Host Parent Interview With Lisa Sanabria

Host Parent Interview With Lisa Sanabria

This blog post is part of the host parent interview series where we get to know other families who are hosting au pairs. Every family is different and we like to represent a variety of views.

We’d love it if you’d consider being a guest on our blog. Message us on Facebook or Instagram, or email us at [email protected] if you are interested.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m married to my amazing husband, Eric. We have 2 great kids, a boy and a girl, both elementary school age. We live in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

So far we’ve only had one au pair from South Africa who joined us in August of 2019 and was due to leave this summer. We matched with our second au pair before things got crazy with COVID but now can’t get a visa. Luckily, our current au pair decided to extend 6 months, which takes us out to the end of January 2021. Our next au pair is thankful for our current au pair’s extension and is willing to wait.

Lisa Sanabria and familyI’ve had some unique experiences that have somewhat prepared me for my au pair. Since 2003 we’ve welcomed interns from a large company I used to work for. It’s hard to keep track, but at this point I’ve had more than 160+ college kids live with us. Most of our interns are from various parts of the US. We’ve also had quite a few international interns. They grew up in India, China, Portugal, Columbia, etc. and moved here for college or graduate degrees.

We are social people and have enjoyed the diversity in our life. Of course, there have also been some challenges (which make for some interesting stories over the years).

I also was a residence assistant (RA) in college and had over 500 girls per year on my floor to host, welcome, and oversee. It really feels like a lifelong passion to be a facilitator of young people.

Q: How did you find out about au pairs?

Before we had children, we would host lots of gatherings for the interns’ friends at our house.

I first learned about au pairs from some Swedish au pairs that worked for one of my colleagues. Years later, when we were pregnant with our first child, we remembered about the au pair program. We signed up with Cultural Care, based on that colleague’s recommendation.

We interviewed an amazing German au pair who helped her mom run a daycare from their home. Unfortunately, we learned that you could only schedule au pairs for 45 hours a week. With both of us working, we’d need more like 60 or 70 hours.

Then we learned that my husband’s employer, The Home Depot, was opening a brand new onsite daycare run by Bright Horizons. This solution was great while the kids were young.

When my son entered kindergarten we had to switch to a local after-school daycare. That’s when we started getting calls that he was getting in fights, etc. and we had to come get him. This was very unlike my child and it was also very disruptive for me at work.

We hobbled by until almost the end of his first grade year. At this point we’d been through at least 3+ after-school programs. None had the patience or oversight to watch and understand what was going on.

Then I remembered another colleague’s advice that getting an au pair became easier once both kids were in elementary school. With my daughter starting kindergarten and my son entering 2nd grade, I re-looked at the hours we would need. It was more like 30 hours. Much more doable, and we could add a few date nights or errands in.

We jumped right in and signed up with several agencies and began interviewing. The rest is history and we haven’t looked back.

Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?

Since we were already signed up with Cultural Care, we reactivated the search there. We also signed up for another agency, GoAuPair, to see what the differences were and to broaden our search.

We also signed up for Au Pair in America but were rejected due to having college interns who only stay for 4 months at a time. They saw this as instability for our au pair and thought it would be difficult for her to bond and then say goodbye. (Personally I thought this was ridiculous. Isn’t this what we do with au pairs?)

We ended up getting our au pair from GoAuPair. Cultural Care had a bigger database and slightly better search function but our best match was with a South African young lady with GoAuPair.

Our current au pair was supposed to go home on August 1, 2020. We asked her to extend in March but her family experienced a lot of tragedy this year and she felt she had to go home and comfort them.

We were all sad but I jumped back into the agency searches. This time I went even broader. My best chance of finding the best match is to have the biggest pool to search from. I reactivated Cultural Care and GoAuPair, then added Au Pair Care and Au Pair International.

This time we matched with another South African from Au Pair International. I was pleasantly surprised when I compared all four agencies. Au Pair International was the cheapest by almost $2000 when compared to Cultural Care.

We were all set, and then COVID wreaked havoc. My second au pair’s visa appointment on June 23rd was canceled and moved to mid-September. Luckily, my current au pair decided to extend 2 months which put her out to October 1st. Safe again.

Then more havoc, with President Trump’s Executive Order banning overseas au pairs until at least 2021. Luckily, my current au pair decided to extend again, so we’re good until January 31, 2021. Now we’re crossing our fingers nothing else happens. What a wild ride!

On the bright side, both my current and future au pair have been very communicative and understanding of everything.

Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?

As an engineer, I have a very analytical background. I did a ton of reading about au pairs and hosting. I read about not only regulations and life with au pairs, but how host families succeed and fail and all the learnings in-between.

A big help both times around was reading the blog I also joined several Facebook groups as this COVID mess blew up, to learn more, and get immediate feedback.

Armed with all this info, I printed out every list of suggested questions I could find and starred what I thought was most important.

Our first basic requirement was for an au pair with mastery of English, so we’d set the filter as mastery or just under. My oldest, who has ADHD, struggles to communicate well. We need someone who can jump right in and be the role model for communication.

We also wanted a strong swimmer since we have a lap pool in our backyard.

Beyond this, I read a lot of profiles. I sent our family’s profile to anyone who didn’t say something that sounded crazy and seemed to fit the basics, then let them decide if we should explore further.

Our profile is very detailed.

On the positive side, Atlanta is a big city with lots to do, but also close to mountains, waterfalls, and nature. Another big selling point is that we like to travel and will take our au pair with us.

On the other side, being an au pair for our family comes with some challenges. My son with ADHD needs a lot of patient repetition. Both my kids are close in age and have a love-hate relationship. My au pair needs to be a referee (unfortunately). I have the schedule detailed out so they can see that they need to work a few hours each weekend. Perhaps the biggest thing against us is that we don’t provide a car.

Armed with all this info we get a 60% acceptance rate.

One mom from likes to call this method, “Dare to match with us.” A little extreme, but I like to weed out those who might be coming with rose-colored glasses and think their year is just going to be a party.

Once they get here, we shower them with love and make them family. But I need to get priorities and personality set up front.

Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?

As described early we put a lot of detail into our family profile and handbook.

Our current au pair was the first one we interviewed, and we had a good feeling about her but didn’t want to rush into it. We interviewed three or four more but each one we kept comparing back to her.

This is when it really sunk in that she was for us. We interviewed her 3 times, and at the end of the third interview we offered her the position. We all cried happy tears.

Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?

We looked up all the South African restaurants in Atlanta. We had our au pair inspect the menus and pick what sounded best, then we went and enjoyed the cuisine. It was enjoyable. My son loved his spaghetti…little did he know he was eating ostrich. =)

Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?

I think we got really lucky the first time around, as our au pair has immediately clicked in the family and is really mature. Overall, she’s been great.

A little over four months in, my son’s IEP teacher called. He mentioned during class one day that he was afraid to tell the au pair when his sister was being mean to him.

Apparently, the au pair had been trying to encourage them to solve their own problems. She told them if they were fighting they needed to figure out how to resolve it on their own. Sometimes when they earned free time she would put her headphones on. He didn’t know how to deal with his sister trying to hit and scare him.

I was shocked, because my au pair is so loving and patient with them. On the other hand, we all know that too much time with little ones fighting all day can drive anyone crazy.

So after kid bedtime one night, we sat down together. We let her know ahead of time we wanted to talk about how our son was doing in school. The first half of the school year just ended and we had completed teacher conferences, so I don’t think she was expecting any more than that.

