Given that no two au pair placements are alike, you need to find the right one for you. It’s super important to make sure you’re on the same page as your host family– so choose carefully!
Here are some tips on how to choose the right au pair host family.
Do think carefully about what you’re hoping to get out of the experience.
Given that no two au pair placements are alike, you need to find the right one for you.
If you really want to learn the language, look for a placement where you can speak that language with the children and aren’t living in a separate apartment. If travelling is your priority, make sure that you won’t have to work weekends.
Do you need your privacy? Think carefully about whether you want to share a bathroom with the children, or have a bedroom right next door to theirs. If you don’t like cooking, you probably don’t want a role where you’ll be cooking dinner for the family.
Don’t be afraid of making your expectations clear.
‘I don’t want to work weekends, I want my own bathroom and I’m a vegetarian’: it all sounds rather demanding and selfish, doesn’t it? It can be particularly difficult as a young woman to lay out your needs like that, especially if your prior work experience is in jobs where you didn’t have any bargaining power. However, an au pair role is different to other jobs.
You don’t get to go home at the end of the day—you are signing up for a whole new life. It is essential that you are honest from the start with potential families, because it is much better to realize that you aren’t compatible now than once you’ve already moved into their house!
Besides, a host family who respects the fact that you know what you want and are firm (but polite!) about it is more likely to actually respect YOU as an equal member of their household.
Do ask for a rough schedule of the hours you’ll be expected to work, and what the family considers to be working.
As an au pair, you’ll be living at your workplace. Given that your job encompasses things people do in their own homes for free (cleaning, cooking, looking after children), the line between working and not-working can become extraordinarily blurred. You don’t want to end up feeling like you’re always on the job.
It is important for your host family to appreciate that you won’t be working the entire time you’re at home, and asking the above questions is a good way to gauge whether they realize that.
Do ask to speak to former au pairs.
If the family has had au pairs before, you should definitely ask to speak to them. They know what the family is really like, and can provide you valuable information on the positives and negatives of the role.
If the family refuses to let you speak to them without providing a good reason why, it should certainly be a red flag.
Do think about how much you want to be involved in family life.
This was touched on in the first point, but I cannot emphasize it enough. Some families expect an au pair to live a completely independent life outside of work hours, while others want them to become a fully integrated member of the family.
An au pair who feels shut out of the family will often become resentful and lonely.
On the other end of the spectrum, an au pair who feels pressured to go on a weekend outing with her host family will feel like she’s working, while the family will feel like they’ve given the au pair a nice day out. This is a recipe for disaster!
Ask your potential host family about their expectations of you during your off-duty time, and make sure the answers align with your expectations.
For example, are you invited to eat with the family? If so, do they expect you to be present for dinner every evening unless pre-arranged, or are they happy to keep the rest as leftovers?
Do consider the age of the kids (and the number of them!).
Think about the children you’ve looked after before. Do you enjoy the cuddles and giggles of toddlers, or would you prefer having real conversations and feeling like a role model? Can you handle tantrums or deal with a preteen who thinks you’re the most uncool person in the world? The number of children is also important to consider—looking after four children will almost certainly be harder work than looking after one.
Looking after the kids will be your principal responsibility, and it’s important not to underestimate how much of an impact they will have on your time as an au pair.
The Don’ts of Picking Your Host Family
Don’t say yes to the first family you speak to (without thinking REALLY hard).
My Personal Experience
So, you finally got in contact with a nice family and now they’ve offered you the role. It feels great to hear that someone wants to hire you! Saying yes to them and getting started on the next stage of your journey is enticing, I get it. I did it myself. I had an extremely good feeling about the family and glossed over a few small red flags during the interview process. Well, it didn’t work out so well. I should’ve asked more questions and not allowed my optimism and excitement to get in the way.
Speaking to more than one family helps you can get a better idea for what is out there and to become more comfortable asking questions. Of course, if the first family you talk to is absolutely perfect, you don’t have to say no to them just because they happened to be your first. Just make sure you are extra thorough when interviewing them, and that you have discussed as many topics as possible—even those you are afraid might make you look demanding.
Did you end up with a good family? Or not so much? Share below!
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Melanie Holt is a self-proclaimed nerdy Australian living in Belgium. She loves fries, train travel and exploring the heartland of the USA.
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22 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Au Pair Host Family For You”
Hi there! Love your article, so useful as am starting the process of searching for families now. Quick question- you mentioned about asking the right questions during the interview..do you have any tips of good/essential questions to ask??
I would ask for all details about the job – where you will live, how much they will cover (i.e. school, cell phone, plane ticket, etc.), salary, and days off. Those are the most important I can think of :)
I wish we had read your blog earlier… my daughter just went through a terrible experience with her first family. Hopefully the 2nd family will be a success.
I’m sorry to hear that Nina. Best of luck! :)
I think I had the best host fam any au pair can dream of.
I was an au pair to a lovely Australian-German family in Switzerland and I had a wonderful year with them. I only worked three days a week and was paid more than the minimum(host dad even asked if they were giving me enough as everything in Switzerland is pricey). What made me pick them is how fluid my conversations with the parents were during the interview and how we were able to clearly express our expectations from each other.
It has been a little over a year now since I left but we still communicate and we still share photos to each other.
