|Caring for children|
|Outside the home|
|Institutions and standards|
An au pair (plural: au pairs) is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family's responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a small monetary allowance for personal use. Au pair schemes are subject to government restrictions which specify an age range usually from late teens to mid to late twenties. In Europe, where the concept originated, au pairs are only supposed to work part-time, and they often also study part-time, generally focusing on the language of the host country, but in the United States, they are permitted to provide full-time childcare.
The title comes from the French term au pair, meaning "at par" or "equal to", indicating that the relationship is intended to be one of equals: the au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary one, rather than a traditional domestic worker.
Although it is not as simple to acquire au pair status as it was in 1840, the expression was used to indicate economic parity between two things such as the home and the job (economical parity).
The expression au pair was used in this sense in 1840 by Balzac
Sylvie Rogron fut envoyée à cent écus de pension en apprentissage (...). Deux ans après, elle était au pair: si elle ne gagnait rien, ses parents ne payaient plus rien pour son logis et sa nourriture (BALZAC, Pierrette, 1840, p.17).
 ( [...] After two years, she was au pair, if she earned nothing, her parents did not have to pay for her home and her food (BALZAC, Pierrette, 1840, p.17). )
Concept and conditions
The concept of the au pair originated in Europe after World War II. Before the war, an abundant supply of domestic servants had been available to look after the children of middle and upper-class families, but changes in social attitudes, and increases in wages and taxes after the war, made the old system inaccessible to most middle class parents. At the same time, social change increased the number of middle class girls who needed to earn their own living, and rising educational aspirations for girls made experiencing foreign cultures and learning foreign languages more common aspirations.
However, due to the stigma attached to being a "servant", an essentially working class status which even working-class people were repudiating, this potential supply for domestic labour could only be utilised if a new non-servant role was created. Thus the au pair, who was supposed to be treated as a member of the family rather than a servant, and should not be required to wear a uniform.
An au pair receives an allowance, and a private room. The usual practice is that au pairs eat with the family most of the time, and join in some of the usual family activities such as outings and trips. However, host families normally expect to have some private time to themselves, particularly in the evenings. During this time, an au pair might retire to his or her room to watch television, study, or go out with friends. Provision is often made for the au pair to have time for studying, especially of the language of the host country. The Council of Europe recommends that au pairs be issued standard contracts with their family.
Some au pairs are now male, but females remain the overwhelming majority. Many governments impose limits as to how many hours an au pair is allowed to work. Tasks can include taking children to and from school, taking children to after-school activities, cooking, cleaning, ironing, and babysitting. Each placement varies depending on the host family.
In many developing countries, an abundant supply of local domestic labour is still available, so there is little or no demand for au pairs.
Au pairs can be expected to do a combination of child care and light housework duties. They are not responsible for housework that does not relate to the children’s or communal living areas that are kept tidy by all family members. An au pair's duties may include:
- waking the children
- taking/collecting children to/from school
- helping with school homework
- playing with the children
- taking the children on outings to parks, playgroups and other activities
- preparing light meals for children
- doing the children’s laundry and ironing their clothes
- making the children’s beds
- cleaning the children’s bathroom
The tradition of au pairing is well established in Austria, and prospective au pairs are served by several agencies who are accustomed to dealing with direct applications from foreigners. Requirements are not strenuous, and many inexperienced 18-year-olds are placed. The norm is for the agencies to charge their au pairs a fee equivalent to a week’s pocket money.
Officially, au pairs from outside Europe must obtain both a work and residence permit (Beschäftigungsbewilligung). The employing family should apply at their local employment office at least two weeks before the start date. Before the permit can be approved and an Anzeigebestätigung issued, the authorities must see an agreement or contract (signed by the employer and the au pair) and proof that health and accident insurance cover has been obtained by the au pair. A template of the contract is available on the Austrian Employment Service website (www.ams.or.at/download/aupair-vertrag.pdf). The agency should help with this process and tell the au pair where to take the documents to be stamped (for a fee).
