Since I lived abroad in 2013 as an au pair, I have had numerous people ask me what it means, how I did it, and what the situation was like. So I thought I would share some advice to anybody looking into the idea.

SO what does au pair mean? Au pair means equal part. NO, not a nanny, although many people assume this. But nannies actually get paid a decent wage. Essentially, you are working for room and board, and a bit of spending money as an au pair.

The details: I lived in (outside of) Munich, Germany from January 2013 – December 2013 as an au pair to a 7 year old girl.

Pick a family. Choose based on location, the initial feeling you get talking to them, and what you want out of your experience.
I ALMOST chose Australia. If I did, I probably wouldn’t have seen half the amount of countries I have now. I was able to hop away for a weekend to London, Prague, Budapest, Zurich, and many other awesome cities. I was able to learn some German and meet very international friends. Decide if traveling on your time off to a lot of different countries is important to you, if it isn’t, choose Australia by all means. Decide how you feel after you talk with the family and have some initial chit-chat over email, or Skype. Also, if possible, talk to their previous au pair and ask anything you want! They will be helpful and tell you about their personal experience.

First things first. The amount of kids, language, your room etc.
I found a family that only really had one kid that needed looking after, and my main job was to help her improve her English. This suited me fine, as I’d rather have one-on-one time with the child, and at that point I was still considering strongly teaching English after. Thankfully, I got along very well with the child the majority of the time.
I was required to drive fairly often. That part is very important to know, because you need to know if you’re going to be comfortable driving stick shift on the autobahn in Europe with no speed limit and four kids in the back or not. For me, yes I was. But for a lot of European au pairs, that would have been a huge no.

The next part was the living conditions, are you far from the city? Do you get your own room and bathroom? Unfortunately my host family exaggerated that “15” minutes from the city thing, they actually lived in a village of 4000 people, and it barely had its own grocery store. Yes, it was accessible by train to Munich (more like 25-30 minutes though), but I was really not used to living in the middle of nowhere. On every day off, I was in the city, so yes I spent a lot of money on transport.
The fortunate part was that I got my own bedroom and bathroom, away from the main part of the house. This was really great for me, as I love my own space.

Make sure you have a proper contract, and you know when you are or aren’t supposed to be working.
There were many, many occasions when I thought I had the day off, or actually the opposite, I thought I was supposed to be up at 7 to work, and then I found out I had the day free, thanks for letting me sleep in… right?! The family wanted a “flexible” au pair, but don’t fall for that. I got extremely taken advantage of. It would be 7 pm and I’m already in the city drinking with friends, and I get called back to drive the boys back to their boarding school, or the opposite, it’d be 7 am and I’d come upstairs to start work, and my host mom would say, “actually I don’t need you today anymore.” Yeah, there was a clear lack of communication here. Nothing was written down and it was all very last minute. Coming from someone so spontaneous, you’d think that would be okay, but NO.
Oftentimes, this did work out to my advantage. I would get an, “Oh ya, you have two weeks off starting Monday,” and although I’d be mad because they clearly knew that they were going on vacation more than 2 days before, I frantically would search for flights, because at least I had the time off and I could see another amazing city.

On another note about contracts, you are ONLY required to do things pertaining to the child. His/her laundry, dishes, clean their room, etc. That being said, I was mowing the lawn, driving the older boys EVERYWHERE, picking moss out of their sidewalk, doing the laundry for the entire household PLUS my host moms grandparents, and MANY other things that I shouldn’t have been doing. Do not do that. I mostly just felt like the second house cleaner.

If you happen to notice any red flags at the beginning, don’t ignore them!
My host mom bullied me! The first day as I sat there with my host child and the housekeeper, she told me I’m too skinny, and weighed me and wrote it down to, “keep track”. I was about 120 and 5’6″, the same weight and height I’d been for about 5 years. I was fine. But she didn’t let it go. Other things along the way that were red flags, when my host mom’s mom came over to visit, she told me I had beautiful skin. My host mom’s immediate response? No, she doesn’t, thats just makeup. There are many more things that happened throughout that year and I can’t believe it took me 9 months to leave, but I still would do it all over again. I had many friends who switched family’s, and many who loved theirs from the beginning. It’s really what you make of it, and if you choose a family you can live with or not.

Make sure you don’t just get excited and pick ANY family. Because on Au Pair World, there are too many to do that. You won’t have a problem finding a family if you are a bit pickier.

As for the contract. Basic things that you should look into are insurance, train pass, language class, working hours, and start/end date. Within the contract they SHOULD pay for your health insurance for the entire time you stay. The train pass is negotiable, I got paid a higher monthly wage than almost every other au pair, so I was to buy that from my own wage. The language class is pretty commonly provided by the host family, depending on length of stay, but at least for the first level when you arrive. That is important to note because often you need to prove basic language skills for the visa. It is different in every country, but Germany has an au pair minimum wage of 260 euros a month. You may be thinking this is not a lot, which is correct, but they are required to let you stay there and also feed you for free. Also the working hours are pretty minimal, in Germany it was 30 hours per week.

If you go through an agency, you can also get your flight paid for. I had a few friends who did that, and that was basically the only plus. My friend had to leave her family because she was working 50 hours a week scrubbing down bathrooms, and the agency provided her zero support. She ended up finding a new family on Facebook.

Something I didn’t consider was talking to the family about their eating habits. I am vegetarian. Almost every meal they had, whether it was breakfast, dinner or lunch, was basically just buns, or fresh bread, with meat, cheese and cucumbers and SO MUCH butter. I kid you not. Germans call this “brotzeit”, but I call this, Emily gained ten pounds in one year. I am an extremely healthy eater, so I often found myself trying to hold back, and I spent way more money than I should have in the city on food. On the note of food, ask if you have to cook. Do you know how to cook? A lot of family’s have mom’s who expect you to either cook, or at least have prepped dinner when they’re on their way home.

Make friends.
Friends are seriously what got me through my year. I joined “Au Pairs in Munich” immediately, and I believe most cities have something like this. I had some free time the second month I was there, so I said, “anybody want to go to Paris?” and the next thing you know my dream came true. I was standing under the Eiffel Tower with four girls, one of them who became my best friend for the rest of the year. We have both visited each other in the past year and still tell each other about our lives daily, despite being on opposite sides of the continent.
I had many other friends, but almost all of them were through that group. And we almost all hung out at the same bar, ALWAYS. Now I can happily go to many countries and have a free place to stay.

Anyways, this all sounds really negative but I just don’t want anybody to end up in a terrible situation. There are many great family’s, ones who set out proper working hours and respect your space. But really, when are you going to get paid to live in Europe (or insert country here) again? Probably never. SO DO IT.
That being said, I had a lot of free time as well. I got to drink champagne in front of the Eiffel Tower, see the largest waterfall in Europe, drink beer at Oktoberfest, ski in the Austrian Alps, smoke weed in Amsterdam, party til 7 am in London, fall in love with an amazing guy, gain best friends who I’m still in contact with, and learn a huge amount of German, and it looks amazing on your resume (if that’s important to you). I would recommend the experience completely, despite the negatives that MAY come with your family.

This is where I found my family:

Au Pair World

Here is all the information you need for visas for each host country:

Au Pair Visa Information