Have you always been dreaming about traveling the world but your financial situation is currently “I don’t wanna talk about it…”? Are you a student who wants to take a gap year? Are you 18-27 years old and love kids? Then being an Au Pair is definitely an option for you! I’m spending my second year as an Au Pair right now in the U.S. therefore all the information written below is accurate only in the States and it can vary in other countries.
What is an Au Pair?
“Au Pair” is a french phrase meaning “at the par” or “at the peer” (level). An au pair is usually a young adult who helps with child care in exchange for room and board. There are several advantages of being an au pair. You can travel around in your free time, get to know a different culture and learn a new language or improve your knowledge. I will write another post on pros and cons of being an au pair, but this one is specifically about how to become one.
The first step- Find an agency!
One of the most important factors of the process of becoming an Au Pair is finding the right agency. Don’t even try to do it without an agency, that is NOT LEGAL and also dangerous. In case you don’t get along with a family, you don’t want to be put on the street with no support.
You must heard of the biggest agencies, but be careful! Some of them are just taking your money and don’t give any extra service. I’ve heard from my friends that they paid more than $500 for the application, others hundreds for training school and more and more for health insurance. This is totally unnecessary. I was very lucky, because even without knowing it (I didn’t do my research beforehand, but you should!) I chose an agency that didn’t charge a fortune for the program. I paid some money for the agency as an application fee which was less then the listed amounts above, my flight ticket was bought by the host family and the basic health insurance is covered so I didn’t even pay for that. And instead of spending a week at training school-which can be a lot of fun, but expensive- they sent me a book in the mail and I had to pass some online tests.
When doing your research, you should ask about the fees you have to pay and also try to find out how big the agency is. Even though I didn’t spend all my pocket money on the application, I didn’t know that my agency was one of the smallest ones. I found out about it when I decided that I wanted to stay for another year, but with a different family. I wanted to stay in the same area and I started my research early, 4-5 months before the end of my first year. There was only 1 family available. I guess I was lucky again, because they actually wanted me 😀 but I could’ve just stayed without a family and in that case you have to leave the country. Or move far away. I advise you to do your research, ask current or former au pairs about their experience. You can also join au pair groups on Facebook. Girls (and boys!) are very helpful there.
In the U.S. the same rules apply for everyone with any agency. The minimum wage is $195.75 weekly but host families usually pay $200. All the au pairs get 1.5 days off a week and a full weekend off a month. Also, everyone gets 14 days paid vacation in a year and has to complete 6 educational credits. The host family has to pay $500 towards the au pair’s education.
After deciding on your agency, you will have to fill out a lot of forms for the application. You have to prove your child care experience with all the hours and your reference person’s signature. You need to have at least 200 hours of experience and family members (little sisters, brothers, cousins) don’t count. You will have to take a visit to your doctor’s office and get a signed form with all the vaccines you’ve recieved. At some agencies you have to make an application video of yourself that host families can view.
Decide on your destination
The next question is, where do you imagine yourself? What country, culture, area is interesting to you? What kind of activities do you want to do while being an au pair? If you want to connect to other au pairs, volunteer, go to a big university or college, party, use the subway, then you should definitely find a big city or its suburbs. Most host families live in the suburbs anyway, but 30min-1 hour away from the city is perfectly fine here. Some people travel hours every day to work. They will either provide you a car you can use in your free time or you can take the bus or the train to get to the city.
If you like hiking, quiet, nature or the beach, find your ideal destination according to these plans. The most wanted areas by au pairs are usually New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the state of Florida. But you can find au pairs almost everyewhere.
Find the perfect host family
This is the most difficult step of all. Again, you have to define what you are looking for in a family. The family you get matched with also depends on your previous experience. You can’t work with babies if you only have worked with older kids. You can write a list of your expectations. Weekends off, be close to a big city, only 1 kid, more kids, different religion than yours, same religion, young parents, older parents, dogs, cats, be close to colleges, close to the beach, free during the day (if the kids go to school you work in the mornings and evenings). Ask for their ideal schedule for the au pair. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t match with them or try to ask them about changing it a little. Don’t match with a family just because you want to fly as soon as possible. You’ll have a very difficult year if things are not the way you expected them. Do your research and yes, sometimes it takes months to find the perfect match. Take your time, interview with a lot of families and be honest about your expectations. Ask them if you can talk to the kids, most of the times you will see how they act with you and if they listen to their parents.
After you get a match
Congratulations! You found the perfect host family at the perfect location! The next step is to schedule an interview at the American embassy in your country. Depending on how many applications there are, you will have to wait about a month to get an appointment. After your interview it usually takes 2-3 weeks to recieve your visa. Then your agency will send you the details of your fligh ticket and the next thing you know is you are on a plane, starting a difficult but amazing journey!
If you have any additional information you think could be useful, have some more questions or suggestions what the next post should be about, please leave a comment!