Au Pair does not exist in the same format as the rest of the world. The Canadian government has the Live-In Caregiver program, which has broader requirements than the Au Pair program. Standard qualifications are regulated federally, though conditions of employment are determined at a provincial level. Requirements include a minimum of 6 months of training or 1 year of compatible employment within the last 3 years - though exceptions and additional stipulations do apply. Such regulations and complicating bureaucratic procedures are the driving force behind the creation of Live-In Caregiver (or Nanny) placement agencies, who act as a mediator between families, caregivers, and the government - providing support for documentation and advice on the program. 
Until recently, Au Pair agencies in China were exclusively sending young Chinese to the west to work as Au Pairs abroad, particularly for families who have adopted babies from China to help them learn Chinese. With China's rising middle class and economic growth, this has led to a growing demand for Au Pairs. This helps create opportunities to learn English at an early age, while also the opportunity for mothers to return to work and have additional help in raising the children. However,the main goal for most families hiring Au Pairs is primarily to help their children as well as themselves learn English, as the mother has the biggest role in raising the children.
In many countries the role of the au pair is seen as that something comparable to a nanny. However in Eastern countries such as China, where Confucianism has had deep cultural influence, the position of live-in educator is highly respected.
An au pair’s responsibilities also include light housework, totaling six hours a day, five days a week. The au pair has her/his own room, is provided with food and is paid a weekly allowance amounting to at least €252 per month (minimum set by Finnish law). Additionally, the host family will arrange a Finnish or Swedish language course to help the au pair communicate better with the children and get more out of his or her stay in Finland. Au pairs can stay with their host family for up to one year or negotiate a shorter stay.
Au pairing has long been a favored way for young women to learn French and, increasingly, for young men too. The pocket money for au pairs in France is Euro 60 per week plus in most cases a 20 euro a week contribution to language classes; in Paris families may also provide a carte Navigo (urban travel pass) which is worth 95 euros (approximately). Enrollment in a French language course is compulsory for non-European au pairs.
A number of established agencies belong to UFAAP, the Union Francaise des Associations Au Pair, an umbrella group set up in 1999, based at Europair Services in Paris.
- Application criteria
Potential au pairs must:
- Be aged 17–27
- Have basic skills in French
- Be able to commit to a period of at least 10 months (most host families prefer Au Pairs who can stay for the school year from September to June).
- Attend French language classes while in France (this is a requirement to obtain the Long-Stay Au Pair Visa)
Many independent agents are members of the Au Pair Society which has two offices in Germany and more than 40 members. The Society’s web site carries contact details for its members with links to agency web sites. Commercial au pair agencies do not charge a placement fee to incoming au pairs.
The Au-Pair Society e.V. is a member of the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) and is also in a commettee ECAPS (European Committee for Au-Pair Standards) where members of National Organisation from several European countries have defined new Standards for Au-Pair programme in Europe. Non-EU citizens no older than 24 can become au pairs through a German agency. Americans and Canadians do not need to apply for a residence and work permit before leaving their home countries; however it is a general requirement that au pairs prove that they have studied German. The monthly pocket money for an au pair in Germany was raised to 260 euros ($300+) in 2006. The majority of families also give their au pairs a monthly travel pass and other benefits such as a contribution to course fees or travel expenses.
- Application criteria
Potential au pairs must:
- Be 18–25 years old
- Have some child care experience.
- Be a non-smoker and non-drug user. Some families will accept smokers.
- Display basic conversational language ability Level A1
- Be able to make 6 to 12 month commitment. Shorter placements of three months can also be arranged but only for citizens of the European Union (not including new EU members as they need a work permit).
It is possible to apply independently through an Italian agency. There are many opportunities for au pairs during the summer holidays when most Italians who can afford au pairs migrate to the coast or the mountains and take their helpers with them. The weekly pocket money for au pairs is average or above for Europe, starting at 75-95 euros for working 30 hours a week, 100-130 euros for 40 hours, though many families in the big cities pay more than this.
Non-European nationals are not eligible for a Permesso di Soggiorno (stay permit) unless they arrive with the appropriate visa from the Italian embassy in their country. The best route is to obtain a student visa which permits the holder to work up to 20 hours per week (live-in or live-out). To obtain a long-stay visa, non-EU au pairs will need to enroll in and pay for an Italian language course at an approved school or college. The school registrar will issue a certificate which must then be stamped by the local police office (Questura). The visa will be valid only for the length of the course. The applicant must show sufficient insurance cover, a return air ticket, proof of accommodation stamped by the police and a contract specifying dates, pocket money and benefits stamped by the provincial labor office and/or the police.
