What is an Au Pair?

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Au Pairs: A Cultural Exchange Programme

Definition of an Au Pair

The Au Pair programme is in essence a cultural exchange programme. In exchange for being given pocket money, a room and board, they can offer some of their time to assist with light housework and childcare duties within the host family home. Au Pairs tend to be young and inexperienced. They are not professional child carers, and should not be regarded as such. Most Au Pairs come to the UK as part of a “Gap Year” Experience and to improve their English.

While the profile of the Au Pair has changes in recent years in the UK (increasingly Au Pairs come from all parts of Eastern Europe, as well as from France, Spain and Italy), the role of the Au Pair hasn't fundamentally changed. Arguably, more families in the UK make use of the Au Pair programme than a decade ago or longer.

But what should be clear is the Au Pair is not a domestic worker, or domestic servant.

The French term, "au pair" means 'on a par' or 'equal to'. The Au Pair is, therefore, meant to be part of the family, not a domestic servant.

Most people know what an Au Pair is in principle. The typical profile is a young woman (and increasingly) young man, who live with a family in a foreign country for up to two years. They live as part of the family, helping in the home for a set number of days and hours a week. Crucially, they are in many senses part of the family rather than a worker or servant. They should receive a reasonable allowance, as well as a private room. Apart from the modest monetary reward, the Au Pair enjoys first hand experience of another culture, and a direct means to improve their English.

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The most common questions about Au Pairs

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Consider the following questions and answers to be the core, minimum you need to know about the Au Pair programme. We can tell you a lot more and you will probably have many more questions if you are new to hosting au pairs.

  • What age can they be?

    Traditionally, an au pair is aged 18 – 30. An au pair without visa requirements can be older.

  • How many hours can they provide (on duty)?

    Au pairs can be on duty from 25 – 35 hours per week if they are from an EU country. These hours can be spread out over 5 days per week. Longer hours (35 hours) are usually referred to as ‘Au Pair Plus’.  

  • How much pocket money do I need to pay?

    Au pair should expect  some pocket money which can be from £75 per week for 25 hours, regardless of whether the minimum hours are worked. For 30 hours the minimum should be at least £90 per week and for 35 hours a minimum of £100 per week. These are guidelines for a minimum weekly payment; most families pay higher than the minimum.

  • Can they provide babysitting?

    Two evenings babysitting per week are included as part of the programme.  Additional pocket money should be paid for any additional evenings. Au pairs should not be asked to babysit on either of their two free days. If babysitting is not required, then these hours must not be transferred to the Au Pair’s daily routine. Babysitting is defined as hours in the evening time only when the parents are out. For extra babysitting, we recommend the au pair is paid £3.50 an hour.

  • How much leisure time should they have?

    The au pair’s schedule must provide sufficient time to attend language school, and the au pair shall receive two free days each week and should be offered one full weekend off per month.

  • How much holiday entitlement do they get?

    As of September 2010, BAPAA recommends 28 days holiday per 12 month period, including Public Holidays. Pocket money will be paid during this time. The au pair should not be forced to take holiday to coincide with the family holiday. Holidays should be mutually agreed between host family and au pair. The Au Pair should not be forced to take a holiday to coincide with the family holiday. Holidays should be mutually agreed between host family and Au Pair.

    UK Public Holidays: should be provided in addition to the Au Pair’s holiday entitlement.

  • What housework can they do?

    An Au Pair can undertake light housework duties. Our guidelines are as follows:

    List of housework duties accepted as light housework:
    • Washing dishes, including loading and unloading dishwasher
    • Preparing simple meals for children
    • Keeping kitchen tidy and clean, including sweeping and mopping floors
    • Loading and unloading laundry into washing machine
    • Ironing for children
    • Putting washed clothes away • Vacuuming
    • Dusting
    • Making and changing children’s beds
    • Cleaning children’s bathroom
    • Everything to do with keeping their own room/bathroom clean and tidy
    • Light shopping (not the entire household shopping)
    • Walking and feeding pets
    • Emptying bins  

    Duties considered unsuitable
    List of duties considered unsuitable for an au pair – Please remember, it is a cultural exchange programme, giving a young person the opportunity to learn about British culture and improve language skills through interaction with children.
    • Gardening
    • Window cleaning
    • Spring cleaning
    • Cleaning the oven, other than simple wiping out
    • Washing carpets
    • Washing the car
    • Weekly shopping
    • Pet training
    • Clearing up after untrained pets
    • Making parents bed*
    • Ironing for parents *
    • 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
    *These duties can be included where there is less childcare and the children are out of the house for most of the day, if this is agreed in advance.
    Au pairs should not be required to do housework such as ironing, when looking after children of primary school age or toddlers, due to safety reasons.

  • Sole charge restrictions?

    An au pair is not permitted to have continuous sole charge of children under the age of two. 

  • Providing adequate Room and Board

    The au pair receives full room and board from the family throughout the stay.  The au pair must have her own private room with a window and not be required to share with children, and she should be given facilities to study.

  • Optional Travelling Costs

    The au pair is required to pay their own travelling cost to and from the UK, unless the family chooses to fund this.

  • Insurance

    The Au Pair must travel to the UK with an EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card) which lets them get state healthcare at a reduced cost or in some circumstances, at no cost. The au pair may also wish to take out additional travel insurance to cover loss of belongings, repatriation in case of accident, death etcetera.

  • Language School and Costs

    Au pairs must be given enough time to attend language school. There are many colleges and courses in the UK enabling Au Pairs to learn English. some are state run further education colleges and some are privately run courses. The costs will vary depending on the type of course and the hours which are offered. The Au Pair’s host family or Rainbow Au Pairs will be able to help to find some good local options. Some families will offer to pay for their au pair’s language course, some will offer a contribution and some will contribute nothing at all. It is not obligatory for a host family to help with this. The Au Pair must be prepared to bear their own costs.

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