What is an Au Pair anyway? Sounds fancy.
It is not fancy. But it is an awesome program.
By definition an Au Pair is: “a young foreign person, typically a woman, who helps with housework or child care in exchange for room and board.”
An Au Pair must come through a federally regulated program to obtain the specific visa for such an exchange. The program also provides them with support, safety, training, regulation and insurance. The program helps support the family and regulate the terms and rules of the program implemented by the family.
So…. they live with us?
Yes. They must have their own room that is an actual room of their own (… with adequate egress and conditioning). You cannot stick an au pair in your living room on a pull-out couch. They are like a part of the family and should be treated well!
What do you mean, “part of the family”?
Yes! That is the whole point.
An Au Pair is supposed to be like a big brother or sister/auntie/uncle. They can travel with you, eat meals with you, get to know your kids like they are part of the family! The exchange is a wonderful way to have a childcare provider who will love your children and understand the kids, household, the parents and dynamics in a way someone on the outside may not. Your children gain a loving “family member” and are exposed to a new cultural, language and background!
I really don’t need one more person in my household…
Then an Au Pair is likely not the right fit for you.
But if you consider the benefits – like cost, the introduction to a new cultural and language and flexibility, you might come around to it like we did!
We find our Au Pair hangs out with us sometimes. She sometimes takes us up on joining us for dinner or something else special but definitely not on the regular. She has made her own friends in the area and prefers to make her own meals/buy her own snacks with extra money we provide her for that purpose. She takes her time off to explore the area and watch television/talk to her family from her room. She is like having a teenage daughter – they sort of want to be around you, but not really…
It has been a great balance overall.
How much does it cost?
Ballpark of $30,000/year. In comparison, daycare for two children in the Bay Area runs $30-50K/year with 3-4 weeks of vacation/holiday time we have to make-up on our own. A private nanny will run $45-90K a year.
- The agency cost is about $8,000-10,000 a year (depending on the agency). This normally includes the Au Pairs visa costs, flight, basic training, background interview/sourcing, etc.
- Au pairs have a minimum federal requirement of just under $200/per week.
- You are also responsible for $500 towards their accredited education courses per stint.
- The cost of their room and board (like extra groceries or meals out as a family)
- Transportation costs to/from school
- If you expect them to drive your children (or to simply get around the place you live), you will be responsible for adding them to your insurance plan and paying that additional fee (as well as gas).
- You can also tack on additional trainings at their au pair program orientation (like infant training) and some agencies offer addition online trainings for a small cost
- Household costs will increase by one (toilet paper, soap, utilities, etc.)- though that in nominal overall
- You can also be more generous and pay more each week, or offer other benefits like a paid cell phone, cash for activities or additional personal grocery allowance
What are the other rules?
- They must have at least 1.5 consecutive days off each week
- They can work no more than 45 hours per week
- They can work no more than 10 hours per day
- They must have at least one full weekend off per month
- They must complete their course requirements
45-hours a week? That actually doesn’t seem like enough.
Sadly, the reality is that if you have two parents who work outside the home or are a single-parent who works outside the home full-time, 45-hours cuts it close! Unless you (or your spouse) have flexible schedules or live incredibly close to your office, there is a good chance that a provider who can only offer up to 45-hours a week (whether that is nanny, au pair or other) will leave you looking for a way to supplement childcare.
Our family supplements with a Friday afternoon sitter. This alleviates the scheduling tightness with our Au Pair and we have someone else to call on for back-up/date night! This actually has worked out really great for us. Other families I know call in Grandma or Grandpa to supplement in the afternoons or early mornings each week!
Can my Au Pair work overnight shifts?
Unless it is a rare, emergency, or otherwise desperate situation the realistic answer is no.
Okay. Sounds pretty good. So, what is the process to get started?
- Sign-up with an agency. I recommend, AuPairCare.
- Fill out your profile. Make sure to put some time and effort into it. Keep it clean, simple, happy/positive and concise. Take nice photos of the your house/the au pair’s bedroom and family to include!
