Finding an au pair job: Agencies, websites and connections

You’ve decided you want to be an au pair in France! …So how do you go about making it happen?

There are several strategies for finding a host family, namely applying through an AU PAIR AGENCY, creating a profile on an AU PAIR WEBSITE, and using PERSONAL CONNECTIONS.

In this post, I briefly explain each option and break down their respective pros and cons. Let’s get to it!

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AU PAIR AGENCIES are private companies that act as liaisons between interested host families and au pair candidates. As a hopeful au pair, you submit a completed application (they all request similar information, but each agency may have it’s own specifications or customized forms) and pay a fee. In return, the agency matches you with a host family with whom you negotiate the specific terms of your contract. The agency then helps you register for classes at a language school and guides you and your family through the ensuing bureaucratic obstacle course.

The Pros:

  • The application, screening, and matching processes for au pairs and interested families facilitated by the agency help to assure each party of the other’s legitimacy. In other words, you can be confident that you’ll be put in contact with a real family whose expectations correspond with yours.
  • The agency facilitates au pair contracts ALL THE TIME, knows the process inside and out, and can therefore help you jump though all the necessary bureaucratic hoops.
  • There’s a good chance the agency is also used to working with English speakers, so if your French skills aren’t the strongest, this shouldn’t be much of a problem.
  • The agency is also a support system to fall back on if anything horrible happens during your stay. If you host family violates the terms of your contract and exploits you or if you just absolutely cannot get along, there’s someone you can turn to for help.

The Cons:

  • Agencies’ services can be pricey. The ones I’ve looked at have application fees ranging from $180 to nearly $600! And that’s just the application fee. No matter what route you take you still have to budget for your airfare, your visa processing fee, the cost of getting documents translated and/or mailing original copies overseas, etc.
  • Most French agencies serve Paris and its suburbs or other major metropolitan areas like Nice, so if you’re looking for a placement anywhere else, an agency may not be the best route.
  • Agencies put most of their energy into placing au pairs for the school year (September-June), which means you need to submit your application by mid-June at the latest. If you’re working on a different timeline, this can be challenging.
  • You have to prepare a lot of documents and paperwork upfront. Some of these documents need to be translated, meaning you need to spend time and money getting this done before you even get in contact with host families, let alone finalize a contract.

Conclusion: If you can pay the fee, want to work in a big metropolitan area for an academic year, are daunted by navigating the murky waters of French bureaucracy, and/or don’t have the strongest language skills, working with an au pair agency may be right for you.

AU PAIR WEBSITES are like crosses between job listing sites and online dating sites. They exist as a forum where interested au pairs and host families sign up and create profiles, search for each other based on certain criteria, and then make contact. Certain websites also offer country-specific, detailed information pages breaking down au pair contracts, regulations and requirements. 

The Pros:

  • Most websites allow you to sign up and create a profile for free, while also offering a “pro account” option with added benefits (like being able to see the other party’s contact info or being able to send an unlimited number of messages) for a low, one-time fee (usually around $50).
  • You can provide as little or as much information as you want on your profile. Each website has various drop-down and tick-off style menus allowing you to indicate basic preferences (location, age and number of children, desired length of stay, etc.) as well as sections where you can describe yourself, your previous childcare experience, and what you’re looking for more specifically. You can also upload photos and sometimes even documents (like your résumé or references if you have them). 
  • Since au pairs and host families act as their own independent contractors on websites, you’ll come across a wider variety of potential locations. If you’re after a post in a smaller city, town, or even the countryside, an au pair website is a good place to look.
  • For the same reason, it is also easier to find a post that doesn’t conform to the school year timeline.

The Cons:

  • Au pair websites are chaotic free-for-alls. There are all kinds of families offering all kinds of situations. And there is a higher potential for scams or for exploitative families because anyone can sign up and make a free profile. You are the first and only line of defense, so it’s up to you to make sure a family checks out. And if something does go wrong during your stay, it’s up to you—and you alone—to deal with it.
  • To use an au pair website successfully, you need to understand your host country’s regulations as well as the eventual contract and visa processes backwards and forwards. You also need to have a really solid idea of what you’re looking for in a family and employment situation. There is no middle man, so it’s up to you to advocate for yourself, your rights and your expectations. 
  • Because there is no agency acting as a liaison, it’s often significantly harder to research au pair regulations and communicate with potential families if you don’t have a good command of French.

Conclusion: If you have a more limited budget, want to work somewhere other than Paris on a more flexible timeline; have strong French skills; and are not daunted by having to do a lot of preliminary research, carefully screen potential families, and navigate the various bureaucratic processes on your own, using an au pair website may be the way to go.

PERSONAL CONNECTIONS are any French family members, friends, coworkers or other people in your extended network. You use these connections to find an interested family, and then negotiate the terms of your contract and navigate the bureaucratic processes on your own.

The Pros: 

  • You don’t have to screen potential families as carefully as you would those on a website because you either already know them personally, or know and trust someone who can vouch for them.
  • There are no application or registration fees.

The Cons:

  • You need to know families with children who want an au pair, or know people who know families with children who want an au pair.
  • Your connections will most likely result in fewer potential families than working with an agency or sifting through profiles on a website would. Therefore, it may be harder to find a family that meets all of your expectations.
  • Like with using an au pair website, there is no experienced middleman to help you navigate the various bureaucratic processes.

Conclusion: If you have the connections to begin with, are flexible in your expectations, are working with a more limited budget, and aren’t daunted by researching and navigating the various bureaucratic processes, finding a host family through people in your network may be right for you.

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In my next post, I’ll describe the turbulent saga of how I found my au pair position.

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8 comments

  1. […] my last post I discussed three avenues for finding an au pair job: au pair agencies, au pair websites, and personal […]

  2. Super comprehensive! Good for you for having navigated the waters of au pairing and discovered all of this !

  3. Thank you! These two posts are fantastic, comprehensive starting points 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad they’ve been helpful. I’m only at the beginning of my au pair experience, so be sure to check back for more soon!

  4. I know this has little to do with the actual written content in this post, but I’m so amused by your image. Nothing screams Cara like that notepad 🙂

    1. Hehe, I know! I’m pretty sure Sally gave it to me.

  5. I am sure anyone interested in the au pair experience will find this very helpful. It is so clear and informative! I know I would find it so if I were still (age-wise) in that population group….

  6. […] an au pair in France and that you’re going to brave the waters of an online dating site* au pair website to find a host […]

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