We told her some general things that he was supposed to work on. Then I said I thought she was doing great, but that there was one story that the teacher told that we needed to talk about.

I shared the story and my au pair started crying. I hugged her and told her that I understood. The fact she was crying only showed how much she loved the kids.

We talked about an improved way to respond. They should learn how to resolve their differences. If they needed help she could be there with suggestions on how to work through it WITH them.

The three of us then talked with the kids and let them know the changes.

Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?

Overall I’m pretty happy with how this first au pair experience has gone. I’ve occasionally asked how things have been going, and my current au pair is thrilled.

I continue to read suggestions on how to welcome new au pairs, so next time I’m going to print my new au pair’s pictures from her profile and put them in her room.

I’m also going to warn her to bring an empty suitcase and think ahead about how much she buys when she’s here, and how she will be able to get it home.

Beyond that, not much.

I will ask my au pair one last time about a month before she leaves what my husband and I can improve. Maybe she can write a welcome and advice letter to leave for the new au pair.

Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of welcoming au pairs)?

Really figure out what’s most important to you about your au pair’s personality and skills. We all want the moon and stars for our children and family but no one’s perfect.

For instance, my au pair isn’t a slob but she isn’t much of a cleaner either. This is ok for me because she loves my children and actually enjoys playing with them, even when she’s not on duty. I can give up having a perfectly clean house for the extra play and joy my children get, and the extra few peaceful moments I get.

Also, realize finding someone just like you first of all is impossible and also might not be the best fit. I’ve read stories from people who are take-charge, detailed, in-control people and think an au pair like this might be good. But then they butt heads on who’s taking charge.

Think through some scenarios and how you want your au pair to fit in with your family. Write these skills and personality traits down and search for it.

Q: Do your au pairs talk with each other?​

Once we were down to our final two au pair candidates we asked our current au pair if she’d be willing to talk with them. We asked her to be a sounding board for whatever questions our new au pair might have about us.

Our current au pair didn’t have to tell us anything about the conversation unless there was something completely awful she felt we should know.

We requested they speak in Afrikans so they wouldn’t worry that we were listening in.

They talked for 15 to 20 min and my current au pair says she likes her. I know that we are all on social media together and they talk a little, but not a ton.

Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?

Our au pair has changed our life for the best, 100%.

One example: my son was at an end of Kindergarten level of reading when my au pair arrived in August 2019. Now, not quite a year later, he’s at a beginning 3rd grade level. He jumped two whole grade levels in one year! Amazing!

The few times we are not with our au pair, my kids say, “I wish she was here so I could show her this.”

My husband and I are also able to get a few more chores done, and a little more alone time together. Our stress level has definitely gone down. We are truly family, and will love her forever!

For all the reasons above, I started a new YouTube Channel, American Au Pair Host Mom. I share tips, tricks, advice, and the amazing opportunities families have with the au pair program. I’d love for the My Au Pair and Me family to check it out and share your feedback!

How has your au pair dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our au pair is an old soul, we are so lucky again in this area. She has au pair friends through social media that she chats with.

Even before COVID, she wasn’t too keen on a lot of outings. Now that it’s hit, she doesn’t go out except to take walks or bike rides.

She’s very concerned about not getting sick and not getting us sick either. So we watch a lot of movies together and sometimes go out on a nature hike to a waterfall.

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Practical Guide to Au Pair Welcome Baskets

Practical Guide to Au Pair Welcome Baskets

Hi, Abbie and Maddie here. We’re all about keeping it real. Some people are super-artsy and create Pinterest- and Instagram-worthy au pair welcome baskets. (If you’re one of those people, more power to you!)

For the rest of us, it’s possible to create a nice, simple welcome package on a budget. The goal is to make your au pair feel welcome, not win a ribbon at the county fair for prettiest display. And your kids might have fun thinking of ways to welcome your new au pair.

Our au pair welcome basket typically includes:

  • Heartfelt family note or gift from the kids.
  • Toiletries.
  • Food and snacks.
  • Office supplies.
  • Region-specific gift (from where you live).

When you’re done, lay them out in the au pair’s room as part of your pre-arrival checklist.

Don’t Send the Au Pair Welcome Baskets Ahead of Time

While you really want your au pair to feel loved and appreciated, it is not recommended to send anything before they arrive. Any care package you send ahead to your au pair’s training school is one more thing they have to fit in their luggage for their plane ride to you. Some agencies also don’t allow gifts at the training center because the au pairs who don’t receive a package can feel left out.

Definitely send a message to tell your au pair that you’re tracking their progress and how much you’re looking forward to their arrival. Don’t necessarily expect a timely reply. They may not have a foreign data plan and must rely on hotel wifi late at night.

Think About the Au Pair

When your au pair arrives, they will have their entire life packed into two suitcases and a small bag. Liquids, gels, and aerosols are minimal or non-existent.

Long story short, the best welcome gifts for your au pair are most likely small creature comforts.

Au Pair Welcome BasketSet yourself a small budget and stick to it. It’s amazing how many small things + a few personal touches you can get without spending a lot of money. Don’t go overboard, as too much is overwhelming. But your au pair will probably have a few small things for your family so it’s nice to have something in exchange.

Heartfelt family note or gift from the kids: Even a short, hand-written note on a piece of notebook paper is a nice personal welcome. The kids can draw a picture (age-dependent), or you can “write” a note from the baby saying, “I love you.” Your kids might also enjoy picking out a small gift for your au pair while you are out shopping.

Toiletries: Your au pair will probably want to make their own choices for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and lotion. However, you can provide travel-size options or larger bottles from the family supply. Going to the store will be something you’ll do in the first week or so, and then your au pair can pick their own items.

Food and snacks: You might have an idea of what kind of snacks your new au pair likes from emails and chats. Or you can get your au pair some snacks from your region. For example, Seattle has a chocolate company called Theo Chocolate, and Pennsylvania has Tastykakes. Include a water bottle or mug for coffee or tea in case they’re a bit nervous to poke around the kitchen for the first few days.

Office supplies: Your au pair might appreciate a few fun sticky notes, pens, and pencils. A journal or notebook is also a nice touch so they can record their time as an au pair. Stickers to decorate laptops are also popular.

Region-specific gift: A special gift from your area is always a nice surprise. There are so many options for regional gifts. This is a chance to be creative! If you’ve already gone over budget, save some of these items later for a holiday gift or birthday gift.

  • Search on Etsy for items with your hometown name. (If you have trouble finding gifts for au pairs, also search for gifts for nannies and foreign exchange students.) I really like cloth tote bags, but necklace charms, magnets, mugs, and keychains are a perennial favorite.
  • A map or a coffee table book about your area to help your au pair explore their new home.
  • Consider a sweatshirt or other item from your nearest college or professional sports team (though this may make it hard to stick within your budget).
  • Gift card to a local restaurant, shop, or event so they can get out of the house for a local experience. We live outside of Seattle so a Starbucks gift card is a common choice.

Our experiences with AU Pair Welcome Baskets

AbbieAbbie says: When my first au pair arrived, I had twin babies and a preschooler. She got a bunch of things laid out on her bed, but it wasn’t very pretty. I’ve gotten myself a little more organized as time goes on. My most recent au pair had a prettier display, but the same basic things.

