From defunct agencies to free websites, my au pair saga

In my last post I discussed three avenues for finding an au pair jobau pair agencies, au pair websites, and personal connections.

When I decided I wanted to au pair in France, I initially decided to apply through an agency. I hadn’t yet researched the specifics or seriously thought about what exactly I wanted in a host family, and the idea of having a liaison and support system was very appealing. But when I started looking into various agencies, I was put off by the steep application fees, the long list of required application documents, and the fact that nearly every agency catered to Paris and its suburbs.

Screen shot 2014-12-22 at 1.26.58 AMI dug a little deeper and found the French-American Center located in Montpellier, a sizable university city in Southern France. At that point I was reeling with nostalgia for Auch and itching to get back to the south. Plus, the application didn’t seem too complicated, and the fee was on the lower end at $180.

I started preparing my application and emailed the center several times to ask clarifying questions like, “Do the translated documents need to be translated by an official certified translator, or can I do them myself?” (I could do them), and “Is there a specific medical form I should take to my doctor, or does a simple letter suffice?” (they pointed me to a specific form).

I spent hours filling out forms (the application form and medical form), translating documents (my college transcript and diploma, the medical form, a reference from the family I nannied for in Portland), writing a letter of intent in French, and updating the French-language version of my résumé. I spent $36 on the six required passport photos and $20 at the post office to send my completed application to Montpellier in mid-July.

I waited a couple weeks and then called to confirm that they had received my application and that it was indeed complete. They assured me it was, verified when I was available to start a contract and how long I wanted it to last, and told me they would contact me when they’d found a host family. That was in August.

The website says it can take up to three months to get a placement, so I waited (impatiently) until mid-October. Once I’d moved back to SoCal from Portland, I called again to see if there was any progress. The woman I talked to told me they didn’t have any applications from interested families. When I asked if that was normal for this time of year, she told me that it was normal for them, all the time, period.

That’s right. After I’d spent $240 and countless hours on my application, after my documents had been in their hands for three months, after several encouraging email exchanges and phone conversations, they told me that it’s rare for them to get any applications from French families and encouraged me to pursue other ways of getting to France.

I asked them to send me back my application (and my cashier’s check, which they assured me they hadn’t cashed) and immediately set up free profiles on AuPair.com and AuPairWorld.

(Click on each image for a closer view.)

The two websites are very similar. They each ask about your preferences for your host family, your location, and your contract start date and duration. They both provide you with text box spaces to describe yourself, your previous childcare experiences, and what you’re looking for in greater detail. And they both allow you to upload photos.

I ended up liking AuPairWorld better (and having more success with it) than AuPair.com. Here’s why:

On AuPair.com, you can’t send a personalized message with the basic, free account. Instead, you indicate interest in a family by sending a generic, pre-written, uneditable message. If the family doesn’t have a pro account, they can only send you a generic, pre-written, uneditable message back and then you’re stuck unless one or both of you pays to upgrade your account, which I assume finally enables you to exchange contact information. (I never upgraded.)

When you message a family on AuPairWorld with a free account, it sends a generic, prewritten message but also allows you to add your own text. This way, you can talk back and forth with a family and then exchange email or Skype details. (AuPairWorld also offers a pro account, which allows you to send more messages within a given time period, but since I never exhausted my allotted amount, I didn’t need to upgrade).

In short, the basic AuPairWorld account facilitates real exchanges with interested families, while the basic AuPair.com account only lets you look at interested families. 

Within a day of setting up my accounts, I had messages with requests to Skype from interested families.

Two weeks later, I’d done oodles of research. I knew what contract points I was willing to be flexible on and which points were deal-breakers. I’d had Skype interviews with five different families. And after narrowing it down to a final two—with each of whom I exchanged several emails and had a second Skype interview—I finally picked one and had a job. That was the end of October.

I’ve since made several phone calls to the French-American Center requesting the return of my application materials. Each time I call, they assure me they’ll send them, but they haven’t yet. It seems to me like this organization used to successfully set up au pair contracts between Americans and French host families, but they no longer seem well equipped for or particularly invested in it. I’m sure there are plenty of successfully functioning au pair agencies out there, so if you do think that applying through an agency is the right choice for you, do your research well and DO NOT apply to the French-American Center of Montpellier.

The only good thing that came out of me preparing my application for the French-American Center was that when I finally did set up my profiles on AuPair.com and AuPairWorld, I’d already thought about what I wanted out of my au pair experience, I already had a letter of motivation to copy and paste into my profile, and I already had photos preselected to upload. And when I finally committed to my host family (who, irony of ironies, lives in a Parisian suburb), I already had a lot of the documents required to finalize my contract and apply for my visa ready to go.

________________

Next up: Tips for finding the right host family on an au pair website.

And in the meantime, here are some helpful links for Americans looking to au pair in France:

  • AuPairWorld’s France-specific pages, detailing au pair requirements, regulations, and what to expect, as well as providing downloadable PDFs of the contract template.
  • The official French government page outlining France’s au pair guidelines (in French)
  • Various Au Pair Blogs:
    • This post has a useful section titled “Important Questions to Ask a Potential Au Pair Family”
    • This one gives a decent breakdown of how much setting up an au pair job could cost you
    • And this one has a good “What to Expect When You Arrive” section describing the various contract arrangements of the author and some of her friends.
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3 comments

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

  2. This is such a great guide for people trying to follow in your footsteps. In particular, the fact that you describe one of the major pitfalls that you encountered (the agency that took your money and information but was really not even in the market anymore) will, I’m sure, be of great value to others. Merci et tres bien!

  3. […] things first, you’ll need to choose a site. Of the two sites I tried, I much preferred AuPairWorld because it allowed me to send personalized messages through the basic […]

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