Tuesday, April 12, 2011

So you wanna be an au pair in Paris?? part 1

Judging from the increased number of friends I have had telling me they've been considering being an au pair, and the number of people who have found my blog by searching for related key words, I suppose I should make a post dedicated to au pairing in general (which, despite what you may read here, can be quite fun).

Many people want to come to France.  Unfortunately for Americans and other non-EUers, without a job already lined up (which are difficult to come by), a French passport (or other EU country), a French husband, or a lot of money ready to blow on an extended non-working holiday, your options are rather limited.

  1.  Teaching Assistantship.  Check it out.  Pros: it's a real job that doesn't involve children.  Cons: the application deadline for 2011-12 is closed, and you don't get to pick your city.  If you have your heart set on Paris, you may be disappointed, but if I had it to do over I might have picked a city on the south coast, French riviera, because goodness it's beautiful there.  
  2. And of course, au pairing.  (Maybe I should include #3, tricking a French man into marrying you, but until you meet French men, think carefully about this option).
I will include a disclaimer here: despite how nice the family will seem, how lovely they swear their children are, how much the last au pair convinces you that everything is just sunshine and rainbows:  it's not.  Yes, there are good parts, and this has certainly been one of my most rewarding and exciting experiences, but also the hardest, in many many ways (as I'm sure those regular readers know quite well).  You will experience culture shock (in ways you didn't even think possible.  Like, pink toilet paper.  Really, France?), homesickness, loneliness, brokeness (is that a word?),  isolation, add all that to taking care of someone else's children which is always challenging even in your own country, and you are guaranteed to have some "what the hell was I thinking, get me on a plane back home NOW" moments.  But, we all love a challenge, don't we?  So without further ado...

Step 1: To use an agency or not?
Some people will tell you to use an agency; I don't know anyone who has actually done this.  They will charge you a fee, and yes they will help match you and help you with your visa, but this process is really easier than it looks.  Save the money, you'll need it.  There are 2 websites that seem to be most commonly used:  aupairworld.net and greataupair.com.  Personally I had more success with the former, but I know one or two people who used GA with good results.  Think of it like online dating.  You set up a profile, the families set up a profile, and it gives you matches based on your preference.  It is free to sign up, most families pay a fee to be able to see your contact info and get in touch with you.  If they don't, you don't want them anyway, they are obviously not on the ball.  If, however, you still insist on hiring someone to do all this for you, I'd be happy to do your searching for a minimal fee...

Step 2: Finding your family.
There are a few things to look for on the profile of the family, things you wouldn't think about unless you've been there.