Maddie AvitarMaddie says: I love making au pair welcome baskets! And now that my kids are a little older they like to help, too. I typically start with my au pair’s favorite color and use that as a theme throughout. We make a special trip to the store so every au pair gets a unique gift depending on the season and suggestions from my kids. Some years I have arranged it in a big gift basket. Other years I used a gift bag or reusable shopping bag. We have fun putting it together as a family.

Further Reading:

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Practical Guide to Au Pair Welcome Baskets

Practical Guide to Au Pair Welcome Baskets

Host Parent Interview With Jenny Coleman

Host Parent Interview With Jenny Coleman

This blog is part of the host parent interview series where we get to know other families who are hosting au pairs. Every family is different and we like to represent the variety of views.

We’d love it if you’d consider being a guest on our blog. Message us on Facebook or Instagram, or email us at [email protected] if you are interested.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Au Pairs enjoying a sunny day by the waterHi there! So just to tell you a little bit about us. I am Jenny, I am 44 (nearly 45…but the last few months of being 44 are VERY important!) I am married to Julian (52) and we are coming up to our tenth wedding anniversary. Julian and I both work within the emergency services.

We have two children, Megan age 11 and Emily age 7. We also have two dogs, Rosie (a Welsh Springer) and Lacey (a working cocker.) To add to this family, we have 11 amazing au pairs who have been a HUGE part of our lives in the last ten years.

We live in Penarth in Wales – UK. Penarth is a very diverse and beautiful seaside town. It’s an affluent area, but full of middle aged professionals or retired people. It’s mainly a family based area with exceptional schools. We live slightly outside of our pay bracket, but to us a home for au pairs and children to grow up in, you cannot ask for a better set up.

Q: How did you find out about au pairs?

I was traveling the UK, lecturing on a specific topic related to work, and met an amazing woman from the World Health Organization. I stayed overnight with her around 13 years ago and I was introduced to her au pair. I didn’t really understand what an au pair was until this point. I had a nanny as a child, as my mother was single at the time and also worked within the Emergency Services.

My husband and I live over three hours away from my parents and siblings, and he has no family, so when I got pregnant I panicked a little. I was worrying about how we would cope with the demands of our jobs and a child. My position demanded 18+ hour days most of the time, so I knew that conventional nannies or nurseries were never going to work for us. I recalled the au pair I had met and started to do some research.

I learnt that an au pair was a person 18-30 looking for a cultural exchange, who in return lived in with you. One thing I noticed about the au pair I had originally met, was that she wasn’t really a part of the family. She went to her room as soon as her chores were complete. I definitely didn’t want this. I didn’t want a ‘live in’ maid or ‘servant’ – I wanted an extension on our family and a friend. My au pairs have all become so much more than ‘a friend’ – they have become surrogate daughters to both Julian and I.

Q: Why did you use an au pair (instead of daycare, nanny, etc.?)

We love our au pairMy hours of work can be in excess of 18+ a day. I never wanted either of my children to be bounced between friends or family. To be rushed to breakfast clubs or after school clubs. I also, (as much as I hate to admit it) am not the most maternal of people.

An au pair for me, offers stability, routine, friendship, a big sister, a confidant, love, fun and support for my girls. Personally, they have each made me grow as a person. They have been there through some of the worst times of my life, been a pillar of strength, a shoulder to cry on. They have told me off, made me see sense, laughed with me, cried with me, drank copious amounts of wine and danced around the house with me. They have only extended my family for the better.

If something serious happens at work, meaning I have to stay on (sometimes this has been for days – I literally have not seen my children for a week at a time, and this happened quite often before I changed departments)…I was always able to relax, knowing they were safe, in routine, homework done, a hot and healthy meal in their tummies and to bed on time. We ensured that the time and hours worked by the au pair was made up and paid back.

Thanks to the love and dedication of my au pairs, I have two happy, emotionally well balanced and bright young children.

Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?

I have always used AuPairWorld. AuPairWorld was the first site I ever tried. It was easy, I liked the search criteria and ‘easy find’. I was able to easily contact and message potential au pairs through their messaging system, and the cost was relatively inexpensive. I also like the fact that the searching and the decision making was entirely left to me as the host. I much prefer this concept over an ‘agency’.

Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?

Generally I wanted au pairs who had no previous experience of  ‘au pairing’. This was mainly because I wanted the experience to be one that we went through together, and there was no comparison to others. I wasn’t concerned about childcare qualifications. I looked for a warm face and personality. I generally skipped over any au pairs who had a pouting ‘kiss blowing’ photo, or half naked photo as their profile pic. I looked for someone who was family orientated and loved animals as well as children.​

Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?

I would ‘like’ and message quite a few au pairs that matched my search criteria. I looked for those that replied, and engaged rather than just sending a notification. I always tried to make my profile letter funny and honest. Most au pairs said they loved this and it stood out from people that just listed chores and needs. For me an au pair is not about the chores it’s about the engagement. Of course, helping with general household jobs is part of the role. But they would never be asked to do anything that I wouldn’t do, or that I wouldn’t give my kids to do. Both of my children help the au pair with the hoovering and polishing when they can. I am a bit of an OCD freak, so I would always do this when I can or do with the au pair.

Anyway, back to the question…I would whittle down the search by responding to those that asked questions and genuinely seemed interested in the children, their likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests, schooling, music etc etc. Both of my girls play the piano, one to a high standard. For a brief period, I looked for au pairs with musical knowledge, but I found that this didn’t work and it limited my choice. All the au pairs I have had joined in with the children and started to learn music for themselves, I loved this. 

Once I had the au pair choice down to three or four, I would Skype with them. Speaking clear and fluent English was a criteria I did look for…so Skyping gave me a good sense of their language skills. It also demonstrated their real interest and desire. For me, au pairing is about experiencing a new culture through a family and being part of that family – this, in the main, was what I looked for.

After I had chosen my au pair and offered them a home to come to, I would then get them talking to my previous au pairs. Each au pair was told to be 100% open and honest with the new family member. This meant good and bad. Each family has good and bad points and there is absolutely no point in trying to hide anything. 100% transparency is definitely the key to a successful relationship.

Once the new au pair had a few weeks engaging with the current and old au pairs, I would then start about four weeks of Skyping with the children. They would slowly build up a rapport with both girls and the current au pair. The girls would play games with them online, and generally build up a rapport. I always found this eased the transition for everyone. 

Photobooth costumes with host family and au pairsQ: What is something funny your au pair did that you didn’t expect?

Oh where do I start? We have sooooo many funny stories from each and every au pair. From first time drunken nights out, to wearing goggles whilst cleaning the shower. Spraying nappy poo’s when Megan was a baby, to dancing around the kitchen. I have endless videos of the girls and au pairs singing to songs, dancing, playing, camping, surfing, dog walking. You name it – we have done it. These memories are treasured. I have belly laughed with each of them… sometimes so hard that a little bit of pee (apologies for the graphic description) may come out. Honestly, the fun we have had is irreplaceable.

Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?

Vacation with past au pairsWe have had au pairs from Australia, Austria, Holland, and Sweden. The majority of our au pairs are Swedish, and our new au pair due to start after lock down is also Swedish.

Last May we traveled to Sweden and as one big group (au pairs and the Coleman-Humphreys family) we hired a big Airbnb in Gothenburg, right on a lake. We had a long weekend together and the Swedes showed us around. We ate Swedish food, visited national parks, and had a stunning and valuable few days away.

