How To Become an Au Pair and Live Abroad for Free

how_to_become_au_pair Over 5 years ago, I moved abroad to Spain. I had graduated from college a few months before and was waitressing for the summer while half-heartedly job-hunting, and figuring out the next steps. Pursuing a career made me feel trapped. I was NOT ready to sign my life away! What really lit me up inside was finding a way to get back to Europe. I had studied abroad in Greece the summer before and was trying to find any way I could to get back there, or really anywhere on the continent. I looked at jobs that needed native English speakers, Master’s programs, Fulbright grants, you name it. A lot of the programs I was researching were on an academic-year basis, and I had found out about them too late and missed the deadline. Not wanting to stick around another year, I looked for a quicker way to get to Europe. Fall was fast approaching and wanderlust had me stir-crazy and impatient.

Finding My Way to Europe

A friend of a friend had just gotten back from a stint in Switzerland as an au pair. I got in contact with her to pick her brain a little, and I was intrigued. Since au pairs are not all that common in the USA, it was a bit of a foreign concept for me, but she made it sound like an easy way to live in Europe without worrying about living expenses.

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What is an Au Pair?

As an au pair, you typically live with a family for a set amount of time (ranging usually from a summer to an academic year) and speak exclusively in your native language to their children, so that they’re immersed in it in their home. You work usually 5-7 hours per day (usually weekends are off) and babysit once or twice per week, but this varies depending on the needs of the family. In exchange, your host family provides you with food, accommodation, sometimes a car, and pocket-money to cover additional expenses.

The Pros & Cons of Being an Au Pair

The Pros: Room+board is FREE(!), you have free hours to pursue language study or do as you please, you get to live with a local family and be immersed in the culture, weekends and holidays off to travel (if you’re not a summer au pair), building relationships with your host family, opportunities to meet new people.

The Cons: Depending on your host family, your experience can be either a positive or a negative one. It’s difficult to live with another family that is not your own and adjust to new rules and cultural differences. I’ve heard plenty of au pair horror stories of the families not respecting the work schedule, or asking the au pair to do cooking or cleaning when that wasn’t agreed upon beforehand, and of nightmare children and inconsiderate parents.

How To Avoid Conflicts

It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll have an issue at one point or another with your family. After all, you’re not only living with people whom you’ve recently met, you’re also expected to follow a new set of rules (which is hard when you’re an independent adult!) It’s never a bad idea to draw up a contract between you and your host family so that expectations are crystal clear, and you can refer back to it if need be.

Also, remember that you’re in their home and to be respectful at all times. This mean do your job well, keep your living quarters tidy, be thoughtful and considerate. Think of this as an opportunity to be an ambassador of your country. This could very well be the first time your host family has met (much less lived!) with someone from your country. Share your traditions with them and make a great impression! They should benefit from the experience just as much as you.

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My Experience as an Au Pair in Spain

I found my au pair job via greataupair.com. It’s free for job seekers while the families pay a fee to be able to contact potential au pairs. I was in contact with the family for a month or two; I Skyped with them a few times, and talked to them via e-mail to get a good feel of who they are. They seemed like a nice family and the job sounded pretty easy: I would be taking care of an 8-year-old boy. They were very forthcoming with information about their previous au pairs (I was to be their fourth) which made me feel more at ease because they had done this whole au pair thing before. I was given the contact information of their most recent au pair and sent off an email to get her impressions of living and working with this family.

The email I received back was a glowing account of the family, job and city, so after that, I felt ready to accept their offer. A few weeks later, I was on a plane to Spain to spend the next 8 months in Algeciras, a city I had never heard of until then.

If you’re curious about what a typical day in the life of an au pair is, well, my schedule was the following: I worked an hour in the morning and for about 4-5 hours in the afternoon. I’d wake up around 7:30 and have breakfast with the boy, help him get ready for school and meet his aunt, who would drive him to school. Then, I’d get ready and go to Spanish class from 9am-11am with a couple of other au pairs, whom I had made friends with. After class, we’d usually go to a café to chat before returning home for lunch, which in Spain is around 3pm. After lunch, I’d usually Skype with family back home, or study until I had to take the boy to his afternoon activities (swimming, tennis, etc.) We’d return home around 7, and then I’d help him with his homework until dinnertime at 9pm. After dinner, he’d watch cartoons for a bit, then I’d read to him and he’d go to bed around 10:30. Then, I’d usually go out with friends to a language exchange in the bar below the family’s apartment. On Fridays, I’d babysit him until about 1:30am (we’d always have a pizza party+movie night!) and then I’d go out with friends. Saturdays and Sundays were always reserved for traveling and being with the group of people I’d met in the city.

While my experience was largely a positive one (to this day I still have a great relationship with my host family and we stay in touch) my biggest regret was not researching the city where I’d be living better. I was so excited to go to Spain, that I was happy to go anywhere. I had never been to Spain before moving there, and I knew very little about the country, and even less about Algeciras! Even though I met some amazing people during my time in Algeciras, it was not the romantic, beautiful Spain that I had dreamed of. So do your research!

How to Become an Au Pair and Find a Job

1) First ask yourself the following questions: Where do you want to live? How many kids would you be willing to take care of? Are you more comfortable with older kids or younger kids? What are you non-negotiables? Stick to what you want so you don’t end up disappointed.

