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All Around the World of Au Pairs

Au pair is a French term that means ‘on equal terms’ and is used to indicate that au pairs are not servants. They usually eat with their host families and take part in their daily activities. An au pair is typically regarded as part of the family with whom he or she lives while working as a childcare provider.

Young women between the ages of 18 and 30 make up the largest percentage of au pairs, but an increasing number of young men are participating in the program now. They appreciate the unique opportunities to learn new languages and experience different cultures while they earn spending money for their leisure times.

The au pairs receive free lodging, meals, pocket money and various other benefits in exchange for providing childcare and light housework services for their host families. Most au pairs pay for their travel expenses unless their host families agree to help with the costs. However, the host families often pay their au pairs’ expenses to travel from place to place in their countries by supplying cars or purchasing travel passes for them.

During World War II, countless women found it necessary to work in factories while their husbands were fighting in the war. After the war ended, many of them decided they wanted to continue working for pay instead of staying home with their children and earning nothing. Consequently, they needed affordable childcare for their children while both parents worked. Nearly 90 percent of the young women in Western Europe became live-in helpers for those families. They called themselves au pairs because they did not want people to think that they were servants. Those women eventually began traveling to other countries and learning about different cultures while they worked as temporary childcare providers and lived with host families.

Au pairs are more popular in countries with large percentages of working mothers. Those countries have developed programs to ensure that au pairs obtain cultural and language training along with incomes in exchange for providing live-in help for host families. Those families enjoy the convenience of having affordable help to care for their children and perform light housekeeping chores. They also appreciate having inexpensive ways to provide their children with rich cultural experiences and opportunities to learn foreign languages.

The United States, the United Kingdom and various countries in Europe provide the largest number of au pair jobs. Most of those nations have official programs to regulate the au pair industry. Each country has its own stipulations, and some specify that people must be from certain countries to work in them. Au pairs should contact their chosen countries’ embassies to determine the requirements for work and study in those countries.

The most popular places for au pairs from around the world to work are European countries like Germany and France. East European and Asian au pairs typically want to learn the English, Italian or German languages. As a result, they usually attempt to live with families in Western Europe. Au pairs from West European countries normally prefer to work and stay in the United States or Southern Europe and learn English, Spanish, German, Italian or French. Many American au pairs look for positions in Australia and New Zealand for the sake of convenience. They are also interested in living in Western Europe to learn other languages because that may give them advantages in the job market.

Virtually every continent in the world has au pairs who are eager to work in different countries and share their own cultures with host families while they learn about the families’ customs and languages. Au pair agencies typically have applicants from over 60 countries representing five continents, and they screen the applicants thoroughly before recommending them to host families.

North America

United States

Nearly 28,000 au pairs were living and working in the United States in 2010, and that number appears to be rising.

The au pair program in the United States provides qualified young people from other countries with the chance to study in the country and live with host families. In return, the au pairs provide no more than 45 hours of childcare each week for the families. They must also complete the equivalent of six semester hours of study for academic credit.

When the program began in 1989, au pairs were allowed to work and stay in the country for a period of 12 months. However, since 2006, the United States Department of State has permitted them to extend their work and stay for additional terms of six, nine or twelve months. They may choose to remain with their host families for the extended stays or select families in other areas of the country to gain different experiences. In 2008, the agency added a clause to the regulations and requirements allowing the au pairs to participate in repeat terms. They must reside outside the country at least two years after completing their initial programs before returning to the US for repeat terms in the program.

Host families must provide private bedrooms for au pairs and pay them the US minimum wage of $195.75 a week for working 45 hours. They may not ask au pairs to work more than 45 hours a week or over 10 hours a day. Families allow au pairs to have one and one-half days off every week and at least one weekend off every month. The young people also receive two weeks of vacation time with pay every year. Au pairs must complete required course work for the educational part of the program, and the host families pay $500 of those costs.

Canada

The au pair program in Canada is complicated and entails more training and experience than the programs of other countries require. However, private agencies can help au pairs who want to live and work in Canada by serving as mediators between them, host families and the government. Au pairs in Canada typically earn six to seven CAD per hour.

Europe

France

France, particularly Paris, has been popular with au pairs for years. Working in the country and living with host families is an ideal way for young people to learn the French language. Au pairs earn 60 euros a week, and most families contribute 20 euros a week to language classes for them. Many families in Paris also provide their au pairs with urban travel passes worth about 95 euros. Young people who desire to work in France must meet strict language training requirements. In addition, they may not be able to learn much information about their host families prior to their employment.