Here at home, we try to cook national foods. Most of my au pairs love to bake and cook. I’ve woken to the fresh smell of cinnamon buns, and eaten lovingly prepared dishes from their home country. The girls are introduced to games from each country, and we have had each set of au pairs parents and siblings also over to stay. Some au pairs have had their boyfriends to live with us for a few weeks. They have engaged with the kids just as much as the au pairs have – and my girls have grown really close to them also. We try to learn cultural traditions and celebrate their own national holidays.

I have always told my children that they are the luckiest children in the world – they can literally travel the world and have a second home to go to in each of the countries. I know that they are always welcome and will remain part of each au pairs family, forever.

Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?

Life is not a bed of roses. An au pair is a person who you watch and help grow, emotionally and mentally. They are away from everything they know and love, and whilst this is an exciting time for them, they can get home sick and feel sad. I have had au pairs feeling very low and down at times. It’s a really hard job at times. Overnight they are becoming a parents, friend, big sister, and more. It’s a lot of pressure for them and that has to be remembered. I loved Japan when I was younger, and I always tell my au pairs that it took me three months to stop feeling homesick. This is very normal. I find it takes time and patience for everyone to adapt. 

We have a complete open and honesty policy in our house. If there is something they don’t like, or worried about, they are allowed to say it. They won’t be judged, and vice versa… we will adapt and change accordingly. It took me a while to learn how to adapt, and there are mistakes I made with some of my first au pairs that I don’t make now. I guess as a person and family we have grown also.

I have had a couple of au pairs who have started and we have had to return home. We have had to find a new aupair very quickly and that’s made the transition harder. I say harder, because we have 3-4 weeks where the old au pair helps transition the new aupair. When one has been replaced because its not ‘worked out’ its been difficult to transition so seamlessly.

One example of such, was when I was pregnant with Emily. Sofie looked after Megan who was 4, me who had hyperemesis gravidarum and was very very ill, and also a poorly puppy (Rosie had IMPA). I would just like to add at this point, that the love and care Sofie gave us, made us not only very close, but exceptionally grateful. I love her like a child of my own, and she literally saved my life.

Hanna started with us when Sofie was due to leave. As the weeks went on, I started to get concerned about Hanna. She wasn’t engaging with Megan at all. When Sofie left – all communication stopped… and we agreed to part ways. I think it must have been very difficult for Hanna, seeing how close Sofie and I were, but also with me being very poorly and constantly in and out of hospital.

Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?

Our next au pair, Thea, starts with us in June and our current au pair, Mary, leaves us mid May. Unfortunately this is because of the restrictions of the lock down. It means that Thea will miss out on building a relationship with Mary, whilst gently being transitioned into the role. If the girls are home still and being home-schooled, it’s even more pressure on her. This is going to be a first for us, and we will just take each day as it comes.

As I have had more and more au pairs, I have learnt to park my OCD, and accept that the house doesn’t need to be spotlessly clean and tidy, timetables have a habit of going out of the window, and there are bad days as well as good days.

To start with – I think I expected too much. But with the help of my au pairs I have grown as a person and seen myself develop and  become more accepting. We have rows like any parent and teenage daughter would – but we have the respect and closeness to talk and park it. Learn from it and adapt.

I would urge any one having an au pair to just be ‘human’ and treat them as you would want someone to treat your son or daughter. Never forget that they are someone else’s son or daughter. They deserve to be treated with love, kindness, and fairness. They are not a housemaid or servant, they are part of your family. 

Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of welcoming au pairs)?

Be accepting, open, and committed. Make the au pair part of you and your children’s lives. Embrace the experience. Become friends. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, but do it diplomatically. Take them with you on holiday and out for walks, bike rides, swims, meals etc. This is a relationship for life. They are here to learn and grow with you. Remember that they are new to this, and still young. Treat them as you would want someone to treat your own child. Enjoy the experience. My life is enriched because of my au pairs, and I owe them the world.

Q: Have you had a gap or overlap when transitioning between au pairs?

Yes – we have four weeks of having two. The first week, I let them sleep and find their feet. They join in when they want…and generally get a feel for the house.

The second week I like to see them engaging more with the kids and just having fun. The current au pair takes them on dog walks and shows them the town. They go to after school clubs with the kids so they know where to go and get to meet any teachers etc.Looking up at kids and au pairs

The third week they muck in with the housework and kids, meal prep etc…pretty much helping out the current au pair with everything. We will have family nights, go to the cinema, or out for a drink/meal etc.

The final week they totally take over. The current au pair has the week to pack, say goodbye to her friends, do a bit with the children and just get used to the idea of leaving. When they do leave it’s always emotional for everyone.

By the fourth week – I find the new au pair is very ready for the old one to go, and for them to put their own stamp in things. But in this time, the new and old au pair have made a new friendship and become part of the bigger group.  This method has worked AMAZINGLY for us. I am not looking forward to not having this option on this transition, but we will go with it and do the best we can.

Q: Do your au pairs talk with each other?​

Oh yes – we have one big family group. As a group we talk every day. We share problems, or funny stories, recipes and cooking tips. We play online games… together we try to meet up as much as we can. I am so happy that we all get along and that each of them have found new friendships through us.

Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?

This has only been a positive experience for us. I cannot imagine my life without them. I have alluded to how much I love each one. I love them all for their own personalities, and what they bring to our relationship. As a group I love how we all gell and come together for Megan and Emily.  I love the au pair community, but it’s not all a bed of roses. It’s hard at times, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Having an au pair is a game changer in terms of family life, it gives you back quality time as a family…just never forget that they are part of that family.

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Host Parent Interview with the Jones Family

Host Parent Interview with the Jones Family

This blog is part of the host parent interview series where we get to know other families who are hosting au pairs. Every family is different and we like to represent the variety of views.

We’d love it if you’d consider being a guest on our blog. Message us on Facebook or Instagram, or email us at [email protected] if you are interested.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Jones FamilyHello, we are the Jones family! We have two children, our girl is a toddler and our boy is a pre-schooler, two dogs, and our au pair from France. This is our 3rd au pair and they have all been from France (and yes the kids are learning French, but no my husband and I don’t know French!)

Our household is very busy with the many activities that we like to do to enjoy life in Denver, Colorado. We live within walking distance to downtown Denver. Both my husband and I work in technology and mainly work from home, however, we have outside hobbies as well.  We partly own a restaurant/gas station and several homes in downtown Denver that we rent. We love enjoying life and being active.

Q: How did you find out about au pairs?

We found out about the au pair program from a family member who had many au pairs and raved about the program.

Q: Why did you use an au pair (instead of daycare, nanny, etc.?)

We chose to use an au pair for several reasons. We loved the idea of being exposed to a new culture and language for our children and ourselves. We like having a busy and full house.

Additionally, we wanted flexibility in childcare hours as we enjoy various activities while we’re not working. This flexibility affords us date nights or to play a sport on the weekend. Our lives are full and we get to all enjoy different activities because we have this flexible coverage.

Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?

Our first au pair agency was Au Pair Care. I chose them because they had a wide selection of French au pairs.

We then switched to Cultural Care for the last two because they ended up having a wider selection of French au pairs. We stuck with French au pairs because initially we heard great things. After our first was such a success and the children were learning French we decided to commit to French au pairs (but who knows, we may switch at some point.

Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?

When finding an au pair, I had an initial screening before interviewing; pictures with children, good driver, no smoking/drugs, no boyfriend, knows how to cook

Secondly, during the interview, I try to find out how kind and loving they are with children. I ask about their childcare experience, their discipline techniques, and activities they would do with the children.

