The following page is a guide on all that ‘useful’ au-pair information that you don’t seem to be able to find anywhere else – whatever you want to know, I’ve tried to cover it all here. Topics I’ve written about are:
Getting Paid • French Lessons • French Life • Mobile Phones • Living Arrangements & Housework • Teaching English • Legal Things
The average wage for an au pair in Europe is €80/week. This will depend on the family, but I don’t suggest you accept any less than this. The family will generally pay for all of your meals (in the house, don’t expect them to pay for all your lunch dates out!) and your transport costs. My family pay for my monthly train pass so I can get into Paris, and also for me to fill the car up with petrol once a month too. I’m allowed to help myself to food around the house and I get my evening meal lovingly cooked for me every night. Obviously not all families will be this accommodating – so make sure you ask the questions beforehand.
The general rule of being an au pair is that you must show that you’re putting an effort into integrating with the local language. This means that if you’re not already fluent, you have to take French lessons whilst you’re here. Again, it depends on the family whether you’ll have to pay for them yourself or not. And they can be quite expensive. I take mine at the Institut de Langue Francaise in central Paris and they cost about €550 per term (10/12 weeks). There are several schools available and most offer an au pair program so you can study around your childcare. I take mine for 2 hours on 3 days a week. They’re great for meeting other English speaking people who are in the same situation as you and I’ve already made some good friends there.
There are lots of little things you need to consider if you want to feel like a real French citizen and less like a foreigner who’s just on holiday. Open a French bank account - it makes it a lot easier for your family to pay you and it means you can use a debit card in shops. Check your driving license - if you’re a European citizen already then you’re allowed to drive a French car. If you’re from elsewhere, you’ll need to apply for a second license. Download all the maps you need - I carry my map of Paris in my handbag 24/7, and have maps of more specific areas saved as photos on my phone. The last thing you need is to get lost and not make it back in time for school.
Some people I know have French contracts, some don’t. I’m from England and have a pay as you go sim card on O2. O2 have a special bolt on called My Europe Extra (£10.21 a month) that allows people in England to call me using their normal contract minutes – and it doesn’t cost either of us a thing to make/receive the calls. Texts cost me 10p. It obviously depends on how often you’re planning on using your phone whilst you’re abroad, but do make sure you research it before you get over here.
Some host families will give you your own apartment in Paris. You’ll help the kids with their homework after school and then disappear to your own peaceful abode and have a noise-free evening. Most of us don’t have such a luxury but I do know a couple of people who do. You’ll more than likely be given the spare room in the family’s house and be expected to rise and shine with the rest of them. It’s good because it allows you to really integrate with the family, but bad because you feel like you’re on call around the clock. My room is on the mezzanine level next to the kids’ bedrooms – be prepared for children coming to check up on what you’re doing and be prepared to wake up several times during the night because one of them misses their mum. Also make sure you look out for families who expect you to do all their housework. I’m lucky, I only have to keep my own things tidy, but some families will have employed you with every intention of making you do all the cleaning, ironing and tidying up.
As with the housework, it’s best to ask beforehand whether your family will expect you to teach English to their children. Most people assume that au-pairs are only there to pass on their linguistic knowledge but this isn’t always the case. I have friends who live with English-speaking expat families, friends who live with children learning English, and friends who are fully immersed in French-speaking life. My host parents speak English to me but the children only know French – do bear this in mind. I’ve learnt a lot of French from my French-speaking kids.
As with any other job, there are various rules and regulations for being an au-pair in France. You’re supposed to have a contract, as with any other job, and you’re supposed to register with all sorts of social services. But this isn’t a law and isn’t essential unless you and your family really want to do things ‘properly’. My family have hired me on an as-and-when basis. I have a contract just for peace of mind but I’m not tied by hand and foot to serving the family for exactly 35 hours a week until death us do part.
Definition of an Au-Pair
The URSSAF website says that an au-pair should be ‘a young foreigner aged 18-30 who is coming to France to study and live in the family home’. In return for food and housing, the au-pair will provide daily services in regards to the family and should not exceed 5 hours per day. There should be adequate time to attend language classes and have at least one day off per week.
The Au-Pair World website also gives information for the host family, saying that ‘An au pair usually works 30 hours per week and no more than 5 hours per day. The working hours you agree upon must allow your au pair to take a language course’. Also that the family ‘must provide free board and lodging for the au pair. He/she should have his/her own room‘. Furthermore, the au-pair should ‘bear the cost for his/her languages course himself/herself. However, the host family should help him/her enrol in the language course’.
If you live in Europe already then you don’t need a visa. If your family want to do things properly with a contract, however, then there will be a lot of other paperwork. Within the first 8 days of arrival you need to register with the URSSAF – ’Unions de Recouvrement des cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiale’ – as a ‘family intern’. This is basically just to give you social insurance, in case anything goes wrong. You also need to register at the Préfecture to obtain a residence permit, and then further register at the DIRECCTE to get a work permit.
Even if your family decide not to do all these stages – it’s a good idea to draw up some sort of contract that you can both sign, just in case.
If you’re not from the EU, you will need a ‘visa de long séjour’ to be an au-pair in France. You will also need to sign an ‘accord européen pour le placement au pair’ before you leave your home country. The other steps (registering with the URSSAF and DIRECCTE) are the same as above.