What Is An Au Pair And Other Questions

what is an au pairWhat is an Au Pair? Could an au pair help you?

In September 2014 we had our first au pair arrive, Manon from Grasse, France.  She was a lovely natured, bubbly, 22 year old who decided to take so time off her life in France before completing her studies in Paris in 2015.  We decided to try an au pair for a number of different reasons, but mainly because we felt we needed an extra set of hands where the kids were involved.

When we say that we have an au pair to other parents it often sparks a lot of interest.  Below are some of more common questions we’ve been asked since we’ve started taking au pairs into our home.

What is an au pair?

An au-pair is effectively a live in nanny from another country. They come to help you with your children while getting a new cultural experience. They are provided with full room and board and often an allowance or stipend based on the number hours work they perform for you (the stipend differs between au pair types).

What are the differences between types of au pairs?

  • Demi au pairs come into Australia on a Student Visa, can stay for between 3 – 12 months and do between 15 – 20 hours work for the host family each week. Demi au pairs are provided with room and board, however they do not need to be paid an allowance.  Being on a Student Visa, they are obliged to attend classes whilst in Australia and are often from Asian countries.
  • Part time au pairs come into Australia on Working Holiday Visas, can stay up to 2 years (although there are very specific conditions in which this can happen) and do a minimum 25 hours each week. The special condition which most pertains to their au pair roles is that can on stay a maximum 6 months with a host family AND can work for a maximum of 2 families during their stay. My understanding is that they can stay on for a further year by working on a farm or associated business, but this is out of the scope of this article, so I won’t go further into it.  They are paid an allowance, however the amount is up to you.  Our agency recommended this to be $6 per hour worked, however you can pay more or possibly less if agreed to by both parties.  You can increase these hours up to 45 per week to be inline with a full time au pair. They are expected to have at least 2 full consecutive days off each week.
  • Full time au pairs are the same as part-time au pairs, however they are guaranteed to work 40 – 45 hours per week.

Did you use an agency or go private?

We’ve used agencies so far, mainly because it’s scary inviting a stranger into your house and there looks like there is a bit to organise with background checks, travel arrangements, etc, however with each experience we are getting braver and may bypass an agency in the future. Agencies are a good way to start because they provide you with peace of mind of references, completed questionnaires, police reports, etc, however you’ll pay for it.  At between $600 – $1200 per placement (every 6 months) it’s not a small amount of money, however for peace of mind, is it really that steep?

Can anyone get an au pair?

Yes, but you will need the space to accommodate it – our agency stipulated that they must have their own room and ideally their own bathroom (they share a bathroom with our kids).  Our girls now share a room to allow an au pair to be with us.  Most days that is great, however some days it can be a problem.

Do you have to provide them with a car or transport?

Some families provide a car, others allow access to a car as long as it’s not needed and others don’t provide it at all.  You’re not obliged to, however if you live a long way from places your au pair might need to get to, it’s recommended you assist with travel costs.  The can use your car as part of the role they perform, but bear in mind this may effect your insurance premium and should be taken into account.

Do they come everywhere with you?

They can, but it’s up to you and them.  We’ve had au pairs attend Xmas, Easter, birthdays, dinners at friend’s place, sporting events, etc and then sometimes they opt to do their own thing to.  Remember they’re here to experience our country. If they’re always in your pocket, they’re not going to be getting that.  If an au pair wasn’t getting out of the house on a regular basis and creating a network outside the home, I’d be encouraging it; it’s part of the Aussie experience!

What are the positives of having au pair?

An au pair can do any chore that is directly related to your children, so there are a few positives here.  Our children are a little older, so our au pairs are active in the scaffolding process, that is they are told specifically not to do tasks, but to assist in getting the task done because we’re in the process of transferring responsibility to the children.  As you might know from experience though, this doesn’t always work in practice and the au pair knows there are boundaries and that from time to time they may have to complete the task themselves.

Are there any negatives to having an au pair?

Of course there are, as with most things, but I can’t think of too many. The ones that immediately spring to mind are

  • Privacy – this is biggie for some, us included and probably why we didn’t get an au pair years ago; we like our little family unit and didn’t want to break that. Letting a complete stranger into your house is a big move, especially knowing they’re with you for up to 6 months. In saying that, if you’ve gone through an agency, there may be assistance afforded to you if it really isn’t working out.
  • Risk – there I said it, there is a risk to inviting a complete stranger in to your house. I’m not necessarily referring to a sinister side, although I’ve watched enough Law and Order to be conscious of it, but what about sloppy, lazy, poor hygene, personality clashes, etc.  Whether you’re looking at a male or female au pair, they might not end up being as expect and that can cause friction and tears in some cases (from both parties).  There are ways to mitigate against getting a dud though.  Just as you would interview an employee, you interview an au pair. Start with questions via email and then move to phone or Skype if they seem suitable. I’d recommend using the video functionality of Skype on this one where possible, just so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

So finally, how’s it going for us?

We’re loving the experience to be honest.  It’s not all perfect, but it’s helping us keep on top of things and provides the whole family with many life lessons including living with someone who embodies an unfamiliar culture, communication with people whose primary language may not be English, sharing and cooperating with caregivers other than mum and dad. Our current situation dictates that au pairs will be the norm in our house for quite a few more years, so perhaps I’ll post some more stories in the future. If you’ve been thinking about it, it’s totally worth it.


PS: If you’re serious about getting an au pair to help with your family, please don’t use this as your only source of research.  The article is written from a user’s perspective (ours) and is merely an account experiences and of our understanding of the process. I’d recommend at least touching base with an agency in the first place as they deal with au pairs and host families on a daily basis, they are truly the experts and why, to date, we’ve placed our trust in one.  Good luck and enjoy the journey!

PPS: If you’ve got any questions that haven’t been answered above, feel free to comment below with your question and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

Leigh Grigaliunas

Leigh is an owner and co-founder of School Hours Pty Ltd.Leigh's passion for helping others coupled with his desire to achieve a balance between raising children and earning a living, lead him to create School Hours Pty Ltd with his wife Yasmin.School Hours will be the place to go for Australian parents wanting to connect with progressive thinking, family friendly employers.

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