I also ask if they like to be active, how well they drive, what their relationship is like with their parents, and what they like to cook.

From all of these questions I can also get a sense of their personality. I prefer, loving, responsible, energetic, and positive people.

Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?

It’s always a tough decision for me and it always ends up with two great candidates. I write all the pros and cons of both and then I ask several questions.

First, will they take care of my children very well (safety, love, care)?

Second, how compatible are they with our family as a whole?

Then, I follow my gut and which person feels lighter. My husband always leaves the final decision to me because I am the one interacting with the au pair the most, but this is a lot of pressure. The decision has never been easy. Thankfully, because I already had two great candidates that I have always ended up with great au pairs. I couldn’t go wrong either way.

For my current au pair, I also had two great candidates. However, I didn’t like some of the pictures that I saw on one of the au pair’s social media accounts. To be frank, the pictures were very provocative and excessive, not the same person that I interviewed with several times. I did approach her about it and let her know that I didn’t feel comfortable with those pictures. It was a tough conversation. I didn’t end up choosing her. I wasn’t sure which persona I could trust as her social media was vastly different.

Q: How has your au pair dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic?

I cannot rave enough how grateful we are to have our current au pair during this difficult time.

We’ve had our ups and downs over the last several weeks of self-quarantine. She has made the best of the situation. The children do several activities during the day and are getting some nice outdoor time in the backyard. Seeing her smiling face and positive attitude is tremendous. We know we are lucky!

Most of our schedule is the same in that my two children are not in school yet. However, our au pair was taking them on an outing once per day (ie. zoo, karate, gymnastics, children’s museum, swim class).

We’ve talked about the situation almost daily, discussing our concerns, fears, and future plans. She knows au pairs that have gone home. She wants to stay for at least 2 more months and if the quarantine remains then go home. She is looking at the positive in that she can focus on learning English and shopping online. However, her main attraction is traveling the US.

We understand where she is coming from and support her in whichever direction she chooses as this unfolds.

Q: What is something funny your au pair did that you didn’t expect?

My au pair made porcupine shaped cupcakes with chocolate chips as the quills. She said it is our family of quarantined porcupines.  It was a nice pick-me up with all of the current news of covid-19.

Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?

We always take our au pairs to the yearly western stock show. The western way of life is a large part of Colorado history. 

During the fall we visit a pumpkin patch and run the corn maze. None of the French au pairs have experienced anything like this before and they think it’s pretty cool. 

Last Christmas our au pair and her au pair friends made an authentic French Christmas dinner.  It was amazing!

Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?

I’ve learned that reviewing the house manual every week for the first month is very important, then every few months after that. There is a lot of information to remember and reviewing the manual reinstates what it takes to have a successful year with your family.

One reason is because the au pairs English improves over time and they understand more as time goes on.

Secondly, it avoids any conflict as it has been written down and agreed upon from the beginning.

For example, we have several child-related chores every week; diaper bag emptied on Tuesday, laundry on Monday and Thursday, new sheets on the beds every Monday. If any of these chores slip then it can be easily reiterated during that weekly review.

Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of becoming au pairs)?

I let other host parents know what a great program it is! There are so many advantages from cultural sharing to someone helping with household, child-related chores.

I also recommend using the program to its fullest. The agencies I have used talk about au pairs helping out with cooking a few meals a week, some grocery shopping, and some light household cleaning that relates to them being part of the family. This extra help is tremendous with our busy household and we appreciate it.

We also stick with the rules: <45 hours per week, <10 hours per day. I’ve heard from other host parents and au pairs that some don’t utilize the cooking or others do 45+ hours. We respect the rules and our au pairs.

We make sure to make them feel part of the family and recommend including your au pair when doing various family activities. At the end of the program you will have another family member!

Q: Have you had a gap or overlap when transitioning between au pairs? 

With our second au pair we overlapped. It was nice to have the first au pair explain things in French when her English was in the beginning stages. Plus, it made her feel comfortable being in a new country. 

The third au pair did not have any overlap. The nice part was that everything was fresh and a new beginning. However, I noticed having overlap was more helpful than not due to language barriers and comfortability.

Q: Have you had an au pair take a travel month? How did that go?

Yes! Our au pair took a travel month and really enjoyed it. She was able to explore and come back and see us one more time before she left. It was very special for her to explore and be free from all obligations yet feel like she had a family in the US she could rely on during her travel month.

Q: Do your au pairs talk with each other?​

Yes, yes, yes…weekly our second au pair would call our first.  Now, our third au pair calls the other two. It’s amazing and they get to talk in French about their experience (hopefully all good). This last week during our toddler’s birthday the first two au pairs were on Zoom while we sang happy birthday. It was very special. We plan to do a small tour of France and visit all of our au pairs in a few years.  We are truly grateful!

Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?

Our family has been positively impacted by hosting au pairs. My children are exposed to another culture and language. My husband and I enjoy getting to know our au pairs and having a young adult in the house with fun energy.

Additionally, we have flexibility with our child care. My husband and I are able to schedule date nights.

Lastly, we end up becoming a family.

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Should I Pay for That? A Guide to Au Pair Expenses

Should I Pay for That? A Guide to Au Pair Expenses

Hi, Maddie here. When I first became an au pair host mom I really struggled with the obligation to cover expenses for my au pair. The agency fees seemed astronomical, but there was nothing I could do about it. The direct expenses, on the other hand, I could control to some degree.

At first I turned to Google. This is one of the few times Google let me down. All I could find were vague guidelines on the au pair agency sites and general references to “room and board.”

Over time, I found that my au pair actually helped me keep the worst of my household expenses in check. Having a third adult to share in meal planning, preparation, and clean up helps us to eat at home. Also, my au pair has time during the day to run to the store and she largely sticks to the shopping list. My worries about the small expenses eased once these other larger expenses were under control.

Who pays for what can get a little complicated. I have put together the following lists as a guide to who is typically responsible for a given expense. In general, expenses fall into three categories:

  1. Education requirements, room, and board, which are the responsibility of the host family.
  2. Expenses incurred in the care of the children, which are the responsibility of the host family.
  3. Personal expenses, which are the responsibility of the au pair.

Below is a list of all the expenses, and also a discussion on how I’ve kept things straight.

If you have an expense in question, reach out to other host families in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. You can also contact your local au pair counselor for advice.

What expenses should the host family cover for an au pair?

Au pair host families should pay for education expenses, room and board, and any expenses incurred in the care of the children.

Education requirements

  • $500 towards education expenses (tuition, fees, books, etc.).
  • Local transportation to and from classes.

Room and Board

  • Rent/mortgage and any associated housing costs (HOA dues, wear and tear, etc.).
  • Car purchase/payments, maintenance, and insurance (if the family owns the vehicle).
  • Utilities (power, water, internet, tv/Netflix, etc.).
  • Home phone or a basic cell phone with a cell phone plan.
  • Furnishings for the au pair’s room (furniture, mirror, bedding, hangers, etc.).
  • Basics for the au pair’s bathroom (towels, mats, toothbrush holder, etc.).
  • Meals at home.
  • Snacks and beverages kept in the kitchen.
  • Household products (light bulbs, toilet paper, hand soap, tissues, laundry soap, cleaning supplies, etc.)

Child care expenses

Child care expenses are a special category. These expenses are the obligation of the host family only if they are for the care of the children. In the corporate world these expenses are analogous to business expenses.

