So, last week I gave you the scoop on au pairing and now you’re interested in making it happen, but what’s next?
One of first things to think about is whether you want to do it with or without an agency.
If you Choose to Use an Agency to Become an Au Pair
- An agency screens and matches au pair candidates with families
- The agency provides support for visas and other logistics
- They help with re-placement or settling disputes if there are problems between the au pair and the family
Usually, signing up with an agency is free for an au pair, but the families have to pay quite a lot of money for the services.
Pay, working conditions and living arrangements are all more tightly regulated when an agency is involved, and an au pair has somewhere to turn if they feel that the family is not adhering to the conditions stated in the contract.
At the same time, agencies add a level of formality between the au pair and the host family that may interfere with the family member dynamic of au pair-ism.
Also, au pairs may lose some level of autonomy – you may feel pressure to accept an offer from a family who meets your formal requirements but who you just don’t “click” with.
Agencies usually have more stringent rules, and you may be required to submit paperwork, background checks, etc., which can get annoying and expensive.
At the same time, if you feel safer knowing that the family you will be working with has also had to meet such requirements, an agency may be the way to go.
FYI: Some countries, such as the USA, require au pairs to go through an approved agency in order to be eligible for a visa.
Becoming an Au Pair On Your Own
If you’d rather do your own thing, there are many internet sites that can be very useful in finding a family (we like Great Au Pair).
These sites usually have both au pairs and families make profiles for themselves. Then, you’ll search through listings that meet their criteria and make preliminary contact with each other, usually followed by phone interviews.
Sometimes either the family, or au pair, has to pay a membership fee to access contact details.
The most established and easy-to-use job listing site is Great Au Pair, which is widening its reach, offering more optional services such as background checks and becoming increasingly more like an agency.
Choosing a family
Choosing a family can be a difficult task, especially since it seems like when it comes to au pair job offers, (as with so many things in life) when it rains, it pours.
You may go months without offers, then get into serious talks with several families and ultimately be in the position of turning down a family you really like.
The three main things that come into play when choosing a family are location, personality and working conditions.
To figure out which potential job offers are better for you, it’s important to ask yourself, “why am I doing this?”
Is it to improve your language skills, make deep connections with people, really experience a culture, get a chance to travel, make money, live a lifestyle you couldn’t live at home, have an adventure or just have fun?
Being in a capital city, like Paris or London, does have its advantages.
Public transportation, tourists, nightlife, etc., are all part of city-life, so you’re less likely to get bored.
On the other hand, it’s important to remember that you will be expected to take part in family life, and you won’t necessarily have the freedom you’re used to.
But, choosing a smaller city or town often means you will be a subject of curiosity, for better or for worse.
Your language skills will most likely improve much more because you will have to speak it to get by on an everyday basis.
Most importantly, you will get a glimpse into a foreign culture that cannot be learned in any class.
Even the boredom or isolation you feel at one time or another may just lead you to new hobbies, or help you reach out to different types of people that you never would have imagined would be part of your life at home.
It goes without saying that the personality of the family and their kids should be compatible with yours.
Try looking for common interests and hobbies, or even things that may indicate a similar world view, such as religion or political persuasion.
That may certainly make those dinner table conversations more likely to flow and make life, overall, more enjoyable for you.
Deciding which working conditions are best is one of the most difficult parts of choosing a family.
Many au pairs are drawn to positions with families who have a summer home on a Greek island, a ski chalet in the Alps and a generally glamorous sounding life that they can afford to include you in.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that being with a rich family can come with a price.
- Is one family offering you more money, but no free time to enjoy it?
- Do you want to be included in family vacations (and have your way paid), or do you want the time to be able to explore and relax on your own?
- Is the family willing to be flexible and give you some weekends or holidays free so you can travel?
These are all important things to consider and figure out with the family before you make any commitments.
Is Becoming an Au Pair Right For You?
You certainly don’t have to be a natural Mary Poppins to be a good candidate for an au pair stint.
In fact, a lot of the people who choose to become au pairs are not the types who coo at baby clothes and read up on child psychology and parenting on their downtime.
They’re not even the types who are always telling everyone within earshot how much they just LOVE kids.
Au pairs are often travel bloggers, adventurers, wanderers, foreign language enthusiasts, etc.
You really just need to have an openness and curiosity towards other people and cultures, with the flexibility to adapt to new rules and lifestyles.
Of course you also have to be able to handle children, housework and other mundane chores that don’t seem to have much of a payoff.
There’s no doubt about it, being an au pair is hard work.
But if you think you have the patience and flexibility required to integrate into a foreign family’s life and become a temporary extra parent, the experience is well worth the effort.