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.
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. They usually comprise au pair insurance, airfare, orientation weekend for au pairs, educational allowance, meetings with advisors, etc. not to forget the weekly pocket money. Seasonal discounts on programme fees are offered regularly.
The average costs of an au pair year varies from country to country. 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 for airfare, board and lodging and often for insurance cover, as well. They pay $10,000 of pocket money a year, $500 for 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.
It is not necessary to be afraid of this test, and it is not possible or necessary to prepare for it. In the test, au pairs receive a list of statements. They need to personally rate each of these statements according to a scale reaching from 1 to 5. Here is an example: "I try growing as a person through this experience." Of course, in this context, the au pairs should rather think of their personal development than their body size. You should be honest when you answer statements like "I need to lie to avoid trouble", but you can certainly imagine how your answer will be evaluated by the au pair agency. Nevertheless, being honest is important. You cannot run away from personal problems you may have. They will not vanish when you are abroad and children should not be burdened with the au pair's conflicts.
The agency must not be located in your country, but they should have representatives who can interview you personally. Although you should already have a good knowledge of English for an au pair stay in the USA, clarifying some of the questions in the interview in one's mother tongue might be helpful. Besides, you probably can receive more detailed information on the visa application process and your visit to the US consulate from an associate agency located in your home country.
Here you will find a list of designated agencies. When you visit the website of an American agency, you will probably find the respective associate agency.
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. However, the majority of the au pairs take their flight to the USA during the summer months. At that time, designated au pair agencies offer the possibility to depart on a weekly basis, for instance. Throughout the rest of the year, the normal frequency is twice a month.
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.