  • First attempt at the drivers tests and the drivers licenses fees. (If you require your au pair to drive.)
  • Transportation costs when working or with the family (gas, tolls, parking, bus, Uber, etc.).
  • Supplies for the children.
  • Activities when working or with the family.
  • Meals out when working or with the family.
  • Vacation expenses (if you require your au pair to work at any point during the trip – airfare, hotel, meals, etc.)
  • Any fees related to the children – even if you felt the au pair was responsible (children lose the library books, etc.)

What expenses should the au pair pay for?

Of course you can always offer to help your au pair with a personal expense or two. Some families cover expenses like a gym membership or bath products as an added bonus for their au pair. But you are by no means obligated to cover them.

  • Program fees billed to the au pair.
  • Personal expenses (clothes, bath products, cosmetics, etc.).
  • Personal activities (gym, concerts, sports, etc.).
  • Meals out when not with the family.
  • Transportation costs when not with the family (gas, tolls, parking, bus, Uber, etc.).
  • Fees, fines, and tickets (parking and traffic violations, late fees, bank fees, etc.).
  • Alcohol, energy drinks, fancy beverages.
  • Snacks and beverages kept in the au pair’s room.
  • Food for the au pair’s friends.
  • Personal vacations.
  • Cell phone extras (apps, overage charges, roaming charges, international calls, etc).
  • Damage to the car and home beyond normal wear and tear (up to the agency limit).
  • Expenses over the $500 provided for education (tuition, fees, books, etc.).
  • Medical and dental costs (they have their own insurance).
  • Income tax.
  • Excess baggage fees and/or shipping costs to bring their belongings home.
  • Postage.

How do you keep the money straight?

It is important to set expectations about expenses and keep the money straight with your au pair. Managing expenses poorly can quickly drive a wedge between you and your au pair. I do everything I can to make expenses easy to manage and transparent to my au pair.

Set expectations for expenses

The best time to discuss expectations for expenses is before your au pair arrives. By addressing it early your au pair can better plan for her year with your family. It also prevents conflicts and hurt feelings over money. We created this expense responsibility guide for you to share with your au pair.

Responsible party pays for the expense when incurred

The best way to keep expenses straight is to have the responsible party pay for the expense at the point of sale. If you are with your au pair they can pay for their own personal expenses at the register. That way there is no debt to settle between you and your au pair.

Inevitably, your au pair will need to spend money while in the care of your children. This may be for art supplies for your kids, picking up a few groceries for the family, or taking the kids to the museum. It is unfair to expect your au pair to front these costs on your behalf.

Instead, provide your au pair with a mechanism to keep the family expenses separate. I issue a low limit credit card to my au pairs which we closely track. Abbie gives her au pairs a pre-paid card which she can load with funds as needed. Another option is to give your au pair the necessary petty cash ahead of time. You can ask her to bring you the change and receipts.

Whichever mechanism you choose for your family, keep an eye on the spending of your au pair. If your au pair spends money that you don’t expect, address it right away.

Work out a plan for shared expenses ahead of time

Some expenses, like gas for the car or cell phone charges, aren’t easy to divide. For these expenses, it is best to work out the details and expectations with your au pair ahead of time.

Over the years, we have managed paying for gas for the car in two different ways. Sometimes it has been easiest for us to pay for every other tank of gas for our au pairs car. Other times it has been easier for our au pair to fill the tank on our card at the end of her work week. Then fill the tank again with her card at the beginning of her work week.

Cell phones are an essential expense in modern life and are another shared expense you will need to address ahead of time. Because your au pair needs to call you in case of an emergency, you need to provide a cell phone and pay for a basic plan. Do you require your au pair to drive? If so, you will also need to pay for some amount of data for GPS navigation if it is not available in the au pair’s vehicle. You may also want your au pair to be able to take pictures and send them to you at work.

Cell phones can be expensive. The cost of the phone, the accessories, and the usage plan really add up. But there are a few ways to keep these costs straight and in check. See our blog 3 Tips for Controlling Au Pair Cell Phone Expenses for the details.


Au Pair Timecards Free PDF

Always pay your au pair the entire weekly stipend

The US Department of State requires host families to provide their au pair with a weekly stipend of at least $195.75. You need to pay your au pair their full stipend every week regardless of whether they owe you for money. If you pay the weekly stipend to your au pair in cash, we recommend the use of a payment log.

Download the Free Au Pair Time Sheet PDF to keep track of your au pair’s hours worked. Also, document when and how much your au pair was paid. Also, see our downloads page for a list of all the My Au Pair and Me documents.

Pay day may be a good opportunity to reconcile personal expenses with your au pair. The repayment of expenses needs to be a separate transaction from the payment of the stipend. In other words, make the full payment first (and record it), then have her/him pay you back. Do NOT pay a reduced paycheck.

How much should I expect to spend on an au pair?

The short answer is “it depends.” The cost of expenses for an au pair can vary widely. The cost of goods and services in your area and how generous you choose to be drive the majority of the differences.

We break down the host family costs in our blog How much does an au pair cost.

Did we miss something?

Are we missing something off our lists? Share your experience with au pair expenses in the comments below.

Have a question about who should cover a particular expense? Join our group of host parents in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. We would love to hear from you!

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Guide To Au Pair Expenses
Guide To Au Pair Expenses
Guide To Au Pair Expenses
Interview with host parent Carrie

Interview with host parent Carrie

Interview with host parent Carrie

We’re starting a new series where we occasionally interview other host parents. Every family is different, and we like to represent a variety of views.

We’d love it if you’d consider being a guest on our blog. Message us on Facebook or Instagram, or email us at [email protected]

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Au Pair Host Mom Carrie with her kidsHello! My name is Carrie, and my husband Tony and I got our first au pair in 2014. Our daughter was a toddler and we had infant twin boys when she arrived.

We’ve had 5 au pairs altogether. I am still in contact with three of our pairs and really do think of them like daughters (or step daughters).

I was older when I had my kids (42 when the boys were born) and we lived in Bothell, WA when we had our au pairs. I worked full time in Seattle before I had my twins. I was expecting to go back full time, because we had opened up a gym that was still in start-up mode. Unfortunately, I was laid off 2 months after our au pair arrived! Rather than go back to work, I decided to start consulting instead. I don’t know how I would have survived that time without our au pair!

Q: How did you find out about au pairs?

I learned about them from a mom at the park, and once I found out about the twins, it seemed like a viable option for us.

Q: Why did you use an au pair (instead of daycare, nanny, etc.?)

We chose the au pair route for two main reasons.

First, I liked the idea of my kids getting to stay in their home environment. With the gym and later my consulting, our hours were unpredictable, so having someone live with us was a great option.

Second, the au pair program was also more affordable than other options.

Q: Which au pair agency (or agencies) have you used and why?

I’ve used Cultural Care and Au Pair Care.

We had a bit of a falling out with Cultural Care after our 2nd and 3rd au pair experiences and took a break from the program for almost two years.

Then when we decided to try again, we made a fresh start. I had been really impressed with the Area Director at APC, so decided to give them a try.

Q: What criteria did you use for finding your au pair?

We learned this as we went!! It was definitely trial and error, so I learned as much from our mistakes.

Au Pair Host Mom Carrie's TwinsOur first au pair was our unicorn! She was 18, from Brazil and spoke nearly perfect English. She had the same sense of humor as we do, was very calm under pressure, and very independent. She made friends and figured things out on her own. I didn’t realize how rare that was!

I have found that the more honest we are in the matching process the better.

