Up until my early twenties all of my independent travel sprang from au pairing.
My first experience was in 2007 during the gap year between high school and university. It was the first time I travelled internationally and I did it alone at that. Touching down in Zurich I was hoping that the whole thing wasn’t a cruel joke and that indeed there would be a family at the gate to greet me. And there they were.
My second au pair experience was a four month contract in 2010 in northern Germany. Yet another positive experience.
Living overseas has had a fundamental impact on my personal growth and au pairing made it possible. I would absolutely recommend it to young adults looking to travel internationally. Among a wealth of learning, I no doubt attribute my present day domestication to the fact that I was preparing mid-day meals for a family of four at age 18.
When I graduated high school many girls in my community were arranging au pair gigs in Europe, which is how I became acquainted with the practice. Because the experience has been so integral, when I meet new people it doesn’t take very long for the subject to surface. I’m often confronted with a ton of inquiry so I figured it’s about time to document it, share insider information and inspire someone else.
What is Au Pairing?
Definition | A foreign national working domestically for a family with a child-care orientation. In Canada, au pairing does not really exist in the same format that it does in the rest of the world. Each European nation has regulations that stipulate conditions such as pay maximums, health insurance, language requirements and working conditions.
Title Origin | The term au pair translates from French to “on par” or “equal to.” This indicates that the relationship between employer (parents) and employee (au pair) is to be one of equal standing. The au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary one.
Responsibilities | According to Aupair World, an au pair takes care of children and assists with light housework (vacuuming, dusting, setting the table, emptying the dishwasher) and occasional babysitting. Under national regulation, au pairs are not required to work in excess of 30 hours per week. This can technically be spread over 6 days of a week with Sunday as a mandatory day off, but I haven’t personally experienced this. Also, au pairs are to receive 2 days a month of paid holiday.
What it Shouldn’t Be | A nanny, a babysitter, a house cleaner, family cook, an au-parent (the au pair should not be a replacement parent!). While duties certainly draw on these roles, they should not explicitly represent your job description. Point of clarification: nannies typically work more hours and are paid reflectively.
Why Au Pair?
There are many reasons to au pair but here are some of my own:
- Travel for an extended amount of time and for relatively very little money
- Live “locally.” Experience a destination in more depth than you ever could have as a tourist.
- Live somewhere new/different/more exotic
- Learn a new language
- Experience a new culture
- Interest in children or child care
- Use it as a stepping stone into further travels
Au Pair Salary + Benefits
I am yet to meet an au pair who has come home with much in savings. Before you tell me otherwise, is that person really defined as an au pair? (As set out in previous text). This is not to say that there aren’t destinations that pay better than others. Two of note are New Jersey and Lake Garda, Italy. Otherwise, national regulations set maximums on au pair salaries, which families are all too happy to oblige. Any savings are quickly depleted by higher living costs of the host country and your touristy endeavours in the new and exciting destination.
So, what’s a typical monthly salary?*
Switzerland: 650-780 CHF
Germany: 260 Euro
USA: $780 USD
Denmark: 3000 DKK
*According to aupair-world.net/pocketmoney
Additionally, there are non-monetary benefits to be provided by the family. Depending on the length of your contract, families may partially or fully compensate you for the following:
Accommodation | You should receive a private room with a locking door and window. Consider yourself lucky if you have access to wireless internet and/or a private bathroom.
Food |An au pair is considered a family member which means you are welcome to eat the family’s groceries. Do you have special dietary considerations -are you a vegan, raw foodie or Celiac? Best to raise such a concern before accepting a contract.
Language classes | Most countries stipulate that the au pair studies one of the national languages. When I was in Switzerland the family paid for a two week intensive German course and for one subsequent term (two classes per week for eight weeks) before they expressed that any additional language studies would be at my expense.
Health insurance | Typically government regulation requires the family purchase health insurance for the au pair. In Switzerland this cost was deducted from my net monthly salary though in Germany it was absorbed by my employer.
Flight | If you commit to a one year contract you should be compensated for 50% of your round trip flight. In Germany my contract was just 4 months so I asked that the family covered 1/4 of my flight expense.
Holidays with the family
Activities with the family (example: meals while dining out, ski lift if skiing with the family, entrance fees, etc).
Transportation | This could be a discount card for train and bus travel (especially if you have to travel to a larger town for language classes or grocery shopping). My family in Germany bought me a bike -yay!
Perks | Wine and beer in the evenings!