- Take some more time to write down some verbiage for your introduction emails (this way you can use it over and over again – copy/paste! See the end of this post for more on this!).
- Carve out some time on your calendar. You will need to accommodate some off-schedules for interviewing as you are likely finding au pair from all over the world and timezones.
- Reach out to your local coordinator to complete your in-person interview. This is super critical to get out of the way. Since you are starting to move along through the process, you want to be sure you can “match” right away with the perfect candidate. If you have not completed your in-person interview, you won’t be able to move to that step.
- Ensure your employer and personal references complete their part of the application. They should have been sent an email when you registered.
- Once you are all signed up – start watching the Au Pairs videos, reading profiles and favorite the candidates you like best!
- You’ll then have a bunch of favorites, pick your top to interview! Send them your introductory email right away. I suggest doing this by actual email, which is provided once you send them a short note on the aupaircare portal (so, note that these two are separate. I found that the Au Pairs didn’t read the messages on the portal and only responded to the emails).
- Set-up time to Skype or Facetime within the next few days. Remember that they are moving along in the process with other families as well so the slower you move, the more likely you will miss out on being their match! They won’t risk waiting for you.
- Continue moving at a good clip. If an Au Pair is not responding to you, “unclick” your connection to interview so that you can connect with someone else. You are limited on each agency site to only interview a few Au Pairs at one time.
A Break-Out of the Interview Process
- Introduction email (see bottom of this post for an example)
- Set-up a Facetime or Skype interview with one parent. Carve out 15-45 minutes for this initial call. If it goes well, tell them you will send them a follow-up email shortly with more questions and a few suggestion of time to connect again when they can meet your spouse (as applicable) and kids.
- Follow-up with an email ASAP if the interview went well. See the bottom of this post for an example.
- Do another Skype or Facetime interview within 24-72 hours if possible. Include your spouse and kids as feasible! The Au Pairs very much want to know what they are getting themselves into.
- Follow-up with a ‘sell’ e-mail – See bottom of this post for an example
- Last Facetime or Skype Interview (both parents is more compelling them just one. Or the whole family!).
- One last email, offer emails or Facetime with babysitters/nannies that can voucher for how awesome your family is
- Follow-up with your ‘match’ request ASAP
Does anyone else turn down the match request?
The au pairs have a lot to consider – the job (hours, schedule, kids, expectations), the house, the room, the family, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the start date, the weather, the age of the kids, the perks and benefits you offer, the language barriers, the communication style, and of course, the connection/best match to the family.
They even deep dive into the private Au Pair Facebook groups about all of this and evaluate that way!
They are leaving their job, friends, family, school, life, career, house, country, language, culture behind to embark on this huge, gigantic, scary, life-altering journey for one to two years of their life! They might turn you down (or simply ignore you in the first place) for a million reasons (whether the reasons are right, wrong, confusing, or incorrect altogether). You really can’t take it personally.
You just have to move on and keep going. If they weren’t sure, they weren’t excited about your family/position anyway, you wouldn’t want them to be part of your household.
So, what are the au pairs looking for?
A good fit, personality wise. Usually a specific job type (kid’s age or hours per week), the ability to live in an awesome location, your proximity to other au pairs in the area, and their freedom/time-off to travel (like if they normally get weekends off). They might be excited and interested in the idea that you travel a lot as a family or that you live in a specific location.
Some au pairs we chatted with really wanted to live somewhere that it snowed, others wanted to live in a big city. Some would only go to homes they were going to be offered car privileges.
What will my Au Pair do in her time off?
Most Au Pairs use the program to travel, so likely your Au Pair will want to do that in her (or his) time off! If you live in a cool city, exploring the area you live in will be a big draw!
Our Au Pair made tons of friends (other Au Pairs in her program!) nearby – they often get together to hang out, shop, get coffee, go to a park…
How do you find an agency?
There are really a ton of agencies. However, I highly recommend doing your research. They are not all equal.
