Things to Consider Before Choosing Your Au Pair Life:
I kind of made my decision to become an au pair on a whim–which paid off, because I love it! I went in blindly and hoped for the best . There are however, some things I definitely wish I knew beforehand. While there are a number of little things to consider before becoming an au pair, these are some of the big things that I think have a major effect on my life abroad.
This is an obvious one, but all countries have different regulations for au pairs. Something I definitely recommend is checking out the contract for each country you’re considering. You can do that at: www.aupairworld.com
For example, in Austria you work a MAXIMUM of 18 hours a week as an au pair for a “salary” of about 425 euros a month (in addition to room and board). However, in Germany the salary is 260 euros a month for a maximum of 30 hours a week! Huge difference. France, Spain, and London will all offer something different, so do as much research as you can into the host country’s specifications for au pairs.
I had originally wanted to work in Spain because I wanted to improve my Spanish and I had studied abroad there at University. When an opportunity came up for Vienna, Austria, I didn’t know much about it but I was open to it. Now that I know Vienna was voted “the most livable city in the world,” I know why! I had never really had any desire before to learn German, but now that I know how hard it is to learn, I will consider it a great accomplishment! (I’m still getting there). So, be open to the marvels of different countries you may not had considered.
2) Number of Kids in the Host Family:
This might seem obvious as well, but be aware that in most if not all countries, you get paid the same amount for watching one kid as for watching three kids, and it can be a HUGE difference. The first host family I worked for had three kids, ages 1, 3, and 5, and they were all very energetic and had to be entertained in different ways, so it was a handful. For example, the 5-year old might want to play a board game that is too complex which frustrates the three year old, all while the 1 year old is trying to climb on every high surface she can find!
The family I work for now has one baby and comparatively, it’s a walk in the park. I feed her and play with her, take her in the stroller around the city, and put her down for a nap a couple times a day. Overall, it’s a piece of cake compared to the first family. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into when you agree to a family!
3) Location, location, location
Oh man, I had no idea how much this mattered when I signed up! I think when I first signed up I put that I would be willing to live “in a city, a suburb, or the country,” because I wanted to be flexible– I grew up in the suburbs, but I love how much there is to do in the city, and I also love a peaceful nature environment like the country.
Now, there is nothing I would recommend more than choosing city, city, city! Hear me out. When you move to another country, it can be very difficult– you’re away from your family and friends and you’re basically starting your life all over from scratch. This is definitely harder when you’re not living with all the resources of a city. The friends I know who live outside of Vienna often don’t get to go into the city until weekends (and that’s for those that actually have off on weekends), and some can’t stay out late (sometimes even past 8:00 p.m!) because of train/bus schedules.
The first host family I stayed with said they lived “a 15 minute metro ride from the city,” which in reality was a 15-minute walk to the metro, and then about a 25-minute metro ride to the city center. So if I was to meet a friend in the city, I would generally have to leave almost an hour before were to meet, which was the same as if I was living back home in the Delaware suburbs and was to meet someone to go out in Philadelphia.
Now I live in the very city center, which is unbelievably lucky and a lot of au pairs aren’t afforded that privilege, but I definitely appreciate it and recognize how important it is to me. I’m close to the metro and am at a generally good spot for meeting friends, so I get to see my friends almost every day.
As I said, living abroad is hard. It’s nice to be in the city to be able to get away from the host family and experience your own life and exploration travels. It’s easier to join clubs, take classes, meet friends, and overall just to make time for all the things you want to do! If that’s not your style, if maybe you’re more of an introvert and you want your alone time, then by all means consider the country/suburban lifestyle–just be aware of what limitations it could come with.
My first host family had basically said that we could figure out hours once I got there, since the mom didn’t work. I had thought this was good that they were so laid back, and I didn’t realize that this was in fact not what I wanted at all. The “no schedule” thing basically meant I was “on call” at all times. It made it impossible to sign up for classes or plan anything out because I wasn’t sure when I would be needed. Fellow au pairs would ask me if I was free the next day to hang out and I would never know. In one scenario, my host mom had told me I could “most likely” be off the following day, which was a Sunday, so I went to the movies with a friend, only to have the host mom text me continually throughout the movie asking me to come home.
My current host family also doesn’t really have a schedule and they are pretty spontaneous. I absolutely love this family so we make it work, but to other au pairs I definitely recommend a schedule. A lot of my friends will have a set schedule where they pick the kids up from school and have them until dinner time when the parents get back from work Monday through Friday. This way, the au pair can plan for language classes in the morning, or an extra job/volunteer position, visits to the gym, etc. It’s much easier with a schedule to begin to build your life and routine and make your new country feel like a home.
5) Living Arrangements
This was also something I had not realized was so important to me in the beginning. Some people become au pairs straight out of high school, and they are just excited to not be living with their parents. I, on the other hand, had left home at 18 and attended college, so I was used to my privacy. Something you should look into before choosing a family is what your living accommodations will be like. Will you have your own room? Let’s hope so. Will you have your own bathroom? Definitely a plus. Will you have your own apartment? Very lucky!
One au pair I know shares a bathroom with the four kids. The bathroom has no lock on it and she says while she’s in the shower the kids will bang on the door asking her to come out and play. This au pair happens to be a rock star so she really doesn’t mind! I, on the other hand, would not like my showers interrupted.
Another au pair friend of mine has to share the bathroom with two parents and two kids, which means she is (according to the host-parents) not allowed to shower at night because that’s when the family takes their showers. Another au pair friend of mine has her own room and bathroom in the basement but shares the kitchen with her host family on the first floor. The child she watches is very attached to her so her host mom asks that she spend her days off outside of the house. If she goes upstairs for food, the child yells for her and cries when she leaves. Since she doesn’t have her own kitchen, she generally has to go out into the city to get food. You will be spending a lot of time in the house and it can be tricky living in the same place as your employer so these are all things to consider!
As I said, these are just the major things to consider. You should also look at things like your host country’s visa requirements. This can be a very arduous process, especially for Americans! Additionally, ask about pets at your host family’s house. As a dog lover, I miss having a dog around, but having pets can also mean early mornings if the au pair is required to walk the dog.
I would also recommend checking out Facebook groups to see how many au pairs are in the area. You can get advice from au pairs currently there, and make some new friends! For example, I am part of the groups “Vienna Au Pairs” as well as “Au Pairs in Austria” which is how I met most of my friends here. They gave me some insight into their lives and are always down to hang out!
Know of something else that should be on this list or have something to say? Leave a comment below!
<– Pin me for later!
P.S If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe so I can bless your email inbox with my next new post ? 😉