These days it’s fairly easy to au pair anywhere you want in the world without paying an agency to set it all up for you. But then again, when it comes down to your visa an au pair organization is in some cases necessary as they are the ones who sponsor your visa. The USA is such an example.
Other examples: I, as an Austrian citizen, am not allowed to au pair legally in Canada or Australia. Why? Austria doesn’t have a bilateral agreement with those countries. I wouldn’t get the necessary Working Holiday Visa.
On the other hand, as Austria is a part of the European Union, I didn’t need a visa or anything when I au paired in France.
Au pairing with an agency has many advantages but in this post I want to give you some advice of what you should think and consider when you do the au pair journey on your own.
19 Julia Zucker tips on au pairing without an agency
1. Set up a contract
It is crucial to set up a contract with your host family BEFORE you get there. Make sure everything (literally everything) you and your host family agreed on is in there! Examples: working hours, pocket money, duties, vacation etc.
Here you find a summary of au pair contracts, but I would make sure to add things that are important to you.
Should you encounter a problem in the future you can refer back to the contract and say: “Listen, in our contract we agreed on …”
2. Create an au pair profile that represents you properly
I already wrote a whole post about “The perfect au pair application”. Definitely go and check it out! You wanna make sure, that you create a nice profile that attracts host families and that represents you well.
3. Working hours
Talk to the host family about your working hours. How many hours a week do they want you to work? Use this guideline to find out how many hours an au pair actually is allowed to work.
4. Extra hours
Especially talk about extra hours! How much an hour do they pay you for working extra hours like babysitting? How are they going to handle vacation time when the kids are home all day long? Do you get time off in lieu? A lot of host families tend to not pay their au pair extra so you wanna make sure that this is in the contract as well
5. Working days
How many days a week are you expected to work? Do you have to work on weekends? You have to be off at least 1,5 days a week and one full weekend a month. It is not ok to ask you to work 7 days a week and of course you must not exceed your working hours.
6. Pocket money
Make sure your host family offers a proper au pair wage. Are they going to pay you weekly or monthly? (Go for weekly!) Cash or cheque? Additionally to this guideline you should ask current au pairs (via Facebook for example) about the current average wage as it might differ from the guideline. Example: The guideline says that 300€/month is a normal wage in France while most au pairs in Paris get 80€ to 100€ a week.
7. Household duties
Let’s not forget, that an au pair should not be a maid. Stuff that’s related to the children like cooking for them, cleaning up after them, changing their bed sheets, doing their laundry etc. is ok while cleaning the whole house, taking care of pets, doing the laundry of the host parents etc. is NOT. An au pair is NOT a cleaner. Ask your host family about household duties and make sure they are in the contract as well. Of course your maximum working hours must not be exceeded due to housework.
8. Travel costs
Your host family doesn’t have to contribute, but I honestly think they should at least pay your return flight/bus/train. Just ask them and put it in the contract.
9. Length of stay
I personally don’t consider that part as crucial as both sides can quit at any time. Don’t let host families tell you you have to stay due to your contract. You definitely have to talk about the length of your stay though. How long do they want you to stay and how long do you actually wanna stay with them? A ‘two weeks notice’ clause would also make sense for both sides. This way it’s easier to argue if they suddenly want you to leave.
Clarify if you will ever have something like vacation. Are they going to pay you during vacation? (Yes, they should!) In my opinion an au pair should have weeks of paid vacation when she stays for 6 months and a 4 week paid vacation when she stays for 12 months. Do they expect you to leave the house while they are on vacation? (They shouldn’t as it’s your home too!)
11. Insurance and Health Care
Something nobody likes to talk about as it’s complex, but what if you get sick and have to see a doctor or stay in hospital? Talk to the host family about this. This is a topic they should also be concerned with.
12. Car Insurance
What if you have a car accident or bump into something? Are they covered? Are you expected to pay?
13. Language Class
Host families must allow you and give you the time for language class as it’s a big part of the au pair experience. Ask them if they are willing to contribute to your language course. If yes, how much? Make sure this is put into the contract as well.
14. Public transportation
In some cities like Paris it is common that the host family pays for the monthly public transport ticket (called Navigo in France). Ask other au pairs if this is common in your au pair destination. If your host family contributes – awesome! Put it in the contract.
15. Work Phone
Make sure your host family provides a SIM card (and cell phone). I am sure they want you to be on call at any time when you mind their kids, so they should be the ones to organize a work phone for you. It’s a necessary au pair tool in case of an emergency.
Ask them about the food situation. Do they expect you to buy your own food? Don’t forget that board and lodging is part of the au pair deal. You should have access to food like any other family member, also on weekends and when you don’t work. In my opinion au pairs should also be allowed to add things they like to the family shopping list (like fruits, vegetables, cheese, chocolate etc.).
17 Find the right host family
Definitely go and check out my post on How to find the right host family. As the family doesn’t get checked by an agency you wanna make sure that you get to know them very, very well before you pack your bags and blindly head into the unknown. But then again, you don’t get checked by an agency either …
18. Family member
Never forget that an au pair should be a temporary family member. Ask the host family if they see you as a part of the family or as a stranger who’s working for them. Many adults confuse the term ‘au pair’ with ‘staffer’. Are you expected to go into your room once you are off? Are you welcome to celebrate holidays like Christmas with them? Do they want you to leave the house when you don’t work?
19. Read, listen and check before making glib decisions
BEFORE you sign the contract and book your ticket make sure that you thought about everything important. Read carefully through the au pair contract and double check if everything you and your host family talked about is in there.
I au paired in France for 9 months without an agency. Here are my personal reasons why I did so:
- the decision of becoming an au pair was rather spontaneous
- I created my online profile within 20 minutes and with one mouse click it was online
- I didn’t have to spend any money
- I was an experienced, adult woman who knew exactly what she wanted and who did the au pair job before
- since I worked for an au pair agency myself I sort of knew what’s important
- as I was an Austrian citizen and part of the EU au pairing in France was fairly easy as no complex paperwork was needed
- when you au pair in Europe you don’t need an agency who sponsors your visa
- France is close to Austria, if things wouldn’t have worked out I would have taken a plane/train home
- my host family registered me as an au pair, therefore they paid extra-tax for me and this way I had a social security number and was covered in France
Between 2009 and 2011 I au paired in the USA – organized by an agency. I was 19 years young and going without an agency was just no option for me at that time. Both au pair experiences, USA and France, were good ones. If you are interested in a comparison you should read this post.
I wish you all the best in your au pair journey and please be careful in your decisions.