Note: To those of you showing up from Google, welcome! I lived as an au pair in Germany from July 2011 – 2012, but I still live here in my au pair city of Karlsruhe, Germany. This seems to confuse some people. So there’s that.
Why did you decide to become an au pair?
After backpacking Europe the summer of 2010 between my junior and senior year of college, I fell in love (with the continent, not a boy). All I could think about was going back. I went back to the monotonous routine: university, internships, sleep – and ultimately took on another job to really save up for my graduation gift to self: Eurotrip #2. During my saving and trip planning, I quickly realized that after graduation I wanted to do something different before entering the workforce. I missed out on the opportunity to study abroad in college, so I began exploring my options overseas. I loved my babysitting job in high school and being an au pair immediately came to mind. After tons of time, loads of research and countless heart-to-hearts later, I made the big decision (and later big decision #2 – staying). So, here I am in Deutschland. Hopefully the following can help you in the research department.
What is an au pair?
Au pair is a French term meaning “equal to”. Thus, it implies a mutually beneficial relationship between you and the family. Au pairs typically live with the family in their home and help take care of the children along with fulfilling some basic household duties in exchange for a place to stay and a cultural immersion abroad.
How did you find out about being an au pair?
The Internet is the obvious answer here. As a member of the blogosphere, there are tons of au pairs out there blogging, like myself. There are also many online au pair agencies with free information (but not free family searching, but we will get to that later). Google is your friend. One of my favorite resources was AuPair Mom. It is a resource for host moms and dads, but au pairs can find some great info here as well.
Also, talk to everyone you know about this option. Although they may know nothing about au pairing, they may know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows an au pair that you can talk to. This is how I found out about the site I ended up using.
Do you speak German/Sprechen Sie Deutsche?
I like to call it functional German. I can get through any situation if need be. I am nowhere close to fluency. I knew zero Deutsch when I got here.
During my first trip to Europe, Germany was easily my favorite destination. Munich was the only place I saw, but it was all I needed. Germany is a lush, green, beautiful, centrally located country. The people are ultra welcoming and maintain wonderful family values. There are so many great towns to see and it is easy to travel anywhere in Europe from here.
Oh, and (almost) everyone here speaks English, but it’s not the primary language. I wanted the opportunity to learn another language, but also selecting a country where I would not feel isolated by a language barrier was extremely important to me. In as early as elementary school, Germans begin learning English. Even if someone says their English is poor, it is actually pretty decent.
If Germany doesn’t do it for you, explore your options. People all over the world are looking for au pairs!
How did you find your family?
In short, AuPair World is your site. This website may not be the prettiest, but it is FREE for you as an au pair to use. It is also reasonably priced for host families to search. Fill out your profile and begin searching for families. You can save your searches if you are picky about where you are going to be, like I was.
Another great way to find host families in a specific city is to search Facebook and see if there is a group of au pairs in that city. When the end of their stay is near, they often post that their family is looking for someone. Then, you would have someone to vouch for the family and the experience.
How do I select a family?
Follow your gut. Although places like Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Dusseldorf sounded a bit more glamorous than Karlsruhe, I am so happy here because I LOVED my au pair family. The town is pretty great, too. Your instincts are strong; you can tell which family you are going to love and is going to love you back.
In addition to my gut, I really liked how this family knew the exact process of integrating an au pair into family life. They had several au pairs before me. They knew how to work with the government to make my stay here legal. They also gave me the contact information of a couple of their previous au pairs to direct some of my questions. I loved this aspect because I asked them the questions I felt uncomfortable asking the family: i.e., how they made friends, what they did in their free time, etc. However, do not be discouraged if your family has not had an au pair before. Once again, the gut.
I spent hours on Au Pair World. I’m talking HOURS. I exchanged emails with several families and Skyped with about 5. Explore your options and your heart will lead you the right way.
Fair warning: I do not want to scare anyone, but it’s only fair to be honest. I have talked to other au pairs who did not have as wonderful experience that I had and ended up leaving. It’s OK to be selfish during the search. If you do not feel good about the family, look for another. If you are not happy, the family won’t be happy and vice versa. As I said, you have instincts, use them. Once you are there, if there are issues, bring them up immediately. It is only fair to both sides that you raise any issues before they start to become detrimental to your experience abroad.
Do you need a Visa?
Yes, you will need a visa, unless you plan to be in the EU for 90 days or less. The Schengen Agreement created a borderless travel area of Europe that you can travel freely in for 90 days before you need an extended stay visa. Unlike most visas, the au pair visa is non-renewable and lasts 1 year. Traditional visas are obtained from the embassy before you come to the country, but the au pair visa can actually be granted in Germany by the foreigners department with the proper paperwork, proof of insurance, etc.
For more information about the German au pair standards and the visa process, read my post here.
You have been in Germany for longer than one year, I thought that was not possible.
It is not possible on an au pair visa. I obtained a working visa for my second stay, which is renewable. I am now a German tax payer and everything.
What is your typical day*?
Typical is always a difficult to describe, particularly when there are 4 kids involved BUT something along the lines of:
8:20 Walk Carolin to school
8:40 Play with Liam
10:30 Put Liam down for nap
10:45 Chore of some sort
11:45 Wake Liam up
12:00 Play with Liam
After lunch, I was off. In the afternoon I would usually do English reading or spelling with one of the kids for 45 minutes but the rest was up to me. I usually worked out, went into town, shopped, napped, blogged, and hung out with the family or friends.
*I must be honest here and tell you that once the school schedule changed mid-year, I ended up working 7-8 hrs/day when I should have been working 5 (30 hrs/wk Monday – Saturday). I was not even sure if my host mom was aware of it and I felt guilty saying it because clearly they needed me. However, I was not being compensated for my extra time and it really started to get to me. One (ok, two) extremely awkward conversation(s) later, the issue was resolved. You must let your host family know how you’re feeling because they will not know what exactly is up your ass otherwise.
How do you meet people abroad?
My easiest answer is Couch Surfing. There is a meet up at a bar every 2 weeks in Karlsruhe (most decent sized cities have them, search CS for your city’s group) and I also contacted some couch surfers individually seeing if they would like to meet up for a drink. All have gladly responded yes and been great company! My family introduced me to great people from the neighborhood, too.
If your town has a university, Google to see if they host Erasmus Program students. It is the European exchange organization where students from all over Europe come to the University for a semester. The program has weekly meet-ups and hosts parties. Plus, the common language among people is often English as people come from all over Europe.
Some other ways to meet people are sports clubs, language classes, and church, although I haven’t used any of these methods to make friends yet.
What is the compensation?
As an au pair visa holder, I was compensated with 50 percent flight reimbursement, 260€ pocket cash per month, health insurance, a public transit card, bike, room and board, food, and 30 vacation days. My family also granted rewards. For instance, they purchased me a BahnCard 50 because they knew I wanted to travel. My family followed the German au pair standards pretty closely, but I assure you from the other au pairs I know: every family is different. Ask questions!
Updated 11 December 2013
Disclaimer: The information above is my personal advice based solely on my experience as an au pair in 2011-2012. I cannot speak for other au pairs, host families or host countries. I also cannot guarantee the same experience. Use cautious and legal methods of seeking out a host family, au pair, nanny, etc. Please be aware that since I au paired, rules and regulations, as well as my resources, may have changed.