Living in Bothell was a bit of a downer, because there wasn’t easy access to public transit. Two of our au pairs had accidents in our cars and two were from South Africa and never felt comfortable driving. Transportation was always an issue.

We had limited means, and with the start-ups we don’t travel. Add to that I work from home, which many au pairs don’t like. Add to that three little kids at home full time and we were probably not a first choice for a lot of au pairs!

We were a better fit for girls who wanted the family environment, were used to babies and noise and chaos, and didn’t want or expect a lot of luxuries.

Q: How did you decide which au pair to match with?

My process was to have an initial email exchange, then a Skype with me and them, and then one with the kids to see how they did. Then I’d email them our family handbook and ask them to look through it. I asked them to reply to see if it sounded like a good match, and if they were rules they could live with.

All that being said, in my experience, I’ve ‘just known’ the great matches and had to work to convince myself on the ones that weren’t so great. So much of it comes down to how well the mom and the AP get along. Especially when mom works from home!

Q: What is something funny your au pair did that you didn’t expect?

I was not expecting the differences in using the toilet/toilet paper!! That has been almost universally something we’ve had to explain 🙂

Q: What are some cultural experiences you’ve had with your au pair?

I’m Canadian, so we always included our Au Pairs in Canadian and American Thanksgivings. We would take everyone to Snoqualmie Falls.

One Au Pair came with us to Canada for Christmas with my family.

Q: Have you had any trouble with your au pair? How did you resolve it?

Out of five au pairs, we had two au pairs that ended very badly.

Our first (unicorn) au pair had planned to extend for a year and then left abruptly when she found out her grandma in Brazil was dying. I was in a panic! There was an au pair in rematch in Chicago who would have to go home to South Africa if she didn’t match in one more day. In her profile it said she was dealing with three toddlers and 2 newborn twins and was overwhelmed and needed a family with less kids. I had a feeling it was a bad idea to make a hasty decision. There were additional warning signs…never being able to get hold of her, drama around technical difficulties. I convinced myself it would be okay.

AFTER we matched I searched her social media profiles and realized she had a very different persona and social life than was a fit for us. The agency brushed off my concerns. As it turned out, her profile was wrong…she was only watching 3 kids and was overwhelmed. She had clearly misrepresented her experience with children under 2. I ended up making signs all over the house to remind her to fasten high chair straps, close baby gates, etc. Then she started sharing a lot of personal drama…enough that I was getting concerned. The agency finally did a psych eval on her and sent her home.

The match after her was also bad. She was from Mexico and after she arrived we realized she didn’t really speak any English. During the Skype calls she had her sister there and blamed the communication on bad reception. I think someone else did her written communication for her! She shared that she didn’t want to be an au pair. She wanted to study ballet in Russia, but her parents wanted her to go to the US first. She was very uncomfortable with me being in the house, and she wouldn’t talk to me when I was in the room. I asked her how we could fix things, and she said the only thing she wanted was for me to stay away from the kids when she was working. It was just awkward and uncomfortable.

When I asked the agency for help, they said considering this was my second rematch, maybe our family wasn’t a good fit for the program, and that au pairs should not be considered child care. Consider them more like exchange students who do a little bit of child care. She (the director) wouldn’t rematch our au pair unless we had a masters in adolescent psychology. So that’s why I stopped using that agency, and stepped out of the program for a year and a half.

Q: What are some things you wish you did differently (or you plan to do differently with your next au pair)?

Go with my gut! Lurk on ALL their social media accounts and pay attention to red flags and inconsistencies.

Just like hiring an employee…any drama prior to the offer is a huge red flag.

Beware of people who are too concerned about what’s in it for them.

Beware of people who say they want to be an au pair because they just love children because children do nothing but bring love and joy (because they obviously haven’t spent a lot of time with real children hahaha).

The better they can speak English and communicate, the easier it will be.

Q: What is advice you’d give to other host parents (or parents thinking of becoming au pairs)?

I’d say if you’re worried about someone living in your house, don’t be. The right match living with you is such a lift, you won’t even mind it. Most of the au pairs really want to experience American life and they won’t be home much on their off time.

At the same time, don’t treat it like you’re getting cheap live in child care. That’s not what’s being communicated to the girls. From what they’ve told me, the recruiters overseas are selling a year of vacation and study with a bit of childcare. If you have a lot of need for childcare, make sure au pairs understand that.

Be patient, and if you aren’t in an emotional or practical space to patiently welcome someone who will have needs and need time and help, hold off. They really rely on their host families to help them, especially at first, and sometimes they’re too scared to ask for what they need. It’s a tough spot to live with your new employer and feel like you have to be perfect.

I’ve learned to be patient and lower my expectations and it goes better.

Q: Now that you have an au pair, how has it impacted your family, good, bad, or otherwise?

I will say that I was worried about the emotional impact of having someone live with us for a year, or more and then leave. I thought the children would get too attached and then bereft when she left.

Turned out they were fine, but I was certainly bereft when a couple left!

The great au pairs and I are still friends and I really love them.

I am really glad we had (and are still having) the experience.

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3 Tips to Help Your Au Pair Pass the Driver’s License Test

3 Tips to Help Your Au Pair Pass the Driver’s License Test

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.)

How to Get Your Au Pair SSNWhen researching, also look into the required paperwork. Your au pair’s passport, visa, and DS-2019 establish identity and right to be here. Proving residency might be more difficult.

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

Au pair sitting in car waving for the cameraIf I had to take the driving test right now, I might not pass the parallel parking part or the backing around a corner. Ugh!

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!

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

AbbieAbbie: 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 AvitarMaddie: 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!

Abbie and Maddie

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Happy au pair who just passed the driving test with the caption 3 Tips to Pass the Au Pair Driver's Test
Au Pair driving a car with the caption 3 Tips to Pass the Au Pair Driver's Test
Excited Au pair who just passed the driving test with the caption 3 Tips to Pass the Au Pair Driver's Test
How to Get Your Au Pair’s Social Security Number

How to Get Your Au Pair’s Social Security Number

Abbie here. Our new au pair just arrived a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d share my experience helping her get her social security number. This is my third time doing this. While it’s definitely easier than doing it with our first au pair, I still forget all the details. This time I prepared a bunch of questions to ask the Social Security person so I could share all the answers with you.

Prioritize your trip to the Social Security office

The social security office isn’t something most of us have to deal with on a regular basis (thank goodness). Even more rarely do we interact with them as a citizen of a foreign country. So helping your au pair get her or his SSN might be a little intimidating.

Prioritize getting your au pair’s social security number as something to do in the first week. It’s very likely that you’ll need it for the bank or credit union, driver’s license, and college registration. And it makes it easier when it comes time to file taxes in April.

Why do some sources suggest waiting?

Some internet advice suggests waiting a few weeks to give the immigration database time to update. However, most au pair agencies have a week of training between when the au pair goes through customs and arrives at the host family’s house. That’s at least 4 to 5 days for all the paperwork to process.

When I asked the social security officer behind the window about the waiting time, she said that it doesn’t apply to J-type visas (which is what the au pairs use). It only applies to other types of applicants. She said it was fine to come into the office as soon as you want.

The other reason you may have to delay making the trip to the Social Security Office is that some agencies mail the DS-2019. Both of my agencies (Au Pair Care and Cultural Care) gave the au pairs their paperwork during training. Maddie’s agency (EurAuPair) mailed it. Check with your au pair and see what paperwork they have (or don’t have). And always feel free to ask your local coordinator or on the My Au Pair and Me Host Family Community on Facebook for help.

