivation is to travel, experience other cultures and learn a language.
What to expect
First of all, people don't become au pairs for the money. Every country has different rules, but generally speaking you will get free room and board (ie food) and some pocket money. In the UK you can expect around £65 per week for working 25-35 hours. Remember that the point of being an au pair is to let you experience life in another country, to learn a language, and help a family out, you are not going to be able to save loads of money from your wage. It is important to be realistic about this, and budget properly. You won’t be paying for your food, but you will need to pay for eating out with friends, socialising, and of course any shopping that isn’t related to the children. This is particularly important if you are looking for a placement in a city like London, Paris or Rome, where the cost of living is high. You will need to pay for your own transport to the country where you will be working, and for public transport for any trips that aren’t taken during worktime. You will also be responsible for paying for any language course you may be taking while you are an au pair.
Do I need to speak another language?
The point of au pairing is to improve your language skills in a foreign tongue. So if you are from the UK, want to au pair in France, but only have basic GCSE level French, that is absolutely fine. The host family will most likely want you to speak English to the children, as au pairing is a two way process, whereby the au pair learns to speak the host families language, and the host family learn some of the au pairs language too.For this reason, au pairs who have English, French or Spanish as their first language are particularly in demand.
What kind of work is involved?
You will be expected to work 25-35 hours per week (different countries have different restrictions), plus a couple of nights babysitting (which you should get paid extra for). The focus of the work is the children, so you will be expected to get the children ready for school or nursery in the morning, possibly take them to school or nursery, prepare food for the children, pick up from school and take them to any after-school activities, help with homework and bathtime, and put the children to bed. You should also be prepared to do the children’s laundry and ironing if asked to. Any housework duties have to be ’light’ - ie not involving anything potentially dangerous, labour intensive or requiring special skills. Emptying the dishwasher is fine, scrubbing wooden floors or cleaning windows is not.
How old are au pairs?
Au pairs are normally aged between 17 and 27. It is an ideal activity for students or those between college and university as you can au pair for anything up to 12 months with one family. Summer au pair placements are popular and can easily be arranged with au pair agencies. As such au pair jobs are ideal for gap year students as a summer holiday job.
Do I need to be able to drive?
Not necessarily. Some placements will require it and others will not. Cars are not always readily available to au pairs, as insurance costs can be prohibitive.
Do I need to have childcare or nannying qualifications?
No. Some experience with children is usually preferred, but that could be regular babysitting with a good reference. What is important is having a genuine interest in the wellbeing of children, having lots of common sense and patience, plus a commitment to experiencing life in a foreign country living with a family. You won’t be expected to be a childcare professional or a nanny, as those cost much more money!
How do I become an au pair?
Firstly you should find a good agency, preferably one which is a member of a trade organisation such as the British Au Pairs Agencies Association. Registered agencies will be well established businesses, who follow guidelines and recommendations and are held accountable for your wellbeing while you are away. Going to live and work in another country is a big deal, and you want to have the security of knowing that the agency that found the placement for you is going to be there if you need them. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned and you don’t like the family or the family have unrealistic expectations, so you need to know that you can go to another family in the same country or get home safely. A good agency will make sure that you are a good fit for the family, and vice versa. They will also make sure the appropriate paperwork is in place, and both parties have a good understanding of how the placement will work and what is expected of them.
Who can be an au pair?
If you are from a European Economic Area (EEA) country, travelling to another EEA country as an au pair is straightforward and requires no special visa or work permit. If you are from Australia, New Zealand, Canada or Japan you may be able to work in EEA countries as an au pair under the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme or a working holiday visa.
So now you know! Find organisations who can help you become an au pair in our Au Pair section on Gapwork.com.