(Editor’s note: This post outlining how to become an au pair originally appeared on The American in Paris website. It’s reposted here with permission.)
After I returned home to the United States after my semester abroad, I knew that I eventually wanted to go back to France. But, before I could do that I knew that I wanted to finish my undergrad degree. And so, in the way that life sometimes “happens,” I graduated, got a job in my field, and while I never really forgot about my goal to return to Paris, I will admit that it was put on the back burner as I did what most Americans are taught to do from a very early age: I started working.
Fast forward about a year and a half and I was miserable at work. There was something missing and as I stared out the window, wishing I was anywhere but my hometown, it clicked: that something that was missing was Paris.
I quickly logged into Facebook and started typing a message to a fellow study abroader who I knew had stayed in France after our semester and was working as a jeune fille au pair (a fancy French way to say a live-in nanny, usually between the ages of 18-to-25).
I asked her how she did it.
While I didn’t have dreams of being a live-in babysitter, I knew that it was a simple way for a non-European to get a visa to live in France.
And, to be honest, I felt that I could use the break. Again, like most Americans, I had been working since I was 15. At the time I had just turned 22 and a year abroad with a low-stress gig sounded ideal!
In one of those pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moments, the person who I messaged for advice had plans to leave her au pair position at the end of the school year. I had plenty of babysitting experience under my belt, I was a native English speaker, and I was willing to put the rest of my life on hold for the time being so that I could return to my favorite city in the world.
I had an interview with the family over Skype and the rest is history!
I was really lucky in that I already knew someone who was living as an au pair in the Paris area. I could ask her advice, and in the end, she even hooked me up with a job. For those of you who don’t have those kinds of connections, I know that the search for a quality “au pair family” (sometimes called a host family) can be confusing and overwhelming.
If you’re interested in becoming an au pair in France and aren’t sure where to start, or how to find the perfect-for-you family, I created this step-by-step guide to help you along the way.
Step 1: Determine where you’d like to live
It’s unfair to assume that everyone who wants to come to France wants to live in Paris, so I wanted to include that you can consider another town in France! Here are some of my personal recommendations:
- Strasbourg: a mixture of French and German culture
- Bordeaux: one of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world
- Marseille: if you want to live by the sea
Step 2: Start looking for families
Before you start looking for your dream family, there are a few things that you’ll need to consider:
- How many children do you want to look after? I looked after three children and things were hectic at times. But, if you come from a large family that might be a breeze for you!
- How many hours per day/week do you want to work? Some families will require you in the morning and the afternoon, others just after school. I was happy to have my mornings off.
- Do you want to live with the family or in a separate apartment? I lived in the home with the family and, to be honest, I would have preferred my own apartment for extra privacy. However, living with the family helped us become closer!
- How long do you want to stay? Most au pair contracts are for one year – at least. I ended up extending my contract twice.
- Do you want to speak in English or French? I was required to speak in English, but this will differ by family. If you want to learn the language, opt for a French-speaking family.
- Do you want to be responsible for household chores as well as the children? I was responsible for making dinner and cleaning up after myself. I know some au pairs who had to do laundry and ironing (for the whole family) as well.
Each host family is different. I personally worked Monday-Friday, from 4 p.m. until whatever time the parents came home. I was required to speak only English with the children.
I was responsible for:
- picking the three children up from school
- snack time
- homework help
- cleaning up the kitchen after dinner
I know others who were required to wake up the children in the morning and take them to school as well as after-school care. Some others I know even had to give the kids their lunch (most French schools allow the children to go home to eat lunch).
Legally, you are not allowed to work more than 30 hours per week.
Another important aspect to consider is your salary. I was given free room and board (I lived in a private part of the family’s home), a cell phone, unlimited access to public transportation, as well at 80 euros per week as “pocket money.” Eighty euros per week, or 320 euros per month, is the minimum salary for au pairs, legally.
Don’t be afraid to be selective and hold out for a family that fits your needs. I know many people who said “yes” to the first family that they found, no matter the working conditions, just because they wanted to come to France.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of families in France looking for an au pair – be picky!
Here are some websites where you can find au pair families:
Step 3: Apply for your visa
Now that you’ve found your perfect family, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of coming to France to be an au pair.
All non-Europeans who want to be an au pair in France for longer than 90 days must obtain a visa in order to do so. You are required to apply for a specific visa just for au pairs. It’s called the stagiaire aide familial étranger et jeune au pair visa.
Here’s what you need to apply:
- a valid passport
- an authorized au pair contract (your host family is required to come up with a contract that must be approved by DIRECCTE (Direction Régionale des Entreprises, de la Concurrence, de la Consommation, du Travail et de l’Emploi))
- a visa application form that you can find here
- clean criminal record (this technically isn’t required but many families request it)
- high school diploma
- private health insurance that is valid in France
- a cover letter explaining why you want to come to France specifically to be an au pair (it’s important to mention why you’d like to learn French)
- proof that you’ve signed up, have been accepted, and have paid for French language courses
Don’t be afraid to ask your host family for help when applying for your visa.
Once you’ve found your family and your visa has been approved, it’s time to start preparing for your new adventure abroad!
About the author:
Molli Sébrier has lived in Paris since 2014 when she decided to leave her American life behind and pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Since living abroad, Molli has earned her master’s degree in English Studies with a concentration in literature and is now working towards making that becoming a writer thing happen. If you’re interested in following your own dreams of moving to France, she also offers consulting.
You can follow her journey on Instagram @mollim, and if you like to read, Molli runs a female-focused book review website called The Mistress of Books. You can also follow her website on Instagram @themistressofbooks.
Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.
See more from Dispatches’ France archive here.