Spain

There is a big demand for au pairs in Spain. Most families in the country require au pairs to do very little or no housework and emphasize teaching their children the English language. Some families allow young people to stay in their homes without any childcare or domestic duties in exchange for teaching English to their children. Most au pair jobs are in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. However, there are occasionally jobs available in glamorous resorts like Tenerife and Marbella as well. Au pairs in Spain earn a minimum of 55 to 60 euros per week.

Germany

Au Pair Society agencies located throughout the country help place au pairs in Germany. Au pairs receive 260 euros per month in the country, and many families provide travel passes and contribute to fees for courses.

United Kingdom

Private agencies handle most of the au pair placements in the United Kingdom. The government does not regulate the agencies, but The British Au Pair Agencies Association sets standards for the industry. BAPAA promotes the programs that provide cultural exchange experiences with great rewards for au pairs and host families as well. Au pairs usually earn about £55 to £75 per week when they work from 25 to 40 hours.

Young people who wanted to travel to the UK and work were previously limited to working as au pairs and earning less than the minimum wage. However, because of the European Union expansion in 2004 that included ten new member states, they can now work at other jobs in the UK with no restrictions and earn the national minimum wage. Consequently, fewer young people now apply for positions as au pairs in the UK.

The government closed the previous au pair visa scheme in 2008, which caused a further reduction in the number of potential au pair candidates. The Youth Mobility Scheme, which replaced the au pair visa scheme, is limited to young people from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Italy

Many Italians travel to the mountains or the coast during the summer holiday season. They take their au pairs with them to help with the children and pay them from 75 to 95 euros for a 30-hour week. Those who work 40 hours a week typically earn 100 to 130 euros a week. Numerous families in large cities pay their au pairs more than the usual wages.

South America

Argentina

Au pairs in Argentina normally work 25 hours a week and have at least one weekend day off. They must work a minimum of 15 hours per week. The recommended minimum salary depends on the host family’s location. Families in the central region pay about AR$30 per hour, those in Zona Norte pay around AR$40 per hour and au pairs working in Pilar/Nordelta receive about AR$50 per hour.

Au pairs care for the children in the families and help them practice speaking English. The families may ask them to perform light domestic chores, and some families need more housework and less childcare while others require more childcare and less housework. The host families treat au pairs as family members and do not expect them to work more than five hours a day.

Asia

China

Because of China’s economic growth and rising middle class, there is an increasing demand for au pairs in the country. The program allows mothers to have help with their children when they return to work. Most Chinese people who hire au pairs do so mainly to help them and their children learn the English language.

Japan

Japan does not have an au pair program, but citizens of Australia, France, the Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Ireland can apply for Working Holiday Visas. Those visas allow young people to stay and work in Japan for six months, and they may receive extensions for additional six-month terms. All au pairs who come to Japan must take Japanese language courses and assume the cost for them.

Au pairs in Japan typically work six hours a day with a maximum of 35 hours a week. They care for the children, take them to school and other activities and help them with meals, baths and keeping their rooms clean. They also assist with daily housework and may serve as babysitters for the children one or two extra evenings a week.

Japanese host families provide individual rooms and three meals a day for their au pairs. Although families supply food, the au pairs may have to cook for themselves. The families also pay au pairs 10,000 yen per week and provide health insurance in Japan. Au pairs have one day off each week, which is usually on Sundays, and they receive two weeks of vacation time if they stay in Japan for one year.

Africa

South Africa

Au pairs in South Africa do not always live with their host families as they do in most other countries. They receive remuneration according to their positions and the agreements they reach with their host families. Basic salaries for au pairs in the country may be between R35 and R60 per hour depending on their qualifications and experience. Full-time au pairs who work about 40 hours a week may earn between R 6,000 and R 8,000 if they use their own cars and between R 4,500 and R 6,000 if they use the families’ cars. Au pairs who live with the families they work for usually receive less because their accommodations are free. Families normally give their au pairs notice in advance when they need babysitting services and pay the same rate as they pay for other duties.

Australia

An official au pair program does not exist in Australia. However, individuals between 18 and 30 years old from certain countries can get 12-month Working Holiday Visas to visit the country and work as au pairs. The government does not allow them to work for the same employer longer than three months without written permission, and they must break up work time with holiday and travel time. Holiday and travel is supposed to be the primary purpose of their visits. The government allows them to work in order to provide additional funds for those activities. Au pairs in Australia can expect to earn 150 to 200 AUD a week for working 30 to 35 hours.

New Zealand

Although New Zealand does not maintain an official au pair program, it has Working Holiday agreements with the UK, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. An au pair from one of those countries can expect to earn about 80 to 130 NZD per week for working 30 to 35 hours in New Zealand.