American citizens cannot legally work as au pairs on a working visa; the nulla osta will be denied because there are no labor agreements between the US and Italy in regards to au pairs. If the applicant is already in Italy they can check classified adverts in English language journals, many of which are published online such as Wanted in Rome aimed at the expatriate community, and notice boards in English language bookshops, English-speaking churches, student travel agencies and language school notice boards.
In 2010 there were 1509 au pairs working legally in Norway.
The chance of arranging an au pair placement in Spain is good. The majority of jobs are in the cities and environs of Madrid and Barcelona, though jobs do crop up in resorts like Marbella and Tenerife from time to time. Several au pair agencies in Spain are associated with language schools such as Centros Europeos Galve in Madrid, Kingsbrook in Barcelona, Crossing Limits in Seville or ServiHogar in Cádiz province.
Most of the Spanish families do not request domestic task and the only requirement is the au pair teach English to their children. The minimum pocket money for au pairs is 55-60 euros a week. There are also opportunities for young people to stay with Spanish families in exchange for speaking English with the children without having any domestic or childcare duties.
Americans and Canadians who wish to work as au pairs should apply for a student visa before leaving home. Officially, the Embassy requires both an offer of employment from the family and a letter from the school where the au pair is enrolled (or will enroll) to study Spanish for at least 15 hours a week.
Basic application criteria
Potential au pairs must:
- Be between 17 and 30 years old.
- Have some child care experience.
- Be a non-smoker and non-drug user. Some families will accept smokers.
- Speak basic conversational Spanish (not mandatory).
The applicant must be a female between the ages of 17 (18 in Geneva) and 29 from Western Europe, North America, Australia, or New Zealand, stay for a minimum of one year and a maximum of 18 months, and attend a minimum of three hours a week of language classes in Zürich, four in Geneva. Families in most places are required to pay half the language school fees of 500-1,000 Swiss francs for six months.
Au pairs in Switzerland work for a maximum of 30 hours per week, plus babysitting once or twice a week. The monthly salary varies among cantons but the normal range is 590-740 Swiss francs after all deductions for tax and health insurance have been made.
Au Pairs now mainly come to the UK from the European Economic Area under European freedom of movement regulations. There are arrangements for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals wanting to come to the UK as Au Pairs.
Historically, Au Pairs came to the UK under an Au Pair immigration category, which was closed in November 2008 Home Office, when a new points based system was introduced, which included a Youth Mobility Scheme under tier 5 of the points based system Youth Mobility Scheme for the nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Monaco.
In the UK, there are many Au pair agencies that provide assistance to families looking to engage Au Pairs. These agencies are all privately owned and are not regulated by the UK government.
The British Au Pair Agencies Association was established to set standards for the Au Pair Industry and to promote Au Pair programmes as rewarding cultural exchange experiences. The BAPAA website contains guidelines for Au Pairs and Families on typical hours, pocket money and types of Au Pair duties.
BAPAA members are listed on the website and must meet firm business and ethical standards and agree to abide by BAPAA's code of conduct, which signifies competence, fair dealing and high integrity.
Interest in the Au Pair Program in the United States began in 1987 when two educational and cultural exchange agencies were designated by the United States Information Agency (USIA) to conduct a program under the Fulbright–Hays Act of 1961 that would allow foreign nationals the opportunity to live with an American host family and participate directly in the home life of the host family. After testing the program with approximately 200 Au Pairs, Congress instructed that the program be continued and the Au Pair Program was officially enacted in 1989. In that same year, the program was expanded to include four additional agencies and collectively, these agencies became the original six government designated Au pair organizations in the United States.
The United States au pair program offers qualified young people the opportunity to live and study in the U.S. for one or two years in exchange for providing up to 45 hours of childcare per week. The au pair program was recently granted permission from the U.S. Department of State to offer a second year extension au pair program (6, 9 or 12 months), as well as a summer au pair program.
