What is an Au Pair?

A Practical Guide to What Au Pair Program is All About!

The Ethos of the Program

As an au pair you join your host family, live with them, and help looking after their child(ren) and light household duties in exchange for full board and pay. You will have real responsibilities for caring for the children. At smartaupairs we do our absolute best to ensure that our families are loving, caring and welcoming towards their au pairs - and always require references and comprehensive information from families before they are accepted to the program. We have worked with many of our families for years and years so know them well :)

Smartaupairs specialises in placements in and near London areas (the commuter zone).

A Typical Au Pair Day

Most au pairs work a few hours in the morning, then have the middle of the day free, and then start again at around 3pm until 7pm. Au pairs also help with up to 1h of light household duties per day, this means that basic knowledge on how to put a dishwasher on, how to put the washing machine on etc is important. You also often cook basic meals for the children, so basic cooking skills (fresh, not microwave) are also important. Don't have experience yet but keen to become an au pair? It is never too late to learn, simply ask you family at home to help! 

You normally have lots of time during the day to do attend a langugage class (if applicable), meet friends for a coffee and visit local town/city, go to the gym, see sights or just chill! It really is up to you.

We support you during your time in the UK, we organize events, help you find friends and in effect remain at hand to assist if you have any queries along the way. Check out our blog for the recent events we've been doing. 

The Requirements - The Very Basics:

  • EU nationals with pre-settled status/Australian/New Zealand, Canadian nationality and applicants who are eligible for British ancestry visa (such as many South African nationals) 
  • 18-29 years of age
  • Can provide a clear police & medical check & two independent references (minimum one of which is childcare reference)
  • Conversational/good command of English - you must be able to undertake an interview with our team independently, and hold a conversation in English.
  • Minimum availability of 6 months

Other Important Requirements:

  • Genuine love  for children/interest in looking after children. This is a childcare based program, so this is absolutely vital. We know from experience that to apply to be an au pair without genuine motivation/interest to work with children, as a stop gap, is not going to work and certainly won't be much fun for you (nor for the kids!). 
  • Setting yourself REALISTIC expectations - you are absolutely going to have the most unforgettable time as an au pair, with new sights, friends, experiences, and in many cases friends for life from your host family and people you have met during your au pair time. Just look at our Instagram for inspiration! Having said this, we also want to prepare each au pair applicant to the realities of the not so fun sides of the program: being away from home, especially for those living away from home for the first time is not always easy, homesickness might take effect and you will miss your friends and family at home, you are likely to have days with your host children when they do not listen to you and drive you crazy - you know, the realities of life and working with kids! :) It's not ALL fun, and you therefore need to also prepare to work through the days when not everything is going to plan. 
  • Adaptability - Your host family life is likely to be quite different to what you are used to - so it's important to come in with the mindset that you will probably need to adapt to a different way of living (e.g. they might eat at different times, different foods or perhaps raise their children differently to what you are used to). Keep an open mind! 
  • This brings us to the next important factor - your character. What makes a good au pair? This is a really difficult question, but character wise, we would say that it is important to have an honest, positive and outgoing mentality. Do you really feel comfortable in a new environment, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, getting to know a completely new group of people (your host family, other au pairs, local friends)? Living and working with a host family requires very good communication skills and in our experience, a more extroverted personality. Who is an extrovert? Somone who enjoys meeting new people & someone who likes having an active social life - someone who is at ease in communicating both with adults and children alike. It is important to ask if you are unsure of anything, and speak up if you have any worries. You will find that while in England, the time really flies, and before you know it, you are in a rush to tick off all the items on your bucket list. So make sure to get out, explore and make sure to leave with everlasting memories from your au pair time :)

General Program Guidelines

As an au pair you can expect the following program guidelines to apply:

Up to 30h week including babysitting (Monday to Friday)
Free time Saturday and Sunday (minimum 2 full days).
Up to 1h of light household duties per day (no more than 5h/week).
No sole care for children under 2, limited sole care for pre-school aged children

Minimum pay for au pairs starts from £150 week - and goes up to around £300 NET/Week for experienced/qualified candidates. We follow the UK national minimum wage.

Placement completion BONUS of one week’s pay for all au pairs who have completed their full agreed placement duration (applicable for placements which are 6 months or longer in length).

Different Types of Au Pair

Traditional Au Pair

Basic to good childcare experience and fair to good level of English.

Roles with more than 30h are no longer recognised as part of the traditional au pair programme by BAPAA.

Experience +

Extensive prior childcare experience (combining both practical and babysitting experience, for example. nursery or school work/teaching background) 

The exact duties will vary by family, but most families expect some of the following to be part of the au pair’s duties.

Please read each family profile with care when you are searching for a family, and don't be afraid to ask additional questions if you are unclear about any of the expectations of the role. 

Our key advice is that the balance of the au pair position should always be on childcare, rather than household duties.

