An au pair job in Europe can turn just about anyone into a modern day Maria. In a week, my 23-year-old lifestyle transitioned from backpacking, bootstrapping, and occasional showering to professional level hair braiding and puppet show production.
Let’s start from the very beginning.
My savings account had dwindled down to $1,000 after 9 months of independent travel, but I still had big plans for Europe. I learned that a friend of a friend was working as au pair and living in Madrid (for free!). “Madrid? Free? So… what is an au pair?” I asked her. I had done some laughable jobs for far less than free accommodation, so I was dying to know how she had landed herself in a downtown apartment.
For babysitting and the occasional English lesson, she had spent a summer in Madrid for [almost] free. I was broke, intrigued, and totally in.
A month before I intended to go, I found a family near Madrid with 4 little girls. In exchange for childcare and my charming American accent, I braced myself for a summer of roller blading, friendship bracelet making, and hours by the pool. Well, at least that was part of the deal.
What is an au pair?
An au pair is a young person who lives in a foreign country with a host family in exchange for childcare and child related housework. The work differs from that of a nanny as an au pair gets room, board, a [very small] stipend, and the cultural exchange rather than getting paid. Sure, au pairs benefit from the low cost of living, but they are also expected to act as part of the family. This means shared meals, excursions, and everything – good and bad – that comes along with being part of someone else’s family. The family benefits from inexpensive child care, the opportunity to improve their foreign language skills, and experience with a new culture.
Things to consider before getting an au pair job in Europe
Much like teaching English, many first time au pairs go into it expecting a low commitment job and a free place to sleep. That’s absolutely untrue. Only become an au pair if you really LOVE children and want to learn a culture. While some au pair jobs are laid back and have you living smack in the middle of an expensive city, it’s very likely that you’ll be spending tons of down time in the suburbs with a family. You’ll give up control of your life, in many ways, in favor of the experience. Before picking an au pair job, here are a few things to consider:
- Family: Do you prefer working with teenagers or younger children? Are you more comfortable living with a large or small family? What is the English proficiency of the family? Does the family seem like people you’d be comfortable living with long term?
- Location: Do you prefer urban or rural? Will it be easy for you to come and go? Is this a place you can imagine living long term? Is the home comfortable and will you have enough privacy?
- Money: Europe can be expensive! Do you have enough money saved that you can afford work exchange rather than getting paid? What is the cost of accommodation in the host country if you weren’t living with a family? Note: Working as an au pair in Europe, you can expect to make a stipend of between €50-€150.
- Workload: What are your the daily workload expectations? Will you be able to leave on evenings and weekends? Do you have the necessary skills that they’re looking for?
Before committing to an au pair job in Europe, be sure to ask lots of good questions to make sure the family is a good fit. There are plenty of families seeking an au pair, so it’s always worth waiting for the right one! You will be living with them, after all.
Au pair job resources
I’m normally an advocate for winging it, but I would recommend finding a host family in advance if you’re looking to au pair. While some sites serve as matching resources, others provide more comprehensive services like visas and in-country support. A few au pair job resources I’d consider are:
How to find an au pair job in Europe
I used AuPairWorld to find my au pair job in Spain. Rather than a full service agency, AuPairWorld serves as a directory that matches host families with au pairs. Here’s the gist of how it works:
- Create a Profile: Finding a host family is weirdly similar to online dating. You’ll need to create a profile that really highlights your personality to get good results! Choose bright, clear photos and photos with kids if you have them. Spend some time writing a compelling “About Me” section and be thorough as you answer questions about your lifestyle, childcare experience, etc. You’re going to be living with the host family, so the better that you can represent your personality, the better the arrangement will work out for both parties.
- Search for Families: Using the search function on AuPairWorld, you can select by region, country, and duration of stay. Your search results will be customized based on your gender, nationality, and other defining personal details. Once you find a family you’re interested in, you can send them your application for free.
- Get Found: There are also plenty of families actively seeking out an au pair. By building out a complete profile, you improve your chances of getting discovered. To initiate a conversation, one party must have the paid membership (typically the host families). If you’re a native English speaker who can easily get a Schengen visa, finding a host family might be as simple as setting up a great profile.
- Build a Relationship: After you’ve communicated with the family a bit via message, set up a time to Skype. This step is essential, if you ask me! It will give you a better sense of their personalities, the energy of their home, and their commitment to the process. Ask good questions. This step also lets them better understand you so there are no surprises when you show up on their doorstep.
- References: I’d always recommend seeking and offering references before committing to an au pair job. Again, there’s nothing to be gained by getting a job with the wrong family. Make sure that everything is out in the open and verified so you can ensure it’s a good fit!
- Sign the Contract: The final benefit of using AuPairWorld is the on-site contract that enables you to iron out the formal details. By getting everything in writing, you reduces the chance of misunderstanding once you arrive.
Au Pair FAQs
What do au pairs do? Working as an au pair is pretty similar to babysitting. You’ll be expected to watch the children, play with them, teach them English, and possibly do some light child-related housework. For me, this meant a whole lot of pool time, crafts, reading aloud in English, and the occasional sing-along. Au pairs are meant to be treated like a member of the family rather than as an employee. Think of it like being a temporary big sibling!
What is being an au pair like? Au pair jobs can be seriously fun, but they’re not easy. If you love working with children and are interested in learning about culture through a homestay, there’s no better way to do it. You’ll experience local cuisine, family dynamics, and learn about the typical lifestyle through observation. You’ll also pick up the language and spend hours outside. The downside? As you’re treated like one of the children, the experience can be a bit like moving in with Mom. You sacrifice a fair bit of freedom in the interest of full immersion. You might get reprimanded for dirty dishes, tire of the diet, or have a 5 year old jumping on your bed after a night of clubbing, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it.
So is an au pair job worth it? Generally, I’d say yes, though it depends what you’re looking for. Being an au pair is an amazing way to experience local customs in a faraway place. If you haven’t done much independent travel, au pair jobs are one of the most comfortable and easy ways to get structure! That being said, if you’re just looking for a cheap way to travel, there are much easier ways to do it. As you’re spending most of your time with a family and getting paid pocket money, you won’t have as much freedom or earn as much money as you would doing just about anything else. Being an au pair is about full immersion. Go because you want that, and you’ll have an amazing experience.
How long is a normal au pair contract? Au pair contracts can be anywhere from 1-12 months depending on the situation. Summer au pair jobs (the most common) typically spans 1-3 months while a school year au pair will normally stay for between 9-12 months. I personally think >3 months is the best contract length.