2) Search online for compatible families and connect with them. While I tried Great Au Pair, and recommend it, there are lots of other websites and agencies: Au Pair World | Au Pair

3) Skype with potential families and ask LOTS of questions: job duties and expectations, pay, vacation, living situations, what the children are like, if you’ll be able to go to a language school, etc.

4) Ask to be put in touch with former au pairs and ask LOTS of questions. This can be a really important step in helping you figure it if this family is the right match for you. Don’t be afraid to ask the former au pairs the nitty-gritty.

 Interested in becoming an au pair? Leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Georgie says

    About how much money would you need to take with you? Or how did you earn money while over there? I recently had a 3 month holiday in Spain and fell in love with the country. I’d love to go back, but I’d need to make money while over there.

    • says

      Au Pair pay is low because your room+board is free. I was paid just 60 EUR/week in Andalucía, but the rate goes up in Madrid/Barcelona and Basque Country. Definitely bring savings so you can travel if you want to be an au pair. How much you need to bring depends on how long you plan to stay, and where you plan to live. As I’m sure you noticed during your 3-month holiday here, it’s fairly cheap to go out to eat in Spain, but you’ll also need to factor in things like transportation, nights out, day trips, personal items, etc.

    • says

      Hi Camille!

      Yes, there is definitely a high demand in Europe for au pairs, in some countries more than others. I initially tried to find an au pair job in Greece, but couldn’t find many opportunities, however, that was 5 years ago. Spain, France, Germany always seem to have a lot of positions. Best of luck!

  2. says

    This is great insight! It’s funny how similar our situations our. I studied abroad in Italy for a semester, and since I had taken French it was really my dream to spend more time in France after graduation (I still have no idea what type of career I want, but wanted time off to travel etc before tying myself down!). Being an au pair is an easy route to get a job here – I did the same research as you did trying to figure out how to make it happen. I am an au pair right now in Caen (also a city I never heard of), and got my au pair job through the same website. For me it’s been an almost perfectly positive experience, although I do agree living in another family’s home has sort of stripped me of my independence a bit and personal space (sometimes I feel like I’ve reverted to a younger me before I learned to live completely independently). I would add that for me, I had the goal of becoming fluent in French. Because I have to speak so much english with my family, I have been missing out on advancing my French quicker, which is sort of a bummer.

    How did you decide to stay in Spain longer? I’ve thought of staying longer here in europe, but it’s not the easiest to get a job!! Were you able to meet more local friends? I have a few American and Australian friends but they are just studying abroad and will be leaving in the next few months.

    Nice to meet you!
    Hannah recently posted…lion-sur-merMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Hannah!

      I stayed in Spain because those 8 months weren’t enough, and I wasn’t ready to make a permanent move back. The first few years, it was difficult meeting local friends, but the longer you stay, and the better you get at speaking the local language, the easier it gets. I’d recommend seeking out a language exchange so you can work on your French and meet new people. I know it’s hard to make friends, only to see them leave a few months later. Keep enjoying France!

  3. says

    Such good information here!! I had originally thought about becoming an aupair before becoming an English teacher and would have loved to find a resource like this! I have a few friends that have done the aupair thing with mixed experiences. Yours sounds like widely a good one! Some of my friends were on calls on the weekends and never really knew when their time off would be. But then again that was in places like Paris and Munich, not our beloved laid back Spain 😀
    Lauren recently posted…Pena Palace- A Real Life Fairytale CastleMy Profile

    • says

      There was nothing when I came over except for the websites to find families! My experience was in general a good one. I’ve heard horror stories of au pairs in Spain too!

  4. Kristen Woods says

    Christine,
    Going the au pair route was my original plan to get a visa, but I found out you have to be under 30 (hello age discrimination) and I’m 34, plan B was to become a cultural ambassador but the program in Barcelona informed me that they don’t accept candidates over 30, either. So at this point I’m feeling pretty discouraged and old! I don’t have the cash to get a student visa or a non-lucrative visa. At this point I’m hoping for a parejo de hecho situation to magically present itself. Do you have any insight, suggestions, tips, or tricks? I will be staying with my brother in BCN and plan to make a living by teaching English. I apologize if you addressed this elsewhere in your blog.
    Gracias, Kristen

  5. says

    @KristenWoods,

    I’m also in Barcelona and think I might have a solution for you. I have been looking into getting the student visa myself. There are a ton of language schools in BCN that are expensive, but don’t seem to be that legit or prestigious and can still get you a visa. I realized that the Generalitat offers free Catalan classes and they are really intensive. I think it may be possible to go the route of taking these free classes and using that as a school. The second part is proving your income, based on where your embassy is, there may be different criteria, but my embassy is in DC and if you can get your parents to sign a notarized letter that they will be responsible for paying for you $1,000 a month, then you can also circumvent the whole having a lot of money aspect…I think…This is what I am hoping to do and I’m not sure yet about anything.

  6. Joanie says

    Can you tell me a little about the visa process and paperwork? Also, did you enroll in a Spanish class before leaving to be an au pair? What is the easiest route for that? Was it expensive? Thank you so much.

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