Want to Move to Europe? Here’s How This Girl Became a Nanny in France

How to become an au pair

Do you dream of living in Europe?

Of sitting in cafes, eating pastries and learning a new language?

Ashley Fleckenstein did.

But, like most young Americans, she didn’t have the money to just pick up and go — nor the right qualifications to get a full-time job abroad.

So she decided to find work in a field many of us have experience in: child care. She decided to become an au pair.

You might not have heard the word before, but an au pair is essentially an international nanny.

And if you’re young, open-minded and good with kids, it could be your key to living abroad.  

What’s an Au Pair?

An au pair is a young man or woman — usually between the ages of 18-30 — who works for a foreign family in exchange for room, board and cultural exchange.

The majority of au pair jobs are in Europe, making it an easy way to live in this expensive part of the world — without going broke.  

Because Fleckenstein wanted to learn French, she worked for a family outside Paris.  

Hours and duties vary depending on the country and family — but generally, you’d be responsible for child care and light housework for between 20 and 40 hours per week.

“Every family is different,” Fleckenstein explains. “You might be in charge of anything from triplet infants to two teenage girls.”

Your stay abroad would be temporary, usually lasting a maximum of one year. Depending on the country, you might be required to take a language course to maintain your visa.

In exchange for your work, you’ll receive free accommodation, food and health insurance, as well as a small weekly stipend.

That’s in addition, of course, to the priceless experience of living abroad and immersing yourself in a new culture.

How Can You Find Au Pair Jobs Abroad?

Until recently, au pair agencies matched most au pairs with their families.

But these days, you can take matters into your own hands by searching online.  

Here are a few resources:

  • AuPairWorld: This is the most popular site for finding au pair jobs. It has more than 8,000 families in its database and is FREE for au pairs to use. It also offers answers to all of your au-pairing FAQs.
  • AuPair.com: Though not as popular as AuPairWorld, this is still a solid choice for finding host families.
  • Work Abroad as an Au Pair or Nanny: This post gives a general overview of the au-pairing culture in different countries in Europe and is a good place to begin your research.
  • Au Pair Mom: This blog is from a host family’s point-of-view, but also has helpful information for aspiring au pairs.

Note: If you want to au pair in the United States (as a non-citizen), Switzerland or Norway, you can search for jobs online, but will eventually have to use an agency to arrange your paperwork and visas.

How Much Do Au Pairs Earn?

Working as an au pair isn’t a good way to get rich.

However, it’s a great way to spend a year living, working and learning abroad.

If you cultivate this perspective, you’ll have a much better chance of enjoying your experience.

That being said, all host families must provide lodging (often within their own homes), food, health insurance and “pocket money” for their au pairs.  

Some families may pay for half of your plane ticket there, and others may also pay for your bus pass, cell phone bill and language course.

The amount of pocket money you earn varies widely, but does have to meet each country’s minimum standards.

Much of your experience and compensation will depend on the family, so it’s essential you clarify everything before accepting a position.

Fleckenstein earned 125 euros per week (about $142 US), and her host family paid for her language school, plane ticket and cell phone — but not her subway pass.

On her blog, she’s featured a number of other au pairs. One earned 85 euros per week in France, while others earned 340 euros per month in the Netherlands and 400 euros per month in Germany.

Here are the minimum wages in several popular countries:

  • Australia: $640 to $800 per month
  • France: $310 to $370 per month
  • Germany: $306 per month
  • Norway: $655 per month
  • Spain: $235 to $330 per month

“Always ask for a higher salary than they want to give you,” Fleckenstein advises. “Negotiation is key.”

What Should Au Pairs Expect?

Looking for more advice? Here’s what a few other former au pairs have to say.  

On Realistic Expectations…

“The opportunity is less about making and saving a lot of money and much more about having an opportunity to immerse yourself in a different country and culture,” says Janine Sobeck.

“I was comfortable in my family’s home, and the money I earned allowed me to explore surrounding areas, enjoy the food and acquire some cherished mementos.”  

On Selecting a Family…

“Follow your gut,” urges Alex Butts. “Your instincts are strong; you can tell which family you are going to love and is going to love you back.”

“I spent hours on Au Pair World. I’m talking HOURS. I exchanged emails with several families and Skyped with about five. Explore your options and your heart will lead you the right way.

On Living Arrangements…

“If you live with the family, you’ll learn more of the language — but if you have your own apartment, you’ll be less stressed out and have a better social life,” Fleckenstein says.

On Negotiations…

“The family provides all room and board, food and health insurance for you,” says Hanley Russell. “I was responsible for my toiletries, food when out, cell phone bill and gym membership.”

“Some families provide train/bus passes — and I highly recommend asking for one of these when negotiating,” Russell explains.

“I would have saved so much money if I had one. If there’s something you want, ask in the beginning. It’s a whole lot less awkward than asking once you’re here.”

On Isolation…

“When choosing a family, location should be a primary factor,” explains Rachel Ward.

“You’ll be alone with children rather than working with other adults, limiting your networking opportunities… No matter where you move, understand that as an au pair you’ll undoubtedly spend a lot of time alone and must ask yourself how you handle solitude.”

For the young, adventurous and broke, working abroad as an au pair is a fantastic way to live in a foreign country and expand your horizons — and perhaps, gain a very special second family.

Your Turn: Would you like to work as an au pair abroad? Where would you most like to live?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.