We use AuPairCare and love them. Our local coordinator is awesome – super knowledgeable and always helpful. Our regional match support from Au Pair Care was awesome as well! Their billing department has been responsive when I’ve had questions. Even though our first match didn’t go well, our second match is amazing, amazing, amazing. Their site is clean, simple and easy to use.
We came to Au Pair Care through friends and continue to recommend them – now we have a circle of friends with au pairs all through the same agency which is fun!
How competitive it is?
Our experience was actually that it was pretty competitive for the au pairs. Depending on what you are looking for (such as their years of experience with children, their ability to drive or their level of English), you definitely have competition.
We experienced that so many of the Au Pairs we loved (had great english, seemed super personable/easy to be around) had tons of other families interested in them! They basically had the pick of the litter when it came to where they could live, what the family was offering in terms of perks/benefits and the hours they were expected to work. We realized quickly that we actually had a hard job to sell. We were asking of the max allowed for hours (45/per week), and care of both and infant and toddler (hard work!). We weren’t (aren’t) offering a car, and don’t live in the center of super cool, big city. We live walkable to a really cute downtown area and walkable to a commute train the runs to numerous cities (and lots of fun), we are close to a bunch of airport and generally live in an amazing location – but it was obvious to us that others were offering better deals.
What do the Au Pairs want to know during the process?
They want to know all about your family, your kids, what hours/schedule they would be expected to work, the perks/benefits you are offering, what the neighborhood is like, why you want to have an au pair… and more! Will they get a car? Are you in a walkable neighborhood? What is the weather like? What is their room like? You should sharpen your selling skills. You want them to want you, no matter if you want them or not.
How long do they stay?
Au Pairs match for 1-year, typically. Though ones that are extending their program from another match or re-matching from another family may have less time left on their visa. They can stay up until two years if they meet all their requirements (like schooling, age, consecutive program sponsorship).
Wait, what is a re-match or an extension au pair?
A re-matched Au Pair is someone looking for a new family but is normally already in-country. The benefit to this is that the ‘match’ to ‘start date’ is super short, it could be even just a day or two! Cons? They are being re-matched from another family for a reason. It could be that the family dropped out of the program, but it could also be for other reasons – like they aren’t a good au pair, their language skills aren’t up to par, they can’t drive, or something else. Get to the bottom of this before you match!
An extension au pair is an Au Pair who is also typically already in-country and looking to carry out a new match for 3, 6, 9 or 12 months (depending on their visa and personal plans). They might not be extending with their current match family for a number of reasons – the family might be changing their childcare plans (such as if their children are starting school), the family could have other personal life changes, the family might prefer a new au pair each year for the experience purpose, the au pair might want match with a new family and a new location for a experience purpose, or – it might not have been a good match and everyone is ready to move on.
What if the interview isn’t going well?
Cut it off quickly and don’t waste your time of theirs. I don’t speak another language and our need for proficient English was high on our list. If the Au Pair emailed me back and noted that they would like to interview after I mentioned we needed someone with exceptional English language skills – but when we started the interview – we could not understand each other – I let them know right away that it wasn’t going to work. It is amazingly different if you speak the same language as the Au Pair – your pool of candidates gets much, much bigger!
It is given that their English will improve over time but for families with super young babies, I’d highly recommend putting communication abilities top of your no-compromise list. It is too risky to match with someone you can’t communicate clearly with when you have an infant in the house. There is way too much that could go wrong and so many (ever changing) details with babies. With older kids, I foresee this not being as big a concern.
Yay! We matched, now what?
- Get ready! Get a handbook together for your household – emergency contact, rules, expectations, guidelines, schedules, and other things to know.
- Put together a welcome gift.
- Make a cute sign (everyone brings signs!) and pick them up at the airport!
- Carve out time their first few days to incorporate them into your plans/meals and do some training.
Ok, it’s not going well now that they are here. Now what?
Talk to your local coordinate ASAP. They will recommend steps to smooth out the transition or mediate an uncomfortable conversation. They will also have good insight into if you will need to be re-matched.
Ugh. Rematched? That sounds horrible.
Yeah, it’s not great. But it happens.