  • Location, location locationJust outside the city or near the city probably means about 30 minutes away or more.  Yes, Paris has a great train system, but it is not open all night, and many families will object to you coming home too late anyway.  They may say they are from Paris in the headline, but google map the place they say they are from.  Unless they are within the Peripherique (that road that runs around Paris), they are not actually IN Paris.
  • Accommodations: it is a requirement that au pairs in France have their own rooms.  If the family says you must share a room with the children, RUN AWAY.  If you live in a home with the family (most common in the suburbs) you may have to share bathrooms and showers as well.  Many families have an adjoined au pair "wing" which is like a mini-apartment within their house, or a "guest house" on their property you may stay in.  This is a very good deal.  In the city, it is fairly common for the family to have a separate studio apartment because of a lack of space.  Note: "small studio" probably means "smaller than you've ever seen a person who's not homeless living in in America."  It will be tiny by your standards.  Do not assume that this apartment will have a toilet, shower, kitchen, or anything other than a bed unless it is expressly mentioned.  Also don't assume there will be an elevator to your 5th floor apartment (hint hint).  Ask about these things.
  • Schedule/responsibilities: ask for a specific schedule during a typical day (from both the family and the previous au pair, if possible).  Do the kids come home for lunch?  If so, you'll probably be working afternoons.  Do you have responsibilities in the house while the kids are at school?  What are your Wednesdays like (French children typically don't have school, or get out early on Wednesdays)?  Do you have weekends free?  What about children's vacations from school?  Babysitting?  Do you need to drive? (in Paris, hopefully this will not be required of you.  If it is, God bless you.)  How much cooking and cleaning will you be expected to do outside of your responsibilities with the children?  Will you care for pets?  Will you be asked to wait tables for dinner parties and not be paid extra for such tasks?  (No, seriously.  It could happen.)  Ask for details, and ask for them in writing.  Save these emails.
  • Language courses:  if you are American, you will need to enroll in French courses to satisfy your immigration requirements.  And you will likely have to pay for these yourself (although there are the occasional families who offer to cover this).  They tell you you have to take 10 hours a week the whole year; no one will come after you if you only sign up for 12 weeks at 8 hours a week (my school even gave me documentation of year-long 10 hours a week enrollment, even though I wasn't, for immigration purposes).  Go to class, try to learn.  It will make life easier.  Also, if you want to renew your visa for a second year, you may need to provide proof that you stuck with the class the whole year (which I didn't).  So keep that in mind if you think you may like to stay.  Bonus: signing up for the class allows you to get the Imagine R metro pass for students, which is half the price of the normal monthly Navigo.  Hint: many language schools offer Au Pair programs, that are generally cheaper and more flexible than normal courses. 
  • Pay: in summary, you probably won't get a lot.  The government minimum for au pairs is 300 euro a month.  Many pay more.  The au pair work week is legally set at 30 hours a week.  If you will work more, ask for more pay.  Especially if you live away from the family, you should expect more to cover things that would otherwise be provided for you such as food, transportation, etc.  In a live out option, ask for a minimum of 400, some I know get 500, and one girl I knew got 400 PLUS up to 200 reimbursed for her groceries (they counted receipts at the end of the month).  Pay is always negotiable.  Find out what you will be expected to pay for (internet in your apartment, some of your food, transportation, etc) and factor that in to the amount you ask for.
  • Do both parents work?  Seems weird, I know, but if they do, find out exactly what time they usually get home, and hold them to it.  Also, keep in mind that you will be the primary care giver on Wednesdays, vacations, sick days, etc.  As spoiled and needy as I think it has made my kids to have a stay-at-home mom AND and au pair, when the kids are sick, I don't work more.  I don't work all day Wednesday.  I have school vacations off for travel.  Each situation has pros and cons.
Other tips: As an American, a family who had previously had an American au pair was helpful because they were familiar with visa requirements and all the bureaucracy that goes along with it.  And don't feel rushed.  Take your time.  Don't accept the first offer you get; explore your options and see if there's a better option out there.

Well, I think this has gotten long enough for now, and believe it or not, I do occasionally have a life with friends and need to go take advantage of that.  Next time: things to do once you've found your family to help prepare for your time abroad (get excited), and how much is this REALLY gonna cost you?


  1. Hi, I'm going to be an au pair beginning in August and I'm curious if you had to pay for a residence permit once you arrived in France? Also, did you have to pay for a medical check? I think it may be part of a requirement from the OFII (?) not really sure. Well, you wrote you'll be tackling those monetary issues in your next post. I'll wait and see.

  2. Hi, you do have to pay a "tax," mine was 55 euros but I think it depends on your length of stay, you buy this 55 euro stamp from a tabac and take it with you when you go for your medical exam. After the exam they'll give you your carte de sejour. That's the only fee I paid during the OFII dealings once I got here.

  3. Really, only 55 euros? My host-family was telling me about 354 euros or something like that for a residence permit that I would need. Is the carte de sejour the residence permit? Did they just stamp it into your passport?

    I'm the first American they'll have, so I'm just trying to get everything in order.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. WHOA no nothing like 354 euros...I believe the family pays taxes on you as if you were a dependent, so maybe they're talking about that, but I never paid anything that high. Mine was just 55 euros, and I think that was more expensive one because I'm here for a whole year and not just a semester. The carte de sejour is your residence card, it's a sticker they put on an empty page in your passport, and you'll need it if you enroll in social security or if you want to get another job in addition to au pairing.

  6. Sorry, I'm loading you with so many comments/questions. But, here's another: do you have to carry your passport around with you everywhere? Especially since it has the carte de sejour in it? Do you know of any restrictions in regards to work? Would one be able to take another job, ex. like at a convenience store or something akin to that? Were you also issued an ID card?

    Oh! More importantly, are you covered by medical insurance through your host family? I'm not sure if I should ask them about it.


