Becoming an Au Pair

I became an au pair (essentially a live-in nanny) for a year in the Netherlands when I was 18 and it definitely gave me a serious case of wanderlust. I was living in Europe, a mere bike ride away from Amsterdam, and I was completely independent. It sounds great, but it can be hard work as well (after all, it’s still a job).

Interested in the world of au pairing but don’t know if it’s right for you? I’ve got some tips and advice for you.

1. Know what you want to get out of being an au pair

People become au pairs for many different reasons. I wanted to travel to Europe instead of going to university but didn’t quite have the funds at 18 to pull it off. Other au pairs I met had different reasons: wanted to experience a different culture, learn a new language, liked looking after kids, wanted to have a home base in a city that let them easily travel to other countries, to find love (it sounds silly, but there were a couple au pairs I knew that genuinely wanted to find a boyfriend or husband!). What ever your reason is, use it to figure out what city or country you’d like to au pair in or what sort of living arrangement you’d like to have. Want to go somewhere where everyone already knows English? England, Ireland, or Scotland might work for you. Want to learn another language? Go to France to learn French (and drink wine) or Spain to learn Spanish (and drink wine). And if you really have no idea where to go? Why don’t you try finding the perfect family to au pair for and let the location choose you. Knowing how long you want to work for and how much vacation time you’d like to have will also help.

The Netherlands is a great place to au pair if you like biking, learning a new language, and potatoes

The Netherlands is a great place to au pair if you like biking, learning a new language, and potatoes

2. Finding a family to au pair for is a lot like online dating

I wasn’t quite sure where to start when I decided I was ready to au pair for a family, so I turned to the internet. It turns out a lot of other people do too, because there are many websites dedicated to matching potential au pairs to families. I used AuPairWorld which I would highly recommend. Similar to online dating, you make a profile for yourself. It’ll include your bio, some pictures, any relevant experience you have, and your interests. Families create their own profile with information on what city they live in, the number of kids in their family and their ages, and what they’re looking for in an au pair. And just like online dating, you can look at each others profiles and send each other a message if you’re interested. Naturally, you’re not going to click with every family, so it’s best to talk to as many as possible before narrowing down your search.

3. Be safe, know your rights, and don’t rush into anything

So you’ve narrowed down your search to one family. They live in a place you’d love to travel to, their family dynamic agrees with you, and best of all, they’d love for you to be their au pair. Hold up – how well do you know this family? Have you Skyped with them or at least spoken to them on the phone? Do they have references, specifically former au pairs that you’re able to contact? Just because a family sounds great on paper, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework. Be suspicious of any family that doesn’t ask you for any references. After all, you’re going to be taking care of their kids and (likely) living with them in their home. And wherever the family you’re interested in lives, take a look at the local au pair or caregiver laws, especially in regards to job description, pay, and any travel or work visas you might need. And if something doesn’t feel quite right with a family, keep looking for one that’s perfect for you.

4. Learn some skills before you go 

Many au pair jobs require the au pair to also tidy the house and cook meals for the family, so it’s probably a good idea to learn how to cook and clean before you go. Never looked after kids before? Find some family members or friends that have kids and spend some time caring for them. Looking after kids can be fun and rewarding, but it’s incredibly hard work – you’ll likely want to become certified in first aid because accidents can and will happen. And all the laundry you have lying on your bedroom floor at home likely isn’t going to fly when you’re an au pair. Learn to become more organized and how to clean efficiently. Lastly, cooking can seem pretty daunting, especially if it’s for a large family that isn’t your own. Youtube is a great resource to learn cooking and food handling techniques and you can always practice cooking for your friends and family – everyone likes a home cooked meal!

It's nice to have other au pairs to drink in parks with!

It’s nice to have other au pairs to drink in parks with!

5. Join a network of other au pairs so you can share your questions, fears, and stories

When I first started au pairing, I was really worried I wasn’t going to make friends who were in the same boat. Facebook soon proved me wrong when I realized there’s a huge community of au pairs online. It’s often as easy as searching “[the city you’re in] au pairs”. I made a lot of close friends through au pair Facebook groups and there were always people interested in travelling, going on excursions together, or even grabbing drinks or a coffee. As close as you become to the family you’re living with, they’re still technically your employers. Having a network of people who are doing the same job can be very comforting (plus they’ll all have as many entertaining stories as you will).

Have you ever worked as an au pair or had an interest in it? Let me know in the comments!

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Categories: Will Work For Travel

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