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Being an Au pair in France – the good, the bad and the tantrums

For foreigners seeking to visit France or improve their French, au pairing can be a cheap and very attractive option - but it does come with a few pitfalls, as described to Stephanie Stacey.

Being an Au pair in France - the good, the bad and the tantrums
It's not all ships and giggles being an au pair in France. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

English-speaking nannies are always in high demand in France and for British, American and Canadian visitors it comes with the attractive option of getting an ‘au pair visa’ (more on that below) making entry to the country a little easier.

READ ALSO How to get a French visa  

Many au pairs in France live with – or at least, pretty near – their host families, and receive free accommodation and ‘pocket money’ in exchange for childcare.

Non-EU au pairs in France are entitled to at least €320 per month to cover expenses, while EU au pairs generally receive between €273.75 and €328.50. Families often also provide a transportation pass – such as the Parisian Navigo – and food, whether this comes in the form of sharing family meals or simply having your own groceries paid for. 

If you enjoy the company of children, au pairing can be a decent gig, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Here’s what some au pairs had to say about the best and worst aspects of the job, and their top tips for other young people hoping to follow in their footsteps.

The good

You learn a lot  

Mika-Elle, an au pair from the United States, told The Local that a great benefit of au pairing is getting the chance to learn a whole host of new skills, including “time management, maturity and responsibility” as well as the chance to brush up your French.  

It’s a true cultural immersion

For some visitors to France, particularly students, its tempting to stay within a ‘bubble’ of fellow internationals.

But as an au pair in France, you’ll have the chance to totally soak up the French language, participate in French traditions, and – most importantly – eat French food.

One au pair from Scotland was “particularly lucky” to find herself living with a foodie family who ate beautifully-prepared meals almost every evening.

You get to travel cheaply

With free accommodation and board, au pairing lets you explore a new place on a shoestring budget. Some au pairs even get to go on all-expenses-paid holidays with their host families, although these holidays usually involve fairly heavy childcare so they’re not completely restful. 

If you enjoy both caring for children and visiting new places, au pairing is a great way to “match these things together”, said Maike, a 19-year-old au pair from Germany. 

You can form a true bond with the children

Connecting with the children is, for many au pairs, one of the great rewards of the job.  

You might find yourself feeling thrilled when the kids manage a few words in English, or even a little tearful to receive a scribbled drawing of yourself. 

The bad parts

But it’s not all fine dining and luxury holidays, the job can be intense and lonely and as you’re essentially living in your workplace, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if there are problems.

It can be hard to take time for yourself

If you’re living with a host family, it can feel like you’re always on duty, especially if the children can wander into your room or bump into you on the way to the toilet. 

A British au pair from Birmingham, said she found herself literally barricading the door to her bedroom in an attempt to keep out an overly-friendly five-year-old.   

Cross-cultural negotiations can be draining

American au pair Mika-Elle pointed out that it can be hard to make yourself understood across different cultural norms, especially if there’s a language barrier. It’s hard to keep everything on track if expectations aren’t clear, or if cross-cultural assumptions and stereotypes don’t match up to reality.  

Keeping professional boundaries can be difficult

Although you might expect to have to deal with children’s tantrums, emotional parents can be even more challenging. As an au pair, you often find yourself embedded in families’ personal lives and, especially if things aren’t going all that well, this can be pretty draining. 

One German au pair said that she struggled to handle tearful parents as well as tearful toddlers. Another au pair from Manchester found herself living with a family in which the parents were going through a difficult divorce. 

The schedule 

It’s also worth noting that the typical au pair schedule – which is likely to include afternoons and evenings, as well as part of the weekend – often clashes with the free time of those working a standard 9-5 schedule, meaning social meetups, clubs and other activities can sometimes be a bit tricky to organise.

The money

Although your basic food and accommodation is theoretically free, the ‘pocket money’ you receive needs to cover any additional shopping expenses, social activities, and drinks.

If you’re living in an expensive city like Paris, the pocket money – usually only around €80 a week – can go pretty fast, especially if you’re trying to save for trains or flights to visit friends and family back home. 

How to become an au pair

If all this hasn’t put you off au pairing, here are some tips experienced au pairs shared with The Local.

Do your research

Before you sign a contract with a family, figure out if they’re really a good fit for you. Where do they live? What do they do? What are their hobbies?

If they’ve had an au pair previously, ask to be put in touch!  

Know your rights

Although it’s nice to think of au pairs as being ‘part of the family’, it can be helpful to “remember that it’s also a job, and that you have rights”, said an au pair from Manchester. This means enforcing your contract, making sure you’re paid on time, and not taking on unreasonable duties, like excessive hours or household cleaning.

Legally, au pairs in France shouldn’t be expected work beyond 25 hours a week, but it’s certainly not uncommon for families to ask for more than this. 

Connect with other au pairs

Isolation is a common concern among aspiring au pairs. However much you like children, sometimes you need to talk to someone your own age and watch a film other than Frozen

Put yourself out there. Chat to other people in your French classes. Join social media groups for young people, especially young internationals, in your local area. Try to join a sports or leisure club. 

Don’t be afraid to move on and try again

Remember: it’s okay if it doesn’t work out the first time. 

German au pair Maike left a family in Nice after just two weeks, having experienced difficulties with both the children and the parents.

Now, she’s happily settled with a new host family near Strasbourg. She encourages future au pairs to commit to both the au pairing experience and their own happiness: “If it doesn’t work with one family, then try again – you can find the right family for you!”   

How do I find a family?

To find a host family, you can either go through an agency – who will generally organise the matching process based on the information provided by prospective au pairs and prospective hosts – or respond directly to a specific family’s advert. 

Private adverts can be found on various specialist websites – including AuPairWorld – as well as on social media: type something like ‘au pair in Paris’ into Facebook and you can expect several thousand results.

It’s worth weighing up the two options. While an agency can sometimes offer extra security, responding directly to private adds offers you a wider range of options, and gives you more freedom to stick firm to your personal preferences.

How do I get the au pair visa?

European Union citizens can live and work in France – as an au pair or otherwise – without restrictions. Post-Brexit, however, young Brits will need to apply for the special au pair visa, just like other non-EU citizens. 

France’s au pair visas are issued to young people between the ages of 18 and 30. They’re typically issued for a year but may be extended for a second.

You can apply for the au pair visa through the French Consulate in your home country. To obtain it, you must have an au pair placement agreement setting out your working conditions and your pay. This will need to contain precise details of your subsistence, accommodation, and insurance arrangements.

Non-EU citizens are required to be enrolled in French language courses during their stay in France, so make sure your au pair placement agreement includes the arrangements for your classes.

You will also need to prove basic knowledge of the French language, that you are educated to secondary school level or that you have some kind of professional qualification.

Member comments

  1. We hosted Francophone au pairs for 7 years in the US (and now live in France). I would strongly urge anyone considering becoming an au pair to go through a reputable au pair agency, as they generally supply health insurance, social connections among fellow au pairs, and will either serve as ombudsmen or organize a shift to a new family if things get rocky. Commit to learning the new language, but be fair to the family, if they want their kids to learn your language, please be sure to speak to the kids in English. You can learn your french from the family and from daily life in France.
    14+ years after saying a loving and tearful farewell to our last au pair, we are still in some contact with most of them (we even formed a private FB group for all of us!)

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