Au pairs to the rescue

It sounds glamorous to have an au pair, but what about the day-to-day reality of having a ‘foreigner’ in your house? What do you need to know and how do you choose the right one?

what’s an au pair?

“Au pair” is French for “equal to”. This means that if you engage the services of an au pair, she will be treated as a family member more than an employee. An au pair is typically between 18 and 30 years old, usually a female from overseas seeking a cultural exchange experience.

The au pair receives room and board as well as weekly “pocket-money” (currently around $200 net per week for 40 hours), in exchange for looking after the children of the host family and providing light housekeeping related to the children (cleaning the children’s room, washing their clothes, preparing their meals).

Typically, the au pair goes on holidays and outings with the host family.

how’s that not a nanny?

A nanny is typically older and does not necessarily live with a family. A nanny is not usually a foreigner, works more regular hours (9am to 5pm) and is paid a much higher wage ($20 to $25 per hour, depending on location). Au pairs are paid lower wages due to room/board being part of their salary package and because they are typically part of a cultural exchange programme. It’s not just nannies who have formal qualifications and references. It is a common misconception of the industry that au pairs don’t have these – however, all au pairs must have childcare references and job references (this is an IAPA and
NZAPA requirement).

choosing an au pair

Make a wish list of what you’d ideally like in an au pair. What’s really important to your family?

  1. home country
    Is there a particular country or culture you want to learn about? If you want the children to become familiar with German as a second language, for example, consider au pairs from German-speaking countries. Similarly, if you keep kosher, search for a Jewish candidate.
  2. personality
    Serious or smiling? Party-loving or quiet? Is it more important that the children have a great time with her or that she makes them do their homework? Does she seem like the type who will adhere to your household rules and values?
  3. matching hobbies
    Although you’ll want cultural exchange, pick someone with whom you can interact socially on a daily basis. Will she enjoy going sailing and playing board games with your family? Does she love reading herself and would she be comfortable reading to your children?
  4. driving
    Do you need your au pair to drive? If so, how much driving experience has she had and on what side of the road?
  5. english?
    If the au pair’s English is less than perfect, will you be able to give simple and clear instructions? How will you react if the children start copying her accent and her unique grammar?

the interview

Once you’ve created your wish list, contact a reputable agency for a shortlist of applicants. Have a look at their CVs: what are the applicants’ requirements in terms of food intolerance, pet allergies, smoking, etc. Check their Facebook and MySpace accounts. Browse through their photos: are they posing with younger siblings or in a nightclub? Look at their faces: is this somebody you are happy to have at your breakfast table every morning?

Send an email to your chosen applicant. Tell them about yourself and your family, include photos and a family website. Remember, they have to choose you as much as you choose them.

At the interview, judge how well the au pair prepared and how interested she seems in your family. Does she have specific questions? It is easy to have a conversation? Does she seem to fit in or is it too weird to have her sitting on your couch touching your china?

Let her meet the children to see whether they can get along.

the decision

Trust your instinct. If you have an uneasy feeling, move on. This au pair may be perfectly lovely – for someone else.


When you host an au pair, you need to provide a safe home for them. Under the Working Holiday Scheme, au pairs can work in New Zealand for up to 12 months (depending on the country of origin).

Au pairs are also considered employees in New Zealand under the Working Holiday Visa scheme. As such, au pairs and their host families are also governed by NZ employment law – as per any other employee or employer relationship.

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