We requested a re-match with our first Au Pair because she was not the right fit for us. My husband delivered the bad news to her, our coordinate came over to the house and walked her through the process, and then she lived at our house awkwardly for two weeks. Actually, we never even saw her in those two weeks (she used the time to travel and hangout with friends as she worked to find a new family).
She was re-matched to a new family and we worked on finding ourselves a new Au Pair. It was a lot of work and stress on our end, as any process is with finding childcare, but it all worked out great in the end! We love our current Au Pair and would recommend the program again and again.
So you would/will you do it again?
Yes! Yes! Yes! We will definitely exploring getting a new Au Pair when our current match ends.
Thanks so much for this article and sharing this perspective! I am ready to go forward with an Au Pair Program. What now?
Introductory E-mail Sample:
Hi there! We are the Briar Family. Mom (Kate), husband (Roger), and three cute kids – Dylan (7), Laurie (5), and Maggie (2). We live in an awesome town called Brookline which is right on the edge of a city here in Massachusetts called “Boston”. You can see photos of Boston if you click on this link!
We are looking for an amazing Au Pair to join our family in August! The perfect match for us will be someone with exceptional English skills, who is eager to play and read with our kids, who loves being outdoors (we love going skiing, hiking, biking and spend summers at the lakes and beaches near us!) and who will be happy to help out with kid chores!
Boston is an amazing city in New England (the East Coast of the U.S.). Our house is walking distance to the train line which brings you right into the middle of the city! You’ll have your own room and bathroom – your room will come with a queen bed, television, and mini-fridge for your personal food favorites! We will except you to join our family for dinner at least once a week, but will always be welcome! You will be happy to complete your required school courses at one of the many nearby colleges (you can study anything you want and have a variety of programs to pick from!). You will be given a cell phone, train pass, and access to our car during your time-off.
Schedule wise – we are looking for an au pair who will mostly work Monday-Friday but there will be a weekend here or there we would need your help.
If you are interested in our family as a match, please write me back as soon as possible so that we can set-up a time to Skype! We are currently talking to a few Au Pairs but don’t want to miss the chance to get to know you!
Follow-up E-mail 1 Sample:
It was so great to talk to you last night! We loved getting to know you better. I really appreciated your experience with kids, your interested in Education and your love of the outdoors! My husband was so impressed with your language skills (three language is so impressive!). It is so great that you are so excited about using the Au Pair Program to travel and improve your English.
We had a few additional questions for you, they are listed below.
(Inset 2-3 more questions you want to clarify or answer).
Do you have additional questions for us after our conversation last night? Might you be able to talk to us again tomorrow so that we can go over anything else you might want to know about us? We’d love to introduce you to our kids over Skype as well! Please let me know a time tomorrow that works for you.
Follow-up E-mail 2 Sample:
Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us again! The kids really enjoyed meeting you. We feel like you would be the perfect Au Pair for our family! How are you feeling? Do you have other families you are talking to at the moment? Are there any questions or concern you have for us?
[Sell mode!] — Briefly review the awesome job you have for her in your family and how great your kids are. Talk about how you will include her your family and why she is the perfect one! Share more details about the perks, benefits and other advantages (your location, great house, etc.).
We’d like to go ahead and match with you for August 15th if you are as excited as we are. Please let me know if you’d like to chat by phone or Skype again.
We’d also like to offer you to speak with two of our babysitters if that will help you get to know us a bit better! Kelly and Jane has babysat for our family for years – they will be able to answer lots of questions for you and tell you about us and the kids from an outside perspective. There e-mail addresses are: email 1 / email 2
Last E-mail Sample:
Thank you for getting back to me by e-mail! We went ahead and sent you a ‘match request’ on Au Pair Care as we mentioned we would. You have 24-hours to accept or decline the offer to match with us. We really like you and think you’d be a great addition to our family! Please let us know if there is anything we can answer for you in the meantime as you decide. We look forward to hearing from you!
Do you want to chat more about au pairs? Please contact me direct at email@example.com to talk one-on-one!