Working as an au pair — a domestic helper from abroad who lives and works in a home — is a moderately common way for people to see some of another country. These jobs are not highly paid, but many provide a reasonable income given that they nearly all include room and board.
Many countries have visa rules that make it easier to get in for such jobs than for most other work, though volunteer work or working holiday visas are also easy for some destinations. For a more general discussion, see working abroad.
Au pair means equal, equal to their hosts. The idea is that the au pair is given a chance to live abroad as member of a local family, doing child care and light household work, and getting pocket money – not a wage, as she (most au pairs are female) is not a maid. This is still the ideal at least in Europe, but in some contracts working hours are quite long. The normal workload in Europe is 20–30 hours a week, but in the U.S.A., working full time is normal. In many countries the au pair is supposed to also study, in Europe usually at language courses, in the U.S.A. any subject.
Au pair work can be an opportunity for diaspora youths to visit the old country. For instance, descendant of Swedes in the U.S.A. can seek a position in Sweden. Being au pair can also be a way to get fluent in a language one has studied.
Most au pair workers are young and female, though there are exceptions.
Quite a few au pair jobs have a language requirement; for example Japanese parents might want an English-speaking nanny to give their kids a start on the language. Often these have specific dialect preferences; for example those Japanese might want an American. There are also cases where an immigrant family want someone who speaks their native language and can therefore fit more easily into their household. In some countries knowing the local language to at least some degree is also a prerequisite for being au pair.
For a general treatment of language teaching, see Teaching English.
- See also: Visa
In most countries, foreigners need a visa to work, and tourist visas allow neither working nor staying more than a few months.
In many countries only people in a certain age range, e.g. 18–30 years, can get a visa to work as au pair. In some countries only females are allowed.
Many au pair jobs are good deals, but some come close to domestic slavery — long hours, almost no time off, and terrible pay. Contracts should be read carefully before being signed and it is well worth checking on labor laws and prevailing rates of pay in the destination country.
For example, one company charges Chinese nurses a hefty up-front fee to place them in Canada at $12,000 a year. That is a good salary by Chinese standards, but remarkably low for Canada.
Also, beware of visa restrictions. In Saudi Arabia, for example, a working visa normally requires a Saudi sponsor and a worker cannot leave the country without the sponsor's signature. At one point dozens of Filipinas were trapped in the country, all with more-or-less the same story: she says the boss beat or raped her, and he says she's a lazy good-for-nothing and there's no way he'll sign any papers for her. At one point, a president of the Philippines forbade Filipinas taking domestic service posts there because of this problem.
Food, and more generally customs, may also be a problem. The job generally includes room and board, but that usually means you eat what the family does; what if that is radically different from what you are used to? What if your duties include cooking and their diet includes things you have no idea how to cook, or items forbidden by your religion? Vegans and vegetarians obviously risk this kind of problems.