Most host families combine au pair help with additional cleaner/ironing service.

Expected & Suitable Duties

Wake the children in the morning and get them ready
Prepare breakfast and lunch boxes for the children
Clean up breakfast dishes, put the dishwasher on
Help the children to tidy their rooms and to make their beds
Make sure children have books and homework for school
Drive or walk children to/from school (if needed)
Tasks while children are at school: shopping, light household duties, general tidy up
Prepare a healthy afternoon snack
Assist the children with their homework, initiate and supervise play
Help the children with their bath routine and help get them ready for bed

Prior to the arrival we advise families to prepare a detailed handbook, for which we provide a template.

It will outline the basic tasks and basic house rules so that expectations are clear and the au pair has a fair chance of not only meeting but exceeding your expectations.

Unsuitable Duties

Window cleaning
Spring cleaning
Cleaning the oven, other than simple wiping out
Washing carpets
Cleaning the car
Weekly shopping (other than online)
Pet training
Clearing up after untrained pets
Making parents bed, cleaning parents bedroom
Ironing for parents/Parents’ laundry
Cleaning parents’ en-suite bathroom
Polishing silver and brassware
Cooking the family meal, unless the au pair enjoys cooking and has chosen to do this for the family.

How Many Hours of Household Duties is Acceptable?

The au pair does not replace a cleaner or a domestic help/take sole responsibility for household duties.

Therefore, the usual time au pairs may spend on household duties is up to 1h/day.

Joining in the normal family activities such as taking part in dinner time preparation and tidy up (provided that all family help) are not accounted towards household duties, but are generally considered tasks which the au pair would do as a member of the family. Similarly time spent on one’s own laundry/ironing and room tidy/cleaning does not constitute towards the 1 hour guideline.

Every au pair should have 2 full and consecutive days off per each week (typically Saturday & Sunday). 

The weekend time is the main time for the au pair to socialise and meet friends. 

Occasionally, the host family may need help for additional hours, and we ask this to be paid extra.

Holiday Entitlement: 4 weeks paid holiday per 12 month period + bank holidays. If the au pair placement is for a shorter time, holiday is calculated pro-rata at the rate of 1.66 days per month.

UK National Holidays: BAPAA recommends that au pairs are to be given UK national holidays as free time.

Sometimes, even with the best of planning and preparation, things do not go to plan. We are matching people after all! 

If you are unhappy for what ever reason, you can always talk to us as your agency, or your host family for support. 

It is absolutely vital for you to communicate with our team openly about any worries you might have, this way - we can best help you and work out a good solution :) We completely understand that bringing up concerns with your host family can be daunting - however we also know that open and good communication is often the key to resolving issues! In most cases, when we help au pairs to address any worries with their host families, the most common response from the host family is "I wish she/he had told me sooner". 

We will always first try to see what can be done to improve and fix the situation, however if this is not possible - we offer a replacement option, which means that we would help you to move to a new host family. 

We do also provide a 247 emergency line and you will be able to reach Tuuli (our manager) on her mobile out of office hours. 

If the personality match is not right, we can usually help you find a new host family and a new au pair for the family, so in effect, we can relocate you! 

If you cannot continue your placement and need to return home, we ask you to give at least a two week notice to your host family, to allow them to find alternative childcare. 

I am in England since the end of August and I really love England! But I had to change the host family and it was not so easy to deal with that kind of experience. 
Nevertheless, I had great support from the smartaupairs team and they took my problem serious. They sent me new family applications very soon and I found the perfect family for me! My new family is very nice and I have a very good relationship with my host mum and a good one with the kids :) It is amazing how quick you improve your English skills while being abroad. I am really looking forward to the next months! Saskia, Au Pair from Germany

What Costs Should You Consider?

It is SO MUCH safer to use an agency as we also vet our families and also interview and reference check them. We can never remove the chance of mismatch completely, however we certainly make it a lot safer for all involved to take part in the program. We look after you while you are in the UK!

Smartaupairs does not charge au pairs. However, you will be responsible for covering: 

  • Your own flight cost to and from the UK
  • Visa costs 
  • Travel Insurance (complusory)
  • Cash reserves for emergencies and other expenses such as language course (if applicable), travel within your destination, emergencies. The family provides you with full board (meaning a comfortable room and daily meals), but even with this, it is nice to have a bit or savings and reserve cash for those extra things you might want to do as an au pair 

What documents Do You Need?

  1. Application Form
  2. Letter for the host family - You describe your motivation in more depth, introduce yourself, your family, home, childcare experience, future aspirations..
  3. Smiley, happy photos of you, your family, pets, home and you with the children you have looked after :)
  4. Medical check (to prove that you are in good physical and mental health to travel and care for children)
  5. Police check (to prove that you have no criminal record)
  6. Signed agreement to the au pair program terms

Register your interest here

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