Curious about how to au pair in the UK? Read on to hear about American au pair Amy’s experience working for an English family, and her tips on how to best find a family and visa.
When people decide to au pair, often the main motive is to develop their foreign language skills. As someone who miserably stammered her way through the minimalist of Spanish classes, this was not true for me. I figured it would be hard enough to try to manage and care for someone else’s children in English, let along struggling to do it in a different language. I was lucky enough to find a lovely host family in England, where I spent six months caring for a family with four children.
I had an amazing experience and would recommend au pairing to anyone. Here is some advice, not just for the UK but any place that you might be interested in traveling to.
1. Know Your Immigration Options to work as an au pair in the UK
I wanted to go to the UK or Ireland because I didn’t want to struggle with the language in addition to the other challenges of au pairing. However, as a US citizen, obtaining a legitimate working visa is a challenge.
US citizens can stay in the UK for up to three months as a tourist without a working visa, but if you choose to be sneaky at immigration you run the risk of being deported and being banned from travel in all Schengen countries – obviously, this is not something I would recommend!
Fortunately for me, I was eligible for BUNAC, a program that helps college students and recent grads obtain visas for limited employment. When I was an au pair, nine years ago (yikes!), my BUNAC visa allowed me to work for six months in the UK wherever I could find employment. It cost about $400 and was a relatively simple process done via mail.
Now, the BUNAC program seems to be completely different. The price has doubled and the program has become stricter, requiring you to obtain an internship before traveling to the UK. To be honest, looking at the options out there, it’s incredibly difficult to get work as an au pair if you are a US citizen only. Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand citizens have more options (check out the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme for a complete list of eligible countries). If you are a dual citizen, check the visa requirements for both nationalities.
If you have any tips or recommendations for getting a visa to au pair in the UK as a US citizen, please leave them in the comments section!
2. Make Yourself Available
Due to the complicated visa issues, many au pair placement agencies don’t offer services to US citizens. Instead, I turned to au pair databases. These websites work a lot like dating websites – you make a profile, the host families make profiles, and then you both can do filtered searches to find a good match.
I used GreatAuPair.com and was quickly in contact with several families. Putting time into your profile here (just like on a dating website!) is really important. Add lots of details, highlight any childcare experience, and upload a lot of photos. Consider how you’re presenting yourself – you want to seem responsible but also like someone children would enjoy spending time with.
I found most families were looking for someone to come in the next 1-3 months, so know your timeline and be prepared to make commitments when you start searching for a family.
3. Find Your Host Family
This is probably the most important stage. You want to find a situation where everyone involved is happy and comfortable. Be clear about what you can offer and what you expect. I know it’s very exciting to be planning a big life change, but don’t necessarily jump at the first person who offers you a position.
I had a host family from Ireland who was interested but wanted me to stay longer than my visa would have allowed. I could have agreed to be sneaky, to change from my BUNAC visa to a tourist visa, but that wasn’t something I was comfortable with.
Take the time to really get to know the family. Schedule a Skype or phone interview to get a feel for their personality but also request expectations in writing to limit confusion.
Will you be expected to drive the children anywhere? Are you going to be responsible for preparing meals? What are the hours and will there be any overnight babysitting? Are there any additional responsibilities besides childcare?
It wasn’t until I was in the car with my host family for the first time that I found out their au pairs also cut the grass! It wasn’t a big deal, but you want to minimize the number of surprises and hiccups that happen as you transition.
Also ask for references! See if they will put you in touch with the current or previous au pairs. If they are hesitant, that says a lot. The au pairs will give you another perspective, not just on the family and workload but also on daily life and social aspects of the specific situation.
4. Book Your Ticket…
…and make a photocopy of your passport.
Two days before I was supposed to fly home, I lost my passport. The day before my flight back to New York, I had to travel to London to apply for an emergency passport at the US embassy. I was very lucky to walk out three hours later with a new passport. Having a photocopy of my lost passport was key – I might have been stuck at the embassy for hours or had to change my flight without that wrinkled piece of paper that had been forgotten in my suitcase for the last six months.
On another note, don’t use your passport to get into clubs.
5. Bond with Your Host Family
Au pairing can be a complicated thing. Your work and home life is blended. You are going to have all sorts of challenges and new situations and surprises and the children are definitely going to test you.
My host parents were incredibly wonderful, friendly and cheerful and fully supportive of my role as an authority figure. I also was careful not to overstep any authority bounds and to consult them as much as possible.
Not only are you responsible for health and welfare of little ones, but you want to make sure you feel comfortable in your new home. The more you bond with your host parents, communication will be easier, you’ll be more of a team, and they really will become like family.
6. Experience and Explore
Just because you might speak the language, don’t treat your experience like home! Make sure you’re getting out and about. Explore the country and take advantage of budget flights all over Europe! I had a week off while my host family was visiting in-laws and I went to Copenhagen, Venice, and Prague.
Expect there to be some culture shock and confusion. Sometimes it’s more confusing when you have the same word in your languages but it means different things! I’m not sure I ever got used to “pants” being underwear and “pies” including everything from fruit pies to Shepard’s pie.
Thanks to my time in England, I have a lasting love of British pop music, an affection for the Norfolk coast, and a disdain for drinking my tea with sugar.
I had an exceptional time au pairing in England and would recommend it to anyone who is considering it! If you have au pair-ed or is thinking about au pairing in the UK, share your advice and questions with us.
Have you ever worked as an au pair in the UK? Comment below!
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