FAQs on au pairing in the USA
Unlike in Europe, in the USA all au pair stays need to be arranged through an officially approved agency. Here are answers to key questions on various aspects of an au pair stay in America.
This is a good question! Most of the au pair agencies accept so-called pre-matches. This means that they allow host families and au pairs, who have already found each other, to join the programme. On one hand, there are American host families who wish to be involved in the au pair search. On the other hand, some host families may not be familiar with the legal regulations of their country and have not dealt with visa matters so far. They are possibly not aware of the minimum programme duration of 12 months, either. If you have found a host family, you should ask them whether they are aware of the fact that they must contact a designated au pair agency in the USA.
You will receive all necessary application forms and documents from the au pair agency that you contact to arrange your stay. These will include the au pair contract, forms for your doctor and for the persons providing your personal references. You will write a letter to your host family, hand in photos or even a video, answer questions about yourself, your motivation to become an au pair and your childcare experiences. Additionally, you need to provide a criminal record check (where available within the scope of the laws of your particular country). Most of the sponsoring agencies also require a copy of your driving licence and passport. When you have found a host family and the dates have been set for your au pair stay, the involved au pair agency will provide you with the DS-2019 application form. You need this form in order to apply for the J-1 visa. The next step is to contact the American consulate of your home country.
Be assured that you can trust all organisations which have been approved by the US authorities. You should compare costs and benefits and then choose your favourite agency. Be sure to consider the kind of support you will receive both in your home country and the US, to make sure it is a match for your needs.
The agency fee depends on the organisation. However, au pairs should not solely look at programme fees, but also at benefits.
Does the fee cover insurance for the au pair stay? If so, is it a basic insurance which means that costs are not covered in case of emergency, or is there unlimited coverage in case of illness or accident? What about legal expenses insurance, liabilty insurance, etc.? Is the SEVIS fee included or not?
Here, too, you must look which benefits are included in the programme fees. Both host families and au pairs pay a programme participation fee which usually includes: au pair insurance, airfare, a training week or weekend for au pairs, meetings with advisors or local coordinators, support from the agency etc. The host family will also pay the educational allowance, and weekly stipend directly to the au pair.
In general, host families bear the main part of the costs and being an au pair is the cheapest possibility of spending an entire year in the USA. Host families pay you a minimum stipend of $195.75 per week (around $10,000 per year), $500 for your educational allowance and an agency fee. By way of comparison, au pairs pay much less for programme fees. Additionally, as an au pair you pay visa fees in your home country and the costs for the criminal record check, the health certificate, your international driving licence and your passport.
At all agencies, you receive comprehensive application documents and have a personal interview in English, including a psychometric test. All documents will be rechecked in the USA before you qualify for the programme and can be contacted by host families. In the USA, host families are also carefully selected and need to comply with defined prerequisites. Qualified host families then decide which au pairs they wish to contact. Languages, hobbies, child care experience, nationalities, etc. can attract a host family's interest. Host families and au pairs take their decision while they are in personal contact, often via telephone or Skype.
The type of psychometric test you take depends on the agency. In general you will take the test online, and it will give you some interesting insights into your personality. It is not necessary to be afraid of the tests, and it is not possible or necessary to prepare for them.
The agency does not need to be located in your country, but they should have representatives who can interview you personally. The benefits of selecting an agency who are present in your home country are: the ability to speak to them in your native language for the best quality support, localised advice for your application and matching process, localised information and support in the visa process.
You can find a list of designated agencies here. Not all agencies are present both in your home country and the USA, when you visit the website of an American agency you will probably find the respective associate agency. Our partnership agency Cultural Care Au Pair for example are the same organisation both in the USA and in your home country.
As soon as you have received the DS-2019 form, you must arrange an interview at the American consulate or embassy in your country. During summer time, it may occur that you need to wait several weeks until you get an appointment. Your waiting period really depends on your country and the season. Normally, you receive your visa within five working days. You should apply at the agency about six months before you wish to start your au pair stay. This leaves you enough time for your application process and your documents are still up to date.
No, but most of the agencies require applicants to have a driving licence, as it enables them to find you a matching host family more easily and faster. Many host family need their au pair to drive their children to kindergarten, school, sports, music lessons, doctors, friends, etc., as cars are the main way of arranging daily travel in many American locations.
An au pair stay can start at any time of the year. Depending on the agency you select, you can either travel on a weekly basis, fortnightly or less frequently. Many au pair agencies focus on departures in the summer months. A large and experienced agency such as Cultural Care Au Pair has weekly departures throughout the year.
For a start, you enter the USA for an au pair stay of at least 12 months. You can later extend your au pair stay by 6, 9 or 12 months.
These are all good questions - I will try to answer them one by one. Naturally, you can find basic information on the website of the US Department of State. There you will learn that the minimum duration of the au pair stay of 12 months has been stipulated by the US authorities. The idea is that a full year is a good basis for a reall cultural exchange. In that amount of time, au pairs can really integrate themselves in the host country situation. At the same time and from an emotional point of view, it is important for small children not to have to get used to a new au pair every few months.
Unfortunately, you cannot. The cultural exchange is the key principle of the J-1 au pair visa. A US citizen is seen as an American who therefore does not need any cultural exchange with America. There are no exceptions for young people with an American passport who have never lived in the United States. This is stipulated by the US Department of State.