Aw that’s so great! :) My first au pair family and I are still really close – they call me their “American sister” and we see each other as often as we can :)
I wish I had read this sooner. I’m working my first job as an au pair now, and my family (although the mother is lovely) is so much hard work that I think I may have to leave way earlier than planned for my own mental health.
They have three boys who are super hard work, and don’t listen to/respect anything I do or say. I can play with them, but as soon as I want them to do something they don’t want to do, they cry and hit and throw things. Keep in mind, I’ve babysat for 7 years, and it’s some of the worst attitudes I’ve ever seen in kids. Two of them are 9. It’s completely inappropriate behaviour that I can’t stop and their mum can’t really control. The dad is completely absent, and the mum can’t do everything.
I said on my resume that I didn’t mind cooking, but I’ve ended up cooking almost every night. I don’t work weekends and I have my own bedroom and bathroom, but the 5 hours a day on weekdays I’m supposed to be working has been extended to almost 10 every day. It’s not sustainable, and I’m now constantly tired, worn down, grumpy and a bit sick. I’ve been here 2 weeks and it feels like a lifetime.
I haven’t been here long, but should I get out ASAP? I’ve expressed my exhaustion/ worries to the mum, and she seemed upset but understanding, although nothing has changed. What would you, as a more experienced au pair, do in this situation?
I’m sorry, that’s such a bummer :(. Honestly I would probably look for a new family. Check the au pair Facebook groups in your city, that’s how most au pairs I know switched families. And then give the family a week or so to find someone else.
Also, I’m not sure of which country you’re in but most European countries have a certain amount of hours you can work a week, and it sounds like you’re working well outside of that. In most countries, au pairs can legally work 30 hours max., so remind your host mom of that and go over SPECIFICALLY how she wants to allot those hours. As in I would draw this out on a piece of paper. Hope this helps!
Im about to sign a contract with a family in Italy! I’m very excited, but how did you insure that your family was safe?
That’s so exciting! I actually met my family while living in Michigan which helped. But I would recommend skyping them and talking to their former au pairs if possible.
I’m am currently deciding between two families. The first family I felt a strong connection with and their au pair gave a good recommendation. The second family I liked as well and they were in a location where I would be able to meet more young people, the thing is the second family has never had an au pair. Should I go with the first family with the less population dense location but good reference and I connected with them right away (it’s still a medium sized city) or the second one, with the larger city and first timers?
Hi Alison, honestly I’m not sure. It sounds like both could be good options. As long as you seemed to like the second family, maybe go with them? Making friends makes a big difference in the overall experience.
Love this article! I am an au pair in Vienna now and I love it. It didn’t work out with my first host family because both of us had wildly different expectations. We definitely should have clarified some things during the interview process.
Setting the right expectations is SO crucial. I wish I had done a better job of it as well!
I found a host family, they seem kind and easy-going, however, I was wondering if I should be concerned by the fact that their profile says that they’ve had 0 applicants in the past month. Also, I found this rather strange, considering that they live right in the outskirts of Paris.
Hi Rebecca, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about that. Just make sure to Skype them and see if you get along! My au pair handbook has a more detailed list of questions to ask :) https://www.ashleyabroad.com/au-pairing-europe-ebook/
I am on a gap year from uni. And I’ve decided to work as an Au Pair , since I love caring for children. I’ve worked as a Childminder too. Although only for a month, since I thought I was gonna start uni this year.
I’ve found a host family in the UK and all the paperwork is underway. I really need your advice on how to go abt everything, as regards Au Pairing. I think I’m gonna Lyk the family, we’ve only communicated through mails and they seem okay, a mix of Chinese and British. Is it really okay to jst go for them? More so I wouldn’t want to disappoint, since I told them I was okay with working with them. I’ve had a lot of families reject my profile, and getting theirs really made me happy. Now, two more families are interested in me. What would you suggest I do please? I wouldn’t want to have a bad year.
Hi Faridah, I would 100 percent recommend talking to them on Skype! Also there are lots of important questions you should ask, which I cover in more depth in my au pair handbook – https://www.ashleyabroad.com/au-pairing-europe-ebook/
Best of luck to you!
I am only 17, and I really want to be an au pair this summer (I turn 18 in July) before I go away to college. Do you think I would be too young?
In some au pair countries (like France) you can au pair at 17 – here are the age restrictions. https://www.aupairworld.com/en/au_pair/age_restrictions. But if you’re only doing it for the summer (i.e. less than three months) you don’t need to get an au pairing visa, so age doesn’t matter anyway. Hope that answers your question!
Hello! I’m having trouble getting a visa in France, one family I really like is trying to start the process but they said that there may be an issue since I’ve never taken French before and I that may be something I have to prove for my visa. Regardless, this whole process has been pretty stressful and I think the visa is adding to that. I’m so excited for this experience, I’ve never been to Europe so I just want to see, learn, and do as much as possible. Do you think it would be doable and beneficial for me to skip the visa process legally and do 90 days in France, 90 days in Spain, 90 days in Italy and 90 more days in France or Spain again? It would be a pain to find multiple families but I’d be able to experience more places and save money from taking language lessons. I’ve never been an au pair before though. Do you have any advice, thoughts or suggestions?
Hi Sarah, honestly I think that would be pretty stressful. Plus, Americans can only be in the EU for 90 days at a time, and then have to leave the Schengen Zone for another 90 days. I’d keep with the visa process. I only had taken one semester of French when I applied for my visa, and just put my ‘letter of purpose’ into Google Translate.
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