How to become an au pair
Always wanted to live abroad for a bit and like working with children? Becoming an au pair could be the perfect opportunity for you.
Becoming an au pair can be a rewarding and life-changing experience. Not only do you get to immerse yourself in a new culture, but it's also a way to learn a new language, earn some money and gain more independence.
It's no surprise that becoming an au pair is a popular way to fill a gap year or summer holiday. But how do you find an au pair family? And how do you decide where to go?
We'll walk you through the steps on how to become an au pair and what to expect after deciding on a host family.
What's in this guide?
What is an au pair?
Typically, an au pair is a young adult (normally between 18 and 30 years old) who lives abroad with a host family.
Au pairs usually help families with childcare and some light housework, and in return, they get to stay there for free and usually earn some money too.
Generally, au pairs stay with their host family anywhere between three and 12 months – for this time, they're essentially a part of the family. As you can be an au pair for as little as three months, you could consider it as a summer job. However, a lot of au pairs stay for longer as part of a gap year.
Becoming an au pair isn't necessarily an easy way to live abroad. It is a real job, and it will require you to work around 30 hours per week. On top of that, you'll be responsible for looking after children, so it's not something to take lightly.
Make sure you consider all of this before deciding to become an au pair. It can be a wonderful and life-changing experience, but only if it aligns with your goals.
Benefits of becoming an au pair
Here are some of the main benefits of becoming an au pair:
- It looks great on your CV
- You can explore a new country and culture
- You get to work with children
- It will help you work on your self-confidence and independence
- Depending on where you go, you could learn a new language
- It's a cheap way to live abroad for a while.
What's the difference between a nanny and an au pair?
Even though nannies and au pairs have some similarities, there are some major differences.
While they both help out in a household, an au pair is typically a younger person from abroad who will live with the host family for up to one year. They receive some pocket money, which is often not more than a few hundred pounds per month (this varies per country).
Since au pairs have a different nationality from their host family, it's a great opportunity to exchange cultures and languages for both parties. They become a part of the family for the duration of their stay. But, because they lack professional training, au pairs may require some assistance getting settled into the role.
A nanny, on the other hand, receives a proper salary. They have professional experience when it comes to the tasks they take on, often working longer hours than au pairs.
Nannies are professionals, so they'll have a better understanding of what's expected. This is also true for local customs and education for the children. Nannies can work with a family for much longer than the one-year limit au pairs tend to have.
6 steps to become an au pair
Here's how to become an au pair abroad:
Choose your au pair destination
The best way to start your au pair journey is by deciding where you'd like to go. If you can narrow down the destinations, it'll be a lot easier to find an au pair programme and family that aligns with you.
Since you can become an au pair in a lot of different countries, it's important to think about what you want to get out of being an au pair.
Are there any countries you've always wanted to visit or live in? Is there a specific language you'd like to learn or would you rather stick to speaking English? Are there any visa requirements that will stop you from going to specific countries?
Answering these questions will help you narrow down your list and choose the best country for you. To help you get started, here are some popular au pair destinations:
Research au pair requirements
Once you've narrowed down your preferred destination(s), it's important to do some research on the specific requirements.
Different countries and programmes have different requirements when it comes to au pairs, but there are some general boxes you should tick off on most of them.
You generally need to be between 18 and 30 years old and have an interest in working with children. On top of that, you're usually required to have some basic knowledge of the official language in the host country (although that's not always essential).
Other requirements include having a valid passport and a visa (depending on where you'd like to go). And as most au pairs have to pay for their own travel expenses to the host country, make sure you start saving!
Sign up for an au pair programme
While it's possible to find a host family on your own, it's generally safer and easier to do it through an official programme. Especially since you'll be living with a family you don't know, we recommend going through a trusted website for safety.
These websites let you create an online profile and help you connect with potential host families. On top of that, they'll help you with the process and offer assistance once you get to your destination.
Most of these websites are free, but some offer a premium subscription for more features.
Best au pair websites
Interview with host families
After creating your profile and signing up for an au pair programme/website, it's time to start connecting with potential host families. Often, you can chat with them first and read through their profile before setting up a video interview.
Interviews with potential host families are crucial. Not only is it a chance for the host family to get to know you, but it's also a chance for you to figure out if they are the right fit for you.
You can each discuss your expectations, as well as daily routines and more personal information, such as hobbies, what they do for work and why they're looking for an au pair.
It's best to prepare some questions beforehand, such as:
- What tasks will I be responsible for?
- What are the parents' work schedules like?
- What do the children like to do in their free time?
- Have they had an au pair before?
If the family has used au pairs before, don't be afraid to ask for their details. You could reach out to them to ask how they experienced working for this family, to make sure it's the right choice for you.
You'll be living with this family for a while – and in a foreign country – so don't rush this process.
Make travel arrangements
If you find a host family that's the perfect fit, you can go ahead and sign the au pair agreement. After that, it's time to arrange transport and make arrangements to meet your au pair family.
Now you know exactly where you're going, check what travel documents you need. Allow enough time to get a visa, if necessary – also check whether your passport is still in date.
And don't forget to read our tips on how to get cheap flights to save some money.
If English isn't the official language of the country you're moving to as an au pair, spend some time learning the language. Even if your host family doesn't require you to speak their first language, it'll still help you adjust to your new surroundings better.
Enjoy your au pair experience
Becoming an au pair is an incredible experience that will stick with you for life. There are so many opportunities to grow and learn while living abroad with a host family, so make the most of it!
Once you arrive at your host family, take some time to learn their weekly schedule and your responsibilities.
Don't expect to learn everything on the first day. It takes time to get used to your new surroundings and the new people, but you'll get the hang of it. It's normal to feel a bit homesick! But things will get easier.
During your free time, you can explore your new surroundings. See if there are any activities you can join or other au pairs you can meet up with to make new friends. The possibilities are endless.
Not sure if au pair is the right job for you? Check out the best summer jobs for students.