At the same time, the au pairs are required to complete an educational component of six semester hours of academic credit or its equivalent. At the end of one year, au pairs generally return to their home country, unless they and their host families choose to extend their stay for a further 6, 9 or 12 months. Alternatively, the au pair can choose to extend her period in the US with a different family. Most au pairs choose a family in a different part of the country, allowing them to have a new experience.
The rules of the Au Pair Program in the US are: au pairs are provided a private bedroom, meals, remuneration tied to the minimum wage ($195.75 per week as of 24 July 2009), 11⁄2 days off weekly plus a full weekend off each month, two weeks' paid vacation and the first $500 toward the costs of required course work to be completed at an accredited institution of higher education in order to satisfy the requirements of the educational component of the program. Au pairs are not to work more than 10 hours per day or 45 hours per week, and are not to serve as general housekeepers or assume responsibility for household management.
The US EduCare Au Pair Program is also available for families with school-age children. In this program, the au pair works a lower number of hours (not more than 10 hours a day and not more than 30 hours a week) for a weekly minimum wage of $132.64 (raised to $146.81 on 24 July 2009 in accordance with the federal minimum wage increases). The family pays $1000 in educational expenses, and the au pair is required to complete 12 hours of academic credit.
Au pairs placed with families who have children under two years old must have at least 200 hours of child care experience with infants under two. Au pairs may only be placed in a family with an infant under three months old if a parent or other adult caregiver is also home and fully responsible for the infant.
The Au Pair Program is administered by the US Department of State. Participating families and au pairs must work with one of the currently 12 approved agencies. Au pairs enter the United States on a J-1 visa.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, an au pair will almost always be a nonresident alien, and will be required to file a tax return on Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ to report his or her au pair wages. Au pair wages, however, are not usually subject to social security and Medicare taxes because of the au pair's status as a J-1 nonimmigrant and as a nonresident alien. However, if the au pair had previously been in the United States as a student, teacher, trainee, or researcher in F, J, M, or Q nonimmigrant status, then the au pair might be a resident alien during his current stay in the United States, and might be subject to social security and Medicare taxes if his annual au pair wages exceed the applicable dollar threshold found in IRS Publication 926. If the au pair is a resident alien and his or her annual au pair wages exceed the applicable dollar threshold, then the host family must withhold social security and Medicare taxes and report them on Schedule H of Form 1040 and on Form W-2. The host family will need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if it is required to withhold tax and file Form W-2.
Basic application criteria
Potential au pairs must:
- be aged 18–26
- have professional or practical childcare experience for at least 200 hours if looking after a child under 2
- agree to commit to a full year’s stay in the USA and be prepared to provide up to 45 hours of childcare a week
- have completed their secondary school education.
- be proficient in spoken English
- have no criminal record
Au pair program types in the United States
Au pairs in the United States are categorized by program types. Most au pair organizations in the United States classify au pairs by the following programs:
Standard Au Pair Program
The Standard Au Pair program is the most popular program available. Standard au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week and no more than 10 hours per day. They are paid the standard stipend amount and fulfill the minimum educational requirement of 6 hours of academic credit or its equivalent during the program year. Families hosting Standard Au Pairs are required to provide (up to) the first $500 toward the cost of the au pair's academic course work. Standard au pairs are usually available for a full year commitment and have a variety of qualifications.
The Educare Program
The Educare Program was created as an option for families with school aged children or families looking for part-time child care. According to the U.S. Department of State, the Educare Au Pair Program applies to families that require childcare before and after school and may not be placed with families that have preschool aged children except if other, full-time childcare plans have been made.
Educare au pairs may work no more than 10 hours per day, and a maximum of 30 hours per week. Au Pairs participating in the Educare component receive 75 percent of the weekly rate paid to non-Educare participants. Educare au pairs must complete a minimum of 12 hours of academic credit or its equivalent during their program year. The host family is required to provide (up to) the first $1,000 toward the cost of the au pair's required academic course work.
The Extension Program
When the Au Pair Program started in the United States in 1989, au pairs were only allowed to stay in the country and work as au pairs for a 12-month period. In 2006, the U.S. Department of State allowed Au Pairs to legally extend their stay and work for 6, 9 or 12 additional months.
