When I started telling people I was moving to Germany to work as an au pair for a year, the most common response was a blank look. It turns out, the term “au pair” isn’t one that many people in the states are familiar with. In simple terms, it’s basically just someone who provides childcare. In a bit more detail, an au pair is someone who helps out around the house and acts as a older sibling figure in the family they work for. Au pairs are most commonly found in Europe, where the job originated. Every country has different restrictions and regulations, so it’s hard to give a ton of specifics. I can, however, give a breakdown of what an au pair position can look like in Germany
- It is part-time: German regulations stipulate that an au pair can only work for 30 hours a week and get at least one day off per week (at least once a month, that day should be a Sunday). This means that I only work 5 hours a day during a normal work week, or 6 hours if I happen to get the full weekend off. In all reality, I probably work closer to 40 hours a week, but those hours are pretty difficult to regulate when you’re right in the middle of the week. I also get 4 weeks of paid vacation time for the year, but that’s something to expect for any job in Germany.
- The work is not just child care: On top of watching two children under the age of 4, I also take care of laundry for the family and keep the kitchen relatively clean. I don’t have to do any heavy-duty cleaning since the family I work for employs a housekeeper on Fridays, but cleaning dishes after every meal is something that usually falls under my duties. I also occasionally do the grocery shopping and do some photography/computer work for the family.
- While the pay is low, the benefits are nice: Au pairs easily make less than minimum wage if you just look at the spending money you receive per month- €260 in Germany, which roughly translates to $355 in the US at time of publication (that’s about $2.95 per hour). However, that money is just spending money. Families are required by law to provide full health care/insurance, and free room and board. My family also pays for my monthly train pass, half of my language class, and makes sure to buy me some special food at the grocery store they wouldn’t normally purchase (we’re talking peanut butter, top quality cheddar cheese, and the most delicious greek yogurt I’ve ever encountered, people!). Overall, a €260 allowance isn’t too shabby if you learn to budget your money properly.
- It’s also a cultural exchange program: As I noted in my last point, the family I work for paid for half of my first language class. Part of moving to another country is to be submerged in the culture of that country. This means learning the language, eating the food, practicing the customs (which obviously means beer-tasting in Germany if that’s something you’re into), and meeting locals. This is something my host family has been great about- they’re constantly encouraging me to go out and explore and are always willing to let me take time off to see the friends I’ve made in the city.
There’s no denying that working as an au pair can be very challenging, but I think the pros outweigh the cons any day. I was incredibly lucky to find the family I did, which has been the main reason why this job has been so enjoyable so far, so if you ever consider becoming an au pair, make sure to be pretty selective when it comes to picking a family.
listening to: The Neighbourhood