  7. It's cool, ask away! It may help someone else down the line.
    1. Technically, yes you have to carry your passport around everywhere. Practically, I have never been asked for it, and many of my friends feel it's dangerous due to the risk of loss/theft. Some I know carry a photocopy, I usually keep it with me but I tend to be very careful about my purse. You will want it, however, when you go to museums, etc, to prove your age for youth fares, or to prove residency (if you stay for longer than 3 months you are a resident and most museums will let you in for free!)
    2. You will get a student visa, which allows you to work 20 hours a week. Au pairing is not "work," it is a "cultural exchange," other students and au pairs I know have work outside of au pairing, I believe all you need is that carte de sejour and you're legal to work. Most work in bars/restaurants (not many in convenience stores), especially those that cater to the English-speaking expat community, if your French isn't perfect. If you get done early enough in the evening, a bar could work, or check out Breakfast In America or other daytime English-speaking restaurants.
    3. You don't get an I.D. card. Your I.D. is your passport/visa/CDS.
    4. You ARE covered by medical insurance, but I'm a little unsure about the details. Definitely ask your family to find out details about this. Anyone staying longer than 6 months and who has paid taxes is covered, but I don't know if you need to wait until after 6 months for it to take effect, and there's lots of paperwork. I did mine in September after my accident, and they agreed to pay my hospital bills, but I still don't have a carte vitale that allows me to go to a doctor or something (they keep asking me for more paperwork, etc.) So this would be a great question for your family. Keep in mind that Social Security here acts like insurance in the states: it pays most, but not all, of the fees. My family recommended that I take out an insurance plan before I leave but they didn't realize how costly that is in America once you're not a student anymore...medical costs are much cheaper here, it may even be cheaper to just pay your bills out of pocket (if you have any) than to buy expensive American insurance. Just in case, if you have any medical needs/prescriptions (i.e., birth control), fill them entirely before you come.

  8. Really appreciable article about what to do and how to do for being an Au Pair........

  9. As an American just starting the process of finding a family in Switzerland, I appreciate this blog! It is nice to hear some real advice instead of the same old "perfect" responses. So thank you!

  10. How do you, personally, find families for aupairing?

  11. sorry to Sam/Anonymous for not responding, I don't check this too much anymore. Samantha, personally, I used aupairworld.net, I also used greataupair.com but with no success. I know one person who used an agency and said it was easy but was not very happy with her family. It's up to you whether or not you want to use a middleman.

  12. Hello there! Did you manage to complete all the options of your blog all by yourself or you got professional help?

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  17. hey, i'm working on the visa stuff now and i was wondering what language school you got your paperwork from bc someone advised me to just sign up for the french classes and then drop them but i think you have to pay to get the proof of enrollment for the visa anyway. is that right?? i do want to take the courses but not for the whole year. so... what do i do??

  18. Hi! I will be living as an au pair in the suburbs right next to Paris this coming school year. I was wondering if it is acceptable to ask the language school to do what they did for you? I'm going to French Langue (or Paris Langue, can't remember), and I would prefer to pay for one or two terms rather than the full three! It's expensive!

    Also, I was under the impression that the OFII fees were outrageous (over 300 dollars). Is it really only 55 euro? Did you get a student visa or an au pair visa? I hope it's only 55!

  19. FOr those asking about OFII, when Is studied abroad, I only paid the 55 euros (it is literally just a stamp). Did anyone going to France from America need an attestation d'acceuil? I don't know if I need one.

  20. Hi,
    I was wondering if it was common for Au pairs to not live with the family? I have a friend in Paris who I would be able to stay with, so I'd rather not live at family's house. Also, do you know if this changes anything for the visa? Thanks so much! Your blog has been super helpful!

  21. hi, im wondering what language program you would recommend? i'm trying to find a french class that will actually help me with my language skills as i am not a beginner, Thanks!

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. Thanks for posting! I found it really helpful when I was doing my paper work!

    I have written a more up to date explanation of the process if anyone needs additional help! http://yayygoerin.blogspot.fr/p/au-pair-info.html

  24. 55 euros that is good for me i'm gonna get it as soon as possible
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  25. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.

  26. I have a question about the medical insurance. Will I be able to get it right away. I see you said it does not take effect immediately. So, will I be able to get prescriptions or go to the doctors that I need to go to. I probably wouldn't have to go for about three months, but I would need to go eventually.

  27. nice post - any more updates?

  28. anyone have any advice about: 1) which aupair agency to use 2) what interview ... We started with Au Pair in America, switched to Cultural Care to save...

    Know More au pair agency