An au pair is a young adult who travels to a foreign country, lives with a family and, in return, cares for children and does light housework. The conditions of each arrangement vary, but typically the family offers free housing and an allowance as payment, sometimes they help pay for language courses as well.
Au pairs fill a different role than that of babysitters or nannies. In French, au pair translates to, “at par” or “equal to,” which means the au pair is expected to become a temporary member of the family, instead of simply being an employee. An au pair travels abroad to learn about the culture, to master the language and, sometimes, to study at a foreign university. Caring for the children and living in the host family’s home helps the au pair better understand the culture. The relationship is more symbiotic rather than a strict employer-employee connection.
Those interested in long-term travel and learning about a specific country might consider au paring a great opportunity. Prior experience working with children and some ability to speak in the foreign language is usually preferred by families, and depending on the country, there are some official restrictions and requirements too.
France, Germany and the U.S. each have a list of requirements issued by the government that must be met in order to obtain a visa for au pairing. Each of the countries has an age range, late teens to late twenties, and requires a commitment of several months. Some countries require advanced language ability, prior childcare experience or the completion of high school. Au pairs working in France are required to attend French classes to improve their speaking ability.
If you’re considering au pairing, be sure to do your research into reputable firms and create a professional profile with current contact information. It's best to list a private email address so the families can reach you and create a video chatting account for interviews.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites designed to link potential au pairs with host families. Some are specific to a particular country and some offer placement options in multiple countries, but be sure to choose a trustworthy website. A few of the best known websites (in no particular order) are Aupair.com, Aupairinamerica.com, Aupair-world.net and Aupaircare.com.
Be sure to carefully select both the firm and the family you’ll be staying with. If it doesn’t work out with your host family, the firm will be your best asset for fixing the issue.