Hi, Abbie and Maddie here! In the USA most au pair host parents need an au pair who can drive. In most cases this means that your au pair will need a local driver’s license. Unfortunately, Au pairs dread getting a U.S. driving license. Besides the written test (in a foreign language!), there’s the practical exam.
Rules of the road here in the United States are just similar enough to “home” they feel the same. But they are also just different enough to cause hesitation. And then there’s parallel parking and backing around a corner in a car the au pair is still becoming familiar with. (And au pairs may be exaggerating their driving experience to make a match, but that’s another story…)
As a host parent, it’s another level of bureaucracy that it’s one more thing you may not have time for. And an au pair driver’s license is important for college classes, driver’s insurance, and more.
No matter which state you live in, we have three tips to help make the process a little easier.
Tip 1: Research the Au Pair Driver’s License Requirements
Doing all the research yourself is going to take some effort. Instead, consider delegating some of this work. Your current au pair, past au pair or local community coordinator (LCC) are the people to ask first. If you have trouble delegating like Allie, check out our blog about Engaging Your Village. It takes time and practice to get in the habit.
Start by asking your LCC for support. They are helping other au pairs get their licenses, too. Ask for information on which driving schools offer the best courses and at the best prices. Your LCC may know which Department of Licensing (DOL) offices have the shortest lines. Or even which office has the highest pass rates for au pairs. Your LCC there for you; let them help.
If you currently have an au pair, ask them to write down tips from when they got their license. Or better yet, have them take your new au pair to get their license. Is your past au pair already gone? Have your new au pair ask her friends for help.
One cool thing to know: some states have reciprocity with foreign countries. In Washington State driver’s from Germany and South Korea can walk into the DOL office and back out again. No tests required. (Japanese drivers should go through the Consulate in Seattle.)
Your state might accept the agency letter that says the au pair is living with you as proof of residency. If you’ve already applied for a Social Security card keep the envelope that it arrives in. It’s an official piece of mail with her name and your address. They may also accept a statement from the bank with their name and your address. If you have added your au pair to a joint credit card or a joint checking account for expenses that mail might count. Keep in mind, some states require mail to be postmarked within the last 30 days to establish residency.
Still stumped? Google to find you official government resources for your state. Or reach out to your local host parent group on Facebook.
Tip 2: Practice the Written Test
The only way your au pair is going to pass the written test is if they study!
We recommend sending your au pair materials to start studying for driver’s test as soon as you match. It is hard! Many people fail the first time they take it.
Your state may have their driver’s books in foreign languages. There’s a chance they may have the book as a PDF in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and other languages. And if not, you or your au pair might be able to run the PDF or the website through Google Translate. But a word of caution: driver’s test wording is intentionally tricky. The subtlety in the wording of the questions will likely be lost in translation.
The best way to study for the written test is to take the practice tests over and over again. Once your au pair can consistently pass the practice test, they should be ready for the real test. Some states have practice tests on their website (here’s WA state practice test). Others also offer practice test apps (here’s a WA DOL Permit Test app). If your state doesn’t have official practice tests, there are third party tests available online.
In Washington State, you have to pre-register on the website. Then you have to take the written test at an approved driver training/testing location. In Abbie’s location, the au pair gets two tries for $35. In Maddie’s location the au pair gets three tries for the same price.
If you require your au pair to drive your kids, then you should cover the cost of the driving license and testing. You, as the host family, should cover any expenses which are required for the au pair to do their job. If the au pair needs to pay for extra retakes, you can ask them to be responsible for that cost. But you need to communicate that before-hand.
Tip 3: Practice the Driving Test
Be willing to do some driving practice while your au pair gets used to your vehicle and the local area. Most au pairs are also not used to driving large, family vehicles.
Here are some YouTube videos that we found extremely useful!
- Parallel Parking – aligning yourself correctly. This video helped me, and I’ve been driving for years.
- Backing around a corner: Washington State DoL. Check if your state licensing agency has their own video series with their own requirements (distance from the curb, where to stop, etc.)
Also, in Washington State, the driving test is an additional cost to the written test. And there may be another fee if your au pair can’t test in your car. For example if you have expired tabs (happened to Allie, oops), or a taillight is out, etc.
Our Experiences with the Au Pair Driving Test
Abbie: My husband and I matched with our first au pair knowing she had no driving experience. Because we live in a small town, we were willing to do all the driving while she learned. Two months later she had her license! We did lots of practice driving with her and she worked hard.
Our second au pair got her license a little more quickly because she was used to driving in her home country.
Our third au pair arrived right before Labor Day and all the back-to-school craziness. Because she had an international driver’s license, we put off getting her license a little longer.
All our au pairs had to adjust to the larger American car size. They preferred taking the driving test with our commuter car rather than the huge van kid-mobile.
Maddie: Our first au pair was in her extension year. She already had an Oregon State license. She just ran into the DOL with her paperwork and came out a few minutes later with a Washington State license.
Our other four au pairs all had trouble with the written test. With enough practice and chances to take the test they were all able to pass.
One of our au pairs failed the driving test the first time she took it. We were concerned that we would have to rematch if she could not pass the test. So we reached out to our LCC for help. Our LCC drove with her and helped her learn all the rules in her native language. They both spoke Spanish! Our LCC also had her take the test at another driving school with historically better pass rates. She passed the second time she took the test and was the only one of our au pairs to not get into an accident while with us.
How did it go for your au pair?
How was your au pair driver’s license experience? Any other tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to My Au Pair and Me Host Family Community on Facebook. It’s nice to talk to other host families and know you’re not alone!