What paperwork do Au Pair’s need?

When you go to the Social Security office, your au pair will need:

  • The au pair’s passport with the visa inside.
    • The passport should also have an I-94 stamp (or a printed I-94), which establishes date of arrival.
  • DS-2019 form from your au pair agency.
  • Social Security application form SS-5.
  • Helpful: Social Security letter from your au pair agency.
  • (Honestly, I just have my au pair bring ALL the paperwork. But double check for the passport+visa and DS-2019.)

If you read the SS-5, it says the requirements are to establish age, identity, and citizenship or immigration status. The passport and visa satisfy the first two requirements, and the DS-2019 establishes immigration status. The agency may provide a social security letter as well, which covers the “letter authorizing employment from your sponsor”, which can be used in addition to the DS-2019 to establish immigration status.

Filling out the SS-5

When my au pair and I went to the Social Security office, I forgot about the SS-5. Luckily they had a pile of paper forms, so we filled it out while we waited. You can also download and fill out the PDF from

The SS-5 is pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few things that might help:

  • When filling out dates, many other countries put the day first then the month. Make sure the au pair puts the month first. (October 5th, 2019 is 10/05/2019 on the form but in Europe they would write 05/10/2019 or 5 Oct 2019.)
  • In section 5, check the box “Legal alien allowed to work” (the J-1 visa allows work in the U.S.)
  • You may have to help explain the mother’s maiden name in box 9, and help with the au pair’s phone number and address in boxes 15 and 16.

Here’s what the SS-5 has to say about evidence of immigration status:

You must provide a current unexpired document issued to you by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) showing your immigration status, such as Form I-551, I-94, or I-766. If you are an international student or exchange visitor, you may need to provide additional documents, such as Form I-20, DS-2019, or a letter authorizing employment from your school and employer (F-1) or sponsor (J-1).


SS-5 Form

Visit to fill out the SS-5 form.

Other Au Pair Social Security tips

You can use the Social Security Office Locator, but I used Google Maps. Both methods will also give you the hours that the office is open. Unfortunately, the office is probably only open Monday through Friday. It’s nice if one of the host family parents can go with the au pair, but if necessary the au pair can go alone.

If possible, arrive 15-30 minutes before the office opens to get at the beginning of the line. If not, because life doesn’t always work out like that, bring something to do and expect to wait for 1-2 hours.

One other tip the social security officer gave me was to tape the au pair’s name on the inside of your mailbox. She said she had people returning to the social security office, wondering why their card hadn’t yet been delivered. It turns out the mail carrier hadn’t delivered the envelope to try and keep the social security card safe. Because the mail carrier knew the names on the mail and the au pair’s name was new, it looked like an accidental delivery.

The new card will be delivered in 1-2 weeks. You might need the physical card for the bank or credit union or driver’s license application. But if you just need the number then you can come back to the office in a day or two and they can tell you the number.

Anything else?

Within the first two weeks, you should have a face-to-face sit down with your local coordinator. That’s a good time to ask questions and start building your relationship. It’s always helpful if you and your local coordinator get along.

And always feel free to ask questions in the 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!

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3 Tips for Controlling Au Pair Cell Phone Expenses

3 Tips for Controlling Au Pair Cell Phone Expenses

Maddie here! Cell phones are an essential expense in modern life. Because your au pair needs to call you in case of an emergency, you need to provide a cell phone (if they don’t have one already) and pay for a basic plan. These are one of the costs we talk about in How Much Does an Au Pair Cost.

Do you require your au pair to drive? If so, you will also need to pay for some amount of data for GPS navigation if it is not available in the au pair’s vehicle. You may also want your au pair to be able to take pictures and send them to you at work.

Cell phones can be expensive. The cost of the phone, the accessories, and the usage plan really add up. But there are a few ways to keep these costs in check. These are my tips for controlling cell phone expenses for your au pair.

*This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, we may earn a small commission if you purchase through these links. For full details, see our Disclaimer Page.

1. Talk to your au pair about cell phone expenses before arrival

Set expectations for cell phone expenses with your au pair before he/she arrives.

You can ask your au pair to pay for part of his/her phone bill, but make sure you’re super clear with that upfront. Remember to include the expectation that they need to pay for international calling, roaming, and in-phone purchases. You also need to be clear upfront if you expect your au pair to replace the phone if he/she breaks or loses it. Good communication is key!

For years I included my au pair in my family phone plan with unlimited talk and text. Data on this plan was shared across four phones and my au pair had 2G per month.

I sent my au pairs this information in the interview process and let them know extra data would cost them $15 per gigabyte.

When they arrived I showed them how to view their data usage and talked about the use of wifi when available.

I also set up text message alerts for when we reached 75%, 90% and 100% of data allocated for the month. None of my au pairs paid for data more than once.

Abbie has unlimited data on her family plan, so she pays the extra $20/month for her au pair’s extra line. This is a much easier way to go if you have the option.

I know another host family who contributes towards their au pair’s pay-as-you-go phone plan. I would worry that my au pair will run out of minutes/texts/data but they have yet to have any issues.

2. Don’t buy your au pair an expensive phone

You don’t have to provide your au pair with the latest and greatest phone on the market. I don’t even have the latest phone model. They do need a phone that is good enough to perform necessary the functions (call, text, navigation, pictures, etc.)

When my au pairs first arrive, I give them $150 towards whatever cell phone they want. My au pairs have wanted pricey iPhones and this allows them to pay the difference towards the phone they choose. I recommend refurbished phones from They are certified and have a 30-day return policy (just in case). When my au pairs leave, they take the phones with them (my part of the cost is a farewell gift).

Abbie took the opportunity to get herself a new phone and reset the old phone to factory settings for her first au pair. It became the family phone. When the first au pair left, she gave back the phone for the second au pair.

A third option if you don’t want to upgrade yourself and pass your old phone down is to buy a family phone for your au pair that stays with the family. You can also buy pretty reasonable phones on,, or other sites for $150 to $200.

For both of us, accessories are their responsibility. If they break or lose the phone, it is also their responsibility.

One word of caution: When bringing your own phone to a plan, make sure you research your carrier’s stores. Some stores are resellers and not actual stores. The resellers will do things like charge you $20 for a SIM card where if you drive to your carrier’s store maybe a little farther away, the SIM card is free. And if you buy a basic phone from your carrier, the reseller store won’t be able to give you the same protections as a core store. Call and ask ahead, or check your carrier’s website.

3. Disable international services on your au pair phone

Although I have never had any issues, I have read horror stories of au pairs running up phone bills with international calls and/or roaming charges. This is really easy to prevent if your au pair is on your family plan. All you need to do is call your carrier and disable international services for the au pair line. This completely removes the ability for your au pair to rack up a bunch of unexpected charges.

But just because you disable international services doesn’t mean your au pair will be completely cut off from her family. Most au pairs will already have WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, Line, and others that they can install on your phone and make international calls using a data or WiFi connection, not minutes.

All of our au pairs have always brought their own phone with them with the SIM card removed, and then only use the phone over WiFi only. Your phone is the one they use for day-to-day communication needs. But they like having their own phone and apps when they’re relaxing at night in the house.

How do you do it?

How do you manage cell phone expenses with your au pair? Have a question about cell phones for au pairs?

Leave a comment for us below or join our group of host parents in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. We would love to hear from you!

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