The program’s regulations state that the Department of State may approve extensions for the au pair participants. The request for an extension beyond the maximum duration of the initial 12-month program must be submitted electronically to the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) no less than 30 calendar days prior to the expiration of the exchange visitor's initial authorized stay in any program.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of State re-designated the Au Pair requirements and regulations an added a repeat participation clause that states a foreign national who enters the United States as an Au Pair exchange visitor program participant and who has successfully completed his or her program is eligible to participate again as an au pair participant, provided that he or she has resided outside the United States for at least two years following completion of his or her initial Au Pair program.
The Au Pair Abroad Program (The Reciprocity Clause)
With the creation of the Au Pair Program in the United States in 1989, the U.S. Department of State also added a reciprocity clause in the general program requirements which states that in the conduct of their exchange programs, official Au Pair sponsor agencies shall make a good faith effort to achieve the fullest possible reciprocity in the exchange of persons.
Reciprocity means the participation of a United States citizen in an educational and cultural program in a foreign country in exchange for the participation of a foreign national in the exchange visitor program. Where used herein, “reciprocity” shall be interpreted broadly; unless otherwise specified, reciprocity does not require a one-for-one exchange or that exchange visitors be engaged in the same activity. For example, exchange visitors coming to the United States for training in American banking practices and Americans going abroad to teach foreign nationals public administration would be considered a reciprocal exchange, when arranged or facilitated by the same sponsor.
The Au Pair Summer Program (Discontinued)
The Au Pair Summer Program started in 2005, when the U.S. Department of State ran a 3-year pilot program for Summer Au Pairs. The program was extended for an additional year before it was discontinued in 2009. The Au Pair Summer Program faced logistical complications with DS-2019 forms, visa approvals around the world and lack of interest from American Host Families in this particular program. Summer Au Pairs were exactly like Standard Au Pairs except their visas were granted for only a few months instead of a full year. Since 2009, none of the 13 U.S. Department of State sponsor agencies are allowed to offer this program for families in the United States.
Sponsoring au pair agencies in the United States
There are fourteen sponsoring au pair agencies designated by the State Department. Host families typically pay these agencies an application fee and a program fee which varies from $5,500 to $7,200, depending on the agency used. The program fees cover expenses related to the arrival of the au pair and compliance with regulations governing the program. These include airfare, medical insurance, mandatory 32-hour education session on child development and safety and other expenses. Au pairs pay fees which vary depending on the US agency and the home country agency they use (if they do not apply directly to the US agency).
Notable au pairs
- Alice Anderson,English assemblage artist, sculptor and film-maker
- Carol Baumgartner, Brazilian model
- Anna Del Conte, Italian food write
- Aifric Campbell, Irish writer
- Louise Woodward, convicted of involuntary manslaughter
- Julie Ege, Norwegian actress and former Miss Norway
- Melissa Müller, Austrian journalist and author
- Angela Hartnett, English Chef
- Elin Nordegren, model, former wife of Tiger Woods and daughter of Barbro Holmberg and Thomas Nordegren
- Ségolène Royal, French politician
- Eva Joly, Norwegian-French magistrate
- Annie M. G. Schmidt, Dutch writer
- Marion Ross, American actress
- Beate Uhse-Rotermund, German pilot and entrepreneur
- Anna Reid, British journalist and author
- Jennifer Saunders, English comedienne, screenwriter, singer and actress
- Stella Rimington, British author
- Kristin Scott Thomas, English actress
- Elke Sommer, German actress
- Yutte Stensgaard, Danish actress
- Sachi Parker, American actress, daughter of Shirley MacLaine
See also↑Jump back a section
- CNRS; Université de lorraine. "Trésor de la langue française informatisé". "pair"
- Aftenposten. NTB. 2011-10-03. p. 2 økonomi. "viser tall fra Utlendingsdirektoratet i følge VG"
- Au Pair and EduCare. U.S. Department of State website. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
- Change in US au pair stipends for minimum wage increase (US Department of State)
- U.S. IRS guidance (Internal Revenue Service) Retrieved Mar. 10, 2013
- List of Au Pair Sponsoring Agencies US State Department website. Retrieved April 2013.