Working as an Au Pair
Article reviewed: 2013/01/20 | Next review due: 2014/08/08
Getting a job as an Au Pair is and ideal way to improve your English skills, and also to learn first hand about a new culture. A job more frequently taken on by women rather than men, a job as an au pair is above all an exchange between the host family and you; taking care of the family’s children in exchange for room, board and a small salary. It is advised to have prior experience in childcare, and to have at least studied English in school.
How it works
Normally, an au pair lives with the family in their own room. Au pairs should not work more than 25 hours per week, if your status changes and becomes that of a ‘mother's help’ your hours may be longer.
The host family should also leave you free time for you to do your own things.
You are entitled to two free days per week and one of these days must be on a Sunday. You should also expect to do baby-sit during the week.
On the whole, the main reasons for coming to London are to improve your English and gain experience abroad, and being an au pair is an ideal way to immerse yourself in English culture. In your spare time, an au pair is free to do what they want, learning English, studying or just enjoying London!
Au pairs are not professional child carers, and should not be responsible for children under 2 years old. Your priority is to take care of children, taking them to school or nursery, preparing meals, playtime, etc. You may also have a few minor chores to do.
Ideally, the au pair is a non-smoker, you will never find host families if you smoke. If you do smoke, don’t mention it and learn discretion.
If you are between 18-27 years old, your duration of stay may not exceed two years. In general, an au pair contract varies from 6 months to two years. As an EU citizen, you do not need any visas, work contracts or social security numbers.
Be well prepared before leaving for an au pair job. Use an approved agency to ensure you a matched with a good family who will not take advantage of you. Expect to pay around 300 euros to join an agency au pair who wil in return you find a host family, take care of the administration side of things, and follow-up on your stay. In case of problems or disagreements with the family, the agency will be able to help finding a solution for both parties. Also note that travel to the host country is your responsibility.
If you fall ill during your stay, you are entitled to be free treatment even if you do not pay payroll tax. You can see the doctor that your host family sees. Alternatively, if you have a serious illness, your insurance should provide for your repatriation.
In the family home
Agree with the host family the expected number of hours per week, which days off you will have, and how much ‘pocket money’ you will received (usually between £40-60 per week). Obviously, if the family requires additional babysitting or household chores, you can always negotiate an increase in the extra cash you receive. The host family may also pay for part of your trip or language course, but you should negotiate this with your host family before you leave.
You will hear many stories about au pair situations that have turned out badly, for example, cases where the host family makes the au pair do all the cleaning, or if the children are unbearable, etc.
Julie, now 30, recalls her first week as an au pair in Buxted, East Sussex: "When the family came to fetch me the airport, I immediately felt there was something amiss. The parents were very nice but the children were very unruly. I moved in and started taking care of two boys of 5 and 8 years old. The older boy was insulting, rude and violent. I knew that this wasn’t normal and discovered that the child was autistic. I spoke with the parents and called my agency. Two days later, I was placed with another family. "
It is very important to remember the rules of being an au pair, you are not an expert in childcare and should under no circumstances be caring for children that require special care. If you go through an agency, you will be contacted a few days after your arrival to make sure everything is OK, and they should remain in regular contact with you. The agency will do the same with your host family. Some agencies even make unannounced visits to families. If the placement doesn’t pan out, they should find you another family quickly.
Being a ‘mother’s help’ is only available to EU nationals, with the role allowing 35hours per week of work for about £60-75 a week. To do this, register with the Home Office with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate IND (UK home office).
The International Au Pair Association is an organization of nearly 160 au pair agencies worldwide. This association has established a strict quality charter with respect to both the host families and the au pair. Since 1994, the association has worked internationally to protect the rights of au pairs and host families. The iapa has developed guidelines for international exchange programs.
You can find an approved agency on IAPA
Some sites to learn more
Other site to visit include: aupair-world.net and buzybeeaupairs.com (a member of the British Au Pair Agencies Association's) are both good websites and are accredited with the IAPA. Both bring together families and au pairs while offering an effective monitoring system.
- Iapa: International au pair association